Who would have guessed that a simple backyard haunted house put up by young metalheads would have turned into a thriving internationally-renowned Halloween attraction? But that's where the House of Shock is today.
Co-founder Ross Karpelman is the mastermind behind this controlled chaos, and he said that it all started because he just wanted to have some adult fun on Halloween night in 1992 that didn't consist merely of going to more bars. He said, "We were at the age where we couldn't really dress up and go trick-or-treating anymore without getting looked at funny. The other option was to go to the bar and just get drunk, and that didn't seem appealing either. We all grew up having haunted houses in our backyards. We just said, 'Hey, let's do a haunted house.' [Steven Joseph, Jay Gracianette, and I] went into Jay's backyard and dug graves, built rooms out of plastic sheeting, like a kid would do. We just had a good time. We based it off of heavy metal and Satan because they go hand-in-hand. We just did our own thing."
And that thing started getting bigger and bigger until it became a force to be reckoned with. They realized that this could really be something huge one day, especially because it was so reviled by the religious right. Karpelman explained, "That's when the word grew, and we had lines around the block, and the neighborhoods were not happy. We were doing some outlandish things because we were adults and about extreme intensity performance. We kind of developed the reputation of outlaws. The neighborhood felt that evil moved in on their block, so they got a priest and broke in, and he sprinkled holy water and salt over everything. I don't know what that was supposed to do, but I guess they felt better about it. So, the next year, we were thinking, 'Let's do it a little bit bigger.'''
Over the next decades, they did indeed make it bigger and better. When you pass through the gates located in the shadow of the Huey P. Long Bridge, you will be greeted by scowling creatures who are there just to chase the most scared among us around. You can grab a tasty adult beverage and some fried food while you watch people hang their bodies on hooks. Live music will permeate the air in between the massive pyrotechnic-peppered stage show. This year will pay a ton of homage to the very city that birthed this little haunted house.
Karpelman and his associates went down to the old Wax Museum in the French Quarter when he heard it was closing and snapped up some choice pieces that will be featured in The House of Wax. He explained, "It's a tribute to the Musée Conti. It was a place that we all went to on field trips in school. The story came out that they were closing, so we went out there and it was every bit as creepy as it was when we were children. It's a part of New Orleans history. So, when they went out of business, we thought that it was something that we could adapt and pay homage to. We have a bunch of different rooms of the Wax Museum; all of the rooms have a little story in video before you even get in. So, you'll know what you're looking at when you get in there with some scares thrown in as well, which you don't necessarily get at a wax museum. But we want to keep the creep factor extra high."
They are also bringing back the newer, ultra-sensory exhibition. Karpelman said, "Back by popular demand is our 3D event Laff in the Dark, which was named after the amusement park ride at Pontchartrain Beach. I've seen other 3D-type haunted houses and nothing is on this scale. Everywhere you look, there's something poking out at you. You could go through three times in a row and you'd see something different every time. There's just so much artwork up there from this graffiti artist named Dallas. He's really killing it."
Joseph, Karpelman, & Gracianette
And we can't forget about the main attraction itself: The House of Shock. They've got big plans to scare the regular customers into submission. Karpelman excitedly explained, "The House of Shock itself is going to be re-themed. Of course, we're going to keep the church because we can't celebrate 25 years without having the church in there. Bigger and better stage shows, more pyro, and better bands. Belial [Karpelman's alter ego] has aged quite a bit since you last saw him. I think I'll probably talk a lot about death. It will reflect on 25 years."
If you had told Karpelman all those years ago that he'd still be creating thrills and chills for a living now, he wouldn't have believed you. "I never really saw it going this far. I didn't all those years ago. I certainly never saw it where it would be a part of my life for 25 years. I think it's great, and I think it says a lot for not only our cast of volunteers, but for the community—for keeping it relevant and keeping it alive. And for ourselves because it's so much fun. But we do it for the city of New Orleans so that they can have a premium event and something to do for Halloween. That's how we started. We didn't know what we wanted to do for Halloween; we were in our early- to mid-20s. Now we have something that exists for people who find themselves in that same predicament, so they can come out and enjoy themselves and see a first-class show from beginning to end. A lot of cities don't have that luxury. New Orleans has more of a luxury for quality events than many cities. Yeah, as far as 25 years, it's just a number. It's a landmark for sure. And we're very proud to have reached a quarter of a century!"
The House of Shock hopes to spook you throughout October. You can buy tickets and learn more information on HOS at houseofshock.com.