Situated in a former psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Auckland, Spookers is the only haunted house attraction in New Zealand – and also the biggest and most successful in the Southern Hemisphere. In his film of the same name, documentarian Florian Hebicht (Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets; Love Story) largley eschews wallowing in the grim ‘n’ gory FX gags and horror tableux, instead delving into the community of part time monsters, am-dram enthusiasts and genial misfits that has grown up around the venerable institution.
It’s fascinating and surprisingly affecting stuff. What quickly becomes apparent is that, for the majority of the performers interviewed at least, working at Spookers gives them a license to express themselves and explore their identities in a way they can’t in the outside world. One male actor admits to finding dressing up as zombie bride appealing, even though he would never cross dress in his civilian life; others speak about venting their anger and frustration through performance by scaring the crap (sometimes very literally) of the paying audience.
For all the fake blood and hand-made monstrosities on display, there’s a decidedly familial feel to the behind-the-scenes world of the spookhouse, which is presided over by husband-and-wife proprietors Andy and Beth Watson. We spend a fair bit of time with matriarch Beth, who admits to not enjoying horror movies very much and turning off the one she tried to watch for research, as well as a handful of cast regulars who drive home the “family of choice” theme.
That such a morbid work environment has attracted such a tight knit and supportive crew is no surprise to anyone who’s spent a lot of time around the horror genre – horror folks tend to be remarkably nice for people who spend a good chunk of their time thinking up new and gruesome uses for gardening implements – but it should be a useful lesson for non-aficionados. Whether any turn up is another question – one of the gatekeepers of horror is imagery that tends to put off non-fans, such as the terrifying clown that is the key marketing image for Spookers. Hopefully some will push through, though – under all the latex viscera is big heart.