Low Fidelity: Haunted House Summers

Long before he took up residence in a pair of New Jersey record stores Krieg frontman Neill Jameson (aka Imperial) was a kid looking to make a buck during the long, hot East Coast summers. He found a job as a professional ghoul at a boardwalk haunted house in Wildwood, New Jersey. The Deciblog convinced Jameson to take us outside of the record store world for one episode of Low Fidelity and give us his thoughts on his summer job at Castle Dracula.
This fall promises to be a good one for Jameson. Krieg’s first album in four years Transient will be released by Candlelight this September (Chris Dick got the scoop). Some touring is likely in the works. And with any luck Jameson will share more record store stories in the future. But for now, to the boardwalk.

There’s something about summer that makes people nostalgic. I’m no different. More than a decade ago, I would spend fifteen hours a day wearing grease paint and a filthy robe while jumping out and scaring people in the hopes that they would empty their bowels. While this sounds like I was trying out for “Watain: The Musical” I was working at Castle Dracula, a two level haunted attraction in scenic Wildwood, New Jersey.

Built sometime in the 1970s using the finest stucco and plywood, the Castle stood on the boardwalk like a menacing sore thumb. In its heyday, it lured tens of thousands of customers a summer. It had two parts: the first were rooms where various types of frightening shit would happen according to a script that read like the finest plot points of 1970’s pornographic films between the naughty bits. There was a front room, a laboratory, an execution hallway and other displays with moving parts and sound effects. The other part was a downstairs boat ride that would take you from gory scene to gory scene. Costumed actors would jump out and pray you didn’t have good enough reflexes to land a punch. By the time I started working there in 1998, a lot of this was in severe disrepair but we managed to keep it going despite lack of air conditioning and Wildwood’s very lax view on drunks on the boardwalk.

I was obviously drawn to this place because I got paid to look like the first few Darkthrone covers and belligerently yell at people. Seems like a perfect match, right? Being nice to people was discouraged unless you were the poor sap who got stuck taking tickets. We were put on a rotation of what spots we were doing every night, mostly playing up our strengths and ability to memorize lines convincingly enough to scare small children.

Parents were the absolute worst; I can see how millenials have grown into the worst generation so far. The parents would pull you aside and ask you to pay close attention to their five-year-old, the one with asthma and a heart condition. Sometimes, if they were really paying attention to their Dr. Spock books, they would tell you their child’s exact phobia. Other times, we’d catch wind of someone’s name and then use it in one of the speeches, to fantastic results. I never got tired of seeing a grown adult who somehow believed we were fucking monsters. We had people faint, fall paralyzed or just lose their shit like they were being tortured.

Or, they’d retaliate. Some of my earliest life experiences of Americans with a little booze in them acting like unrestrained children took place at Castle Dracula. In the downstairs boat ride you’d have guys stand up and try to get out and fight the displays, swing at the workers and, in special cases, just start pissing. It’s a lot harder to scare a standing man with a blood alcohol level of .09 and his dick in his hand than you would imagine. It was easier to move out of someone’s way in the basement but upstairs you had to guide groups of people through dimly lit mazes so it was difficult to dodge a punch.

One thing “The Jersey Shore” got right was the instinctual urge of the intoxicated frat boy to strike whoever is near them, usually the closest female. You’d also get the guy who was an impossible mountain of a man: thousands of years ago people would have written poems about how he carried six horses upstream during a flood to save a village. Yet this his man will scare easily in a castle made out of stucco on the boardwalk. He will also throw a haymaker that will have you planning your coworker’s funeral before they hit the ground.

Much like the record store you would get people who were avid fans (in this case, of haunted attractions). They would fucking ruin it for everyone else because they’d talk through the entire thing about the similarities to Bob’s Haunted Cave in South Dakota. Also like the record store, you would get your creeps who would harass the female staff and catcall during each scene. Finally, you got the people who would work to ruin the fun in a vain attempt to appear witty. If this were occurring today they would be filming themselves in hopes that their YouTube video would help land them a lucrative career as a public asshole. You would have to do your best to push through it and ignore them.

Places like this always have some kind of story or rumor attached to them; Castle Dracula was no different. Workers always claimed to see things when they were alone, shadows and red orbs. The one thing that was consistently working was the sound system and the recordings were really well done so it’s not a jump to figure that being in a dark room for hours on end with looping nightmare sounds is enough to trick you into thinking there’s a ghost. Other rumors included someone dying in the boat ride when it was a previous attraction and that our handy man was mute because he had his tongue cut out for being a mercenary.

We were sold to a water park in 2000 and the new owners demolished half of our building to make room for a fancy new waterslide that kids pissed in nonstop. The staff changed from younger, vibrant folks who got along and worked together to older, surly men and women with drinking problems and marks on the sex offender registry.

In January 2002, I turned on the TV to see Castle Dracula going up in flames. I didn’t really feel very much. I drove down the parkway and up to the boardwalk with a few friends and for a few hours sat and watched it burn. The space still remains vacant next to their water park more than ten years later.