New Orleans Most Infamous Haunted House Says "Nevermore"

14:14 September 22, 2014
By: Emily Hingle

For over two decades, no haunted house was more infamous than the House of Shock. Often, the attraction would be spoken about in fascinated whispers usually telling of some horrible thing people witnessed there. Despite the fear the eerie house would garner, people came in droves to be frightened and horrified by the ghastly creatures inside. A rainy 2013 season crippled attendance, and the House of Shock will be forced to shutter after this season unless they can have a banner year. Still, if everything goes so well that they can remain open, things may never be the same again. This is the terrifying tale of the House of Shock.

The madman behind it all, Ross Karpelman, states simply, “It all started at a party.” Karpelman and his friends had outgrown the local haunted houses put on at Lakeside Mall, City Park, and in neighborhoods like Chinchuba. Future co-creator Jay Gracianette used to help his father with the New Orleans Recreational Department Haunted House. “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.’ [Philip Anselmo, 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,” recounts Karpelman. 

The crew made a haunted house the next year as well, but this time in a larger backyard. The House of Shock was growing organically as their notoriety increased. “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 and intensity performance. We kind of developed the reputation of outlaws,” says Karpelman proudly. Not only were more and more people interested in experiencing this extreme haunt, many people were so offended and alarmed by it that they attempted to bring the wrath of a higher power down on the house itself. “The neighborhood felt that evil moved in on their block, so they got a priest and broke in, which I think is kind of ironic, 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,” says Karpelman.

Growing ever larger, the House of Shock was turning into a viable seasonal business. Finally, they were able to move out of the backyard and into a place of their own. Still, the very existence of such a demonized attraction was contested. “We were able to find a temporary warehouse behind Cleary Avenue, and that’s where we got infamous. The City Council judged us on our themes and whether or not it was appropriate for people. That brought a whole free speech thing into it: local radio and the newspaper picked up on it, and all that did was make more publicity for us. In the end, the Council realized that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. We’ve gone on from there, and we’ve been in the same area now since 1996,” tells Karpelman.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 dealt a blow to the business which did not see a season that year. “Katrina hit, and that was going to be our first year in the new location [under the Huey P. Long Bridge]. In my house, I had 12 feet of water. All of our volunteers were scattered. The whole city was scattered. Needless to say, our thirteenth year, how appropriate, didn’t happen. Well, it kind of did because our other partner was in town on Halloween night, and he opened the gates just to see who would show up. They just had Halloween by themselves there in the warehouse,” explains Karpelman.

Since that harsh season, business boomed. The House of Shock was more popular and more grandiose than it had ever been. It was seen as an extreme national attraction due to the years of attention placed on it by MTV, VH1, and Rolling Stone Magazine. “Within the industry from the beginning, we were looked at [as the most extreme]. If we sucked, it wouldn’t matter if we had Ozzy back there. The production that we put into it, the time, the detail is very meticulous. We’ve definitely seen the amount of mega haunted houses increase since we’ve been around,” says Karlpelman.

The weather of fall 2013 may have dealt the death blow to the House of Shock; they simply did not create enough profit to sustain the business which is not simply a walk-through haunted house, but an immersive world with a huge pyrotechnic stage show, live music, circus acts,  vendors, rides and more. “It was a sit down year for us. We had a tropical storm threat on our opening weekend; our numbers were down there. Halloween night got rained out totally, completely, and that was [supposed to be] a catch up night for us. Eyehategod was supposed to play that night. It was heartbreaking. The haunted house business itself is very risky; you’re dependent on a lot of things. We said that we can go for another year and see what happens. Basically, the reason why it’s our last season is because it costs so much money for us to put on a production. You’ve got to be on the cutting edge, and we’ve been on the cutting edge, we’ve been the trendsetters in the industry, for a long time now. But, contrary to popular belief, we don’t do that many numbers to keep up with the amount of money we spend putting on the biggest production that we possibly can because we don’t do this for the public. We do this for ourselves. We get off on it. We enjoy it. And our 300 plus volunteers that we have, it’s their passion. It’s why we’ve kept it going for 22 years, and it’s sad to see it go. I don’t know what’s going to happen after this year. It’s definitely the final year of the House of Shock as we know it,” states Karpelman solemnly.

Ross Karpelman only wishes that this year goes well to sendoff the House of Shock in style, if not to also raise the funds to make the House keep going. There is an air of uncertainty surrounding the future of the House of Shock, and the public may not know what to expect until this time next year. “This season will dictate where we go, what we do, what happens. The house could be completely stripped-down and sold off for what we can get. I don’t know. This season will be the tale-tell, but one thing’s for sure: it will not be the same haunted house that it’s been for 22 years. We try not to think of it as a business, but you need people to go through the gates to sustain what we do. And we have a strong fan base that has enabled us to have our party. Basically, every year we enjoy our Mardi Gras. We’re just a local group of heavy metal musicians that have gotten older and this is the one thing we can come together on and enjoy throughout the year when we’re not working our boring day jobs. We’ve built our following and our fans, and we’ve stayed true to that,” says Karpelman.

One of the crew who created the House of Shock and took it from a backyard party to a full—fledged mega-attraction has these words for those who have enjoyed his work in the past and those who have yet to attend: “I want to see everybody there. This is it. This is the end of an era. This is what people will talk about as New Orleans legend; it might sound presumptuous to say that. We’re part of New Orleans Halloween culture. People tell those fabled stories of Halloweens gone by. Come give us a proper sendoff, come see what we’ve done and continue to do. And come see the show. Don’t let us down. Let’s end it on a highnote.” 

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