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False Idylls: America’s Horror Theme Park

What I need you to know first off is how much I was into The Blair Witch Project. It was 1999, and I saw it first in an independent theater with a group of people I had never met before, because everyone was stopping in Boston on their way to Bangor, Maine for a Stephen King convention. Let me back up. For three years, I’d been part of an online community called SKEMERs, which was a sort of acronym for Stephen King EMailERs, because the internet was new and everyone was ridiculous. For about six years, high school into my early adulthood, the only thing I really cared about was Stephen King. Well, that and oldies radio. One time I called up Oldies 103 and pretended to be the kid from Christine and I was dedicating a song to the evil car I was in love with. For a little while there, I was exactly the weirdest person in the universe. I started interacting with SKEMERs on the text-based library computers in Quincy, MA, because weird has a way of finding weird.

And now was the chance to meet some of these SKEMERs in person for the first time, and to take them to the movie all of us had heard was the Scariest Film of All Time before we all drove up to Maine. For us, Blair Witch lived up to the hype. We talked about it all weekend, sometimes letting it overtake our Stephen King conversations. I know, right? We’d be there posing for pictures in front of Stephen King’s house and then we’d be like, “Yeah, remember Mike in the corner?” I mean, can you imagine? We were all conflicted, too, because Stephen King himself hadn’t liked the movie at first, but then he retracted his initial statement and then he loved it, so it had been a roller coaster of a weekend.

When I got back home, I managed to see Blair Witch eight more times, because as a person, I try never to commit to half-measures. In the year 2000, the movie came out on VHS tape and I bought it and watched it enough times that I memorized every line. “Tell me where you are, Josh!” became common parlance in my friend group. Maybe I never stop being the weirdest person in the universe; maybe I just found people who tolerated the extra.

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It was with this sensibility that I approached Spooky Season, the year 2000. Some background: Spooky World opened in 1991 in Berlin, Massachusetts. Billing itself as both America’s Horror Theme Park and America’s Scream Park, had haunted houses and sideshows and minor celebrities from the world of horror – entirely my thing. I started going in the mid-1990s and as we approached the new millennium, my enthusiasm hadn’t dimmed. Indeed, it may have escalated to the point of unsettling. This was before I discovered Disney and tiki and my craving for All Things Themed hadn’t yet been given focus, so Spooky World had to be my everything. The big news as September edged into October was that Spooky World had moved locations. “It’s behind Foxboro Stadium!” I exclaimed to my friend Tracey over the phone. “It’s so much bigger this year!”

“I don’t like horror. I don’t like theme parks.” This wasn’t the first time she’d reminded me of these roadblocks to my Ooky Spooky Night of Fun.

“Well, okay, I guess the rest of us will just go without you.”

A pause. “Well, I don’t want to be alone…” Ah, codependence and casual coercion, the bedrock of Tracey’s and my friendship of the late 1990s. She wasn’t the only friend I managed to wrangle into this road trip from Quincy to Foxboro. My new boyfriend, Shawn, who would later become my husband despite the way I am, seemed pretty into it. I’m fairly sure all my other friends just couldn’t think of excuses fast enough. This was the time of my life when I was convinced that if I didn’t have a whole group of people doing the things I wanted to do, I was somehow failing at life. The homosexual urge to be Little Miss Main Character had never been stronger. Not even the threat of a windstorm – a windstorm! – could deter me from my path.

And why would it? Like ten scare houses, a horror museum, a haunted hayride, and – best of all – Mike Williams! From! THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT! Hot Mike, from the corner! He was going to be there! There was no way I was going to miss that, and if I had to convince a group of half-interested friends to not only make the trip, but also pay for tickets in advance and food and parking because it was going to be fun! fun! fun!, well so be it.

So here we are in the wind-swept parking lot, making our way to the gates, and everyone seems to be in a pretty up mood. We pass the long line waiting to buy tickets (we got them in advance, proles! See, my night is a success already!) and enter at once. The lady in a tiny Victorian top hat at the gate tells us to do the hayride first, as they “might be shutting it down.” It seems the windstorm is more intense than we’d thought at first. “It’s gonna be fine, guys!” I call out, because toxic positivity is my entire ethos.

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We arrive, and it’s a lot shorter than the year before – almost halfway as short, in fact – but it’s still long enough to daunt several members of our troop. I tell them not to worry, it goes fast. Unfortunately, due to the wind, the swiftness has been stunted, and we move along at a tortoise’s pace for about a half hour. “It’s not a problem guys!” I shout, and I am entirely convincing.

The wind dies down (not altogether, not all night) enough for them to start loading the trucks faster, and when we finally start moving, spirits(!!!) pick up. We’ve been singing Barry Manilow, Werewolves of London, some traditional Halloween songs, and amusing ourselves. When we get up to the front of the line, the woman monitoring that area tells us to “go wait by that girl with the red jacket,” prompting Tracey and I to come up with the “Girl in the Red Jacket” song, which we improvised tunelessly and without skill. We were cackling all the way to the hay cart. My other friends separated themselves into a different cart. Shawn was reconsidering his love options, probably.

So here’s the thing, guys. I’ve been a horror guy my whole life. See above re: Stephen King and Blair Witch. I’d been reading Fangoria magazine my whole life. And yes, I did tell you I had coerced my entire friend group into going to Spooky World. Yet, horror houses and movies and books and everything? Scare me senseless. Horror, as it’s supposed to do, horrifies me. I write horror stories and I scare myself. Like here we are back in 2000 and getting on a haunted hayride, and I knew it was going to destroy my brain and my soul because the hayride’s freakin’ scary. Like, I would go on to have nightmares. What is up with me?

We rode through a Black Plague Town where dead people with rotting faces tried to climb up on the cart. The Jack the Ripper village, the Evil Vampire village. There were a lot of villages, all full of maniacs wanted to kill us because hayrides are anathema to their way of death. We approached werewolf area, and I have this whole complicated thing about werewolves. For a while as a kid I thought I wasn’t waking up rested because I was actually a werewolf, and not because of sleep apnea. They’re my favorite monsters, and not because they’re hot. Well, not just. Look, I read Cycle of the Werewolf at nine and it was a formative text. So here we are rolling slowly through this spooky, foggy area, and there’s a werewolf statue right next to me and it’s really scary and it’s not a statue! It’s reaching for me! It’s howling! I’m screaming! I’m screaming so loud! It’s a real werewolf guys! I read a story once where there was a real monster in a horror theme park and now it’s happening in real life and it’s going to kill me! Aiiiieeee!!!

We get off the hayride, and Tracey said, and I quote, “He screamed like a little girl.” And everyone laughed at me because oh my god, they absolutely heard me. The sound of their laughter was almost enough to drown out memory the werewolf, its teeth white and slavering, wet in the bone-white moonlight, hungry for my throat … but also maybe wanting to like get with me, maybe? Like before he straight up murders me with his claws and stuff, maybe he wants to come over and take a shower and then like, Netflix and chill? Wait, what’s the late 90s equivalent of Netflix and chill? Must See TV and chill? But less chill and more howl and…….

Come on, Kev, keep it in your pants, this is a family horror theme park. Get a corn dog and calm down, you weirdo.

All the houses had Spook Ratings, all of which were largely inaccurate except for Cirque Macabre, which was clown-themed, and the clowns all had stuff like scythes and chainsaws and malice, and they all jumped out at you and tried to kill you but I think for real. That was a spook rating of five and I was positive it was all downhill from there. Like the Disco 3-D had a spook rating of 4, and they gave you 3-D glasses at the beginning and the walls glowed fluorescent jump-out colors everywhere. But the disco dancers were just some dead people in Day-Glo colors and I more wanted to, like, see that girl and watch that scene instead of run and scream.

The Mine Shaft, though, with a spook rating of 3, was terrifying. Jump scares and, rotting people oozing out from the shadows to grab and rend, and I think a spider jumped down from the ceiling at me once. “It was a real spider!” I tried to tell my friends.

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Shawn said, “There was a string.”

“It was its web, its noxious web! They had real spiders in there! What if we died?! I heard that every year like a hundred people die at Spooky World! Of fright!” Everyone laughed at me and led me into the Tom Savini House of Horror. I have a T-shirt that says “Tom Savini Made Me Gay,” because 1) he was a 1980s horror icon, a makeup and special effects guy who worked on stuff like Creepshow and Friday the 13th and when you like horror as a kid it makes you gay and 2) he was a 1980s sort of crazy hot and he was always in Fangoria with his mustache or goatee and his tank top showing these massive arms.

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Come to think of it, a bunch of horror icons in the 1980s were hot. I mean, Stephen King himself with that beard in the Maximum Overdrive trailer? But I digress. The Tom Savini House of Horrors was not hot. I must remind you that the bulging door in Disney’s Haunted Mansion terrifies me, so when I say this place was darkly populated with unholy terrors, please know that I am in no way exaggerating. Hands jolted out of bookcases, creeping vines lashed to life, chasing you into a garden, where a dead woman (who I truly thought was a mannequin) jolted to twitching life, rending screams from your throat so loud and sustained that you’re hoarse the next day. Dead girls cut in half are screaming, begging for an unforgiving and cruel world to let them die, and a mad scientist with blood on him that actually chases you out of the House. Oh my GOD! I literally ran from that one, scared out of my wits.

“Why did you want to come here?” Tracey asks.

“It’s fun, right?” I ask between dry heaves.

Besides the very obvious fun I was having, I had an ulterior motive coming here. After proving my mettle in the scare houses and the haunted hayride, I voice my need to see Mike Williams. Mike had recently made it to #5 on my Top 5 Fictional Hottest Hottie Movie Characters list, but I had to go and justify it with critical rationale. See, in Blair Witch, he started off as The Outsider and became – sort of – The Villain, and by the end became the Ultimate Victim. When he was crying near the end, when he was looking sad and depressed, I just wanted to be there for him and give him a big hug. Maybe more. Definitely more. Now, I was going to see him for real. Mike was a big part of the reason why I went to go see Blair Witch nine times in one year, and now he was here, really here in the same place as me.

“What if you don’t get in to see him?” Tracey wondered aloud. “What if this is like when it’s William Shatner in a Star Trek convention and there’s a line around the block and you never get your autograph? What then?” Always surround yourself with the best people and you’ll never be sad, I always say. But I was afraid she was right. I was sure that there would be swarms of people around him, all bustling in for an autograph, crowding the place and leaving me alone in there and my friends getting pissed waiting for me outside. I crept through the “souvenir” building, checking the old costumes and movie posters, trying on hats and stuff, and eventually came to the room adjacent to the one where the autographs were being signed. I was right – there was a horde of people in there. Two other folks – a guy from some movie I hadn’t heard of and a woman that once did horror but now is on some soap – were signing, and seemed to be causing some major fan excitement. I maneuvered into the crowd and caught my first glimpse of Mike Williams: his hair was lighter, and he looked a little more cleaned up, but it was really, really him.

There was no one at his table.

This was both a plus and a minus for me. A plus, because I was able to get up to his table first; a minus because I felt really bad for the guy. I compensated by being a drooling fanboy. That way, everyone else could feel really bad for him. I provide a service.

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“Hi,” I said, grinning like an idiot. “I saw your movie nine times.”

Mike – MIKE FREAKIN’ WILLIAMS – held out his hand and shook with me. “That’s great,” he told me. “You seen the second one yet?”

“No,” I told him, holding out the picture I wanted him to sign. I refrained – oh my God, did I force myself to refrain – from adding, “mainly because you’re not in it.” “What did you think?”

Then, his wife, who was sitting next to him, chimed in. “We haven’t seen it yet. We plan on it, though.” Now, she’s a very sweet, very pretty woman, but I was there to see Mike. I think I kind of just smiled but otherwise ignored her. I’m sorry, Mrs. Mike! I am here on behalf of the homosexual agenda and your name is not on the list!

“What’s your name?” he asked me, and I told him. He scribbled on the picture in green marker and handed it to me. I began thanking him profusely, and then, looking embarrassed, he said, “Fifteen dollars.

Oh yeah. This is the real world, and in the real world, semi-celebrities need to get paid to sign your pictures. I unfolded nearly the rest of my money and handed it over, knowing that I would cherish this photograph of one of my favorite celebrities of all time.

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Of course, as I sat down to write this, I needed to look up what Mike’s last name was because I haven’t thought of him in about twenty years. Heck, I haven’t thought about Spooky World in about twenty years. One of the reasons why Disney became such a big deal to me later on was its permanence, its constancy. There’s something to be said for a themed environment that stays in one place, and relatively the same, for the course of a lifetime. And Disney gives me the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and the Oogie Boogie Bash, for those of us who like to be only a little tiny bit scared, even though we’ve made our name on horror.

But Spooky World is still around, and I’ve been thinking about going this year for the first time in ages. And if no one wants to go with me, maybe I’ll just head out there alone. If I don’t die of fright, maybe I’ll find out if that werewolf is low key into hand stuff. Or, you know, paw stuff. Aieeeee!

Written By

Kevin Quigley is a novelist, graphic designer, and podcaster living in Boston with his husband, Shawn. His first taste of themed entertainment was the Chuck E. Cheese’s in upstate New York he would drag his grandparents to every summer for his birthday. Since, he has immersed himself in environments as diverse as Disney parks, tiki bars, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show live, forever at the crux of kitsch, camp, and radical sincerity. He’s a fan of mid-century modern design, aloha shirts, and the homoerotic subtext of the music of Bruce Springsteen.

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