My 1979 Halloween was one strange trip. It was my sophomore year of college, already full of freedom and weirdness. That year, every day felt like Halloween as the country was swept up in the mania of The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s twice-weekly screenings at over 230 theaters. And punk rock ruled. It was the heyday of bands like the Ramones, the Cramps and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. I knew lots of people who sported mohawks, wore dog collars routinely and pushed giant safety pins through their lips. But this was Halloween, the freakiest night of the year, and I was eager to blend into the mayhem myself. But I had one mundane chore to finish first.
Tag: costume party
One late October day when I was three or four, my mother woke me early from an afternoon nap. She held up a full gingham skirt and wide-brimmed straw hat I’d never seen and said it was time to get dressed. I was going to a neighbor’s Halloween party, she told me.
Driving down Max Blob’s Park Road on the way to Bennett’s Curse, “Maryland and D.C.‘s Best Haunted House,” horror movie scenes raced through my head. I imagined a crazed chainsaw-wielding lunatic jumping onto our car from the branches above. I imagined getting hacked to bits, meeting the same end as those poor fools in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There we were, two innocent kids snaking down an unpaved road, surrounded by ominous foliage. The ride seemed it might never end. We drove slowly, not knowing an army of undead lay in wait to ambush us at the moment of least expectance! Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what happened upon arrival to Bennett’s Curse, but what awaited us is something I’ll never forget.
We followed the gravel road to a parking lot at Blob’s Park, where a nameless man touted the exquisite quality of the attraction, claiming, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like haunted houses.”
Having been to many haunted houses (so many I’ve lost count), I started the night a tad skeptical. I was hoping for terror, but naturally part of me expected to see the same old props from every amateur haunted attraction — rubbery masks on unenthusiastic actors, ghosts made of sheets with eyes artistically cut out.
After the ticket booth stood the concession stand that offered frightfully delicious treats and hot cider. Luckily we got there about half an hour before the house opened at 7:00 pm, so there was almost no line. But it quickly filled up. I recommend getting a Speed Pass (only $10 more than general admission).
As we stood in dreary fog outside the castle doors and listened to the sounds of tortured souls behind the wall, I found myself right back in the Halloween spirit. The legend of Bennett’s Curse, which you can read about here, is brought to life in three areas inside: The House of Vampires, Zombie Kingdom in 3D, and The Sanctuary of Insanity.
Finally the curtain opened and we were herded through the castle in small groups. Ready, set, go: All hell broke loose. The tour kicked off with a giant demon pulling a man in half. But what really spooked me was when Mr. Demon jumped off the table and lunged himself at us. The makeup and props are so awesome it was sometimes impossible to tell who was real and who was rubber.
Next, we walked a hallway constructed of skulls, leading us to rooms of vampires, cannibals, and the generally deranged. Ghouls lurched from the walls as we walked by. Some hid in black corners and chased us. Lucky for me (she said sarcastically), I ended up as the caboose, which made me an easy target for Curse crazies creeping up and whimpering into my ear. My weird complex of getting scared by the sound of people running up behind me made that aspect even more disturbing.
Life is all about change, of course. And soon we found ourselves walking through a hallway of hanging heads. They hung low enough that I squeamishly had to nudge them out of my way. What was spectacularly nauseating was the corridor of dead bodies slung like cows in a butcher shop. Let me remind you, here, how realistic the props are — fleshy-looking bodies strung up and upside down, like cows waiting to be hacked into burgers!
Soon, we encountered more vampires dining (on you know what) and zombies chasing. A giant appeared to be trying to grab me from outside of the castle with a huge animatronic hand reaching and a giant eyeball peering through a window at me. Demon dragon creatures, bloody undead, statues, and skeletons were brought to life with electronics. An evil gargoyle jumped up and approached us, shocking me because I thought he was a prop!
In Zombie Kingdom, we put on 3D glasses and embarked on a psychedelic journey through blood, guts, and brains. Here’s where I identified the max-creepy element of Bennett’s Curse that sets it apart from other haunted attractions (other than the amazing effects): the pitch black hallway built of what I call “bubble walls.” I don’t know how else to describe them. There are few things creepier than wandering through a hallway of pure black. There was literally nothing visible. I’m a bit claustrophobic.
Okay, so, why do I call them bubble walls? Imagine walking through a hallway, only the walls are inflated so much that they are touching. They’re inflated like balloons. I had to squeeze myself through the crevice, blindly. It was very unsettling and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But that was my own psyche (powered by my own extra-dark imagination) getting to me. Most people will conquer the “bubble walls,” avoiding a panic attack — they will be scared for a little while and in time scary impressed.
Finally, we weaved in and out of a maze of cages in the Sanctuary of Insanity, as mad patients crowded us, screaming gibberish at the top of their lungs.
As I’d daydreamed earlier, we did in fact get pursued by a chainsaw-wielding lunatic as we exited the haunted house. He chased us in the direction of our cars, but not before getting all up in our grills. (Had we stayed too long?) Truly Chainsaw Guy intimidated me, with his gruesome mask and real, not-a-prop chainsaw. I drove away peeking over my shoulder for any escaped zombies looking for a ride. My own neuroses aside, Bennett’s Curse is hands down the best haunted house I’ve been to. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something fun and terrifying to do this Halloween season.
Jessup, MD 20794