The Horror by R.L. Shaffer as reviewed by Renfield Rasputin
Haunted attractions across the nation bring in millions of dollars every Halloween season. If done well, many of the operators can keep their facility open all year round allowing thrill seekers the ability to scare the living crap out of themselves whenever they feel the urge. The good ones that feature animatronics and method actors who are plastered in liquid latex and stage blood, chasing guests through a maze in near pitch black darkness can alter one’s sense of realism and cause them to convince themselves “These are just actors and all this is will stop when you get to the end.” Well, according to Randy Shaffer’s short story, The Horror, “Madness is 24/7.”
The Horror differs from other Halloween horror shorts in the way that it avoids the standard formatted trends today that are forcing the same story down the reader’s throat while only changing the cover of the story. Shaffer steers away from the apocalypse themes, senseless violence, and over the top gore gags. The Horror offers fresh scares within the tradition feel of the scary story.
Made for the Halloween season but yet it works well for anytime of the year that you crave that spooktacular fix, the short story is a tale of a young couple that attend their town’s haunted house. The usual tension mounts as the characters encounter the usual suspects of line entertainers at such an attraction, like zombies, mad butchers, and everyone’s favorite, the chainsaw maniac. But it is inside where the couple realizes that not everyone in the attraction is on the payroll. The two must attempt to escape the deranged psychopath inside the maze of terror before they themselves become part of the set.
The Horror moves along quickly, but yet in a pace that still allows the story to breathe without the reader feeling rushed toward the ending. Like all other things in life, timing is everything in writing. Shaffer works each chapter to flow smoothly as the characters work through each room in the house but leaves the reader only wanting more as the chapter ends at a cliffhanger. I found myself procrastinating chores only so I could finish the next chapter. Needless to say, the next chapter kept having the same effect on me until I found myself running late for an afternoon.
The characters come across as authentic, with convincing histories of small town young adults. Over the top heroes are avoided as they never work to capture the reader’s attention. However there is another character in the story that most writers would not think to develop like Shaffer does; and that would be the haunted house itself. Like all the human characters, the house has its own history and features that entertain as well.
Shaffer’s technical approach to detail paints a vivid picture for the reader so that even the worst ADD case can be easily immersed into the scene. Shaffer is no beginner, the self professed “Novelist, screenwriter, nonfiction writer, traveler, comedian, nerd, husband, and cat owner” has multiple stories under his belt and knows that an amateur move such as showering the reader in too many details will only drown out their imagination, thus causing a case of humdrum boredom. The omnipotent third person narration takes the time during the death scenes to get into the character’s heads and reveal their final thoughts. Rather than pouring on the blood and gore details of the death, this move creates sympathy from the reader and begs the question “What would their final words be?” Many up and coming writers should read these chapters as use this structure as a teaching guide for how a real kill scene should be done.
Shaffer has possibly ruined haunted house for most of his readers, but in a good way. They should probably thank him as well as new writers for laying out a believable format for a good slasher horror tale for anytime in the year. So the next time you attend a haunted attraction, think of The Horror and ask yourself, “Is everyone here an actor?”
Visit his website http://rlshaffer.com/ where you can purchase this and other stories.
Follow him on twitter at @rlshafferwrites
Renfield Rasputin is the Master of Scaremonies at Horror-Writers.net and does not care what Kanye bought Kim for Christmas.