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Terror and the teenager

by Brian Clarey

Stella was born in the Creole section of New Orleans near the turn of the century and quickly entered a life of servitude under one of the city’s wealthiest clans. That’s why she’s dressed in the tight bustier and titillating leggings of a French maid, why she’s got a deep reservoir of resentment to tap into, even all these decades later, and why, ultimately, she did what she did.

When the vampires came, they killed her parents first. When they turned to little brother, she stepped in.

“They were gonna kill my little brother.

I couldn’t let them do that,” explains Aryn Taylor, who is playing the role of Stella in tonight’s performance at the Woods of Terror, the Halloween attraction out on Greensboro’s North Church Street that seems to get scarier every year.

“So I let them take me,” she continues.

“Instead of killing me, they turned me into this.”

She does a magnificent pirouette, making the streaks of silver in her hair sparkle under the light put out by naked bulbs under the tin carport’s roof.

A disembodied voice calls out, “If you’re in costume, get in line for make-up.”

We’re backstage on Saturday night, my teenage son and I, watching the platoon of monsters — scary clowns, ghost miners, pirates, slithery reptile men, deranged mental patients, good old-fashioned undead zombies and goth-sexy vampires, 100 strong — take shape for the night. As they get their costumes in order, they fill picnic tables under another primitive shelter according to section: the pirateship people here, the blood-house denizens there. Taylor airbrushes a ghostly patina on a mental patient’s face, applies a startlingly realistic bloodstain and tightens the straps on her straitjacket.

My son thinks it’s the coolest thing he’s ever seen. He’s having a much better time than he did the first time we did this together, back in 2008.

He was just 8 years old, way too young, I now see, for an attraction this intense. He lasted about three seconds into the opening parade, done in by a scary clown and Pinhead from Hellraiser. We did not walk through the Woods of Terror on that night.

Tonight is different. He’s huge now, for one thing, bigger than most of the actors in the show. He’s been through the woods a couple times since then, too. And in this first blush of his teenage years he’s developed this macabre, morbid sensibility — black clothes, dark music, a sort of defiant sullenness… you know the type.

Out in the midway, with the souvenir stands and snack hutches and photo stages, he smiles at the monsters mingling with the crowd. And when the parade of ghouls roars by he does not hold onto me for dear life.

Now, instead of worrying about the kid sprinting for the exits during some of the scarier fixtures in the Woods of Terror tour, I’m concerned that he might take a page from the place’s owner Eddie McLaurin and make the act of scaring the crap out of people his life’s work.

I will say, though, that McLaurin seems okay with his choices.

He’s standing at the podium, addressing the members of the media who now are seated at the picnic tables, his red, spiked Mohawk glinting under the lights, telling the same story he’s told over and over again: how he started the Woods of Terror out in Oak Ridge when he was a younger man, a 10-minute show with just nine actors, before bringing it here on his family’s land after college; the years of accumulating exhibits and the miles on the road, researching other haunted attractions around the country; squaring his Baptist upbringing with his annual scarefest out in the woods; the story about the guy with the rubber chicken.

It takes all year to make the Woods of Terror, which has grown to allow 175 staffers — 100 of them are actors — across 26 acres. It takes about an hour to walk through the stations of the place: Blackbeard’s ship, the 3-D maze, the Blood House, the cornfield. This year’s tour ends with an extra-added dose of terror: a black bag that goes over the heads of the guests, a walk in blackness through the final gambit. He says about 5 percent won’t wear the bag. But my kid seems to be looking forward to it.

The time backstage has demystified much of the experience for my young man, and as we walk through the rectangle of blackness to enter the haunt he shoots me a smile.

We’ve thrown in with a group that consists mostly of teenage girls. I’m cool with it because it means that the girls will likely draw most of the fire from the scary creatures of the night. My son seems okay with it, too, but I suspect he has his own reasons.

WANNA go?

Woods of Terror; 5601 N. Church St., Greensboro; 336.2869636; woodsofterror.com

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