Related News

Home » Feature

Ghouls, gore and goose bumbs

As banshees wail, ghouls moan and girls scream and hug their boyfriends, Katie Foley asks Shanghai's resident Halloween man if the creepy carnival is raising goose bumps in China.

Young Chinese who don't know much about Halloween are lining up and paying to be terrified by actors and creeped out by gore because life can be pretty mundane and they want some thrills.

There's nothing quite like a good scare and letting out a scream while knowing that you're really safe and sound. Fear triggers an adrenalin rush that's quite addictive. The "fight or flight" response raises the heart rate, breathing and muscle tension.

When it's over, it all can be quite cathartic, a tension-reliever.

Quan Gan, co-owner of Shanghai Nightmare, the city's major stand-alone Halloween haunted house sees the phenomenon all the time. A number of other haunted houses operate within amusement and entertainment centers, including Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Shanghai Nightmare debuted last year, a run-away success. As many as 10,000 people visited last October and Quan expects a good turnout this year, though somewhat lower due to the competing Expo attractions.

"Most of them don't really understand too much about Halloween.

"They know a haunted house, but I don't think they have fully connected Halloween with haunted houses yet like they would have in the United States," said Quan, who was born in Beijing but moved to the US when he was six. "So to them it's 'Oh look, there is a new event in town - it's something scary and we want to try it out'."

Quan grew up in the fevered American Halloween culture, where retail spending for Halloween is second only to Christmas. He became quite a prankster.

He moved back to China two years ago and put his mechanical and electrical engineering skills to work in the haunted house, creating it from scratch. This year it has doubled in size.

At Shanghai Nightmare, all manner of horrors await and ghoulish actors lurch out at visitors, but do not touch. It's pretty unscripted and no one is safe, which is part of the fun.

"Maybe they are stressed out at work or their daily life is pretty mundane so they want something to spice it up," Quan observes. It's more about excitement and goose pimples.

Most telephone inquiries come from young women who then drag their boyfriends to the haunted house, he says.

His thinking is corroborated by commodity trader Carmen Zhu, 27, who spoke to Shanghai Daily as she emerged from her close encounters with the macabre.

"I don't know, life is boring, we wanted to go out to something interesting," she said. "I was so scared, though, all the time. I closed my eyes. But everything was fresh: human actors, not machines."

Her boyfriend Max Chen, 32, who works in the shipping industry, said he sometimes enjoys American, Japanese and Korean horror movies.

Chen said he expects the increasing number of expats and tourists in Shanghai will make Halloween and related activities more popular.

Chinese don't yet dress in costume, unless they're going to a party or a club. There's the occasional pair of fangs, some heavy eye makeup and maybe a pair of glowing red demonic horns.

Quan estimates that 10 Chinese visit his horror show for every one foreigner.

He estimates four or five other haunted houses have opened and closed in Shanghai this year, run mainly by businessmen out to make a buck as opposed to embracing Halloween.

"A lot of business people come here and look at what we do. They think it's a perfect business opportunity because we have people lined up outside the door.

"There's a lot of through-put and they think that's a lot of cash, but it's not necessarily just that - there are a lot of logistical and safety concerns and planning that goes on. Scaring people in a haunted house actually comes down to a science."

Trick or treat

The science and technology has paid off, with Shanghai Nightmare receiving a Distinguished Achievement award last year from the International Association of Haunted Attractions.

Quan said the success of haunted house attractions over eight years at Hong Kong's Ocean Park proves the potential and staying power of Halloween in China's bigger cities.

"There's no doubt," he said, "that the Asian public loves this scary type of entertainment."

Quan said Halloween costumes often bring out different sides of people and putting on a mask can be liberating.

"There is something about putting on a mask - you can be whoever you want and not care ... It's weird. It's like by putting on a mask, you are actually removing a mask."

As for the "trick or treat" aspects of Halloween, Quan said he doubted that giving treats to strangers and dressing up would catch on in China - but everyone loves the "trick" aspects and that's why his haunted house is popular. How I survived vampires and ghosts

I'm scared of ghosts and monsters. But the fact is that I have never managed to fight back my curiosity about such ghastly supernatural things.

That's why I went to Shanghai Nightmare, along with my friend Saladin. It was dark at the dilapidated old building refurbished as a haunted house. The pitch-dark windows looked like eye sockets in a skull. The jack-o-lanterns grinned wickedly.

An employee agree to take us inside, but he refused to explain anything or even walk in front of us, to run interference.

I had to hide behind Saladin's back so that he would be the one to encounter ghosts and monsters face-to-face.

So far so good. Then we entered "Sadako's Room," named after the female ghost Sadako in the Japanese horror film "Ring" (1998). She would climb out of a TV set and terrify people to death. There was a set in the room and I knew she would come out in some way, so I hid behind Saladin.

Suddenly she jumped out with a hair-raising scream, but I had expected that, so we cautiously passed her and marched toward the exit. But, to our horror, she followed, crawling all the way to the door, then rising up and waving her long bleeding fingernails in the air, just centimeters from my face.

My scream was louder than hers.

Then came another shock. Our private tour ended when the guide got a phone call and said he had to go back to work. "Good luck," he said with a sinister smile, and vanished in the dark.

Surrounded with monsters' growls, Saladin and I froze in the darkness, speechless. If only we'd come in with other visitors!

Well, it's shameful to be a quitter, so we walked on and I hid behind Saladin.

We made our way through a mirrored labyrinth, a shaking tunnel and several other grisly rooms. Eventually we made it out. The staff at the exit congratulated us on making it out alive and showed several pictures of us taken by security cameras.

Only Saladin was visible, I couldn't see myself anywhere and half-wondered if something supernatural was going on. Then I saw a few locks of my hair creeping over his shoulder and remembered that I had been cowering behind my friend.

Zombie scared to death

"God, you scared the hell out of me," gasped the ghost as my friend Steffie unknowingly walked up to a blacked-out "secret window" where the ghost was hiding.

She almost bumped into one of the things that go bump in the night. This was actually a young male zombie with a pale, shining face covered with scars, its mouth dripping blood.

Then came two blood-curdling screams - one from the terrified zombie and one from Steffie.

"Why are you standing so close to the window?" demanded the zombie that was supposed to lurch out at her (but not touch).

Little did he know that his boss, our guide, was standing right there, escorting us through the narrow corridor devoured by darkness. "Be professional!" shouted the boss, ordering the zombie back to its nest.

This was some months back and no doubt the zombies, the undead, have their act together for this Halloween.

But at the time we were walking down the corridor, I could spot the tiny crack of light around the window. I knew what was coming - a classic scene in which a window suddenly opens and an apparition rushes, floats or crawls out, terrifying the unsuspecting human.

I was about to warn Steffie, but it was too late. The scene came to life when she walked up to the window and scared the zombie, but not to death.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend