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Using Misdirection in Scares
By David Ruzicka


Ask any Haunted Attraction designer the best way to set up a startle and he will probably tell you to use misdirection, the deliberate act of forcing your haunt's patrons to focus their attention on an object or event to draw their senses away from the actual scare. In doing so, you have them exactly how and where you want them: feeling that anxious anticipation, knowing that something is about to happen, but expecting it to come from the wrong direction. This gives you a great advantage in providing an effective scare.

Misdirection is essentially a distraction or diversion. By creating this diversion, you allow your actors (or automated scares) the ability to catch your patron by surprise. There are a number of ways to create the distraction. To find the tactic that is best for you may be as simple as deciding upon which of their senses you wish to attack.

You can work against their sense of sight; using a sudden movement can distract a guest. This movement can come in the form of an actor baiting the unsuspecting patrons, or it can be an automated device or animatronic. An object as simple as a ceiling fan can be a distraction to a visitor who is already in a heightened state of awareness. Using a display or prop that catches peoples' attention is another way to misdirect guests using their sense of sight. This could be as spectacular as an expensive animatronic, or as simple as a detailed static scene. In some cases, sight misdirection can also be done using a simple flash of light.

Sound is another effective way of using misdirection. A noise, such as a bang or a voice coming from the left will cause them to look left so that the scare can be launched from another direction. Disorientation is another opportunity for misdirection. You can take advantage of your patrons' confusion to execute the startle. However, patrons who are too disoriented can have a negative effect on your haunt's throughput, causing undesired side effects.

An actor or guide can also help with misdirection. If your actor points at something, or tells the guests to look at something, they will, providing a great chance to strike. Easy to read signs can create a form of misdirection as well. This method plays against the patron's sense of trust.

You can use your patrons' sense of curiosity against them as well. In a "Kitchen" scene there could be a refrigerator with its door slightly ajar. Inside is a pizza, just visible to passing patrons. Sure enough, one person in each group will open that refrigerator to look at the pizza just as the scare is launched from the "cabinets" beside the refrigerator.

Any of these examples can be transformed to suit a specific use. Use your imagination and a touch of illusion, and you will come up with countless ways of misdirecting your patrons and can deliver more effective scares because of it.

David Ruzicka has been the head designer and operator of MacGregor Down's Country Club's Gryffon Manor in Cary,NC for 13 years. He can be contacted at druzicka@nc.rr.com.

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