Aren’t there enough real-world terrors? Pinhead’s Graveyard: Short on scares, high on cheesiness

Matthew McGregor Photo by Matt McGregor

Review by Matt McGregor, Arts & Features Asst. Editor
mmcgrego@unca.edu

A white wooden sign portends disaster for Brandi Wardrip. According to the blood-red font, she enters Pinhead’s Graveyard at her own risk. It denies any responsibility for personal injuries and loss of or damage to personal property.

The sign does not assuage her fears.

Then the inhuman, grinding wail of a chainsaw, followed by screams, intrude on a theory postulated by 12-year-old Wardrip.

“What if this isn’t even scary?” she asks.

For Wardrip, the theory is a whistle in a dark alley. She is visibly terrified. Her friends talked her into coming to Pinhead’s Graveyard, and she worries about losing her voice from screaming.  

John Morrison says he comes to Pinhead’s Graveyard to see if he can get scared, but even after the chainsaw ripped through the trees, he remains unimpressed.  

“I feel like I’ve watched so many horror movies that I’m desensitized to being scared,” he says.

Dan Lewis and Melinda Sherwood traveled to Asheville from Miami and discovered Pinhead’s Graveyard through one of the local papers. Melinda said she loves horror movies and she is hoping for an adrenaline rush.

So here we are, in the dark line, waiting to be chased through dark, unpredictable trails. We will be ambushed by people dressed as horror movie characters, wagging chainsaws and machetes in our faces in attempt to make us lose control of our bowels in terror.

Aren’t there enough real-world terrors? A wooden sign in a tree halfway through the trail suggests so. Painted on this sign is “Hide-n-Seek Champ Eric Rudolph.” It’s the one element of the haunted trail that isn’t based on a movie.

Eric Rudolph was convicted of three bombings. He hid in the mountains of Western North Carolina for five years. According to reports, he detonated a bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, killing two people.  

Later, he bombed a gay nightclub in Atlanta and an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. Eric’s brother filmed himself sawing off his own hand to protest what he felt was unfair persecution of his brother.

Leatherface, the Byronic hero of Pinhead’s Graveyard, is based on the real life case of Ed Gein. Gein confessed to killing two people, and he filled his house with exhumed body parts. Gein’s other hobbies included making a female costume out of human skin so that he could pretend to be a woman.

And then there is the cold-blooded, gluttonous zombie festival that is retail, where I worked for 10 hours before arriving here. In retail, ordinary people become gourmandizing monsters of self-entitlement who rival any masked killer I expect to be meeting on the tour.

I voluntarily enter this grisly world so I can pay bills that are scarier than any body-part-collecting recluse. And on a good day, I tell myself: this can’t be real.

However, when I hear the swinging chains and see Pinhead emerge from the dark, I can’t help but wonder, what if this were real? (The question is immediately answered by Pinhead’s southern accent.)

Maybe that’s why we have all come to Pinhead’s Graveyard. We need a tangible fear that gives the abstract fears of real world terrors such as bills, stress and deadlines, a frame of reference.

It is cathartic theater we enter and participate in, taking that passive fear of watching a horror movie to the next level. We enter the horror movie, making for a more intense experience with an adrenaline high that overshadows those more abstract fears.

And it doesn’t get any more tangible than Brandi Wardrip’s piercing screams behind me as Jason Voorhees approaches with his iconic hockey mask and machete. Honestly, after how long we stood in line, I’m really just hoping he is bringing me a sandwich.

He’s a lot shorter in person, and I feel like I could outrun him. A quick gander tells me Jason hasn’t been taking care of himself since the last Friday the 13th. Instead of eating wild berries and forest animals while waiting on his next human kill, it looks like he’s been devouring Fritos and chugging malt liquor. But he walks directly in our path, leaving our group nowhere to run, and it looks like that machete is about as real as it gets.  

I could dodge him around the path and successfully hightail, but I can’t see outside the path, and my ankle has just started to hurt, strangely.

Is this how it happens in the movies? We get annoyed with the victims when they trip and fall at the worst possible moment. My ankle hasn’t hurt in years. Why now? Does the mere act of being pursued create ankle cramps? If I were to run now I would certainly injure myself. Maybe I should stay and just talk to him about a good exercise and diet plan.

There is no better motivation than a chainsaw coming down the path behind us. I should hire this guy for days when I don’t feel like running.  

We all collectively bolt in many directions.

The barrier that was Jason Voorhees is just one of many cinematic confrontations. We cross paths with Michael Myers, the Devil’s Rejects and Freddy Kruger, to name a few.  

The tour ends with Leatherface chasing us back to our car. I am treated to the the authentic experience of what it is like to drop my keys as I am trying to unlock the door.  

I will never again make fun of those people in the movies because here is the deal: it really happens.

Poor Brandi Waldrip makes it back to her car safely. She piles in with her friends and starts laughing. It is over, and it appears she had a good time.

Driving away, I recall the different haunted houses I went to when I was her age and the friends with whom I went. I wonder where they are now.

It occurs to me that she will be 37 years old one day, and will look back on this experience and smile. She will recall that night she went the Pinhead’s Graveyard with her friends.

For Wardrip, this experience is a construction of a memory she will carry with her, even after adult life brings real life terrors of uncertainty. She can stop and call an old friend and say, “Remember when we went to Pinhead’s Graveyard and got chased by Leatherface?”

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