Last Night: Ghoulish Conventioneers Search for New Scares at The Darkness


Hey good lookin', what'cha got cookin'?
  • Hey good lookin', what'cha got cookin'?
Fear poured over me last night when I walked through the doors of St. Louis' scariest haunt, The Darkness.

My chest tightened and my eyes darted about waiting for someone -- or something -- to sneak up behind me and release a guttural scream.

Luckily for this scaredycat there were no such spooks in the house Thursday as the old warehouse near the Soulard Farmer's Market played host to hundreds of "haunters" in town for this weekend's TransWorld Haunt & Attractions Show at America's Center. 

Haunters -- as they call themselves -- have voted The Darkness as one of the best "haunted attractions in the country." So there was plenty of scrutiny yesterday as these purveyors of fright took a tour of the warehouse. And while it may seem a bit early in the year to be thinking about haunted houses, now is the time haunters begin tinkering with ideas for this coming Halloween.

With iPhones and digital cameras in tow, the haunters meandered through The Darkness as if they were taking in an interactive museum. They stepped on triggers on the floor that set off car horns. They squeezed foam walls that puffed with skulls and ribs. They inspected anima-tronic figures that lurched back and forth with all the grace of those Showbiz robots, and they peered at a chalk body lines transformed into hopscotch boards. One guy even poked a small employee in the forehead, thinking he was another of the hundreds of mannequins jammed into The Darkness fear factory.

"This is the worst crowd you could ever put in a haunted house," opined Robert McBroom, who operates a haunted attraction near Los Angeles. McBroom explains that most customers are in and out of a haunted house quickly -- spurred along by screamers who jump out from the darkness to move them along.

This guy is not getting into the new clinic downtown.
It's rare, say haunters, for haunted house operators to open up their digs to other people in the industry. But then, one might say that The Darkness' Larry Kirchner has something of a "devil-may-care attitudue" when it comes to these things.

"Yeah, this is kind of unprecedented," confirms Rich Strelak, who traveled in from Las Vegas for this weekend's convention. Strelak owns The Asylum and Hotel Fear in Nevada, and operates

All told, more than 350 haunters made their way through the two-story attraction Thursday night, the highlight of which was the 3-D fun-house added after Halloween last year.

At the end of the hour-plus tour, haunters -- most of whom sported black T-Shirts with their own neon logo on the back -- drank Pepsi and smoked cigarettes while talking about the next new scare. The trend of 3-D in Hollywood seems to have carried over to haunted houses, at least with The Darkness' final haunt.

Although the economic recession is killing off jobs in all areas, all the haunters I spoke with  said business at their haunted houses this past October didn't take as much of a hit. Like movie theatres in the 1930s, haunted houses might be better at surviving a sluggish economy than other industries.

"It's an adrenaline rush as soon as you walk out," says Strelak of Las Vegas, who adds that haunted houses have an easier go of it in the East and Midwest. "Out West, it's 80 degrees and no one wants to go to a haunted house," Strelak says. "But as soon as it gets cold one night, after that first freeze, everyone says it's fall and starts thinking about Halloween."


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