MAITLAND – From the view in the parking lot, the Enzian Theater doesn’t look like it’s going to be a particularly scary place.
Granted, the large outdoor screen in the open field near the theater’s Eden Bar was showing “Night of the Living Dead” on Saturday evening, director George Romero’s classic zombie thriller, with Barbara and Johnny walking through the graveyard at the very start, not quite aware of the terrifying zombie apocalypse they had stumbled into.
And there were a few people that night decked out in ghoulish costumes, enjoying a drink at the bar.
Overall, though, the crowd of party revelers hanging out at the bar, relaxing and enjoying time with their friends, is a good advertisement for why this popular spot in Maitland draws such a healthy number of visitors every weekend. But scary?
Except that this evening, the theater is selling tickets not just for movies, but also for the Haunted Swamp, which I nervously toured on Saturday.
And you might ask, is it a good place to go to tonight, on Halloween, when you’re craving some scream-out-loud scares?
My recommendation: oh, yes.
From the theater’s ticket booth, you follow the tiki lights around the corner to the spot where the line begins. To keep you entertained, the theater provides a little Jazz from the Grateful Dead …. only it’s not that Grateful Dead. There are two skeletons who play music and crack jokes for your waiting pleasure, and while the music was good, I think these two need to bone up on their one-liners.
The swamp is completely sealed off by a fence – so you can’t quite see what it is you’re walking into. When it’s your turn, you walk over to the entrance, where the gatekeeper allows parties of four to proceed together through the swamp. There are, of course, some rules to follow, including no taking photos in there – which makes sense, since, after all, it’s all supposed to be hush hush – and if you have any trash, toss it into a nearby trash can before you begin your journey into the swamp, not afterwards.
And then …. you’re told to proceed.
At your own risk, of course.
Without giving away any of the details of this horrific attraction, I can point out that haunted swamps/houses/graveyards, etc., rely on three things to be genuinely effective.
First, there’s the element of surprise. Everyone knows you go into a haunted whatever to scream as the expected unexpectedly appears. The Enzian’s Haunted Swamp has this one down pat.
Second, they rely on ambiance. It has to look, and feel, positively eerie, so that everything around you gives you that feeling of anxiety, even discomfort, because it all seems so …. ominous.
Again, the Haunted Swamp, which was more than six months in the making, fits the bill.
Finally, haunted whatevers should tap into our cultural understanding of the clichés that the horror genre has been promoting for decades – things that have made up scream on the big screen, or in novels, or on television. There’s that instant recognition of what it is – and why it scares me.
Again, that’s a clear “bingo” for the Haunted Swamp.
The real test, though, is when you’re done. Is your heart pounding? Do you feel a little bit dizzy? Are you suddenly relieved to be back among the folks at the Eden Bar?
For me, the answers were yes, yes, yes.
The Halloween eve Swamp Tours run tonight from 8-10 p.m., and tickets cost $15. That includes unlimited swamp tours — you can go back in as many times as you want — drink discounts and food specials at the theater at 1300 S. Orlando Ave. in Maitland.
Pay $25 for a VIP ticket, and you get the added bonus of front of the line access.
The Haunted Swamp is a fiendishly effective way to go trick or treating tonight, a scary tour through the macabre swamps behind a theater that has a bar filled with strong liquor awaiting you once you’ve survived the tour. I recommend you enter …
…. if you dare …
Call 407-629-0054 for more details.
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