By Iloz Zoc
When was the last time you had a really good scare — for fun, I mean? Admit it. You love to be chased around by freshly unearthed ghouls and sundry creatures of the night, don't you? And you're willing to pay good money to see your friends frightened out of their wits, right? Horror is such a communal thing after all — best shared by friends and lovers.
Haunted house attractions put you in the middle of a horror movie — willingly, of course. And while some haunted houses are scarier than others, or more ghoulish than others, or more jaw-dropping - oops, just wet my pants - horrifying than others, one name stands out as the most elaborate, most engaging haunted house ever done — Britannia Manor.
And it didn't cost a dime to get in! Not one cent. The purveyors of haunted house attractions, STB Productions, recorded for posterity the goings-on at Britannia Manor during one Halloween. Their DVD, The World's Most Famous Haunted House: A Tribute to Britannia Manor, contains a short but highly informative interview with Richard Garriott, mastermind behind Britannia Manor, a photo gallery of assorted medieval items of violent intent lying around his home, and extensive archival footage that includes actors and make-up artists preparing for a typical night's events of thrills and chills.
Rounding out the DVD is an actual you-are-there experience as you follow a party of lost souls making their way through the various creepy tableaux of Britannia Manor, which provides lots of logistical information for the students and designers of haunted house attractions.
In the interview, game designer Richard Garriott talks about what prompted him to go to such great lengths to turn his home and surrounding grounds into an elaborate role-playing adventure during Halloween, between 1988 and 1994. According to the Wikipedia entry on Britannia Manor,
The events were designed like a roleplaying game. Participants would go through Garriott's mountain property in adventuring parties, gathering clues to solve mysteries and quests, while facing different perils and pitfalls. The actors would touch, grab, and physically as well as verbally interact with the guests, who could not simply wander through like in most haunted houses. They would have to swing, crawl, climb, and row their way out.
It was not uncommon for parties to lose members in the course of the quest. Garriott spent a great deal of money annually around Halloween to pay for makeup, tools, construction materials, special effects, and costumes for his haunted house. The actors and techs were all volunteers, many donating hundreds of hours for the honor of being a part of the show, and a free t-shirt.
Free t-shirts will do it every time. I hope those lost party members were eventually found, too, and didn't lose any arms or legs.