I first heard of House of Shock soon after they opened back in 1992. Why is that significant? This is significant because this was in the pre-internet days. I heard of House of Shock from some of my own actors who where fans of Pantera rock band. I heard stories of devil worship, fire breathing from its doors as if the devil himself was inviting you to enter. House of Shock is by far the most controversial haunted house that has ever existed and I include the 'porn haunted house' and the 'Hell Houses' in that mix.
There is NO DOUBT that haunted houses in the mid 80's to early 90's created all of the sterotypes from bloody rooms, Freddy scenes, cheap black plywood walls and of course images from 'Hell'. It wasn't until the Transworld show started to attract more haunted house vendors and the invention of the internet that haunters started to change coarse. Haunted houses today for the most part have left behind scenes from slasher movies ("Leatherface" excluded), excessive gore, black plywood and any and all ties to Satan.
In turn haunted houses are now better than ever, attracting bigger crowds, more publicity, more group sales, better sponsorship deals and more community acceptance. Everyone I know of nearly lost their minds when they heard of Hell Houses, which operated by religious groups used scenes of abortion and suicide. Our stomachs turned as we thought what it might do to our industries reputations with the public and media. All the while a haunted house down in New Orleans was actually preaching devil worship as part of their que line entertainment. I've already been asked why in the World would you feature a cover with the image of evil? House of Shock is doing something so different, so against the trends of our industry someone had to ask the question why. So 'House of Shock' why?
Hi Ross! Why don't you take a few minutes to fill us in with the basics about House of Shock? Who owns the attraction, where are you located, when it first opened, just the basic background information?
Shock: The House of Shock started back in 1992. We created it just for something to do during Halloween. It was a small circle of about 15 friends or so that were there in the beginning and out of those 15 emerged 4 that would take the responsibility of making the event happen year after year... Jay Gracianette, Steve Joseph, Philip Anselmo and myself.
It was just all of us friends in Jay's backyard that first year, with plastic walls wrapped around 2x4's stuck in the ground. (We didn't know any better back then.) But even in those crude beginnings, The House of Shock groundwork was laid for the future. I would still put us up against any "professional" haunted house today.
Although we didn't have awesome props or detailed rooms, we had possessed actors that gave it their all. To tell the truth that is all you really need. You could put any of our cast in an empty room with white lights and we'll get you. Anyway... We had lines around the block in these neighborhoods and the people in the neighborhood weren't that into it so if we wanted to keep going we had to go commercial. Eventually we wound up in the building we are in now. We are going on our 8th season in this location.
Even before the invention of the Internet, which made it very easy for everyone to communicate and learn from other haunts around the nation I had heard all sorts of rumors about House of Shock. I even remember as far back as maybe 10 years ago hearing about this haunted house owned by a rock band. Do you think having the Pantera connection helped build the legend that is now House of Shock?
Shock: I think that having Pantera's endorsement definitely helped us gain the national exposure and notoriety that we enjoy. I mean... Would we be in Rolling Stone Magazine or have an hour long special on VH-1 without Philip? Probably not. However, I don't think our local success was entirely hinged on our relationship within the rock community. I think New Orleanians come to The House of Shock to see what we will do next. The level of show brings them back year after year.
One of the first things we heard about was the devil-worshipping concept. When I was a teen back in the 80's, devil worship rumors were a big thing with rock stars. So tell us are you or anyone in the band or associates of the haunted house worship Satan?
Shock: Come on Larry... I guess it is a valid question, but really! Look man... My partners are Catholic and I'm a Jew! I suppose to some people that's as bad as being a Satanist. (Laughs)
If no one worships Satan or the Devil then why the theme, which as you knew prior to opening the house and since would be very controversial? I can only imagine many people will not buy a ticket to your attraction because of the theme.
Shock: What was the scariest movie when I was a kid? What movie messed me up more than any other and to this day is one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made? The Exorcist! Movies with Satanic or apocalyptic themes were what scared the generation that I came from. Movies of that time period were real. They didn't have the polish or political correctness of today's mainstream horror. They dealt with horror in a graphic and violent way. Most of them did not have any comic relief at all. They were dismal and sullen and over the top. That is what we fashioned our event after. Happy skeletons are not for us. Freddy Kruger dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" doesn't cut it man! It isn't what we think is scary. It may work for some audiences... But not ours! If we lose a few people due to our content in order to keep our integrity in tact then so be it!
From what I remember during some of our talks you had told stories of how some in the community tried to keep you from opening. What was that like and in addition was the theme really worth it and why?
Shock: The first 3 years were a struggle for us. The first 2 were in backyards and to the people in the neighborhood, Satan had just moved in next door. I don't blame them at all. If you are a good Christian grandma and you walked into The House of Shock expecting the usual haunted house... Well let's just say it could be quite a shock. (Pun intended) Add to that, this abomination is in your own neighborhood. I don't blame them. After the second year we realized it wasn't going to work in a backyard setting, so we rented a warehouse. This is where the public officials came in to play. Sparked by a few complaints from their constituents, the City Council decided that we were not appropriate for public viewing and tried to shut us down. One councilman made a quote to the newspaper that if there was anything that he found offensive, he would make sure that we were shut down immediately. This started a citywide argument via talk radio and the newspaper over censorship and freedom of speech rights. In the end the council backed off due to public outcry. Besides... I'm sure they figured we wouldn't be around long. They thought we would shoot ourselves in the foot anyway. So... Was it worth it? Yup!
I must say that I've been totally against any haunted houses exploiting real death, Satanism themes, excess gore, etc in haunted houses for very good reason: Haunted houses like any other business but especially our industry needs to attract a wide audience to stay successful. Many people instantly think of the awful haunted houses from the 80's and part of the 90's with devil scenes, white walls with blood and teens banging holes in walls with bats. We've all fought so hard to leave these stereotypes behind to grow our industry into an industry that is acceptable entertainment for everyone. House of Shock must be the only haunt that I know of that goes against all of this and even exploits and promotes the idea. Why? Plus do you think promoting devil themes in haunts is good or bad for haunted houses?
Shock: We're a far cry from white walls and baseball bats though Larry. I also don't think this type of haunting is for everyone. As a matter of fact... I don't think this angle is for anyone else. But isn't it nice to know that it exists somewhere?
Somewhere in this nation there is a haunted attraction that is not afraid to overstep the boundaries. Not scared to separate itself from the normal. Wouldn't it be boring to know that there wasn't anything beyond a room with a Distortions Electric Chair or a vampire/bat Pepper's Ghost illusion? Wouldn't it be kinda depressing to think that it doesn't get any better than a pimply faced teenager in a cape trying to put on an English accent badly? What we offer is an alternative. We offer intensity! It isn't for everyone. Some people like hockey masks.
A few years ago you guys sent in some awesome footage of your haunted house. I was just blown away by the detail of your sets and wondered why the controversial angle. Was your theme purposely done to sell tickets or to cause controversy or was it simply because you wanted to make a statement?
Shock: Thank you for the compliment! Although I don't think our sets are as detailed as many of the haunts that you highlight on your videos. I definitely wouldn't be so pretentious as to say we are making any kind of statement with what we're doing. And we might even sell more tickets if we left the Devil out of it. We do what we do because it is what we have always done and it is definitively ours. We do it well and it works for us!
The thing that totally stunned me when I'm looking at this footage was this preacher, actually preaching to people to worship the devil. When you think back to events such as Columbine shootings and how the media claims video games or movies influence these people has the idea ever crossed your mind that maybe you might by influencing someone to actually worship the devil?
Shock: Did Marilyn Manson influence the Columbine kids to shoot their classmates, or were these just 2 disturbed kids with access to firearms? Did Judas Priest seduce that kid to blow his head off, or was that just a depressed teen with several problems and parents that didn't care or know how to? Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest are musicians. The House of Shock is theater! Just as Broadway plays and movies are theater. (But without the budget!) There is no reality here, just the perception of reality for the sake of entertainment.
Should we be faulted for putting on a believable show? Because frankly, if we were just up there in fake English accents, being ignorant, and spouting off inane nonsense, we wouldn't be considered the threat we are now. But because to the average person we appear to be the real thing, we are going too far and influencing impressionable minds. They see all that "Hell Fire" from our pyrotechnics show and believe that we are Evil incarnate. These are the same people that will believe anything just because someone told them so. No... I do not think we are influencing anyone to do anything that they weren't going to do anyway. Stupid people do stupid things for stupid reasons. If you don't believe me... Watch Jerry Springer!
One other thing I noticed about your haunted house, which we featured on a Hauntworld Movie was the extreme scare technique you employ such as the slob, drooling out of his mouth hanging dirty underwear over peoples heads. I can understand why that would be scary...lol. Anyway what are some of your more extreme ways you've attempted to scare people and do some have negative reactions?
Shock: It wasn't real dirty underwear! It was underwear with a chocolate bar in it. (Laughs) Look... We are a freak-show! We are a haunted house amped up on steroids! We will try anything to scare, disturb, sicken, and leave you emotionally scarred! One year however, we had a guy named "Scary Jerry". (He gave himself this name.) Jerry thought it would be a good idea to cut him up with a real machete for our patron's entertainment. Needless to say, "Scary Jerry" isn't with us anymore. Last I heard he is in a haunted house in Florida.
I must say your haunted house's detail is exceptional one of the best I've ever scene. What are your scenes based on like a story or just random?
Shock: Well there isn't a definitive story line but it isn't exactly random either. You enter our world and we take you through it logically. You enter this year through a huge 5,000 sq/ft outdoor graveyard, which leads you to a mausoleum. You exit and come upon a huge 2 story plantation style home that has a gigantic ballroom outfitted with Doug Ferguson's FCG's on motorized tracks that can travel the entire room. Then you exit the house into a traditional New Orleans style graveyard. There is a good reason they call our cemeteries "Cities of the Dead". The tombs are huge. From there you go through a swamp and the "Church of Sadness" which is Lord Belial's lair. Lord Belial is kind of the head bad guy. He claims to be the "Leader of the 4th Reich! The Satanic Reich!" Lord Belial is played by none other than yours truly!
How much of your haunted house do you change each year?
Shock: We are changing more this year than ever before. We are adding about 6,000 sq/ft and we are giving facelifts to most of our sets.
I'm a firm in my thought that your haunted house is so awesome that it would do more business if you didn't have the devil theme. Has the idea ever crossed your mind to change the theme of the show in attempt to cross over some?
Shock: Yes. We have talked about it. And you are probably right... We would do more business if we took out the Devil. After all it is such a small part of what we are as a whole. But we couldn't rightly call it The House of Shock without it or at least I wouldn't want to. We kinda painted ourselves into a corner with this and it is hard to back out now. And to tell the truth I don't want to. I like what we are and I'm proud of what we do. Screw the money! (Laughs and then cries)
You guys seem to be very cutting edge with your idea's and endeavors. What are some of the more extreme idea's you've attempted to build into your haunted house?
Shock: I don't know... Are we more extreme than the "Hell Houses" out there with the abortion scenes and AIDS wards? I don't think so. To me they are the ones who should be accused of trying to influence people. I think the most extreme stuff we do is our stage show. It sets the mood of the entire experience.
Last year you built an entire dark ride. I was amazed at the attempt and very impressed. I remember talking to you on the phone and mentioning not to give everyone unlimited trips through because of the slow through put of a dark ride. So tell us exactly what the results where from your dark ride experience.
Shock: We took that advice and "The Dark Ride" was a success when you take into account all of the hardships we had to overcome. Unfortunately "The Dark Ride" opened 2 weeks late due to 2 back-to-back hurricanes we suffered before our opening weekend. Many of our electronics got ruined and the track had to be re-sanded. Because of that setback, the detail of our scares weren't up to par and the ride was a little lack-luster. We wound up losing money but the accomplishment was immense. We were able to build that entire ride from scratch. It was quite an undertaking that I don't suggest you try. The cars, the track, the cueing system, the on-board computers, etc.... all of that was made and put together by our volunteer crew headed by Doug Ferguson of Phantasmechanics and Byron Falgout, House of Shock's head engineer! We are happy with it but we are giving it a year off. It will be back in 2004!
Do you do a lot of advertisement in your market or does your haunt have a loyal cult following which allows you to advertise less?
Shock: Our advertising budget is $20,000. Is that a lot? I know some haunts that spend 5 times that amount. I think most of our business is word of mouth and loyal fans. However... We don't have enough courage to see if that is true or not. I wish we did!
For most haunts PR is a crucial aspect to a successful business. Have you found that your local television stations and major newspapers won't embrace your attraction for fear of complaints?
Shock: We were the lead story on the 10:00 evening news 2 years ago. It was the whole "Have they gone too far?" angle. They showed footage of our stage show complete with fire and everything. Did it help us or hurt us? Who knows? It doesn't matter really.
I was checking out your website and noticed you're only open 14 days. Why?
Shock: Seriously... I don't think we could physically handle more than that. We are so active and it is so hot down here that we would burn out fast. Some years we are open more than that though. It depends on how the calendar falls.
Staying with the subject of the Internet, your website is as cutting edge as your attraction. I'll vote your website one of, if not, the best on the net. Tell us what goes into your thought process with the net. In addition, how has the net helped your business?
Shock: The website links us with our worldwide fans. People that have heard of us from our numerous magazine interviews or through our music connections or just through the rumors of the "Outlaw" haunted house have found us through our website. These people can get a little taste of what we are about through there. We also sell a decent amount of merchandise through our site. That always helps too.
From talking to you, you've had a lot of rock stars, actors, and so on visit your haunted house. Tell us some of the biggest starts to experience your show?
Shock: Uh... Probably many people that you or your readers have never heard of, but they are big to us from the rock community. The Nine Inch Nail guys are based out of here. They are regulars. The Canadian band Nickelback came to check us out. Melissa Joan Heart of the show Sabrina the Teenage Witch came through. Anne Rice's personal assistant came through. (Laughs) We also get many Saints players every year. Kyle Turley former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman and current St. Louis Ram was a great friend to The House of Shock. He even made an appearance in our stage show!
On your website you claim to be the most intense attraction in the world. What makes your attraction so intense other than the theme?
Shock: Our cast... Most definitely! We are constantly in your face! You barely have time to breathe. The times when we do let up you are even more freaked out waiting for the next onslaught!
In all honesty considering you're in New Orleans known for lots of weird things like voodoo do you think this might be the only city in America where something like what you're doing could work?
Shock: Probably. You have to remember though... New Orleans is an overtly Catholic town. I think we only exist because we found a loophole and came in at the right time. Our saving grace was the comment made by that narrow-minded councilman that sparked the public outcry. Also... Our fire marshal is a great ally! We almost consider him a 5th partner! Honestly, if it weren't for him we wouldn't be around at all. He stuck up for us when no one in city government would. Thank you Jerry Renfro!
Expanding that thought since you're in the city which is home to Nine Inch Nails, Anne Rice, Voodoo, and Ancient Cemeteries and more do you think that maybe an attraction any less shocking would work? Do you wonder, considering the city you're in any less extreme wouldn't work?
Shock: There are many traditional events here in New Orleans that do a wonderful job and also do good business! Our friend Dwayne Sanburn in Baton Rouge does way more business than us! He has an awesome haunt called 13th Gate. He has made us step up our game a little this year! Bring it on Dwayne!
I remember a few years ago before Terror on Church Street closed down they had ideas of expanding. I was told first hand one of the cities under strong consideration was New Orleans. I remember it was going to be called Terror on Bourbon Street. I think this would be been very successful as a year around haunted house. Have you guys ever thought of doing something like this?
Shock: Yes. But in order for it to work it would have to be in the French Quarter and then you are talking big bucks and a more corrupt government than we have in Jefferson Parish. (Right outside New Orleans) We would like to do it but we would have to bring in a big time investor. Ozzy's name has been passed around! We'll see what happens.
We've also talked about the whole theme restaurant thing. But we all saw how well that one did in Chicago. I don't think people want to eat and then get scared. It's not a good combination. Overall, I don't think a year round event would do as well here as in places like Orlando, because New Orleans is a different kind of town. Less family... More drunks! When people come here they want to get loaded not see a haunted house out of season.
Considering your theme I would think you'd get some strange actors who love to work there. Tell us about your actors?
Shock: We have the most dedicated cast you could ever ask for. These guys sweat blood for us! They give it their all and we can't show them enough appreciation! Every year we do a Christmas Awards Banquet where we give out awards for Best Room, Best Costume/Make-up, Best Stunt, etc. Fully catered, full open bar, no expense is spared!
We also have our own Mardi Gras float that parades on Mardi Gras Day. That is also open to our members. We have several get-togethers throughout the year.
We have become like a huge extended family. We are very proud of our relationship with our members. Many weddings and babies have occurred as a result of The House of Shock. It is as much a social event for us as it is a haunted house. I wouldn't change that for anything!
Again I noticed on your website you have some sort of stage show. Tell us more about your stage shows and are they inside or outside? Do they cost more money to see them and do they bring you extra business you wouldn't have had otherwise? Lastly what kinds of acts do you feature?
Shock: How long is this interview, Larry? (Laughs) The stage show has become a big part of The House of Shock in the past 3 years. It takes place on a 40ft wide 9ft tall stage that is outside in front of our cue line. This stage is also home to our two 8ft video screens that play edited cuts from the most underground horror films that no one has ever seen, along with some classics.
The stage show itself incorporates live actors, video, loud audio, stunts and more pyrotechnics in 5 minutes than in an entire rock show. Our partner and general manager Steve Joseph is a licensed pyrotechnician that travels the world with the likes of Janet Jackson, Pantera, Nickelback, and The Rolling Stones. As a matter of fact, this year we will be using pyro effects straight from The Rolling Stones 2003 World Tour. They are being shipped to us directly from their last tour date.
We also have a second stage at our event that faces the ticket line. This stage showcases acts such as the Reverend B Dangerous Freak-Show (featured at Ozzfest), and several local and national musical acts. All of this is included in the price of admission.
What are some of the ways most unusual ways you've promoted your haunted house. For example I saw some kind of race car on your website. Tell us more!
Shock: We have a racecar and a Mardi Gras float. We have 2 hearses. One of them actually runs. (Laughs) We also have a T.V. commercial that is the most graphic commercial ever. I love it! We pulled no punches. I'm surprised they let us air it!
How do you think the haunted house industry has changed over the past few years for the better or worse?
Shock: I'm not sure. First of all I think some people in this industry take themselves way to seriously. I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but this community is small and some people really have ego problems. I mean... I think that The House of Shock is the best Haunted Attraction in the country. I'm sure everyone feels the same about their own event. But, I know that it is just a haunted house. Some of us want to read a little bit more into this industry than is necessary I think. There are some of us that are very pompous and not so nice. I think it's funny to tell the truth. I laugh at these people and their little cliques. I suppose this is a little off subject but it is irritating sometimes. Come on guys! It is a haunted house!
What is the future for House of Shock hold?
Shock: Franchises! I don't know.( Laughs) We are talking about taking it on the road and joining one of these summer music festivals. I think that is within our realm of capabilities.
Thanks for your time and answering some of these questions which where kinda tough ones. Can you please tell everyone where to get in touch with your attraction if they want to visit this October?
Shock: The best way to get a hold of us and to see what we are about is through our website at www.houseofshock.com. We have pictures and media clippings on there. We have a message board where you can exchange messages with our cast or you can also e-mail me personally through a link on our web page or at email@example.com. I am happy to talk with anyone, especially fellow haunters. My number is published in the IAHA phonebook, so feel free to just give me a call if you want. Check out our website though and buy some merchandise! (Laughs evilly)