by: Roger Barr
Those of you who joined in the fun of our 2015 "Two Months of Halloween" celebration may recall that I included an old VHS tape that I included with every Halloween Club Pack that season - Spooky World: A Visit to America's Horror Theme Park. While owning a sealed horror attraction VHS tape from 1994 definitely makes for an awesome Halloween decoration, I'm sure a good portion of you who managed to snag the club pack last year were wondering what the video itself was like. After all, it's not like everybody still owns and uses a working VCR these days.
Well, today I'm going to show you exactly what's on the Spooky World VHS by breaking down all of the highlights, and then you'll get to watch the whole thing right here on I-Mockery. Don't worry, the footage is just as grainy as ever, so even with the help of modern technology, it'll still feel like you're watching it on an old VCR.
From the very start of the Spooky World tape, you realize this is going to be something absolutely incredible. First off, you have some twisty, dripping slime fonts informing us that it's "America's Horror Theme Park", it was produced by sfx wizard Tom Savini, and that Kane "Jason" Hodder (gotta love they put the Elm Street sign on his screen) will be providing all the creeptacular narration. We're treated to an array of spooky hand-drawn graphics which glide across the screen in amateur fashion. Keep in mind, these are all static images - the ghosts, the wagon wheels, anything that movies doesn't have any real animation, it's just a simple motion tween not unlike the kind you saw when people were learning Flash for the first time. See for yourself:
I couldn't possibly love this thing more than I already do. It's just a perfect little Halloween time capsule that looks innocent enough to precede an episode of Sesame Street. Yes, the animations are simple as can be, but that only makes them all the more endearing to me. I certainly wasn't expecting special effects that rivaled John Carpenter's The Thing from a 22-minute long, low budget VHS about a 90s haunted hayride attraction up in Berlin, Massachusetts. No, I expected it to be simple and make me want a time machine. In those regards, it has delivered in spades a mere 20 seconds in.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Tom Savini's "Producer" role on this tape was just a way of crediting him for the attractions at the event, because the whole video seemed to have very little oversight. After the initial credits, we're hit with a barrage of random images including a man in a cloak with a flashlight below his chin, a Predator, a pumpkin decoration, and some corpse prisoner in an electric chair. What's great is that they're inexplicably zoomed onto the screen within their own windows that are shaped like flags blowing in the wind. It's as if someone got their hands on video editing software for the very first time, and went to town using some of the built-in generic filters & effects. Again, I love it.
Next, the screen goes dark and random monster masks come flying at the screen while we hear screams. Wait, did I say monster masks? I meant monster masks AND ONE FURRY PURPLE HAIR TROLL HEAD. Could anything be more out of place? Thomas Dam made the troll dolls back in the 1950s for his daughter, and I'm pretty sure he never intended them to appear next to a bleeding skull or a milk-barfing zombie.
I also have to mention that while Kane Hodder was a great Jason Voorhees, his narration on the Spooky World video tape is clearly being read off of a script. His voice works well enough, but I think there's a reason he played one of our favorite mute slashers for so many years.
One of the biggest features on the tape was a live performance of the Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, who was in his mid-fifties, at the old Spooky World farm. What I love about this performance was how embracing Bobby was regarding the fact that he was a one hit wonder. He knew his perennial Halloween tune would never die, and he laughed about how Elvis thought it was the most ridiculous song he had ever heard. We should all be so lucky to receive that kind of feedback from the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
It was also nice seeing him perform the tune in front of such a huge crowd. This could've easily been a depressing event, like someone performing their song at a car dealership's Labor Day Weekend sale, but Spooky World drew in some huge crowds! So Bobby put on his lab coat and started singing along with his famous Monster Mash tune, and I gotta say, he really sold it! He was completely into it, from his facial expressions to his impersonations of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I wish all horror attractions could have awesome performances like this for attendees to enjoy while they wait in line.
Well done, Bobby! We miss ya.
Back to the event itself (and keep in mind, what you've seen so far already ate up 8 minutes of this 22-minute-long video!), Kane now takes us on a tour of some of the sights and delights of Spooky World taking place under a full moon. I gotta say, between his voice, the macabre music, and the grainy footage... some of this stuff looks like it was shot by a serial killer - or at the very least, it could be footage from an episode of Forensic Files. Weird how footage like that can make a guy in a knock-off Jason Voorhees costume look far creepier than the actual movie version, isn't it?
Moving along, we're treating to some more traditional Halloween season visuals including haunted hayrides, glowing pumpkins, tattered mummies, and skeletal psychos murdering their victims in front of a giant Bart Simpson Butterfinger cardboard standee. It's so entertaining to watch this guy with the skeleton face paint take his role of attacking somebody so seriously, while behind him, Bart Simpson stares at the onlookers while saying, "Boo, Man!".
You can't write magical moments like that, folks... they just happen... and if you're lucky, you'll be there to witness them.
So here's something weird - Kane announces that we've arrived at Elm Street, "You know who lives here... the competition!" But we never actually see Freddy. Instead, we see some mummies stumbling around and then this happens:
Jason Voorhees pops out of the trunk of an old car and approaches the hayride attendees. This raises so many questions:
1) What was Jason doing on Elm Street long before they ever filmed Freddy vs. Jason?
2) What was he doing stuffed into the trunk of a car to begin with?
3) Why does he look more like a hybrid of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers?
4) Why am I an adult pondering things like this from an independent horror attraction tape made in 1994?
Let's be honest... that last question is the only one that really matters here.
Moving along, we arrive at a frat house where one of the fraternity pledges receives a most brutal hazing: having his head severed by a crazed executioner with an axe. Granted, I'd rather have my head chopped off than pledge to a fraternity, but to each his own. Once again, kudos to the scareactor for going all out with the role and bragging about killing his victim to all of the onlookers.
Now this was a completely unexpected surprise, and easily one of my favorite things about the entire event. They actually created a tribute to Tromaville's #1 superhero - The Toxic Avenger! They lined the path with dozens of toxic waste cans (complete with glowing green sludge leaking out), a "Welcome to Tromaville" sign, and of course, Toxie himself. I've been to countless Halloween haunts over the years, but until this point, I had never seen anybody pay homage to one of my favorite b-movie characters. I also love that the performer wore a long-sleeve blue shirt underneath, rather than expose his arms to the undoubtedly frigid Massachusetts fall weather. It just makes this Toxie all the more charming.
Next, we have a few more classic scenarios that we've all seen before at various Halloween haunts. First up, a good ol' fashioned guillotine execution. The best part about this is the girl begging for them to save her, but you can hear the entire crowd repeatedly shouting, "Kill her!" One kid even gets impatient and shouts, "Kill her, quick!", while another makes a splendidly bad pun, "Don't lose your head over that guy!" If it were a real situation, this would be horrible. But during Halloween? It's all part of the fun, which is what makes it such a special season.
They do a great job with the guillotine, going as far as to have blood run onto the ground via a little wooden gutter, and then raising up a bloody severed dummy head out of the basket. Good stuff.
The electric chair execution of a trespasser was fantastic too. It starts off with a live, screaming actor, then after some violent shaking around as a strobe light flashes, we then see a burned up corpse in his place. And the crowd eats up every second of it with cheers of "Yeeeeah!" as the fried electric chair victim is revealed.
We're then transported to another area where some tribe is cooking up a meal in the form of a helpless Boy Scout. After the flames rise high, we see the remains of a blood splattered skeleton. After that, it's onto the local barber shop, where some guy in khakis decided to get a shave. Big mistake. The barber uses his big razor to slit his customer's throat, and a stream of blood starts squirting out. The best part of this moment? Hearing a kid in the background shout, "Kool-Aid!"
The graveyard area features what I can only presume are supposed to be zombies, but the holes in their clothing look so intentional, it looks more like Richard Pryor in The Toy, after emerging from the piranha-infested waters, rather than something that occurred naturally after being buried underground.
Shortly afterwards, we're introduced to Dr. Harelip, who looks more like Jim Martin from Faith No More than a certified physician. Sure enough, he performs a live surgery on one of his patients with a giant butcher knife. Pretty sure he should be using a scalpel for that sort of operation, but I guess he's one of those "alternative medicine" doctors. After cutting her open, a blood kid emerges from her stomach, and he seems to love sticking his tongue out for the crowd to see. If she thinks that operation was painful, wait 'til she gets the bill! Heyoooooooo!
Ever taken a shower outside in Massachusetts during October? Me neither, but that didn't stop this one person from showering behind a curtain before Leatherface killed him/her with a chainsaw. What I found hilarious about all this is that they somehow didn't hear him coming. Showering or otherwise, you don't exactly sneak up on someone with a chainsaw. Props to the guy portraying Leatherface though, because he wildly slung that chainsaw around his head just like Gunnar Hansen in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
When the hayride ends, the guests get to check out the souvenir shop and are treated to free cookies and cups of hot apple cider. Those of you who want to run a haunted attraction should take note: It's little things like this that show people that you actually care, and they'll keep coming back for more in future seasons as a result.
As you can see, the fun isn't over just yet, because Pumpkinhead is joyfully strangling his latest victim! Afterwards, we have an usher guy, leading people into Tom Savini's Haunted House attraction. But rather than guide them with a flashlight, he uses a severed leg to usher them in. His lackadaisical attitude about holding this leg to guide them in as if it's just another day at the office is perfect.
Once inside, people came face to face with an animatronic puppet with some bad hair and even worse teeth. He speaks to his audience in the most threatening voice he can muster: "Ah, new guests! Welcome, ha-ha-ha! What a fine looking lot you are! You must pass through the hall of the dead, but don't stop! We are littered with the corpses that have gone before you. And keep your hands to yourself. No go... before I scare the YELL out of you!" Classic.
It's now time for a montage of all the horrors people experienced in Tom Savini's Haunted House. Horrors like a big, crying man-baby. Horrors like a smiling mummy. Horrors like a werewolf emerging from a cardboard brick wall. Horrors, like a twirling rainbow light. Don't ask me why, but they cut to the rainbow light three times during this montage, as if to suggest it's the scariest thing on earth. Maybe the owners had a really bad experience at a rave? We may never know.
Maybe the rainbow light really was that scary, because we're soon treated to a shot of people running out of the attraction as if their lives depended on it. Okay, it's more like they were told to do it for the camera, but they're all having fun, so who cares? And speaking of fun, we get to see Tom Savini wearing some horn prosthetics on his head and saying, "Strange things happen the longer you stay here."
You know, he's right. The longer I stay here watching the video, the more strange things I see. Like grainy footage of a little girl while Kane Hodder says, "Maybe I'll find out where you live and pay a little visit." Like a witch standing in the fog while holding up her precious pet snake. Like certain shots being reused for the 10th time in the same 20-minute long video.
Oh, and if you're wondering who directed this masterpiece, it was none other than the b-movie pioneer, Ted V. Mikels! I'm sad to say that Ted passed away this week at the age of 87. Ted was an extremely nice man to talk to, and some of you may recall that he was kind enough to allow me to broadcast Mark of the Astro Zombies on the live Halloween episode of Doc Mock's Movie Mausoleum back in 2009. He was a lovable oddball who did things his own way 'til the very end (including maintaining one of the greatest mustaches in the world), so if he had to go, I can think of no month more appropriate for this b-movie master to leave us than October.
Please take a minute to look over his long career of crazy celluloid cinema. Rest in peace, Ted. We'll keep fighting off those pesky Astro Zombies in your absence.
In the end, Spooky World is an attraction I wish I had the chance to visit when I was still living on the East Coast back in the nineties. It's one of those haunts I'd heard about, but never made it all the way up to Massachusetts before the original location shut down. Looking back on this video, however, it shows that they really did put on one hell of a killer Halloween haunt, and it's nice to get a sense of exactly what it was like.
If any of you were lucky enough to visit Spooky World back in the day, I'd love to hear your stories about it, because it looked like an amazing time. And on that note, I leave you with the immortal words of one Bart Simpson: "Boo, Man!"
Now that you've seen my favorite highlights from the video tape, you can watch the 1994 Spooky World VHS in its entirety!
(Big thanks to Dave Grant for uploading the video!)
Be sure to drop a comment below to share your thoughts on the 1994 Spooky World VHS!
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