Have you ever had a dream you are someplace very ordinary and it should be completely innocuous but something is not quite right? Like, you are at the grocery store and it seems normal but the lighting is a deeper shade of orange and everyone has a head 1/3 the size too big? And they are all smiling at you? It's a dream that gets under your skin and stays with you for days, even years. We have all had them and sometimes we experience it in real life. That intuitive feeling of something that is not quite right and we should not be there.
I have that same sensation from horror movies which are set in the daylight. We are programmed from generations of people who knew that when the sun went down, the world was very different and the howl of the wind was absolutely a wraith coming for one's soul. Superstitions formed and passed on to protect us from the unknown dangers of what we cannot see. But in the daylight? Well nothing bad happens in the daylight. Then a long came the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the entire table was flipped. Turns out you can get brutally murdered in the hot summer sun by a psycho in a human face mask.
Where am I going with all of this, you may ask? Well, about a year ago I was on my way up to Philadelphia from North Carolina. There is a long stretch through the Shenandoah Valley which goes through Virginia and part of West Virginia. While the drive is scenic and light on traffic, it can be quite dull. So, I take these road trips as an opportunity to see the odd roadside attractions we Americans love to display across the "fly-over" states. If you have never done this, I highly encourage you to do so. It's so choice.
Years before said trip, I was driving up the same route and caught sight of one of the most adorable off the highway attractions I had ever been to called Dinosaur Land. It was truly a family Griswald miracle and I enjoyed the hell out of the pre-Spielbrg dinosaur concepts. And while that was fantastic in it's simplicity and sincerity, it was nothing compared to what I would find a few short years later on the same stretch of highway.
Enter Dinosaur Kingdom 2
"That is a pretty sweet T-Rex and...is he fighting a Civil War era soldier?"
I saw the billboard for Dinosaur Kingdom II a few exits before and it was a no-brainer that I had to stop. In my mind I figured it would be just like Dinosaur Land but perhaps a little more modern. I had no idea, however, of the mind-screw I was about to receive.
Pulling up, I immediately noticed the crazy entrance to the attraction and while the sign was "King Kong" impressive, I could not help but stare in stunned amazement at the Union Army soldier fighting a dinosaur. I walked up to the ticket booth and was greeted by an old lady who offered no story or context to what I was about to experience. Little did I know I was entering into a fever-dream of creepiness and there was not a single soul anywhere in the attraction. Just me, a little old lady and the most bizarre attraction in these United States. All I had to do next was enter through a trolly car. Yeah.
Walking through the trolly car which, for some reason, turned into one of those vertigo-inducing, rotating cylinder hallways, I came out to an old-timey town that was clearly "off". Seeing how this was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, the attraction was complete void of any person. I was all alone to wonder around this bizarre town full of animatronic oddities and rooms that defied all logic or sanity.
The feeling of being watched was heavy. I remember a feeling of kinship to R2D2 as he carefully rolled down the desert canyon on Tatooine while Jawas stalked his every move. You know the scene!
I wouldn't say I am easily frightened or shy from a challenge but there was something really unsettling about walking around this attraction without context or storyline completely alone. Immediately upon entering I noticed movement behind a door which was knocked off its henges. Walking up, an eight foot animatronic Bigfoot(?) appeared and rotated in place. Why? Why was there a Bigfoot in this cabin? Does he live there? Are there dead and maimed people inside? Should I check? I HAVE QUESTIONS!
Backing away I walked on to see other crazy things like a dead deer in a wheelbarrow, a crate that reads "DANGER! VELOCIRAPTOR INSIDE", green aliens with green slime trails everywhere and this...
Stop. What in God's name is happening here? Put yourself in my shoes for a quick second. I expected a cheerful walk through Prehistoric Forrest, not gazing at a funeral parlor infested with small animated dinosaurs crawling on a corpse! Remember how I was saying that the most unsettling horror happens in the daylight? At that point I just wished I hadn't seen House of 1000 Corpses so many times.
I don't know, man. Let's just accept the fact I was looking at a monster who is devouring a human arm through the center of its head. And also might be melting. You have to appreciate the fact there was someone who took the time to build, create, mold, paint, invest time and money, and above all open it to the public! But the thing I was missing was...why? What was the story or theme here? All I had to go on was my imagination and as a dude who grew up without siblings and an avid horror junkie, that can lead down some dark corridors.
Getting to the end of the town I noticed a large tower which had grunts and moans emanating from behind the high walls. Obviously this was motion-triggered but it did startle me a little. Walking closer I noticed an arrow pointing to a button with a sign that said, "PRESS IF YOU DARE". And this happened...
At this point of the tour watching a pig getting de-fleshed by some hideous thing locked in a chained tower was less bizarre and more curious because I absolutely knew I was missing something major to help me understand what in the world was going on. So far I had been spun through a vertigo-inducing bridge which transported me to a town where one out of three of the buildings were either upside-down or looked as if it was about to face plant, green slime foot prints everywhere, a Bigfoot encounter, dead animal carcasses, a dinosaur infested funeral parlor with a corpse being molested, an alien with a human arm coming through its head, and now a pig processing monster. What does it mean? Was story explains any of this? Was this the end of the tour?
No. This was not the end. Not by a mile. In fact, it only became more bizarre, if you can believe it.
Follow the path down the giant shark jaws and into the woods to a mind-screw of epic proportions. If you think the town was crazy it had only skimmed the surface of this David Lynch fever dream. Let's just say it is a different take on American history. And also Prehistoric history. I would liken it to a seven-year-old daydream in a boring second grade history lesson.
Thanks for reading and the Halloween Hell Show is well on its way!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Casserole of Disaster's Visit to Dinosaur Kingdom II!