Before you read another word, play the above SoundCloud clip of the classic Hauntings audio that booms on the famous parkway in Gatlinburg, TN, enticing innocent bystanders to pay the small fee to watch a ghost show that will apparently “scare you to death.”
Having spent much of my childhood living in a little eastern TN town about 1 hour from Gatlinburg, the tourist trap became a home away from home for me and my family. It didn’t take long for a wide eyed 10 year old to fall in love with the cheesy but oh-so-wonderful attractions that lined the parkway in Gatlinburg. At the time, Pigeon Forge could not compete with Gatlinburg’s endless array of captivating, though often disappointing, attractions, museums, restaurants, and hotels. Today, the story is quite different. Dollywood has single handily transformed Pigeon Forge from a jealous sibling into the entertainment leader of the Smokies.
Many of the sights (and smells) were forever burned into my conscience during those family vacations, especially the marketing and visually captivating signage of the Gatlinburg museums and shows that promised a journey into another dimension, perhaps a haunted or unexplained dimension, that was the perfect trap for little boys with a wild imagination. As a matter of act, one such museum that did not last very long was simply called, “World of the Unexplained.” I fell for that kind of stuff hook, line, and sinker.
So, right in the heart of the Parkway situated adjacent to the Fudge Shoppe of the Smokies (the best fudge in Gatlinburg) in the Reagan Terrace Mall is a small little show called “Hauntings.” I always found the set up to be so weird because it has a very small facade, but it is a two story building, so the decorating for Hauntings actually goes on top of the first floor Fudge Shoppe (see photo below). Thus, it looks like these whacked-out ghostly busts are ready to enjoy a piece of fudge.
It is not immediately clear what Hauntings actually is from the outside. You might initially think it is another walk through haunted house, like Mysterious Mansion or Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and the only real description that is easily noticeable simply says, “an extreme ghostly adventure.” Hey, sounds good enough to me, let’s do it!
I have now watched the Hauntings ghost show probably a dozen times. As of this writing, the last time was in November of 2014. It was eerily familiar. There was a teenage girl with her gangsta looking boyfriend hanging around as she “worked” the cash register. I put worked in quotations because no one really goes to this show anymore it seems. I hated to have to cause her to do something, but me, my brother, my sister, and my brother-in-law wanted to see the show. So, she had to tear herself away for a few moments from the embrace of her boyfriend to take our money and instruct us that the next show would be in 5 minutes. We waited with bated breath.
Like so many attractions in Gatlinburg, and so many owned by this particular family (who also owns World of Illusions and Treasure Quest Golf), Hauntings has the potential to be so, so good. The first 5 minutes of the experience are by far the best. It begins like this…
When it is time for your show, you are brought into the small door and immediately notice a staircase leading up the next level. This is done well with low lighting and spooky, if not silly, little framed photos on the walls going up the staircase. Although not a big deal, it sets the mood rather nice. You turn left into a door that is propped open and find yourself inside a very small “theater.” In reality it is a room with about 6 rows of benches that are roughly 15-20 feet from the front of the stage. The little stage is set up to look like a living room of a house, with a rug, desk, paintings on the wall, bookshelf, mirror, etc. After everyone has taken a seat, the door automatically and ominously closes and the lights go completely out, leaving you sitting in that brutal kind of darkness where it is darker than dark. Then, a truly horrifying array of loud screams and moans fills the room, but only for a couple of seconds. The lights come back on and the door slowly opens on its own. The narrator kindly speaks and says something to the effect of, “for anyone who has had second thoughts, now is the time to leave. When the show starts, there is no option to leave the theater.” It is quite a powerful beginning to the show and I have often wondered if anyone has left the theater after those first few seconds.
From there, things go downhill fast. The soundtrack for the narration is in poor condition and the consistent effect throughout the show – that of a mirror floating off the wall to demonstrate the arrival into another dimension, is laughable. You could both hear, and at times see, the hydraulics pushing the mirror out and back in.
The narrator attempts to communicate with the spirit world and asks them to do a variety of things. Then, the audience is asked to join hands to help the communication process. Unfortunately, someone apparently breaks the chain by letting go of a hand (even though we never let go of course) and that seriously ticks off the spirit world. So, they start going crazy. The walls become transparent and you can see ghosts in the walls and there is a distinct feeling of someone actually walking in the room with you, which does provide a chilling effect. Those few seconds of the ghosts being upset with the audience are very well done and do provide a scare.
Then, the finale comes, and yes, it is actually scary. It is scary enough that I do not want to provide a spoiler in this review. Let’s just say that the final scare of the evening will actually make you lean back and probably let out a little yelp.
Walking back down the stairs to the exit always leaves me wondering – is this attraction so outdated, unloved, and cheesy that I just wasted my money? Or are the few scares coupled with the nostalgia element worth every penny spent? For me, I always end up answering with the latter, and secretly excited about the next time I might get the opportunity to live again by being scared to death.