ELECTROSHADOW FIELD TRIP NO.5
I love Halloween.
While most Asian cultures (including our own) take death and the supernatural as somewhat taboo subjects, in the West they’ve managed to rape and pillage it in the name of crass commercialism. Ain’t that cool?
And it’s all in service of celebrating that most primal of human emotions: fear. This is where Halloween stands out. It’s the only festive occasion that encourages us to go into the dark, literally and figuratively speaking. Now, fear isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a great reminder that you still have a beating heart, and are therefore still very much alive.
That’s why horror as a genre still thrives. Regardless of culture or nationality, humans generally love being scared silly and we pay good money for it. And not just at the movies either. Theme park horror experiences have been getting more and more popular lately, so Electroshadow decided to find out first-hand what the fuss is all about. With resident writer Marie B (very reluctantly) in tow, we arrived at the gates of Universal Studios Singapore for their much-publicised “Halloween Horror Nights 4”.
No one told Najib it was Casual Friday at the office.
The theme for this year was “Demoncracy Now” but don’t ask me what it means. I think Universal Studios just wanted some basic premise to justify a Halloween gig. In the ads, there was some vague backstory about a seemingly benevolent leader who revealed himself to be the “Minister of Evil”, turning the entire place into a nightmare landscape filled with death and disaster and the screams of tortured souls. In other words, it’s based on the Malaysian government.
HHN4 starts after dark and ends at 1.30 in the morning. At the 7.30pm opening time, the queue was already spilling out onto the streets. We figured it was best not to play Canned Sardines with the rest of the mostly teenaged crowd, so we went in after dinner. But that hadn’t diminished the numbers one bit. In fact, there were even more people milling about. In keeping with the spirit of the event, lighting was kept to a bare minimum, with only some coloured lamps and the occasional dramatic sweeping spotlight to light the way. The combination of darkness and park-goers walking in every which direction was slightly disorienting. A creepy soundtrack wafted through the smoky air (from dry ice not cigarettes — this IS hyper-clean Singapore, after all). All very atmospheric. Marie let out a nervous laugh. Suddenly from behind, a zombie pounced on some nearby teens and they released an almighty shriek.
“Can we leave now?” asked my frazzled companion.
“This is only the beginning,” came my ominous reply in an ominous tone. Or as ominous as one can sound with a mouthful of Halloween candy. I think what she actually heard was “Thf uf ohluh tuh buguhnuh.”
After wandering aimlessly for a few minutes, we came across the first of the four main haunted houses. This was “Jack’s 3Dementia” (see what they did there?), a carnival “fun” house filled with demonic clowns. Let me just state for the record that clowns are totally my favourite thing in the whole wide world, next to Justin Bieber, dying of bowel cancer, and meeting Justin Bieber in hell. No, actually I hate them. I’m not afraid of clowns, I just have a deep and irrational hatred of them. I wondered if it was a coincidence that right above the spot we started queuing was a large sign that read “Verbal and/or physical abuse of park performers will result in immediate expulsion”. Well assholes, then don’t dress your damn park performers in goddamn clown outfits.
The exterior of Kanye West’s home was a little more subtle than the interior.
But. As we entered (following a 20-minute wait), I made a mental resolution to be on my best behavior. Equipped with el-cheapo 3D glasses, we stepped inside to be confronted — nay, assaulted — by a garish, psychedelic, neon-painted, UV-lit enclosure complete with vertigo-inducing optical illusions and cackling, jingly-jangly clown music. Basically, it was like your average disco in Cheras, minus the Bangladeshi waiters.
Then came the clowns. And one of those numbnuts squirted me square in the face with water (at least I hope it was water). I nearly lost it, but remembered my training back at the cave on Dagobah, and stopped myself from Force-choking the sumbitch. Meanwhile, Marie B was too busy walking with her eyes closed to notice my near Hulk-out. We then reached a rotating walkway with a spiraling pattern designed to mess your head up more than a bagful of magic mushrooms, no thanks to the fuzzy 3D. I stepped out of there feeling more nauseous than terrified. To be fair, this was a pretty unique horror concept with some clever visual gags.
Back onto the main thoroughfare, we were greeted by the blaring sound of emergency sirens and a scene of devastation. The severed head and arm of the Statue of Liberty lay defeated on the cracked pavement. It was right out of “Escape From New York”. I grinned in geek appreciation. Now we’re talking, I muttered to myself. An undead ghoul shuffled past us and disappeared into the thick smog. We cut through it and another alley opened up ahead. This one beckoned with a glowing red sign that announced the 2nd attraction, “Bogeyman”.
Insert joke about littering in Singapore here.
At 10 minutes, the wait for this was much more agreeable. Actually, I only found out later that “Bogeyman” is a scare zone, which are open areas that can accommodate a larger volume of visitors unlike the smaller haunted houses. The thing is, a less claustrophobic setting makes it feel less oppressive and therefore less scary. Less scary for me anyway. Marie remarked that I was probably the worst kind of audience for a horror experience. Horror doesn’t faze me at all, and as a hardcore film geek I end up scrutinising the makeup effects, costuming, props and set designs instead. Where other patrons stuck strictly to the designated paths, I was gleefully sticking my nose into every creaking cupboard and blind corner to see what was up. This isn’t a boast about how brave I am, mind you. I just have an unusually morbid fascination for this kinda stuff.
For what it’s worth, I did like the concept here. The kiddie ghosts were supposedly victims of the Bogeyman, doomed to walk the Earth in search of souls to replace the ones ripped from their young bodies. The setting reminded me of “Silent Hill”, which was a good thing. I asked Marie what she thought of it and she confessed that she hardly saw anything since she’d spent the duration of the walk staring at the ground. Great coping mechanism, I say.
By then it was already past midnight, and the live “Demoncracy” show was on. I wish we’d skipped that one, as it turned out to be a blah affair. Using the New York Public Library building as the backdrop, it was little more than a fancy lightshow with a bunch of rope dancers swinging around. Marie enjoyed it though, saying it was a cool piece of performance art. Different strokes for different folks.
The quality of contestants for FHM magazine’s Girl Next Door was starting to deteriorate.
We then headed for the 2nd haunted house called “Jing’s Revenge”, only to be faced with a 45-minute wait. Screw it. We detoured to the “Transformers The Ride” but ironically we ended up having to wait a good half-hour. I covered this ride on my first trip to Universal Studios (read the article here), so my thoughts on it are well-documented. Let’s just say it was worth the wait and still infinitely more entertaining than Michael Bay’s crapfests.
Next up, we checked out “L.A.B”, short for “Laboratory of Alien Breeding”, a sci-fi flavoured haunted house. The queue was just as long and 40-odd minutes in, our enthusiasm had waned. It’s a good thing we pressed on, as this was my favourite of the night, hands down. For one, the creature designs were a madcap mish-mash of influences, from obscure 50s B-movies like “Invasion Of The Saucer Men” to modern classics like “Predator” and HR Giger’s biomechanical “Alien”. I wonder what 20th Century Fox would have to say about the latter two as they’re Fox properties. But if you’re going to rip something off, do it right. And these were pretty well-executed, if a tad cheesy.
Was it scary? Once again, not for me. But it did put a big fat grin on my face, especially the part where they had a whole room lined with assorted space creatures in glass chambers. At one point, I think I actually scared one of the poor scare performers. It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I was just so excited to see what I thought was the Metaluna monster from 1955’s “This Island Earth” I went running right up to him and almost crashed into the fella. He promptly disappeared behind a sliding door, leaving my geek love sadly unrequited.
After a whole friggin’ night of queuing, you’d look like this too.
By the time we exited “L.A.B” it was almost closing time. Marie was exhausted but urged me to to check out the 4th haunted house, “Mati Camp”. On the way, we passed through the “Scary Tales” scare zone, populated by werewolves, vampires and various demons. To my delight, there was no queue for “Mati Camp”. The usher was urgently herding the last admission for the night so I just about made it. There were far less people on this walk, and the girl in front of me kept looking back nervously at me. Every time I stopped to inspect something, she refused to proceed any further until I caught up, presumably because she felt safer to have someone, anyone behind her. I resisted the urge to play a prank on her, because I’m nice like that. Plus, those stilettos she was wearing looked very lethal, and I didn’t want to risk becoming an actual corpse amidst the fake ones. As for the attraction itself, it was cool in theory (a prison where the Minister of Evil’s enemies were held) but a little half-baked in execution.
On the whole, my gripe with Halloween Horror Nights 4 is that it relies a bit too heavily on cheap jump scares and not enough on creating anticipation, which makes for a far more nerve-wracking experience. The scare tactics employed here are pretty much a more polished version of the ones you get at those low-end fun fairs. Marie B observed that perhaps Universal didn’t want to make it TOO terrifying. She has a point I suppose, as that might cause heart attacks or seizures or ingrown toenails. Or something.
At SG$68 ($50 if you’re a Resorts World Sentosa hotel guest), it’s a little too steep to justify another visit. I expect a bit more boo for my buck, y’know. Perhaps they can take some tips from the genuinely awesome “The Walking Dead” experience in the US. Now that shit is HARROWING. All in all however, we had a good time. Even the traumatised yet oh-so sporting Marie B grudgingly admitted that she had fun. Because if you can’t have fun on the Day of the Dead, when can you?