In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: An idea so good, it's frightening

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Here's a money-making scheme: Scare people out of their wits - and out of their money

It's an experience the spook-loving bunch are happy to pay for, so why not jump on the bandwagon? 100 per cent Scary New Zealand? Illustration / Anna Crichton
It's an experience the spook-loving bunch are happy to pay for, so why not jump on the bandwagon? 100 per cent Scary New Zealand? Illustration / Anna Crichton

The term "house of horrors" has, perhaps, a different meaning to you than it does to me. I consider my modest villa was something of a house of horrors last week, for example, when two children had chickenpox, one caught stomach flu on the way to recovery, the baby screamed and cried for two hours a day, and the dishwasher and TV broke down in unison.

My house is one that people who relish their germ-free personal space - and their sanity - would avoid like the plague. Conversely, although I am quite sanguine about revolting nappies and vomiting pre-schoolers, I cannot stomach horror movies. I don't believe in ghosts but feel uneasy in a graveyard. And I would need to be drunk to handle a night-time visit to a "haunted" house.

This wussiness is out of sync, it seems, with the modern craze for the scary and spooky. I tried to imagine the headspace of someone who would visit the newly proposed "morgue motel" in Tasmania, where guests will be able to sleep on old autopsy tables or on bunks in the old pull-out refrigerator, formerly reserved for the deceased.

I tried, and I failed.

Tasmania's morgue/motel arrangement is slated for an old psychiatric hospital - a venue that has provided rich pickings for tourism ventures based on scaring people witless. Developer Haydn Pearce believes the venture will attract Goths, emos and "pretty funky mums and dads". In fact, Port Arthur in Tasmania already does a rich tourist trade in what they call the Paranormal Investigation Experience, which centres on the area's historic penal settlement and asylum, where thousands of men and women were subjected to solitary confinement and worse back in the day.

We have our own psychiatric hospital/tourism drawcard in the shape of Spookers at Kingseat Hospital in South Auckland. In America, "dark tourism" is huge business, especially in the southern states: at West Virginia's Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum - where Charles Manson once whiled away his idle moments - tours run seven days a week. A US$7 billion ($8.6 billion) industry has grown up around frightening people in America alone; it's undoubtedly much higher if we take a global view, for example Scotland's heavily marketed, "haunted castles", torture museums across Europe, and Jack the Ripper's trail in London. And it's probably just a shadow of the figure you would come up with if you included the recent surge in vampires, zombies, werewolves, and all the other supernatural phenomena associated with pop culture hits such as the Twilight series.

Why have these eerie, dystopian spectacles become so popular? Perhaps the most convincing explanation is that they allow us to experience a "safe form of danger". That's what Dr Ed Slavishak, associate professor of history at Susquehanna University, concluded from studying this newly invigorated form of tourist entertainment (apparently, visiting morgues and graves was considered fine entertainment in the 18th and 19th centuries). Either way, it's an experience the spook-loving bunch are happy to pay for, so why not jump on the bandwagon? 100 per cent Scary New Zealand? The ghouls of Gore and the phantoms of Whitianga are eagerly waiting.

- NZ Herald

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