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A good haunted house is about the utter collapse of our accidental differences, the uselessness of class, of gender, of education, of personal history, of all the distinctions we cobble together and call the self.Late enough at night none of this stuff protects you, not from the boogeyman.
That conversion is sometimes accomplished brutally and by subjection ought to be seen as aberrant and a sad lapse, a drop in the level of discourse.
But hazing, with its disorientation, its deprivations, is fairly nondenominational. You confuse the senses, you tilt a floor, you dead-end a few of the dark corridors, you create prolonged silences, you flash white lights bright enough to blind, you blast noise so loudly stout men faint, you suffuse a room with the sulfurous reek of rotten eggs, you set up a gallery of yucky tactile experiences, you tease out a taste of eternity in a coffin with a claustrophobic stay in a closet, you do that and I really doubt the morality of abortion or homosexuality, for instance, would be half as worrisome, at least not for the immediate duration.
A good haunting gives us a workable vision of equality, a denominator similar to the danse macabre.
It’s probably fair to speculate that medieval depictions of putrefaction, particularly of worms crawling out of the bowels, drew inspiration from the visceral experience of fear, its locus in the upset stomach, which feels wormy when one is frightened, and to the extent that Hell House retained its folkloric roots it might have tapped that primitive seat of horror.
I went to an all-boys school and for Frosh Week was made to sit in a tub of shit and lettuce, filled to the brim with fetid water and stirred with an oar, surrounded by crazed, shouting, doped-up seniors, and that was more unbearably nightmarish than any of the cornball lessons about moral hygiene I got from Hell House.
Bodily fear just isn’t rejectable, whereas moral and religious ideas, Pentecostal or Catholic, right or left, are better handled by hermeneutics than horror, and anyway should operate under different rules of suasion.It’s a haunted house in a haunted world, and through it you wind, down corridors of billowing black Visqueen, through rooms luridly lit by strobes and TV screens, past stage sets peopled with rapists and murderers and terrorists until, briefly interred in a black coffin whose convenient and clever back door opens onto the afterlife, some souls ascend into heaven while most are dragged down to hell.It’s an eschatological vision made up of a by-now-familiar triad of fundamentalism, outsized Texas bullshit, and some of the lowest conservative clichés about life in the big bad world — basically an undiluted version of our president, and as such, I guess, the potshots have already been taken.In honor of Halloween, we’re running the book’s “Hell House” essay, in which D’Ambrosio writes about his visit to a Christian haunted house in Texas.Hell House Hell House is a ramshackle arrangement of buildings meant to depict in a literal and somewhat medieval way the vast potential for ending up eternally damned.One hates to go to hell only to come back scoffing, but I took the tour three or four times, on two different nights, and the miscellanea of horror that made up this particular rendition lacked anguish and torment, not to mention the visceral, abreacted thrills you expect a good haunted house to have.There was a sort of moral hauteur that irritated me, but I was really hoping for spooky lowbrow sleights along the lines of peeled grapes for eyeballs and clumps of cold spaghetti for brains and whatnot., out November 11, confirms what his devoted readers have known all along: He is among America’s finest essayists.Slyly cumulative in their emotional power and inspiring in their moral insight, D’Ambrosio’s pieces jump from personal history to cultural deep-digging.A haunted house makes the experience of horror real, a thing inescapably participated in, with everybody hell-bound.But too often Hell House made the mistake of locating fear elsewhere, referring to moral arguments and social issues outside its walls and, in doing so, letting the drama of the endangered body drain away.