When I was in university I lived off campus, and my good friend and second year roommate, Robin, went through a phase of renting every horror movie she could get her hands on from the local video store (and yes, I am dating myself). She started with the classics – Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and others of that ilk, but as the genre had its limited appeal the quality deteriorated rapidly and I would come home to find her engrossed in truly sub par circus slashers. I never joined her in this phase of her cinephilic life as horror films frankly terrify me, and they lurk on the fringes of my consciousness for weeks. (The ONLY exception to this was Evil Dead, because frankly it was funny as hell and genre busting to boot). To this day I watch things with event the slightest hint of spooky through the webbing of my own fingers.
I have stuck to my embargo on all things scary ever since, but when the Legends of Horror show at Casa Loma popped up Long and I decided that in the interests of investigation we should check it out, and we rooked our friend Corinne in to coming as well. I later discovered that the two ladies, knowing that I lack a fear gene when it comes to heights and speeds, just assumed the same would be true of horror shows and had planned to send me out first to test the waters. Bad plan.
We made our way to the gates of Casa Loma and I was mildly dismayed to be greeted by a long line up. We had bought tickets for a timed entry and I was under the impression that the groups would be limited to small batches, but this was clearly not the case and the place was mobbed (in fact, I discovered as we got closer to the entry, sold out). While I had no real desire to have the pants scared off of me I thought the sheer numbers of people would inhibit the moody atmosphere. As it transpired, I was right – it was certainly less frightening to wander around when there were loads of people about, especially as they would trigger the various staff to jump out, forewarning anyone that followed where the ghouls and goblins were hiding. That said, it actually made it easier for me to bear and did not seem to have an effect on my two pals, who screamed on cue at every stop despite my warning them what to prepare for. I spent a good amount of time doubled over laughing at them.
Despite the curb on the scary factor this show is seriously impressive. It starts low on the castle grounds as you wind your way up to the back terrace and beyond. There were moody lights, mist machines and staff in costume throughout the gardens, and to my delight the whole production was soundscaped to heighten the tension. There was no expense spared with a crew of god knows how many actors lurking, all in excellent masks or make up.
The first phase followed a meandering path through the gardens then up to a patio area underneath the castle itself, upon which they had projected horrifying images – at one point the whole castle was bleeding – through a glass house with an elaborate fun house mirror maze populated by ghouls. It was hard to predict what was merely a reflection, and what had a costumed monster who might reach out to grab you. At about the half way point there was a bar before the entrance to the elaborate tunnels underground leading to the stable area. I looked up the website and apparently there were three phases to the narrative that I must confess were lost on me. The garden area was the domain of Dracula and the Undead, the “second act” was in the patio area and all about the Invisible Man. I did notice there was an overarching presence of trolls like the Gringotts guys from Harry Potter, and again the masks and make up were extremely well done. To enter the final phase of the tour you had to push your way through a claustrophobic black tube that blocked out all light and went on for quite a while – perhaps 12 -15 feet – and deposited you into the tunnels.
There were rooms set up with horror scenes, including a captive woman, blindfolded and singing opera like in the Phantom and creepy damp tunnels featuring projections on the walls and floor.
The final scene took place in Frankenstein’s laboratory with the doctor himself tricked out like a vampire, and after he animated his monster we were ejected in to the cool night.
I checked my watch, and the entire experience took a full 45 minutes, and we had been moving at a healthy clip. We wound up in the stables, a block away from the castle proper and were marvelling at how much territory we covered, 1.5 K according to the website. This was no cheap show. The choreography and art direction were superb, every detail had been considered, and no expenses was spared. I honestly wanted to do it again immediately after we were through. I hope they change the storyline every year – if so, you can count me in to next year. And I am delighted to discover that my lack of Fear Gene might – just might – cover scary movies and shows now too. But I can absolutely guarantee that is not a theory I will be testing in the meantime.