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Shock It to ’Em!

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With ghouls, ghosts, gore, and more, this haunted house takes ‘fright night’ to a whole new level

If your idea of fun is being scared to death, then you’ll want to celebrate the coming of Halloween at one of the many haunted houses around the city. There’s the Haunted Mortuary, Blaine Kern’s Haunted Fun House, Chinchuba’s Haunted House … and then there’s the House of Shock Horror Show.

House of Shock offers what no other haunted house does—an over-the-top theatrical horror show complete with an evil master of ceremonies, a 40-foot stage with electrifying pyrotechnics to rival any mega rock show, special effects, multimedia, live bands and extreme performances, all before you even enter the haunted house. Visitors are ushered through an elaborate 20,000-square-foot labyrinth containing a life-size cemetery and a variety of hair-raising, themed rooms like a morgue, voodoo shop and the infamous Church of Sadness. Each is staged with a multitude of creeping fiends lurking in shadow, waiting for the moment to pounce on an unsuspecting visitor who has foolishly let his guard down.

Three longtime friends with roots in the local and national rock scenes took the idea of a neighborhood haunt and created a festival experience that’s become synonymous with Halloween in New Orleans. Musician and creative director Ross Karpelman, musician and carpenter Jay Gracianette and business manager and pyrotechnician Steve Joseph are the masterminds behind it all. “We put on the biggest show you’ll ever see,” says Jay. “We have Reverend B. Dangerous who emcees the event. We have a bar, Hell’s Kitchen, a full-service food place [get your mummified mozzarella sticks!], and we have merchandise booths.”

HOS pays homage to classic horror films like The Exorcist, Evil Dead, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, the ones that were dark, sinister and unsettling, not the teen slasher movies of today or the monsters that thrilled our parents and grandparents. “Every room and area progresses into the next,” says Ross. “The funeral parlor into the morgue, the swamp into the sewer, but you eventually end up in the Church of Sadness, which is based on the movies that we grew up watching with occult-type issues, the devil, and what might happen if [the world] were to turn to [the dark] side. We carry that theme through our stage show, and it’s kind of what we’re known for.”

Ross, Jay and onetime partner Phil Anselmo, of Pantera fame, created the first HOS haunted house, the likes of which had never been seen before, 16 years ago in Jay’s backyard. “The stuff we would do was unlike setting up a pumpkin patch in the yard. It was this intense experience,” says Ross. They staked two-by-fours in the ground and wove black plastic visqueen around, creating a maze. A slew of friends joined in. The idea was to do something different for Halloween other than hang out all night drinking in Fat City. “Have a good time, scare some kids,” says Jay. But the fire marshal had other ideas.

The next year, in 1993, having moved to a bigger yard, with walls built to code, word spread and 1,000 people showed up, snaking lines through the streets, rattling the nerves of neighbors—not to mention the Jefferson City Council. “We were kids, 22 or 23, and we had a lot to learn as far as taking responsibility for our actions,” says Ross. Shortly thereafter, Steve Joseph joined the commercially expanding HOS, bringing with him the business sense he honed as tour manager for bands like Zebra and Crowbar. And he brought the pyrotechnics. “No one had seen anything like House of Shock in New Orleans ever,” says Ross, “so the rules and regulations were pretty scarce. We worked with the fire officials [and] parish officials and finally came to an agreement on the best and the safest way to do it.”

Today, what sets HOS apart are the young volunteers that devote time and creative energies to the project. Between 250 and 300 volunteers assist in all aspects of the production, from building props to coming up with ideas and, of course, being the ghouls that make the house come alive. “You can go to any other haunted house,” says Ross, “but you walk through and it’s kind of the experience you would expect. When you come to HOS, you’re pulled into the scene. Our actors are in your face, our actors are intense, and they are the difference maker.”

But HOS is more than just a super haunted house. “We compare ourselves to a Mardi Gras krewe,” says Jay. “We have House of Shock, the Mardi Gras House of Shock float that we ride every year. We have a House of Shock Christmas party, an awards banquet where we give awards for best room and best scare, a big New Year’s Eve party, barbecues throughout the year where we get together and hang out. So it’s a community. It’s being part of something bigger than the haunted house.”

HOS has come a long way from visqueen and two-by-fours. “Last year we did the Saints’ pyrotechnics when the team runs on the field,” says Jay. “We did the same for the Hornets; we built the New Orleans VooDoo football team’s cemetery set; and we do the pyrotechnics when they [run through it] onto the field; Steve’s on tour with Nickelback [as pyro crew chief]. We’re not the outlaws anymore.” Plus House of Shock has gained national attention. Last year, HOS appeared on the Travel Channel’s Halloween’s Most Extreme special and was voted the most extreme haunted house in the country. This year the Discovery Channel shot an episode at HOS for a reality show to air in January called Guinea Pig, which measures fear as its premise. And this month, Canadian Fuse TV has plans to shoot a segment at HOS in conjunction with Voodoo Music Festival.

But what do the House of Shock guys really want?
Jay: We want Jeremy Shockey to come hang out.
Ross: We want to do House of Shockey with Jeremy Shockey.
Jay: So Jeremy, if you read this …
Ross: Just to say House of Shockey.
Jay: We’re the biggest Saints fans in the world.
Ross: Hail Saints!

Side Bar
The House of Shock Horror Show
319 Butterworth St., Jefferson
504-734-SHOCK
$20
8 p.m. to midnight
Opening night: Friday, Oct. 3