By now most of you have heard about what happened at Knott’s Scary Farm and California’s Great America with their brand new VR horror experience. If you are left in the dark or have been under the VR googles too long, here is a recap of the story. This past year the gates to two premiere Halloween attractions opened with a brand new experience from Cedar Fair. Utilizing the growing popularity of VR, the simulation titled FearVR: 5150 put guests into a mental hospital while one in particular went crazy, even for mental institution standards. One of the patients becomes possessed and begins running wild among the asylum strapping guests into a chair. Katie, who is possessed by a demon, begins to threaten you and do incredibly bad things to and around you. The experience seems to get so intense that there is a panic button on the chair, if the person wants to chicken out.
This sounds incredibly exciting and has enough uniqueness to entice any horror fan. Now the issue lies in what happened after the first two weeks of opening. Following the trend of what looks to be worsening this year alone, people became offended and complained. Mental health advocates are calling it insensitive. Stating that “The mentally ill are people. They’re human beings. They’re suffering.” One woman in particular, the wife of a pastor who lost their son to mental illness took to Twitter to say “This is NOT entertainment. I’m infuriated that they use the pain &suffering of millions of people for laughs and thrills.”
And after receiving all of this public backlash, both parks shut down the experience and made formal apologies. The question rises of “is that the right course of action?” We Are Indie Horror believes it to be quite an outrage.
Here at We Are Indie Horror we love Halloween, we love everything scary. When something that is meant to be fun is shut down because a few people got angry and upset and felt offended, we get quite outraged. This is our holiday. This is your holiday! And now a precedent has been set and will only allow more people to come out of the wood work to find more things to be offended about during this Halloween season.
One of the biggest overlooked aspects here is the “possessed patient” part of the story line. Possession has been a staple in horror and more importantly life for centuries! Yes it takes place in a mental asylum, which in their own right can be incredibly scary when given the right music and lighting. But they were not making fun of any mental ill person, they were creating fear out of the demons that walk this Earth and take over bodies. Does this make classic’s like The Exorcist or Gothika offesnnsive? Absolutely not.
Let’s take a look at other haunts and mazes across the country that can now be looked at as tasteless or offensive. Halloween Horror Nights Orlando introduced a new character this year, named Chance. Her maze is a fun house insane asylum where many of the crazies locked up get out and cause havoc. The character herself is a Harley Quinn-esque personality. She says and does things that may not be Kosher in the normal world. But it was the best maze at the Halloween Horror Nights Orlando. I beg you evangelicals to not shut that one down. How about John Carpenter’s Halloween which has two mazes this year one in Orlando and one in Hollywood. Michael Meyers is an escaped mental institution patient who goes on a killing spree and this maze in particular takes place during Halloween II which takes place in a hospital. Is this offensive to the sick or the mentally unstable? Absolutely not!
How about the popular VR experience Catatonic? If you are unfamiliar with this experience, find one of your friends with a VR head set and do this now! The story is you are a new mental patient in this asylum where the psychos run crazy. Quickly you find out they run the place. Throughout this tour of the facility you cross many mentally ill and terrifying individuals. The climax itself is quite scary! I cannot imagine Fear VR: 5150 being any more or less offensive than this particular experience and here it is, the most popular horror VR experience to date. Whatever you do, please do not get Catatonic shut down. It is too good.
We then have more intense experiences popping up everywhere. Some that take place in Church settings or even more in hospitals and insane asylums. These cannot be shut down due to a select group of people feeling offended. Even our favorite event thus far, The Tension Experience: Ascension could be looked at as offensive to those who are incredibly religious and hate when others question their believes. We as horror fans love this stuff! We don’t get thrills out of it in the way of finding it funny or demeaning towards particular group of people, but in the situation and the circumstances presented. Being around demons, monsters, and psychotic killers speaks to us to a certain level. Some may do it just for the adrenaline rush but others get a visceral and deeper experience that challenges their psyche and make them a better person.
Even worst, as of yesterday, the retail store Home Depot was forced to pull a Halloween decoration from their line-up. What was it? It’s the photo you see above. It is a clown peeping into a window. Now why did it get pulled? The quote is as follows: “make light of predatory behavior against women” . One person complained to the corporate heads and now the decoration has been pulled from all stores and the company behind it had to make a formal apology because she got offended.
This brings us to the future? Why is this little minuscule closing of a ride and pulling of a halloween decoration so important? The war on Halloween has been taken to a whole new level. Now imagine a child who screams and cries when Mommy says no to buying the toy. The Mommy feels bad and buys the child the toy anyway. This happens over and over again. Now the child believes if they scream and cry when Mommy says no, they can get their way. This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in now. People got offended, complained on a public forum, and the companies bent over backwards and shut their ride down or pulled their product. If that were to happen every time someone out there complained about something that was offensive in the horror world be it a haunt, a film, or even an art piece, there would be no horror and no Halloween.
Horror itself is meant to challenge the norm. It goes outside what people see on a normal basis. It reaches into fears of the mind, grabs them, and exploits them. Certain elements have been around the horror genre since it’s conception and the mentally unstable have been a staple since then. Just as demons are popularized in the genre, mental institutes have remained an incredibly popular location. Much of horror itself is not meant to be offensive to one group of people or another. Take witches for example. Any film with black magic or voodoo could be under the offensive mark because of location, theme, and animal sacrifice.
In conclusion, this was a terrible idea to close down the ride and pull the product based on a few social media tweets. Nobody asked these evangelical and easily offended people to experience it. The creators were not looking to poke fun. They found something that was not there and had to ruin the fun for everyone. We need to be careful or we will lose our genre. As a horror community we need to stand up for what we believe in and that is within ourselves and our stories. If a few people find what you do or how you do it offensive, honestly… F*#k them! This is our genre and we will do as we please without walking on eggshells. Horror is about fear and we here at We Are Indie Horror strive day in and day out to…