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Entrance to Mass Panic

Mass Panic (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

In Lake Delton/Wisconsin Dells, excess is expected. Proud boasts such as "World's Largest Water Park!" and "World's Only Underwater Go-Kart Track!" scream from billboards and our motel infomercial channel, leaving us as overtaxed as the citizens of Finland -- many whom have been imported to work at Dells' tourist attractions ("There are no jobs in Finland," one explains to us.)

Do not panic.
Do not panic. Think only of yourself.

So it's refreshing to stumble across a place like Mass Panic.

Mass Panic appears unannounced along Lake Delton's main drag, across the street from Big Chief Go Kart #2 and down the block from an abandoned breakfast shanty. A billboard comparing Big Chief to the San Francisco Earthquake catches our eye, then Mass Panic appears beyond -- its facade tilted in post-apocalyptic mayhem at a 30 degree angle. Limp dummies hang off fake balconies, apparently panicked to death. The back end of a Plymouth Horizon sticks out at ground level; its driver dummy is splattered flat about ten feet up the wall.

"What's this place about?" we ask one of the two guys wearing baseball caps in the ticket booth. They eye us cautiously. "It's, uh, kind of a spook house," one tells us while the other quietly slips away. "When the door opens, go in."

Alien autopsy.

The big wooden door slides back fitfully -- apparently pulled by the guy who left the ticket booth -- and dry ice smoke swirls around our feet. Beyond the door it's all pitch black. We edge inside, thoroughly confused, and the door rumbles shut behind. Like all Mass Panic visitors, we are left to fend for ourselves.

The beauty of Mass Panic is its simplicity and economy. It's a pitch black series of rooms through which you have to grope -- with no instructions, no clue as to which way is forward -- while one of Mass Panic's employees lurks within an adjacent secret passage, screaming at the top of his lungs. It's the most efficient date attraction we've ever seen (dudes: your girlfriends will be crawling all over you in terror by the time you leave). And it has to be cheap to operate; we counted only three very dim light bulbs in the whole place.

Mass Panic does have a couple of obligatory "spook house" black light dioramas -- a muddled theme of radiation, human autopsy by aliens, and an insane asylum -- but they're wildly spaced and Mass Panic expends no effort to make sense of them. No "rules" or "laws" here, man. Just you and your date, groping your way through the blackness, feeling your way gingerly along unseen walls, being screamed at.

When we finally bump our noses against the last blank wall and endure the last howl of horror, Mass Panic spits us out into the Flying Lizard Gift Shop. It sells hemp, water pipes, and Grateful Dead paraphernalia -- but no Mass Panic souvenirs.

2004: Reported gone for a few years.

Mass Panic

2004: reported closed for a few years.

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