Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum & Dark Maze
Natural Bridge, Virginia
Mark Cline, fiberglass wünderkind of Enchanted Castle Studios and creator of Foamhenge, pulls into the parking lot of the Haunted Monster Museum with one goal in mind: to find a 50-ft. ladder. The large dinosaur in the back of his pickup truck is the reason, and since both it and the ladder have to go somewhere else, and since there's no room in the pickup, we suspect that Cline intends to draft us into the role of ladder-haulers. We don't relish the idea of hanging our arms out of our car's windows and clutching a ladder to the roof, especially on these twisty roads. We hope that the ladder is somewhere other than here.
Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum & Dark Maze was opened by Cline in 2002 when his Enchanted Castle attraction, a couple of miles north on Hwy 11, was barbecued in a mysterious fire. Cline sees the Monster Museum as a successor to the Castle ("I do a lot of work for the haunted industry," he tells us), as well as a defiant spit-in-the-eye to those who may or may not have started the blaze. "I know who they are," he confides as we hike up another long, sweaty hill -- as we did at Foamhenge. "They're scared of me now."
Pretty much anyone would be scared of Mark after they visit this place. The walk begins through a creaky old gate (modified by Mark to resemble the mouth of a demon), along the crumbling asphalt of a long-abandoned driveway, through what Mark calls "Freakout Forest." Set back in the woods so as to be almost invisible are examples or Mark's more macabre handiwork, including a graveyard, a crashed plane, and an ogre eating a child. "I wanted it to be subtle," Mark tells us.
The Haunted Monster Museum, at the top of the hill, is a spooky, formerly-abandoned Victorian manor built in the 1890s. Mark has added some fiberglass flourishes to the exterior, such as a giant skull and a huge python that slithers in and out of one of the gables, but this place would be creepy even without them, with its overgrown shrubbery, dark, peeling paint, and creaky floorboards. A Bach organ fugue - straight out of "Phantom of the Opera" - booms through the hilltop clearing from hidden speakers.
There's a phone booth here as well. A sign taped to it reads: "Dear Customer. Please push 13 to notify your guide." When you do, you're treated to a recording of a terrified voice telling you to get out before it's too late.
We've already missed our opportunity to escape, and Mark ushers us inside.
"This is not a Halloween-type haunted house," he explains as he leaves, closing the door with an ominous thud and throwing of bolts. "It's more Disneyish." (He also describes it as "very comic-bookish" and "like Scooby Doo meets The Twilight Zone.") The Haunted Monster Museum is, in fact, similar to other, well-mounted walk-through haunted house attractions -- such as Alien Encounter in Niagara Falls and House of Frankenstein in Lake George -- with the usual banging and hissing, sirens and honking, flashing police lights and strobes, zombies that pop out of doors, and an Infinity Barrel to destabilize the balance-impaired. What makes this place unique (aside from Mark's gags, such as an Elvis-stein Monster in the kitchen), is its setting - a real house - musty, dark, and dank.
The Dark Maze is, frankly, too dark and we can't find our way out of it. We instead opt for the "Chicken Door" and find ourselves back out on the creaky porch, bathed in reassuring sunlight and ovenlike Virginia heat.
Mark, with the help of Tom - the psychic detective that we met at Foamhenge - has positioned minicams throughout the Haunted Monster Museum so that visitors can buy a video of themselves being scared. Only $14.95. Mark has (thankfully) failed to find the 50-ft. ladder, and walks us down the hill draped in rope that looks thick enough to moor the Titanic, or a fiberglass dinosaur. He tells us, with pride, that the Haunted Monster Museum is not open at night, nor does he expect it to be.
"A haunted house," he explains, "should be just as scary in the daytime."