Are you scared yet? Chances are you're not. And such a cheap attempt to jolt definitely wouldn't frighten the generation that's been weaned on a new breed of gory but cynical horror movies, most recently in the form of two "Scream" films and "I Know What You Did Last Summer."In fact, those motion pictures have desensitized young audiences toward terror, and as a consequence, the job of scaring the wits out of crowds of people is much more difficult for the many haunted houses that operate around the valley throughout October.
Young Utahns love to be scared, but programmers for the multitude of spook alleys are discovering that fright doesn't come easily these days.
"It's a challenge, that's for sure," said Cydney Neil, who helps produce programs for the Salt Lake Rocky Point Haunted House location, 3400 S. State. "If they're not scared they'll really let you know about it."
But the veteran haunted house organizer said she looks on her work as a learning experience. If something doesn't work in one year's show, Neil and her crew of set designers and prop technicians make it a point to "correct" the deficiency the next year.
"You can't see our task as an attempt to top the previous year or you'll go mad," she said. "I've had some programs that just can't be beaten."
Programmers at the Haunted Mine, located on the site of the Park City Mine Adventure, had a similar experience in their first year.
Last year's Haunted Mine program was a more historical one, and although audiences responded enthusiastically to it, organizers brought in a Salt Lake-area theatrical director, Ed Gryska, to put on a more "traditional" haunted house show this year.
"It's going to be a lot scarier and include a lot more of what people expect to see in a haunted house," said Gryska, who has directed plays for Salt Lake Acting Company and Desert Star Playhouse, and who has worked on Lagoon's Frightmares attraction.
"But we're working with a scary idea to begin with - being 1,500 feet underground is terrifying enough to me as it is," he said.
Ironically, though they admit their competition comes from scary movies, haunted house programmers often use them for inspiration. Movies like "Men in Black" and "The X-Files" have influenced what spectators will see in local haunted houses this year.
In many case, these attractions also use theatrical techniques. Haunted house performers are given acting lessons and instruction on applying makeup.
Neil, a professional actress and makeup artist, even uses her connections to Hollywood to bring in industry professionals to help out.
Last year Rocky Point used makeup artist Brian Penikas to teach workshops and help apply makeup prosthetics on some nights. This year, professional effects and makeup man Chris Hanson, a Rocky Point alum, has helped design its sets, props and makeup.
Not to be outdone, Gryska has recruited local theater people, such as set designer Ray Carlson, to help create the elaborate mazes and other surprises in the Haunted Mine.
"It's quite a challenge. You only have weeks - days in some cases - to get everything ready," Carlson said. "And our problems are compounded because we have to construct these sets under a thousand feet of rock."
Yet, despite the fact that they have professionals working on set, the programmers still have to resist temptation to pile on movie-style gore.
"There's not a drop of blood in our haunted house this year. I object to that kind of gore," Neil said. "This is supposed to be entertainment, not something that causes nightmares."
Gryska agreed, saying that his haunted house is going for more psychological thrills and chills. "What you can imagine is much more terrifying than what we can show you, so it's up to us to merely suggest that there's something out there. Our location certainly helps us in that regard, but the rest is up to our patrons."
Both programmers said they realize their shows are not for the faint of heart.
For instance, there are warnings posted outside the attractions noting that they are not for those with heart or lung ailments. Advisories are also posted that they are not recommended for young children - those under 8 must be accompanied by an adult.
"Parents need to realize that they really are geared more towards adults and teenagers," Neil said. "Children should have their own Halloween activity programs, ones that won't scare them so badly. But it's up to the parents to decide what they think is appropriate for them."