Dead, and loving it

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Dead, and loving it

The elevator swarms with darkness, lighted only by a single, faint-blue flourescent lamp. The 20 or so passengers stand at the side of the elevator, trembling with excitement.
“Ooh, it’s really getting scary in here,” giggles one of the patrons. A little girl clutches her friend tightly quietly and winces, “I’m really frightened.”
Summer is just around the corner and with the hot weather Koreans like to cool off with the blood-chilling thrills of horror. On this hot Thursday afternoon these visitors have come to the house of horror at Seoul Land in Gwacheon, just south of the capital. They are seeking to ward off the heat by entering the world of jeoseungsaja, Korea’s very own dark messenger of the dead.
Not long after, a man in a dark robe walks slowly into the elevator and starts to give visitors the rules, what they should not do once they enter the gates of hell.
“None of you should kick or push the jeoseungsaja,” the man in the dark robe says.
“Don’t curse the jeoseungsaja or even try to speak to him.
“And most of all, the jeoseungsaja loathe couples who hold hands tightly, so beware!”
The elevator makes a sudden jolt, trembling as it slowly descends.
Once out of the elevator, the passengers are lined up along the wall in a dark cave, with skeletons lying behind a prison made out of bamboo. All of a sudden, with a rattling noise, the jeoseungsaja pops out from behind one of the stones. Everyone shrieks and jumps. The voice is a tape recording, but the jeoseungsaja moves swiftly, beckoning everyone to follow with a wave of a fan he holds.
The jeoseungsaja takes the tourist to different section of hell, where the dead arise and those who committed evil deeds are punished. During the entire tour, the jeoseungsaja periodically disappears, only to suddenly reappear from out of nowhere. A young woman shrieks and her little niece titters. “You know I was really scared for a moment,” the young woman tells her niece.
When passing through a section where there are young maidens dressed in white hanbok, Yu Yeon-sang, a Seoul Land spokesman, explains, “All of these are mannequins, but in the summer we add a live person who walks down from her place to touch or grab one of the tourists.”
When the tour is over, some of the people are laughing, while a high-school-age girl is crying out of sheer terror. Her friends try to calm her while three other high school girls keep yelling at the jeoseungsaja to take off his mask. “I want to see your face!” shout the girls. “Come on, take that mask off!”
“Ahhh, you girls are so noisy!” the jeo-seungsaja shouts back. “Get out now! I am not taking this mask off, no!”
“It’s really scary but, but ... it’s scary,” says Park Hae-ok, a sixth-grader from Gwangseung Elementary School, while walking out from the house of horrors.
“Everything was scary, but the jeoseungsaja was really scary,” her friend Go Su-jin says. “I want to come back.”
“For every tour, there are about 20 to 30 people, and in summer we have approximately 300 to 400 visitors a day,” says Mr. Yu. “It’s one of the popular attractions here.”
At a small office of the house of horror, four jeoseungsaja are taking their break.
“It’s really fun playing the jeoseungsaja because, while the visitors get a kick out of being frightened, we have fun frightening them,” Eum Yeon-jin, 20, says.
“We can’t see much with the mask on, so it’s hard to see the expressions on the faces, but still we can hear them shriek,” says Kim Man-yong, 21.
“Once a woman in her 20s fainted and that kind of startled us,” Mr. Kim reminisces. “Her boyfriend had to lift her up and took her out of the haunted house. We woke her up and then sent the woman and her boyfriend to the emergency room.”
But being a jeoseungsaja is not an easy job, especially when children won’t leave you alone. “Yeah, the worst case would be when the kids try to pull the mask off,” Mr. Kim says. “Some of the kids shoot BBs at us.”
In addition, the jeoseungsaja say that sometimes they, too, get the willies from their spooky house of horrors, especially the downstairs. “When some of the machines break down and we have to go down to fix it, it’s kind of scary to go by yourself,” Mr. Eum says. “There’s even a rumor that some of the guys here have seen six mannequins instead of five at the maiden ghost section. I heard that they took out the sixth mannequin because its head broke off.”
Their break over, the jeoseungsaja put back on their masks and walk down a flight of stairs that lead to their secret entrance, where they pop out behind visitors.
“A lot of other houses of horror in other amusement parks rely more on mechanics,” says Mr. Yu. “But since we still use the old fashion way, where guys dress up as ghosts, people just love it.”
Soon, from a distance, there are people screaming and shrieking, signaling that another group of visitors has just entered the gates of hell, and that the jeoseungsaja are having a good laugh over it.

by Lee Ho-jeong
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