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Spooky, Scary, Fun? A Statistical and Semantic Analysis

By Isaac

Spooky. Scary. Skeletons. Are the skeletons both spooky AND scary or are we dealing with a mix of spooky skeletons and scary skeletons? It might seem obvious at first but with a little closer investigation we might muddle the waters a bit.

What makes a skeleton spooky? What makes a skeleton scary? How can an understanding of a spooky-scary spectrum inform our appreciation of haunted houses? Finally, can a statistical analysis inform a perfect balance of spooky and scary to achieve an optimal output of spooky-scary-fun for our haunted house? First, we must define our terms.

From Merriam Webster

Spooky : strange, unsettling, or frightening in a way that suggests the supernatural

Scary : causing fright

Fun : what provides amusement or enjoyment

At first it might seem that the two, spooky and scary, are one in the same. However when we look more closely at the definitions the two are quite different. It will help to think of things that are decidedly scary but definitely NOT spooky. Some examples: Sky diving, a first date or a car accident. All of these things can definitely be very scary however we wouldn’t say that they are spooky. This category of scare is definitely not what people are looking for when they come to haunted houses.

On the other hand, we have things that are decidedly spooky but are very much less ‘scary.’ It is certainly true that all spooky things have some degree of scary in them. It’s right there in the definition. There are many things that most wouldn’t call scary but are definitely a little spooky. The moon for example. Most wouldn’t consider the moon particularly scary but it is certainly a little bit spooky, especially on a foggy night. A jack-o-lantern, a cobweb, a portrait of a rich old woman holding a black cat; all a little spooky but not really scary. All of these spooky elements make great decor for haunted houses but again, not exactly what people are looking for. If you visit a haunted house near you and all they have are spooky old paintings, cobwebs and moons you’ll probably be disappointed. 

Balancing spooky and scary is the ultimate goal of any quality haunted attraction. The best way to know if you are properly balancing your spooky and scary is to utilize the Mary Shelly Spooky-Scary alignment system. This system rates almost anything on a scale of 0-100 spookies and 0-100 scary. To find your Spooky-Scary total you just multiply the two figures together. 

You can find the Mary Shelly Spooky-Scary system detailed in any copy of Howard Phillip’s The Mary Shelly Guide to Haunted Houses. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Where can I get a copy of the Mary Shelly Guide to Haunted Houses near me?” You’re in luck, The Mary Shelly Guide to Haunted Houses can be found all major book retailers and in most public libraries.

On the Shelly Scale of Spooky (Sp) a full moon on a foggy evening viewed through the canopy of autumn deciduous trees scores a perfect 100 spookies, considered the max level of pure spooky. Unfortunately that same scene scores only a 10 on the Shelly Scary Scale (10Sc points for being in the woods at night, which is at least a little scary for most people). Using the scary scale we could add a hooting owl (an additional 5Sc), the sound of a chainsaw being started up ( 50Sc!) or, if we really want to max out our spooky-scary, a mob of zombies crashing through the woods toward you ( a full 100Sc!!!). Put that all together (100 scary x 100 spookies) and you have a spooky-scary score of 10,000SpSc! A spooky moon in the woods being chased by zombies, that is the stuff of horror movie magic.

Simple then right? Wrong. It’s easy enough to max out your spooky-scary but is it fun? Creepy old Victorian mansion? 100Sp; add a Vampire jumping down from the balcony toward you, bam! 100Sc. 100Sp x 100Sc = 10,000SpSc. The trouble is we also need the haunted house to be fun. Everyone has a Spooky-Scary threshold and overwhelming the psyches Spooky-Scary threshold does not equal fun. The key is balancing and pushing the limits of Spooky-Scary so that you reach peak Spooky-Scary-Fun. After experiencing a scene at a peak Spooky-Scary people need time to reset. So the key is to space out peak Spooky-Scary with lesser Spooky-Scary in order to keep people in the fun zone. Your Spooky-Scary scores should look like a sine curve; the low points on your curve should be below 3,000SpSc and your peaks should ideally be full 10,000SpSc!

So your ideal scene layout will start low, maybe around 3,000SpSc, ramp up to 50,00-60,00SpSc, hit a peak at 10,000SpSc and then wind back to 5,000-6,000SpSC and then 3,000SpSc for a full build up and wind down cycle. Scientific studies have shown that this sine curve Spooky-Scary method is the best way to keep people in the fun-zone without getting too spooked or too scared and wanting to leave the haunted house early or causing lasting psychological harm. Remember, you want people to want to come back to your haunted house.

In closing lets run through a hypothetical series of scenes and score them using the guide. 

Scene 1: A creepy hallway in a Victorian mansion (100Sp) with the sounds of foot step emanating from somewhere near you…but you’re not really sure where ( 25Sc). This scene has a total score of 2,500SpSc. Off to a good start.

Scene 2: You enter a dark room full of coffins, candle light is all that fills the room (Coffins make this an automatic 100Sp). At the center of the room is a strange dark figure who beckons you to come forward. The figure measures you up and down and sizes you for a coffin. Interactions with sales people are always a little scary (50Sc). 100Sp x 50Sc = 5,000SpSc, right on target!

Scene 3: You enter a creepy clock tower, this one is a little lower on the Spooky Scale, (70Sp). However, from behind suddenly appear a strange figure swinging two giant wrenches and chasing after you! That’s pretty scary (80Sc). 5,600SpSc! We could get this one a little higher, maybe adding some bats for extra spooky.

Scene 4: You enter a medical lab and there’s a dead body hanging on the wall (100Sp!) and then a doctor comes brandishing medical equipment. He seems to be wearing someone else’s skin. This is definitely peak scary! (100Sc!!!) That’s a perfect 10,000SpSc. 

After this peak you would want to wind down the Spooky-Scary until people’s psyche is ready for another adrenal rush of peak Spooky-Scary-Fun!