Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Unknown

Everyone likes to be scared, right? Well…sort of? I must admit that I’m not a thrill junkie, at least not when it comes to horror films and in-your-face gore and evil. Madness, mayhem, and revving chainsaws are not at the top of my “too much fun to miss” list. And yet…and yet…Halloween remains one of my favorite holidays (right between Christmas and Easter), and most of the people I know are impressed by my wide ranging familiarity with superstition, stories of the supernatural and urban legends.

So what’s a nice girl like me doing with information about 25 ways to kill a vampire and an ingrained hesitation to look between the ears of a dog or horse when it’s acting strangely? Simple. It’s the unknown that scares me. That strange cold spot in the corner of the kitchen. The place next to the close where your dog just stares. Yeah. The half seen, the suspected, the things that gnaw at the corner of your imagination. To me, that’s a lot scarier than a burly man with a chainsaw. To paraphrase the immortal words of Predator – if it bleeds I can handle it. It’s the other stuff that bothers me.

And that, perhaps, is a large part of the reason that Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion remains high on my list of beloved attractions. And, as silly as it is, high on the list of attractions that creep me out.

Okay, let me clear the air. I know that thousands of small children go through the dim doors of the mansion each year and come out cheerful and psychologically unscathed. This is, after all, Walt Disney World. The 999 happy haunts are certainly far less traumatic than many of the proposed original ideas for the attraction. And it is, unquestionably, possible to breeze through the haunted halls of the mansion without a single “scare.”

But for me, the devil (if you will) is in the details. It’s in the small things that casual guests might not notice, but repeat visitors will – or at least repeat visitors with overactive imaginations. It’s the voices waiting for you if you stay behind in the stretching room; it’s the details on the hanging corpse over your head; it’s the wildly grotesque portraits along the walls of the hallway of doors.

And, for me…it’s in the unknown represented by that damned chair.

It took me forever to even notice the chair. In all of the glorious detailing of a classic Disney attraction filled with enough elements to sustain repeat visits, a chair is not something that immediately draws attention in the attraction. It wasn’t until my husband bought me Jason Surrell’s excellent book on the haunted mansion that I discovered it. Tucked away in the description of the Endless Hallway was a sketch of a wingback chair and a note in the text stating “If you look closely, you will also be able to mke out a face in the decorative pattern on the chair….This was part of the Imagineers’ effort to make guests feel as though they are constantly being watched, as well as create the sense that the house is alive.”

“Ah,” I thought. “I’ll have to look for that the next time I ride the attraction.”


What I discovered as I rode through the mansion was that the same chair, embroidered “face” and comfortable rocking by invisible inhabitant, did not just appear in the endless hallway scene. It appeared over and over again throughout the attraction. For me, that repetition of an object, the strange sense that an inanimate object was somehow following and watching guests throughout the ride was…disturbing.

I’ve read about the role of the raven and the original intent that he represent the “ghost host,” leading guests through the attraction. But for me, the “ghost host” is the unseen, the occupant of that strange chair, watching me with his broken neck and outdated funeral suit and following me as my trusty little doombuggy works its way through the attraction. And, like all of the creepiest things in my universe, he is completely unseen, represented by his location, a chair that should not be able to move from one location to another.

As silly as it is, that chair still gives me a little chill when I ride the Haunted Mansion. I try not to let it dominate my ride experience. It’s just a minor detail, and there’s so much more to look at. Besides, it’s just a chair.

And if it follows me home, I’m going to cry.