A professor the Editor-In-Chief and I recall fondly from our schoolboy days once said that, “carnivals and haunted houses are our culture’s last bastion of legalized fear.” It was in a screenwriting course, and those of us interested in fear wrote it down with the enthusiasm Plato probably had for Socrates’s really good lines. Our professor was right. I can put you in front of a screen or shove a book in your hands and make you ask yourself, “Is it possible? Could the dead really rise? Can a man really turn into a wolf? Could these things happen to me?” Haunted Attractions take that question out of the conditional and into the definite: “Is it possible? Am I really here? Will these things touch me?” The roots of interactive horror’s Resident Evils and Silent Hills aren’t on celluloid, but sawdust floors.
Denver’s 13th Floor has long been a famous Halloween attraction, so this year they tried something new: a February extravaganza called Valentine X. Held the nights of the 13th and 14th only, Valentine X is centered on the character of the Bear Butcher, a masked killer who stalks the unfaithful. This winningly goofy frame-story takes us through the grimy compound of the Butcher’s cult, a Mousetrap-like funhouse of rooms that takes the visitor from killing floors to cannibal villages. You’ll pass through long, womb-like tubes and push your way through hanging bodies, past animatronic demons. You’ll be shut alone in a rattling, dark elevator with one of the Butcher’s acolytes. The aesthetic leans towards home invasion, with lots of Purge-like animal masks and bloody aprons, but the point of a haunted attraction isn’t to forge new conceptual ground—it’s to sow real-time fear of what we’re scared of right now. Valentine X succeeds brilliantly.
One of the neatest things about haunted attractions is that you never take the ride alone, and because of that you never get away from other people’s fear. It chums the water. Valentine X made my wife and I stand in line for a good hour, watching people come out the exit screaming and laughing. There was a video of the Bear Butcher on repeat, calling for a Manson-esque revolution. A soundtrack of love songs—and only love songs—played over a loudspeaker.
Things have been rough lately. Not dramatically so; not even rough enough to make a good story. Just everyday, week-in, week-out bullshit. My wife bought tickets to Valentine X as a surprise for us, and we took the 15 bus (itself a bit of a carnival) for Irish pub food and bear-masked psychos. We stood out in the cold and waited. I was crawling around in the hollows of myself when we finally reached the front. I took her hand, and everything at once felt better.
My wife and I didn’t get to take our honeymoon until about a year and a half after we were married. We flew to Paris, and waited in line for two hours to see the Catacombs, which we wandered through together, hand-in-hand, marveling. In the heart of Valentine X, the 13th Floor (likely inspired by As Above, So Below) included a brief little stretch of catacomb, complete with mist and a robotic crocodile head that came unnervingly close to our feet.
Everybody’s ideal of love is different. Mine is shared adventure. There is nothing like walking into the darkness with somebody you love to distraction beside you, past bones and monsters, to come up laughing and screaming in the light. To all good couples, I wish their Catacombs.
 Whose name I won’t reveal because that piece of paper is long-lost, and I don’t want to misquote.