BEHIND-THE-SCREAMS

movie behind-the-screams

BEHIND-THE-SCREAMS recounts my private tour of Laurel’s House of Horror: a bona fide haunted movie theater turned Halloween attraction. 


Daylight’s fading and the cracked sidewalks are nearly deserted. As we turn the corner, a familiar marquee comes into view. The only thing different about the outdated sign is the absence of a blockbuster hit. My childhood haunt now offers a different variety of entertainment.

A passion for all things horror-related means I’m always ready for a good scare, but a lifetime of thrill-seeking has left me a bit jaded. So, when I heard that the place where I once sat and watched Goonies was haunted, I couldn’t resist the temptation to find out for myself.

My husband, Greg, holds open the door. I take a deep breath and enter the lobby. Evidence of a long history is present in every crevice. Over fifty years of commerce permeates my senses. The air is still and heavy with a chill of anticipation. Dark corners and tattered walls lined with horror movie posters is exactly what you would expect in a previously abandoned theater turned Halloween attraction.

To our left, owner Rich Blankenship lounges casually on an ancient settee. He greets us with a prompt “Hello” and a grin that’s both welcoming and fiendish. After a few pleasantries our private, behind-the-screams, tour of Laurel’s House of Horror begins.

Fidgeting with a small flashlight, Rich tells us of the tragedy that occurred on the premises in October 2014. A member of his family perished from a heart attack. And since that fateful night, Art’s Chop Shop, has become one of the most “active” areas in the haunt.

Before we continue on, Greg turns to me with brows raised and eyes full of skepticism. The question on his mind is obvious: are we exploring a real haunted movie theater?

Rich ushers us into the haunt. The only light is the narrow beam that he holds in his hand. The surrounding walls are painted black. We’re at his mercy. An uneasy feeling envelopes me.

Is Art present tonight? Or is something else waiting in the dark?

According to Rich, there are opposing opinions, even amongst his own family members. Some believe the unexplained events—lights turning on and off, transforming shadows, meandrous shuffles, even a voice that says “Hey!” too close to your ear—may not be the antics of a fun-loving uncle, but rather the ruse of a darker entity.

We continue down a short hallway and through a set of doors. Rich moves the beam of light, revealing the room one slim section at a time. We are standing at the top of a long aisle. Rows of low-backed seating descend on a typical raked floor. Various props and sheets of drywall are stored along the aisle and between seats. Ahead is an empty floor-to-ceiling movie screen. Greg and I snap a picture to capture the moment. For a split second there’s a plethora of white lights. Immediately we take another, and then compare the images.

In our first pictures, Greg’s phone and my camera have captured phenomena knowns as ghost orbs. According to paranormal researchers, white orbs are the result of a spirit being trapped on this plane of existence. It’s also been said that orbs of this color could signify the spirit is offering protection to those in the area.  If that’s true, then Rich and his family have nothing to fear in their haunt.

captioned ghost orbs

We scroll to the second pictures we’ve taken and see only a vacant theater. Whatever was there, is now gone. This leaves me wondering… Did our presence make the orbs vanish? Or did something else?

The next part of the tour brings us to the newest edition to Laurel’s House of Horror: Escape Rooms. Iconic characters like Michael Myers and Frankenstein offer year-round terror for anyone brave enough to willingly lock themselves inside. While Rich gives a narration of the escape rooms, I survey the beautifully crafted sets. A ton of work has gone into reproducing clips from well-known horror movies. I’m amazed at the amount of detail that’s gone into each one. Rich and his team have not only captured the scenes; they’ve created a disorienting maze with a uniquely sinister vibe.

Haunt captioned collage

I pull out my camera and snap a few pictures. I’m lost in imagined imagery of frantic patrons searching for a way out when something grabs me.

It’s only Greg, who has ahold of my arm but continues to look over his shoulder. My husband’s not easily spooked. I’m about to ask what he’s seen, when he releases my arm and points to his ear, a signal that he’s heard something.

Before I can question Rich about someone else being in the theater, he casts a knowing look and says, “It’s just the three of us here.”

As we move on, Rich informs us that we are entering Art’s Chop Shop.” He asks that we hold off telling him anything we may see or feel until after the tour. Greg and I nod. I think we both appreciate the fact that he doesn’t want to influence any part of our experience.

captioned butcher shop

The butcher shop where Rich’s uncle used to work his scares hasn’t changed in two years. We stand in silence for a moment. At first, there’s a sense of sadness, but soon the emotion is overtaken by laughter. Not a laughter you can hear. It’s more of a lingering affect from a man who thoroughly enjoyed what he did here. I wander a bit. The guys are conversing as I inspect the surrounding area. For me, nothing happens in this part of the building. And as far as I can tell, Greg isn’t picking up on anything either.

captioned birds eye view

We head upstairs for the last leg of the tour. Inside the projection room, we have a bird’s eye view of almost everything. From here, the dismantled theaters and tightly clustered escape rooms appear as an even more sadistic labyrinth. Where one section is a pit of darkness, the next is illuminated just enough to see the intended terror. Such extremes force the imagination to conjure movement and sound to accompany the feeling of trepidation. It’s easy to conceive a demonic presence lurking around the corner or a blood-thirsty killer lying in wait. I stare hard into the shadows below hoping to see something, anything. All of a sudden, the red exit sign in the distance blinks off, and then back on. I look over at Rich. He shrugs.

Electrical problem?

Finally, we enter the old film room. Rich explains this is where his sister designs T-shirts and other merchandise for the haunt. But all I notice is the smell. A fresh, clean scent that only the right combination of cleaners and air fresheners can create. This area is nothing like the rest of the haunt.

Greg’s voice is low when he says, “Do you see that?”

I don’t see anything. “What?”

“That shirt is moving,” Rich answers flatly.

There’s a single rack of T-shirts a short distance away. I look closer. A white shirt with a crab decal pivots slowly to the right, and then to the left. The movement’s subtle and deliberate. As if someone has their finger on the edge of the hanger, gently guiding it back and forth. This is the only shirt on the rack moving. Chills trickle down my spine.

Am I seeing the unexplained?

I hope so.

The shirt continues to move even as I approach. Rich and Greg hang back, watching.

“Don’t touch it,” my husband warns.

I can’t resist. I grab the hanger. It’s all metal, no rotating hook to help it turn. The bar where the hanger rests is solid with no imperfection or dent that would cause the hanger to slide or swing. Of course, I find no strings attached. There’s no air moving here or anywhere else in the haunt. My chills flourish into a full shiver. I roll my shoulders in an attempt to sluff the feeling away. Returning the shirt to the rack, I walk back to Greg and Rich.

Greg asks me, “Why?” as he rubs his hands up and down my arms. Maybe he can see the goosebumps still under my sleeves.

“I had to be sure.”

captioned tee shirt

The guys are discussing what happened, when I snap a picture of the shirt that has just made my night. On film, the ghostly incident is unassuming and the least scary thing in the room. But, as Rich points out, the tall man standing in the corner is not.

The smile of my face is starting to hurt. With the extra rush of adrenaline, I’m a lot happier than I should be. By the time I raise my camera, the tall man has melted into the shadows. Where he stood, there are no exits or hiding spots.

I’m in the process of thanking Art for making an appearance when Rich interrupts. “My uncle wasn’t tall.”

****

Laurel’s House of Horror has an abundance of costumed volunteers ready to give you the fright of your life. But if you look closer, you may find that true terror lies on the haunts’ outskirts. Perhaps in the damp chill that brushes your bare skin. Or a shadow that disappears before you can decide what you’ve seen. Even the breathless whispers that dare you to turn around.

Oh, and if you happen to catch a glimpse of the tall stranger, be sure to let me know.

 


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