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Who doesn't love a good scare?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:08 p.m.

She was threatened by monsters, nearly devoured by a dinosaur and chased by men with knives and chain saws.

Rosie Britton loved it.

Especially the guy with the knife.

"He's awesome," said Britton moments after surviving a journey through the House of Terrors, a haunted house in northwest Wichita.

Britton, 49, planned to take her husband, Robbie, next time so he could share in the thrill of being terrified.

Fear is always lurking. It can creep up the spine or make us leap in terror. It can come in the form of a spider, a snake, a walk in the dark, a sudden noise, the view from a skyscraper, a confined space, a drop in the stock market, the thought of speaking in public.

But at Halloween, we love fear and pay money to experience it.

"Halloween gives us a chance to play a game with death," said John Tibbetts, associate professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas, and author of a new book, "The Gothic Imagination: Conversations on Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction in the Media."

"It keeps death at a remove — playing with it, approaching it warily, yet having fun with it. We have one foot dangling over the abyss," he said.

"It's beyond our rational self. It connects us with those things outside ourselves."

Humans tend to think we're the center of the universe, but the horror genre upsets that notion by suggesting there are things beyond us that we may never understand, Tibbetts said.

"We kind of enjoy knowing we're not the end all and be all. Maybe that's bordering on the religious. Religion is about getting outside our skin," he said.

Kids really enjoy being scared because they aren't so close to death yet that they can't play with it at arm's remove.

Parents are wary of their kids' playing with horror, because they know there are horrors out there that are all too real.

But, Tibbetts said, "Kids need the right and the privilege to play games, even if those games deal with death."

Halloween offers a chance to turn our fears loose. In an interview with horror novelist Stephen King that is included in Tibbetts' book, King claims horror writers are people "who walk your dog at night," meaning they exercise our darker emotions for us, emotions we normally can't allow outside.

There are other "dog walkers" out there, people who design haunted houses and haunted forests for the maximum willies.

The House of Terrors, at 2350 N. Maize Road, is located in a conventional shopping center. But inside, visitors are transported into a spooky universe filled with elements that exploit nearly every phobia a human can have.

It contains 31 scary rooms linked by darkened hallways populated with animatronic animals and monsters, as well as 30 live actors who pop up out of nowhere to shock visitors.

"We enjoy scaring people because that's what they're here for," said Jerry Farha, who owns the "house."

The human actors who portray monsters become experts at eliciting terror.

"All people have some kind of phobia. It' s just a matter of figuring out which ones," said Sam Cohlmia, operations manager at the House of Terrors who sometimes gets made up as a killer clown to inflict some of the terror.

"The startle scares are always good," he said, wearing in a blood-stained smock, his face smeared in clown makeup, with a red wig sticking out from under a black top hat. "But the thing that really gets to people is whatever fear they usually have... snakes, spiders, clowns, torture areas, blood and guts, skeletons. We have all that stuff."

For some visitors, the actual terrors aren't as frightening as knowing they're about to happen.

"The anticipation of being scared is what scares me the most," said Kristi McEntire, 24, another House of Terrors survivor.

"What scares people is the unexpected," said Travis Daerr, one of the owners of the Warehouse of Terrors in Milton. "We try to set up a lot of things throughout the warehouse that aren't expected."

At one spot, a barrel drops suddenly from above and makes a loud noise. Visitors are lured to refrigerators and freezers for a look inside, only to have something pop up behind them.

"People, on different levels, they want you to get the best of them," Daerr said.

The Halloween Dude offered a theory about why people love to be scared. It's the same reason they love to ride roller coasters.

"It puts a flow of blood to your brain and scares the hell out of you," he said. "But you go back."

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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