The script and the setup change every year at the House of Shock, but Ross Karpelman has long been one of the Satanic figures standing amid blasts of flame, raging at the people about to enter the Jefferson house of horrors. But beneath the demonic robes and pentagrams, he gets a little bit sentimental about the attraction as it enters its final weekend.
"My favorite moments are after we close and seeing all my friends in their makeup, smiling and taking off their costumes after six hours of scaring the masses," Karpelman says. "And the incontinence incidents are always good," he adds with a laugh.
House of Shock is one of New Orleans Halloween season's most frightening attractions. It ends a 22-year run this year, Karpelman says, and there's a final weekend to catch it. There also are other Halloween traditions, and options offering other tricks and treats with lower levels of intensity.
Karpelman, heavy metal rocker Phil Anselmo and Jay Gracianette created their first haunted house for friends in Gracianette's backyard in Metairie. Over the next two decades, it grew steadily to its current scope of operation, which involves 400 combined staff and volunteers, a 25,000-square-foot space and a professional prop shop.
The House of Shock is one of the nation's only haunted houses with a strong focus on the occult, making it the "black sheep" of the family, Karpelman says. But it also is one of the most acclaimed, and its prop shop makes pieces for other attractions. Called Dead House Designs, it's a business that started at House of Shock and spun off into its own entity. Last year, it created a six-trailer mini hall of horrors to promote the horror movie The Purge. The convoy traveled to cities where the film was opening, and guests had to figure out how to escape its maze.
House of Shock has always had a heavy metal vibe, both in its occult imagery and themes and its added entertainment. There are concerts outside the maze on weekend nights, and this year's lineup featured Goatwhore, Chicago doom metal band Trouble and the Florida-based Pantera tribute band Good Friends and a Bottle of Whiskey. The final weekend features The Topcats. If the local cover band has more general appeal, it just shows the creators' local colors. Karpelman jokes that he'd like to contact Benny Grunch to get the House of Shock added to the list of things in his song "Ain't Dere No More." But that may have to wait.
"There's no rest for the wicked," Karpelman says.
House of Shock organizers won't decide what to do next until they strike the set in November.
The closure leaves New Orleans with one major haunted house, the former funeral home The Mortuary (4800 Canal St., 504-483-2350; www.themortuary.net). The three-story home is overrun by zombies and ghouls, and guests venturing inside make their way through narrow corridors and tactile areas as creatures jump out at them and horrific scenes are revealed.
Brain-eating zombies and squirting blood are among the more comic elements offered as local theater companies have embraced the haunting season. Following the success of last year's production of Evil Dead: The Musical, the production company See 'Em on Stage mounted Musical of the Living Dead at The Shadowbox Theatre this year (see "Musical of the Living Dead," page 45). Southern Rep presented the local premiere of John Biguenet's witch story, Broomstick. It features an aging witch (Liann Pattison) wielding a cleaver as she cooks for a guest, reminisces about departed souls and explains away rumored connections to a girl found at the bottom of a well. At AllWays Lounge, The Rocky Horror Show celebrates campier horrors at the estate of Dr. Frank N. Furter, who takes in helpless travelers Brad and Janet (see stage listings, page 44.)
While some people prefer the unholy and gruesome, or playing with such ideas on Halloween, there are observations for reverent revelers as well. Some New Orleanians observe All Saints Day by visiting and cleaning family grave sites. In Mexico, Nov. 1 is Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, during which people honor lost family members and ancestors. There is a Day of the Dead celebration at Casa Borrega and Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center on Saturday. At Casa Borrega (1719 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-427-0654; www.casaborrega.com), owner and artist Hugo Montero has created a Day of the Dead altar. Zeitgeist (1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-352-1150; www.zeitgeistinc.net) hosts a concert by Fredy Omar Con su Banda and The Iguanas beginning at 7 p.m. At Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 504-539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org), artist Cynthia Ramirez created a Day of the Dead altar dedicated to artist George Dureau, who died April 7. It's on display through Nov. 10, and the museum celebrates the Day of the Dead on Thursday at Ogden After Hours (6 p.m.-8 p.m.) with Rumba Buena raising more lively spirits.