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Wednesday, March 25 2020
6:00pm - 7:00pm
Clary Theater in the Bill Moore Student Success Center
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Patrick Ellis

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The Curious Pleasures and Threatening Spaces of Haunts with Eliot Bessette

“The Curious Pleasures and Threatening Spaces of Haunts” Eliot Bessette University of California, Berkeley Haunts are immersive theatrical spaces designed to elicit fear. That simple definition, however, belies an extraordinary range of experience. At the gentlest and most mass-marketable end, guests walk through a space in large groups while performers jump out, making noise but avoiding contact. At the opposite end of intensity, “extreme haunts,” participants sign a waiver, receive a safe word, and proceed one at a time through highly individualized experiences, encountering brutal physicality (suffocation, electrocution) and phobic subjects (live spiders, abduction). The first part of this talk will trace the history of haunts, from nineteenth-century recreational visits to the morgue, evangelical Christian haunts (“Hell Houses”) in the 1970s, haunts’ spread to theme parks in the 1990s, to the boom of extreme haunts in the last decade. The second part will examine how moving one’s body through haunts can reveal philosophically salient facts about the lived experience of fear. The third part will consider how extreme haunts can inform our theory of the pleasures of fear, since the most intense components are categorically displeasurable. This research is grounded in my experiences in standard haunts, extreme haunts, and Hell Houses spanning ten states. Eliot Bessette is a doctoral candidate in Film and Media at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is completing a dissertation entitled “Thinking Through Fear in Film and Haunts.” He has written haunt reviews for a popular audience at He also works on film and philosophy, and boxing films.

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