A few years ago, I was watching a special about haunted houses on the Travel Channel. Out of the four or five haunts featured, House of Shock in New Orleans stood out as being one of the most unique I have ever seen. A lot of their haunt over the years revolved around the occult and Satanism. Does this mean that I believe in that stuff? Not in the slightest. I also enjoy The Wizard Of Oz, but don’t believe in witches either. Crazy, eh? However, I have always been fascinated by any type of attraction with a central theme. So I decided to call up Ross Karpelman, one of the owners of the House of Shock and find out how it became the mega haunt it is today.
Josh Young: So how did House of Shock start off?
Ross Karpelman: Basically, it was a handful of my buddies and me who wanted to celebrate Halloween as adults, but didn’t have anything to do. We were too old to go trick-or-treating anymore and going to a bar sucked, so we decided to create a small haunted house in one of our backyards. It was pretty small, but after a few years, it grew bigger. We ended up charging people $5 to get in and still had lines around the block.
JY: So how did the occult become a part of the haunt?
RK: We have always been a fan of metal music, so from the beginning there have been themes of the occult in House of Shock. Sometimes the two just go together.
JY: Was that the inspiration behind the free stage show you guys put on every night?
RK: Kind of. In earlier versions of House of Shock, one of the first scenes would bring people into the church of Satan. Everyone would sit down in a pew and as the sermon went on, all hell would break loose and these demons would come out and chase everyone out. It kind of became our signature thing, but after a few years, the lines got longer, so we couldn’t have the same “church service” in the haunt itself, so we moved it outside.
JY: What you did inside the maze was pretty small compared to the spectacle you guys do outside now. How did it become so huge?
RK: A friend of ours is in the pyrotechnics business and does all the fire for the huge arena shows for bands like The Rolling Stones. We worked with him to add all sorts of fire, video screens and other effects to make it this huge event that people can come and see for free! It’s really a party atmosphere.
JY: What else besides the big “Church of Satan” show can people do aside from the houses?
RK: We have a full bar out there, so people can just hang out and drink and have a good time. There’s also a mechanical bull that is dressed up like a spider. We have some major bands come and play on the stage, as well as some great freak show acts like a piercing suspension troupe or fire acts. Always something going on.
JY: The occult is a pretty far out there theme as it is, but is there such a thing as going too far for you?
RK: If it’s unsafe, that’s too far. We do everything as safely as possible. For example, we will have someone going through the house and an actor will come over and grab them by the throat and throw them around a little. It’s all staged and most of the time it’s somebody’s buddy who knows in advance what’s gonna happen. It’s all in good fun.
JY: It sounds like a huge event. How many people does it take to put House of Shock together?
RK: We have about 400 volunteers that do anything from being actors in the house, to crowd control to the technical side. When we are building the house every year, each room has a team that just takes care of building and maintaining that particular section. There is one person who oversees the entire thing and makes sure they are doing everything safely, but we are definitely a family. It’s not a dictatorship; we let people express themselves, kind of like people do when they create Mardi Gras floats. These people have regular jobs during the day: doctors, lawyers and so on. People donate their time to us. We have movie nights and get togethers for Christmas and even hand out awards at the end of the season.
RK: We have had some churches tried to shut us down because of content, yes. However, we operate to the letter of the law. House of Shock is up to all fire and safety codes and we aren’t doing anything illegal. One time a church group broke in and sprinkled holy water everywhere. They really didn’t do any damage.
JY: Anything else our readers should know about House of Shock?
RK: Actually, we do a lot of charity work throughout the year. We go to several children’s hospitals and bring Halloween to them. These are kids who can’t get out and go trick-or-treating, so we do face painting, read them scary stories and do pumpkin carving. We also help sponsor the Monster Dash to help cystic fibrosis.
Many thanks to Ross for chatting with me. For more information on House of Shock in New Orleans, visit their website at www.HouseofShock.com.