There’s almost an argument to be made that horror movies set at a haunted attraction could be their own subgenre. The earliest example I can think of is Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, although that is technically just a carnival that has a spookhouse ride in which the characters get trapped. But after a long, long gap, we’ve suddenly been blessed with a number of such movies in just the last decade.
You’ve got The Houses October Built, and its sequel. There’s Hell House LLC and its two sequels, the similarly-titled Hell Fest, and now Haunt – a Shudder exclusive. October and Hell House LLC are found footage, and to be honest I have trouble distinguishing between the two. And I haven’t seen Hell Fest yet. But Haunt is so far my favorite of all of these.
The gimmick really writes itself when you think about it. All these movies have an early scene in which the haunt actors (known in the industry as “Scareactors”) behave a little too in character, and the supposedly-staged kills seem a little too realistic. There must be a character (typically female) that doesn’t like haunted attractions or being scared to begin with, along with an obnoxious male character who tries to act tough and joke his way through the experience. As someone with some experience in running haunted houses, these happen to be true-to-life customers so I can’t knock the movie for including them.
What sets Haunt apart for myself is the absolutely inspiring collection of haunted house gags that could theoretically be reproduced in a real haunt. The opening scene establishes that this particular haunt is the “extreme” variety, but unlike most so-called extreme haunts that substitute disgust and endurance tests for ingenuity, this one actually has good ideas – frightening situations that simulate anticipatory dread. Some could never realistically be done in a haunted house if you ever plan on letting more than one group go through it, but plenty of others gave me inspiration for scenes I’d like to see in a real haunted house some day (possibly of my own creation).
All that aside, the movie does make the most of its premise. When people start to die for real, the survivors engage in some classic cat and mouse with a gang of masked figures, all wearing retro Halloween masks the likes of Witch, Ghost, Devil, Vampire, etc. – the various mazes and traps now becoming all too deadly. The kills on display here are gnarly – boasting oodles of practical blood and gore. Cranial impalement, exploding heads, eye trauma, jaw trauma, nails through feet, and more.
Consider the aforementioned haunted attraction horror movies, and how the reveal of what’s really happening falls into two camps: human psychopaths that have taken their haunted house gig WAY too far, or supernatural shenanigans. I won’t spoil which this one is. But I will say that “unmasking” the tormentors does not make the situation any less terrifying.
Haunt is now available to stream on Shudder, and is perfect for the fast approaching Halloween Phase 2.