A softly-spoken, middle-aged woman is busy painting two deformed little bodies. “I’m bloodying up these two-headed babies to go in the incubator room”
, she explains mildly. “It’s hard to find the right sort of recipes for the blood, whether you want flat dried blood or have it looking really glossy.”
Meet Beth Watson, the unlikely co-founder of Spookers, New Zealand’s largest scream park.
"Copy - code brown in the toilets"
, comes a crackly message across the radio. "We've got a customer who's got a really bad fright and crapped their pants"
, explains Beth. Inside Spookers, punters from around the world pass through the dark, winding corridors, confronted by a whirling chaos of shrieks, boos, flashing lights, blood and gore, extreme horror paraphernalia and elaborately-costumed actors doing their best to immerse them in a nightmare. For the really brave there is also a vast wheat field maze, complete with terrifying characters poised to jump out and give chase.
Formerly Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, the location of the park has been controversial. Some former Kingseat patients fear that the park is only working to further stigmatise mental health. “To think that they would be mocked in any way...the idea that the people who were here were violent and dangerous couldn’t be further from the truth”
, says former patient Deborah as she surveys the maze.
The former hospital is now home to a varied array of self-confessed ‘freaks’. “When you’re at Spookers you’re allowed to be a freak… I think being a freak is a good thing. Someone who stands out, is different, expresses themselves and isn’t ashamed”
, says David Palu, aka Zombina. The Spookers family is made up of the dispossessed, the anxious and the bullied, and all have followed unique paths to this most spooky of households, finding a nurturing community and safe haven.
Huia Apiata, The Clown, is an over-weight Mormon who fears for his health and his place in society, but he finds relief from his anxieties at Spookers. “I feel comfortable there. I feel wanted there. I feel there’s something I can give.”
Juneen Borkent (Possessed) takes inspiration from her own mother’s demonic possession for her character. Juneen had struggled with depression and anxiety, and had even attempted suicide. “But this year, it’s just so much better”
, she says tearfully.
Spookers Review in The Guardian