Saturday, August 30, 2008

Stuff: The haunted houses of Coney Island: Part I – The Ghost Hole.

As the plans for the massive redevelopment/plunder of Coney Island have, yet again, been delayed, my wife, my friend A., and I took the opportunity to sneak off to New York's faded and fabulous boardwalk Babylon and experience the decaying playland's trio of terrifying haunted house rides.

We began our tour with the Ghost Hole, an independently run dark ride situated outside the two major parks of Coney – Astroland and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park – and just down the street from Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs.

Originally part of an amusement park in Ocean City, Maryland, the Ghost Hole (formerly the Hell Hole) was sold and shipped to Coney Island in the mid-1990s. Of the three haunted house rides in Coney, it's the youngest.

The façade of the Ghost Hole is the most modern, having a graffiti-like feel to it. It features three animatronic elements. The first, on the far left as you face the ride, is a demon stirring a cauldron. Sadly, the demon no longer works. It's still mounted on the ride's exterior, but it doesn't move. On the far right, there's a tangle of three snakes that bow up and down. Astute riders will notice that there is actually a mount for a fourth snake, but it has slithered off somewhere.

Every dark ride at Coney features some massive beast, a sort of dominant totem figure, that centers the exterior design. For the Ghost Hole, this figure head is a giant red demon that my friend A. simply refers to as the "the Dark Prince of Love."

I'm just guessing, but I reckon the Dark Prince of Love is 15 feet or so high. He stands astride a set of speakers that blast his roar into the construction site across the street. His jaw is nicely articulated, though not always perfectly in sync with his roaring – he's a demon from an Italian horror flick, I guess. He's also got an embarrassing hole in his loin cloth that reveals he's got nothing but an empty void for a crotch. He is understandably upset by this. Here's a YouTube clip of the Dark Prince of Love in action.

Besides having a name that sounds like a euphemism for something particularly disreputable ("I'm going to Coney to ride the Ghost Hole"), the Ghost Hole features a particularly vile bit of animatonic theater for the strong-stomached riders to enjoy while they wait in line: a animatronic man who is simultaneously vomiting and suffering from projectile diarrhea. That's right, a robot fighting a war on two fronts. It's all class at the Ghost Hole.

If a photo isn't doing it for you, here's a video somebody posted on the YouTube, complete with retching sounds.

I place the dark rides of Coney into a spectrum between two idealized categorical poles. This isn't an official taxonomic method used among fans of dark rides or anything, it's just something I use to describe the differences between dark rides. On one end of the spectrum, you've got the jump-out ride. These rides scoot you around a track and attempt to traumatize you by having suddenly appearing monsters lunge toward you. There's a lot of flashing lights and loud, abrupt noises. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the tableaux ride. These rides roll you past elaborate set ups, parading you through a series of terrible scenes. These rides move a little slower. The rider is supposed to soak in all the unpleasant details. All dark rides fall somewhere in between these two poles, mixing elements for both approaches. Of all the dark rides in Coney, the Ghost Hole is closest an even mix of both jump-out and tableaux scares. There's a lot of sudden, rushing monsters, but they've also included several inventive, relatively detailed scenes that the rider lingers over. On the downside, one of the set ups is what is supposed to be a man puking. Enough with the bodily functions, Ghost Hole! On the plus side, though I don't have any good images of it, the ride features a jump-out giant alligator. And, as we all know, giant alligators and crocodiles make anything better.

Here's YouTube ride through (complete with commentary by unimpressed filmmaker and companion). Enjoy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahhh for all their cheese I love dark rides. Many fond memories of riding through them at fairs and festivals. It's sad that they are a dying breed.