(And yes, that is an obscure reference.)
Something that lexinatrix said got me thinking on the whole love-of-horror thing that I'm so fondle of.
When I was talking about Silent Hill and the creepy atmospheric factor, it hit me that that is the thing that I want most from a horror movie, or a haunted house, or a dark experience in general. I like that slow build of tension that gets almost unbearable until any little thing makes you jump out of your skin.
ALIEN did that. As did Blair Witch. X-files did it at times, usually with Rob Bowman directing, and with Mark Snow's music, it was near perfect.
These days, that seems to be lost. Any suspense lasts for a few minutes at most, and the need for a marketable soundtrack seems to have overtaken any forseeable future for ambient sound. Horror movies have become formulaic, and haunted houses are filled with teenagers in rubber masks that jump out and yell "boo!", or the most-common equivalent: Rarr!
A whole lot of haunters both amateur and professional stand by the old adage that "it doesn't need to be perfect, it's dark". And to an extent, that's true. Lighting plays a huge role in the mood of something, and even something that is a less-than-perfect prop can look ominous when properly lit.
But there is another thing at work here, and that is the atmosphere that you're creating. I love to wander through haunted houses and look at all of the props and the decorating that's gone on. Sometimes there are moments of real beauty-- one of my faboo corpses is a fixture at the Fright Farm for example-- and I love to see the passion that's gone into it.
Other times, the scene work is gorgeous and I just need to take it in for a bit. Everything is assembled in such a way as to evoke memories of a Victorian parlour, or an old musty library, and I just want to look.
SO many places now just throw up some plastic (or just don't even bother with that level of detail-- I've seen haunts done with cubicle walls), and just leave it to "the dark" to scare you. Hell, there are even "dark mazes" that are just that: mazes with no light for you to see anything.
One of the creepiest and more effective haunts was several years ago at Poopyworld where they had a big tent with a maze in it, and it was filled with a really thick, dense fog. And there were clowns. The clowns didn't really do much other than walk around slowly, but it was creepy.
And at the Beast in Kansas City, there is a werewolf forest that is a huge space (approx. 11,000 sq. ft, indoors) with trees and bushes and fog. It's beautifully lit, and the sound is amazing: you will hear the running of footsteps in leaves just off to the side, and the occasional howling of wolves. You can get lost.
(To give you an idea of the attention to detail, check out The Swamp (QTVR), which is one of the sets inside The Beast.)
To be fair, the KC haunts have been around for a long time, and they have entire buildings dedicated to their use. They have the luxury of standing sets, and things like money.
But places like the Fright Farm do a pretty decent job on much smaller budgets. It depends on the people that you have working there (The FF's designer, Mark Lopez, is also a DP and knows lighting and set design in a big way).
There has been some Hollywood talk about a Silent Hill movie.
Yes, it's true. I am heartened to see that it is being helmed by Christophe Gans, who did "Brotherhood of the Wolf", which was pretty moody. It could still suck, but my hopes are up.
Time to die.