FRIGHT NIGHT: The author in his FrightTown Chop Shop lair. IMAGE: Darryl James
It's hot and steamy in the cavernous bowels of Memorial Coliseum. Odors of sweat, peroxide and Domino's pizza hang in the air like hot roadkill (with extra sausage). A symphony of screams fills the air.
A small girl dressed as a bloody clown rifles through a chest full of body parts. A pretty blonde sits beside her as a makeup artist applies third-degree burns to her face. Behind her, a teenager is splattered with blood.
For the next four hours, I will be locked in a small room with a dismembered body as groups of victims enter my lair. Sometimes, I lob a bloody head at them. Other times I lunge, gore dripping from my lab coat, before sending them down a dark, ghost-filled corridor.
TWO FACE: Volunteer Daphney Aadams, 18, before... and after. IMAGE: Darryl James
This is FrightTown, Portland's best haunted attraction since 2005. An army of volunteers (between 40 and 70 on any given night) waits for pro makeup artists to turn them into the walking dead. With three different haunted houses in one giant basement, each set of ghouls has a different style: a go-go dancer becomes a sexy zombie for Baron Von Goolo's Museum of Horrors, a teenager transforms into a Victorian-era apparition for Elshoff Manor, and a young man's wheelchair becomes a battering ram for the Texas Chainsaw-inspired Chop Shop.
These are the line workers for the fright factory conceived by Baron Von Goolo—a.k.a. Dave Helfrey—who, with his cohorts, has created three labyrinths of fear filled with animatronic horrors, ghosts, goblins, psychos and clowns. WW was granted undercover access for two nights, scarring its reporter for weeks.
Photos by Darryl James
The monsters of FrightTown are normal enough: Kids play and teens flirt while prosthetic gore is applied to their faces. An older woman with fangs talks about her involvement with her church as the Women of Faith convention assembles in the Convention Center above, an annual overlap that has led the faithful to verbally damn many of FrightTown's creatures on occasion.
But when the lights go out, the unassuming volunteers are linked through recreational sadism. These creatures receive no monetary compensation. Just a few slices of pizza and a makeup job. Their currency is fear.
During a smoke break, Rick (who declined to give his full name) puffs away, his bare torso airbrushed to look skeletal. "I've scared the crap out of people. Literally," he cackles, adding that last year he received the MVG (Most Valuable Ghoul) award and will spend tonight crawling atop a massive crate. "I go after adult males because they say they're not scared. But they pee their pants. It's happened a couple times."
Rick's not the only one looking to ruin the pants as people brave the gruesome mazes that make up FrightTown's haunted houses. Sixteen-year-old monster Luna Cyphers becomes giddy when asked whether she'd made anyone lose control of their nether-regions.
"Last year this dude was like, 'That chick would look hot naked,'" she says. "My boyfriend jumped up on this fence and screamed that he was going to rip his fucking throat out. The dude fell on his butt and his friends looked down and were like, 'Oh my god, you're pissing yourself!'"
With thousands of people cycling through FrightTown on busy nights, monsters harvest screams like assembly-line workers. It's mechanical.
I listen for the sound of a man being electrocuted in the adjoining room and poise for the kill. When my door opens, I slam a bloody cart into the wall and pretend to be startled by the passersby. I laugh maniacally and curl into a fetal position, then smash a gavel on a table full of body parts. Then I reposition the limbs and return to my hiding spot.
There are several types of frightened people who brave the chambers. Some sprint through the corridor, often to emergency exits. Others pretend not to be fazed, only to lose machismo when creatures emerge. Some survey each room with a laugh (as I writhe on the ground covered in blood, a dad with a toddler in tow giggles, pats me on the back and tells me I'm doing a "terrific job.")
But the prized victims are the ones who simply lose their shit, verbally or literally.
"Sometimes they cuss and call you an SOB on top of the effer-of-a-mother as loud as they can," says veteran scarer Chris Shields, who spends his days teaching knitting and whose stocky frame is made more imposing by a bloody jumpsuit and a massive head wound. "That means you got the best scare."
With emotions and finicky bowels running rampant, monsters live dangerous afterlives. They risk seizures from strobe lights, concussions and potential infections from the feces they claim to harvest (during my two nights, no human waste is reported, though Von Goolo says spills are taken care of by the Rose Quarter's team of toxic avengers, who have a biohazard-cleanup protocol).
Two hours in, I follow a group down a dark corridor for a scare. Sprinting back to my staging area, I smash face-first into a wall, shattering my plastic steampunk goggles into my left eye socket. My black eye becomes a badge of honor.
Others report patrons instinctively punching at them, though none connected. Actress Toby West, 18, wears pads after bruising her knees while acrobatically mimicking demonic herky-jerky moves from The Exorcist.
Even MVG Rick is vulnerable. He has abandoned his scare room after slamming his head into the ceiling and falling off his crate. Yet he still stalks groups throughout their journeys. One crew comes into my room and Rick cock-blocks my scare, startling a shaken college-age girl.
"You again," she whimpers. "How do you keep finding us?"
As they leave, Rick rubs his head and disappears. Moments later, I hear him cackle loudly to the familiar screams of his victims.
After all the customers have shrieked themselves raw, the lights come on and FrightTown turns back into the musty basement of the Memorial Coliseum.
Monsters exchange hugs and scare stories: A man with a burlap sack over his head boasts about avoiding a haymaker to a creature atop stilts. Teenage ghosts report to zombified mothers. The men's room sink looks like a crime scene as monsters wash gore from their faces.
Von Goolo surveys his Manson family of volunteers like a demonic Ward Cleaver. Makeup artists collect globs of skin from monsters and prep them for tomorrow's freakshow.
Everybody is glowing, not just from blood and sweat, but from the thrill of scaring the holy hell out of paying customers. It's like they've just spent a day at a fucked-up Magic Kingdom. All are eager to do it again tomorrow.
"It's like a different world," says 18-year-old Daphney Aadams, whose smile is coated in blood and torn skin. "Everybody's laughing and friendly—then you scare people. It's a big stress reliever. I love it."
FrightTown's monsters are outfitted by the Baron himself: "[We get costumes] everywhere from Goodwill to Morris Costumes to our sewing machines to last-minute panic drives to the closest Spirit Halloween superstore." FrightTown uses less than a gallon of fake blood a week, believe it or not. "A little goes a long way," Von Goolo says. "Plus, we use several viscosities of blood—from runny, standard stage blood to a jellylike paste called Fresh Scab." GO, SCREAM, PISS YOURSELF: FrightTown lurks beneath Memorial Coliseum, 300 N Winning Way, 235-8771. The haunted houses run nightly through Halloween, 7-10 pm Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday, 7-11 pm Friday-Saturday, Oct. 27-31. $20. All ages. Info at frighttown.com.
FrightTown uses less than a gallon of fake blood a week, believe it or not. "A little goes a long way," Von Goolo says. "Plus, we use several viscosities of blood—from runny, standard stage blood to a jellylike paste called Fresh Scab."
GO, SCREAM, PISS YOURSELF: FrightTown lurks beneath Memorial Coliseum, 300 N Winning Way, 235-8771. The haunted houses run nightly through Halloween, 7-10 pm Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday, 7-11 pm Friday-Saturday, Oct. 27-31. $20. All ages. Info at frighttown.com.
Halloween Events 2010
Bohemian Cabaret Vagabond Opera plays two Halloween parties: a kid-friendly show featuring a costume contest and special guest Joe the Balloon guy, and a late-night voodoo party featuring Portland country zombie songstress Amanda Richards and opening acts the Hardly Hars and Groovy Wallpaper. Both shows will feature belly dancing, tarot readings and an interactive altar to honor the dead.
Toxic Zombie's Halloween Monster Party
Horror-themed PDX band Toxic Zombie headlines a headbangers' ball sponsored by KUFO 101.1-FM's Metalopolis. Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th Ave., 233-7100. 8 pm Friday, Oct. 29. $10. All ages.
Blood Shack Haunted House Show
Check out a new all-ages warehouse venue (which doesn't officially open until December) and music from Welcome Home Walker, Clorox Girls, Salted City and more. The Blood Shack, 55 SE 11th Ave. 8 pm haunted house, 9 pm show, Saturday, Oct. 30. $10.
Portland's SissyBoy cadre is makin' a film about psycho trannies on a hunt for the proper victims to sacrifice to their goddess. The film is set to be released next spring, and at this fundraiser cast members will perform, followed by a viewing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All proceeds go toward production and post-production for the film. Mississippi Pizza, 3552 N Mississippi Ave., 288-3231. 9 pm Saturday, Oct. 30. $3.
Big Homo Halloween Party
Two dance floors. Six DJs. Live queer bands covering Fleetwood Mac, the Misfits and Celine Dion. Yes. Rotture, 315 SE 3rd Ave., 234-5683. 8 pm Saturday, Oct. 30. $6 before 10 pm, $8 after 10 pm.
Incognito Masquerade Ball
No Portland holiday or celebration is complete without the proverbial eco-conscious event. SCRAP invites you to create your own masks and costumes out of reusable material and enjoy a night of festivities including dinner and a performance by the Transcendental Brass Band. Junk to Funk will also present a live trash fashion show. Proceeds will benefit SCRAP. Cascade Ballroom at the Oregon Zoo, 4001 SW Canyon Road. 5:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 28. $120 per person, $1,200 for table of 10. Tickets and info at scrapaction.org.
Portland Erotic Ball
Portland's biggest Halloween party is also its naughtiest. This year's boasts 11 stages of entertainment, including Pepe and the Bottle Blondes, aerial acts, go-go dancers, snake girls, sword swallowers, burlesque acts and fetish demonstrations. They've also got $5,000 in cash and prizes to give away in the costume contest. Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 225-0047. 8 pm-2 am Saturday, Oct. 30. $35 in advance, $40 at door. VIP $69 in advance, $79 at door. Ticket info at portlanderoticball.com.
Bent Costume Gala
If you always wanted the mayor to judge your sexy UPS man costume, this is the Halloween event for you. Mayor Sam Adams has signed on as a costume contest judge for Bent, the Hallow's Eve ball for those a little "bent," brought to you by the Equity Foundation, complete with Poison Waters, dueling DJs and a Brazilian samba ensemble. Left Bank Annex, 101 N Weidler St., 928-6437. 8:36 pm Saturday, Oct. 30. $36.66. Tickets at benthalloween.org.
City Repair's HOWL 2010
City Repair Project's eighth annual HOWL Halloween party features four rooms filled with music by nearly 20 acts, including Solovox and PlumbLyne Live. Roturre, 320 SE 2nd Ave. 9 pm-5 am Friday, Oct. 29. $26 presale, $30 at door. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/131057. Info at howlpdx.com. 21+.
Halloween Neutrino Project
Curious Comedy's Neutrino Project, in which the audience watches improvised movies that were filmed outside the theater mere minutes before and projected straight to the big screen, tackles the scary-movie genre this time around. Wear a costume and you could star in a film. Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., 477-9477. 8 pm, Friday-Saturday, Oct. 29-30. $10 advance, $12 at door. Tickets at hulahub.com.
Twi-fans be forewarned—you'll need to know about more than just your beloved Edward to compete in this trivia night, which covers all vampires from all films, literature and television—from Buffy to Bella and every seductive bloodsucker in between. There will be blood. And Bloody Marys. EastBurn, 1800 E Burnside St., 236-2876. 6 pm Sunday, Oct. 31. Teams of five or fewer. Free.
Haunted Opera House
Mixing Halloween, opera and electric guitars, Electric Opera Company and Opera Theater Oregon take you on a haunted tour through the bowels of the theater, "past the tormented orchestra musicians, dangerously close to shredding guitarists and through the composer graveyard." Ethos at IFCC, 5340 N Interstate Ave. Haunted house 6-8 pm, concert 8:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 30-31. $5 haunted house, $7 concert, $10 both. All ages.
Scary Movie at the Brody Theater
The Brody Theater company takes to the stage as a creepy cast of characters, improvising a double "creature feature" of classic horror and sci-fi tales each night. Also on display in the theater is a large collection of vintage horror and sci-fi movie posters from the personal collection of the theater's artistic director, Tom Johnson. The Brody Theater, 16 NW Broadway. 8 pm and 10 pm Friday-Saturday, 7 pm Sunday, Oct. 29-31. $10, $7 students. Call for tickets or visit brodytheater.com. All ages.
Everyone Orchestra Halloween Show
A special Halloween edition of Everyone Orchestra's fully improvised, audience-participation-based performances. Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St., 719-6055. 9 pm Thursday, Oct. 28. $10. Call for tickets or visit albertarosetheatre.com.
Halloween Scavenger Hunt
Pdxhunt hosts a Halloween-themed scavenger hunt. Set out into the night with a group of two to four friends, a car and a flashlight. Hit the checkpoints, solve the clues and win $250, or $50 for the best costume. Montavilla Community Center, 8219 NE Glisan St., 6-9 pm Saturday, Oct. 30. 5:30-5:40 pm sign-in. $45 per team. Register at pdxhunt.com/PortlandHalloweenEvent.htm.
Trick or Treat at Pix Pâtisserie
To snag some treats this Halloween you could either steal an innocent kid's pillowcase and end up with a bunch of Hershey's, or just head over to Pix Pâtisserie, where they've got treats that involve ingredients like ganache, marzipan and cognac buttercream and words like "drizzled," "draped" and "dipped." They'll be handing out treats to anyone in costume. Pix Pâtisserie, 3901 N Williams Ave., 282-6539, and 3402 SE Division St., 232-440. 5 pm Sunday, Oct. 31.
Boorito 2010: The Horrors of Processed Food
Show up to a Chipotle dressed as a horrifying processed meat product (Spam, Vienna sausages…must we go on?) and they'll make you up a burrito made with "wholesome, naturally raised ingredients" for just two bucks. This event benefits Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Any Chipotle restaurant. 6 pm to close.
Beast Halloween Dinner
Enjoy a six-course meal dressed in your best—Batman costume or naughty nurse attire, that is. The staff at Beast—also in costume—will serve rabbit kidney pies, bacon-wrapped venison and other fancy treats. Beast, 5425 NE 30th St., 841-6986. 8 pm Saturday, Oct. 30. $100 per person, $35 wine pairing. Reservations at beastpdx.com.