Reviewing the fourth edition of the haunted house experience
It’s hard to make good horror these days, when your audience is used to high-end graphics and desensitized by violence in popular entertainment and daily news. Bangladeshis are a harder sell, given that the experience of crossing a road in Dhaka is as nerve-wracking as finding a ghost in the basement. Six Seasons Hotel Dhaka, which introduced the haunted house experience in 2014, and is back with their fourth edition this year, had their work cut out for them. We decided to go and investigate.
Arriving at the lobby, which had a scary nun looming over the ticket booth, I had my first moment of panic. The place was packed with kids in their teens and twenties, dressed to the nines, waving their tickets. My group of four was the only bunch of thirty-somethings standing in our smart-casual work clothes. When the shock of discovering that we had been relegated to the “grown-ups” category had subsided, we had to take a moment to marvel at the amounts of disposable income these kids have these days. Aside from the fact that, at Tk1300 per person for basic entry, the tickets were not cheap, even taking into account that a lot of the clothes and accessories they were sporting were local brands or very good knock-offs of high-end brands, the total amount of wealth on display was staggering. Growing up in the 90’s, where a typical teenager from a middle/upper middle class family, should s/he be lucky enough to get an allowance, could hardly expect more than Tk500 per month – and this is a generous estimate – being able to afford spending this much on a single event like this would have been unthinkable (assuming, of course, that we even got the permission to go in the first place). Should this be seen as a positive sign of the rapid economic growth this country has achieved in recent years? Or a worrying trend in consumerism? The jury is still out on that one.
Once we had our tickets, we were assigned a token with a number, for crowd management purposes. We had to sign a waiver which absolved the hotel of responsibility in case of a heart attack or other emergencies, which played a small role in building anticipation. After a relatively short wait, we were ushered down the stairs towards the basement. The dimly lit stairs, walls bedecked in scribbled warnings in ink meant to look like gore, the occasional scream sounding out of invisible sources at odd intervals in our descent, only racked up the tension.
Inside the reception area outside the gaming zone was a buffet table laid out with refreshments. From biscuits designed to look like severed fingers and a suspicious white drink which turned out to be some kind of dairy smoothie, the attention to detail was appreciable. The area was dimly lit, with a flickering, blood-spattered light bulb, and the claustrophobia of being crammed into the area with loud young adults was definitely an unnerving experience. Having to turn in our phones lent a feeling of powerlessness.
Finally, after a wait that was just long enough to create a sense of unease, we were led through a set of double doors marked “Paradise Island” in text that screamed horror, and loaded onto a boat, which began to move on some kind of trolley system through an elaborate setup designed to resemble a foggy swamp, complete with water being sprayed at us and smoke machines blowing fog right into our faces.
The rest of the fifteen minute experience is a blur, so this reviewer couldn’t provide spoilers if she wanted to. Banking on the fact that costumed actors and make-believe monsters alone wouldn’t scare us, the creators of the challenge aimed for a layout and experience that played on feelings of stress, confusion, and panic. The “monsters” in their campy costumes choreographed their performance to keep us stumbling from one location to another, finding no easy escape route.
When we finally emerged through the other end, the relief and release was a heady rush indeed. Had we been scared? Not really. But was it a thrilling experience? Most definitely.
Haunted House 4 came with the option of a buffer dinner, which was our next stop. The Vinno Shaad restaurant, located at the lobby level had been transformed into the grotto from hell with dim red lighting and glowing jack o lanterns. In addition to regular items such as beef pie, pasta, and spring rolls, the buffet spread had some horror-themed desserts like literal finger food, “brain cake” (a delicious concoction of nougat and cherry jam, it turned out), to name a few. Films such as The Nun and Slender Man were also being shown on the projector screen, which was perhaps a move that the authorities should reconsider, because the juxtaposition of fine dining and boo moments makes for an awkward hang out.
With the sweet feeling of catharsis coursing in our veins, and delicious food in our stomachs, we left the venue much happier for having experienced this year’s edition of the Six Season’s Haunted House. The brand new clothing brand Gothic was the title sponsor for Haunted House 4, while Radio Foorti was the radio partner.