Who's the weird old person hanging around the packs of high school kids at Portland-area haunted houses? The one who reeks of good coffee and cheap gin? Yeah, that’s a Willamette Week writer out reviewing local haunts for Creeper Crawl 2012.
The Fear Asylum
13121 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie
The 60,000-square-foot Milwaukie Elks Lodge, aside from some imposing signage on the oversize doors proclaiming CHARITY, JUSTICE, BROTHERLY LOVE and FIDELITY for the members of its less-creepy cousin to Freemasonry, is a deeply nonthreatening community center along a busy byway just south of Portland best known for its many strip malls and car lots. It has a very large car lot, which is mostly full; a line of suburbanites stretches endlessly out the door to the center, near a community swimming pool that glows empty and strangely pink behind cyclone fencing. Despite the family-friendly environs the Fear Asylum is nonetheless an oddity: a haunted manse made for teens and adults, not children. Your average eight-year-old would be redfaced and tear-streaked halfway through, telling his mom he wants to leave. It wouldn't be easy to do so: within the lodge is a massive and disorienting maze gussied up as a deranged mental asylum, stretching across 18 "rooms" and two stories, all dressed up as a Kingdom-style hospital of the damned, ruined and spazzed in which mental asylum inmates roam the halls at will while victims of mad experiments beg to be set free.
The Elks were founded in 1867 as the Jolly Corks, devoted to avoiding alcohol tax and New York State’s “dry” Sundays. The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks evolved into a community service organization, as well as a place, nonetheless, for the middlebrow Ralph Kramdens of the world to drink away from their wives without resorting to a seedy tavern; as of the 1990s the institution now allows women among its ranks. The Fear Asylum haunted house raises money for the various charities supported by the Elks.
There were a few jumps and yells, but the denizens of the hospital are more likely to sneak up on you and say nothing, with intentions unclear, and follow you around much too closely. This left my companion at the lodge cleaving tightly and pushing at my back, trying to get me to move faster. It feels as much like an imminent mugging or mob scene as haunted asylum, a hyperbolic version of New York City in the '70s.
Blood is smeared on the doctors’ coats, strewn around amid spare parts of people or on the clothes and skin of the various actors, but this is truly less a gorefest than a creepshow.
At one point, one of the actors took his chatty-Cathy version of following us around so seriously I thought he was going to ask for our numbers.
A. Its simple hugeness is probably the Asylum's most effective weapon; after so long in the place, one must simply submit to its eerie, inconsistent logic. The end does not ever feel near. Trust Milwaukie—my own somewhat bedraggled hometown—to set me ill at ease. Less frightening than consistently unsettling, the Lodge is a beautifully escapable trip to a place one would never long want to remain.
Read more Creeper Crawl:
The Haunted Maize
The 13th Door