Chainsaw murderers, escaped mental patients and red karo syrup abound in the Halloween season's slew of haunted houses in the Triangle.
The traditional Halloween images of witches and skeletons seem outdated this year, as the area's haunted houses focus on intense concepts that range from melodramatic horror stories to high-tech multimedia productions.
A crazed chess player and relentless butcher join the crowd of lunatics in hospital gowns at "Horror on the Hill" at the Delta Upsilon house - which is rumored to be built on the site of the abandoned Chapel Hill Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
"The house tells the story of a crazed murderer and each room is incorporated into our storyboard," explained James Findley, a tour guide for the event. By journeying through a series of flashbacks, the audience learns the fated history of a patient wielding a chainsaw.
The house itself is transformed into a maze of winding rooms. The dungeon-like crypt of a basement, feelers on the stairs, iridescent black lights and dark plastic draped over the walls create a claustrophobic ambience.
"Our goal is to make visitors feel like witnesses at a crime scene rather than an audience at a play. The key is interaction between the tour guide and the audience," said junior economics major Jason Minton, the event coordinator for "Horror on the Hill."
Special effects are created with camouflage costumes, mirrors and lights, along with a few nasty surprises. Minton said the house has billiard balls rolling above the ceiling. The soundtracks of classic horror movies such as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Halloween" will also be playing.
The "Horror on the Hill," a Delta Zeta-Delta Epsilon joint effort, is haunting Chapel Hill through Sunday. Proceeds from the house will benefit the Orange County Special Olympics.
At the Durham Jaycees' Haunted House at Northgate Mall, the aura is staged, yet spooky. The house tells the story of a computer bug, "Die2K," that's just as frightening as Y2K.
Havoc ensues from evil-doing criminals who have been released by glitches in the computer system.
A series of scenes guides visitors through a corridor of stupor into the traditional house-type wards of a funeral parlor, kitchen, graveyard and, of course, the contemporary Blair Witch room.
Like the "Horror on the Hill," the Jaycees' haunted house is also raising funds for various charity organizations. Middle school girls, the principal screamers at haunted houses, run in mock terror as they're chased by a chainsaw killer at "The Scream" at North Hills Mall in Raleigh.
"The Scream" is more a media production than a haunted house due to its dependence on special effects like strobe lights. It isn't quite Disney World, but automation, electronic sensors and pneumatics power special effects, like a vampire who rises when patrons walk into his tomb.
Integral scenes from classic horror movies such as "Blair Witch Project" and "Psycho" are the focus of a walk through the narrow passages of "The Scream."
"We've got the flavor of horror movies all throughout different areas in the house," said Philip Rose, designer and manager of the haunted house. His personal favorite is the shower scene from "Psycho" - running water and real bathroom fixtures are a few of the details he's worked to recreate from the movie.
"The whole idea is to strike a little terror into the hearts of our audience - but at the same time, to let them know it's a safe scare," Rose said.