Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stuff: The haunted houses of Coney Island: Part 2 - Spook-A-Rama

The second stop on our tour of Coney Island's haunted house rides is the wonderfully retro-named Spook-A-Rama. Spook-A-Rama is located in shadow of the Wonder Wheel. It is the oldest haunted house ride in Coney Island.

This famous dark ride was built by Fred Garms. Fred was the son of Herman Garms, the visionary Coney Island developer who created the Wonder Wheel. Garms, like his father, thought and built big. The original Spook-A-Rama ran the length of a city block. When it opened in 1955, the ride filled three buildings and its cars ran over a quarter mile of track, including intro section that ran through a translucent plastic tunnel that took rides under a waterfall of colored water. The ride was billed as "the world's longest spook ride."

The modern Spook-A-Rama is considerably smaller. Of the three structures originally dedicated to the Spook-A-Rama, only the middle and second largest building still houses the ride. The largest building is now dedicated to an arcade and the building that once housed the colored waterfall is now given over to various carnival games.

Unlike the other two haunted houses, Spook-A-Rama's exterior is pretty modest. It is a single story high and does not feature an elaborately painted fa├žade. It does, however, feature two excellent animatronic components. The first is called the Reaper.

The photo above was taken with the glare off the Reaper's plexi-glass case. You can see from the reflection that 1) my wife is blonde, 2) my friend A. is really tall, and 3) the Wonder Wheel is literally a stone's throw away. The Reaper is situated out in front of the ride. He warns the weak of heart and other unfit specimens not to dare mind-shattering and unspeakable horror that is the Spook-A-Rama.

The other piece of animatronics appears on the roof of the ride. Just as Ghost Hole has its massive mascot, the Dark Prince of Love, Spook-A-Rama features a similarly oversized beastie: a spear-wielding, demon-headed, undead thing dressed in tatters. By virtue of his Year_zero weaponry and his castaway chic outfit, we've unofficially dubbed him Skeleton Crusoe.

Skeleton Crusoe stands about ten to fifteen feet high and, when functioning, alternately stands and squats above the dark rides entrance way. Admittedly, a giant skeleton popping a squat might not be the epitome of terror, but of all the oversized mascots, Skeleton Crusoe is the most detailed, best built one of the trio. He's also kept in the best repair.

For all the continuity of location, Spook-A-Rama's exterior has undergone near constant innovation. Before Skeleton Crusoe arrived, the roof of the ride featured a cartoonish cyclops who was surrounded by an ever changing and seemingly random cast of characters – including, at one point, life-sized sculptures of Laurel and Hardy. The cars have been swapped out numerous times, first with cars from a defunct Steeplechase Park dark ride in the 1960s and then with cars from a dark ride in Salem, NH, in the 1980s. There's only one constant: the entrance and exit doors, featuring paintings of eyes, have been part of the ride since it first opened.

On the spectrum of jump-out versus tableaux style scares, Spook-A-Rama features the greatest number of jump-out scares. Most of the ride's various gags lunge, fall, or swoop out at the rider. For fans dark rides, there's an added attraction to Spook-A-Rama's fright pieces. The on-going renovations to the ride have turned the inside of the ride into something like a fully-functioning museum of dark ride history. If a gag from the early days of the ride is still working, Spook-A-Rama doesn't rip it out. Consequently, riders are treated to a variety of scare sets that cover more than half a century's worth of dark ride style horror.

Here's an incomplete ride through. The poppin' fresh dance music was added by the filmmakers and is not part of the ride itself. Enjoy!


spacejack said...

Good idea taking the time to record this.

Interesting to look at how horror art (campy as it may be being an amusement park) has evolved over the decades.

The eye designs that have lasted from the 1950s are interesting, they seem almost modern (or at least maybe 1980s.)

I wonder how many illustrators and cartoonists of the 60s and 70s were influenced by the things they saw at Coney Island.

re: pic #2 - you cast no reflection??

CRwM said...

Screamin' Spacey,

I don't cast a reflection in mirrors, but my clothes do. Consequently, I walk around nude most of the time. Be glad you can't see me in that photo.

As for the influence of Coney, I have no evidence to support this theory at all, but I suspect that the Joker, of Batman comic fame, was taken from Steeplechase Park's logo.

Here's the early Joker:

And here's Steeplechase's logo:

Kane lived in NYC and could have been familiar with the Coney Island park's logo.

It's so obviously right, I'm not even going to try to prove it with so-called evidence.