Bursts of flame and bloody occult figures bellowing warnings of death and damnation loom from a castle precipice over the entrance to the House of Shock. Before people enter the maze of darkened corridors, dungeon rooms and unholy sights, the scene is intense. It's what the founders like about heavy metal concerts.
"We're performance-driven," says founder Ross Karpelman. "We've all been in (metal) bands. We don't do, 'Put your hand in the brains' and it's a bowl of Jell-O."
The House of Shock (319 Butterworth St., Jefferson; www.houseofshock.com) marks its 20th anniversary this year. The spectacle of horror, gore and demonic characters is renowned in the subculture of haunted house fans and a local Halloween highlight. But even when the original founders — Karpelman, Pantera's Phil Anselmo and Jay Gracinette — created their first haunted house in Gracinette's backyard in Metairie, they were hardcore.
"You would have thought the devil had moved into your backyard," Karpelman says.
The House of Shock closes out its season with a final two-day blowout at its Jefferson complex, and it's one of many Halloween night events for locals in search of fear or fun.
Originally, Karpelman and his partners were in metal bands and loved horror films like The Exorcist. They wanted to create an intensely horrifying experience. As they moved from one backyard to a bigger backyard to a building to a warehouse and ultimately their current location, their haunted house got bigger and more elaborate. A staff and a crew of 400 volunteers orchestrate the frights, and Karpelman performs as a gruesome satanic figure bearing pentagrams and scars. The fire displays are created by Steve Joseph, who handles pyrotechnics for rock concert tours. (The House of Shock team also handled pyrotechnic displays for the 2010 New Orleans Saints NFC championship game in the Superdome.)
The House of Shock is well known in the world of haunted houses, both for its intensity and its style.
"We're the 'outlaws' of haunted houses," Karpelman says. "I don't use the term, but some call us the 'black sheep' of the community."
The preference for occult themes sets it apart even in the industry of haunted attractions, but that hasn't diminished its reputation. The House of Shock team earned the Board of Directors' Award at TransWorld, the annual haunted attraction convention, which includes peer professionals from Disney and Universal Studios. Most haunted houses don't delve so deeply into satanic themes and imagery, Karpelman says, but the prop shop for House of Shock creates pieces for many haunted houses around the nation.
Those who don't want to brave the dark thrills can still enjoy the festivities at House of Shock. To entertain people in line or just gathering outside, there are nightly concerts. Tuesday features the Grunge Factory playing '90s music, and Halloween is headlined by Jason and the Kruegers, a Halloween-inspired hardcore band from Alexandria. There's also an Arachno-ride, a mechanical bull in the form of a spider. Those not brave enough to mount it can watch a monitor of the videocam on the spider's head, which captures the expressions of the rider.
Karpelman is a fan of haunted houses and says that south Louisiana is fortunate to have three very good ones, listing The Mortuary and Baton Rouge's 13th Gate as the other two.
The Mortuary (4800 Canal St., 483-2350; www.-themortuary.net) occupies a former mortuary, uses more high- tech effects and is open year-round. It's open Halloween night, and it holds its Flash Light Fear Fest Friday and Saturday (Nov. 2-3). The path through The Mortuary is kept dark except for a few small flashlights given to each group.
There also are events for those with more reverence for the spirits of the dead. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.-ogdenmusiem.org) explores Mexico's Day of the Dead, when people honor and pray for deceased ancestors. Artist Cynthia Ramirez created a Day of the Dead altar for "Uncle" Lionel Batiste on the museum's first floor. At 2 p.m. Saturday, Ramirez joins a panel discussion on the Mexican holiday, which also includes scholars from Tulane University's Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies and folklorist and musician Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, who is a member of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang.
Voodoo Authentica (612 Dumaine St., 522-2111; www.voodooshop.com) holds its annual Voodoofest (www.voodoofest.com) from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday. Visiting and local voodoo priests and priestesses discuss the religion, and there's a healing ceremony. There's also music and drumming. Admission is free.
Halloween brings other celebrations as well. For those costuming in the French Quarter, the annual Halloween parade started by Jim Monaghan at Molly's on the Market (1107 Decatur St., 525-5169; www.mollysatthemarket.net) is one way to start the evening. The procession includes the Kazoozie Floozies, Bearded Oysters, Muff-A-Lottas and Storyville Stompers. It departs at 6:30 p.m., circles around the French Quarter and stops at the Erin Rose bar for a costume contest.For additional Halloween events, click here.