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A Cambodian haunting

A young customer braves the entrance to Phnom Penh’s haunted house. Photo by: HONG MENEA

Feeling the urge for a spot of mild panic? Head to City Mall’s haunted house for all the fun of the scare

Imagine a world where all of your favourite horror movie clichés have come to life. Men in elaborate masks, usually white in colour, stalk your every waking moment, hoping to dole out some grievous and bloody harm to your person. An act as simple as answering the telephone, particularly after dark, becomes an exercise in heart-stabbing fear as you pray that the voice on the other end of the line is nothing more sinister than your mum informing you that she has baked up a nice shepherd’s pie for dinner.

You’ll have to watch what you say, too, because, as pinpointed by Wes Craven in his horror genre pastiche Scream, the very utterance of the words “I’ll be right back” actually mean anything but. Your insouciance towards the very DNA of the slasher flick ultimately resulting in your demise before you’ve even had a chance to kiss your leading man or lady. If you are female and wearing little more than a bra and panties, for any of the above situations, all the better.

Now imagine a world nowhere near as terrifying. One that is, at most, a little bit scary. But still quite good fun. Well, fans of moderately daunting activities, you are in luck because Phnom Penh now has its very own haunted house to send shivers not quite cascading down your spine.

As a fully paid up member of the pussy brigade, I approached the haunted house on the top floor of City Mall with a degree of trepidation. Having experienced interactive “horror mazes” previously in the West, including a work of genius based on the Alien films in London’s Trocadero, I prayed that this Cambodian version would be nowhere near as frightful.

It would seem that He was listening to my pleas but the sense of disorientation upon stepping through the skull-shaped entrance was palpable. Strobe lights flickered their insane dance and to say the sound effects were loud would be an understatement of the highest order.

Our group of five set out and I soon realised that even we were observing the rules of the horror genre. Present and correct were one shrieking girl who was genuinely terrified by every movement and sound, as well as the cool guy whose indifference to it all bordered on annoying. The other three of us fell somewhere in between those two extremes – perfect horror movie fodder for the villains of the piece.

We were led through the maze by the ticket booth operator, presumably to ensure we didn’t stray from the correct path and chance upon one of the monsters finishing his noodles and struggling to squeeze his head into a mask. Some genuine screams flew from our mouths at first; hands unexpectedly popping from walls and grabbing your lower leg are enough to provide at least a jump for anyone.

Freaky women dressed in flowing white dresses rocked back and forth on rudimentary swings, their facial expressions switching between vacant stares and roaring anger depending on the actress.

It was difficult to take in the surroundings to any great degree while being strobed to within an inch of one’s life but a rickety metal bridge and short tunnel added occasional variety to proceedings.

There was a great deal more random grabbing of limbs to come, as well as the occasional appearance of an actor wearing a devil cum wolf mask, who would pop out from around a corner on all fours and then inexplicably thwack the floor in front of us repeatedly with a plastic axe before disappearing back into the darkness.

Just as sensory overload was seriously kicking in, our group arrived at perhaps the oddest inclusion in the haunted house. A tiny slide, no more than two metres in length, beckoned, leading the way to the safety and sanity of the outside world. Quite why a piece of children’s playground equipment was deemed necessary at this particular juncture is a quirk that only the designers of the maze can explain, yet it was a relief to be out in the land of the living once more.

It may not be the all-out terror-fest that some personalities require in order to register a quickened heart rate, but allowing oneself to get caught up in the moment reaps great rewards at Phnom Penh’s haunted house. Just ensure you don’t drift off into a far corner with the assertion that: “I’ll be right back.”

The haunted house of Phnom Penh is located on the top floor of City Mall, Monireth Boulevard, next to Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh. Admission is $3.00 per person.



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