Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Haunted crowds

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A mad clown is one of the characters featured in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Haunted Lagoon canoe ride.
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The TGIF cover of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for Friday, October 1, 2010.
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The Haunted Lagoon canoe ride features robotic creatures like the one pictured above.
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TGIF writer Steven Mark reacted to a ghoul, one of the 130+ volunteers participating in the attraction.
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An actor is imprisoned along the shores of the Polynesian Cultural Center's Haunted Lagoon canoe ride.

"Help me! Won’t somebody help me?"

The plaintive cry echoes across a steamy lagoon.

Despite the couple of dozen other captive souls who are jostling elbows with you on a silently gliding flat-bottom canoe, you suddenly feel very alone.

It’s dark, and every ripple in the water, every rattle of the branches along the bank, seems to signal a warning.

As the canoe passes through a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel, damp tendrils drag against your arms. And what’s that up ahead? Oh no! It’s a ragged, raging gang of zombies, preparing to string up a hapless victim.

You’re feeling pretty good that the waters separate you, but the canoe draws closer … and closer …

If you survive the zombies, more frightful encounters await: ghouls; terroristic spiders; lurking lagoon dwellers; leering, crazy clowns; fluorescent, swirling vapors; and perhaps most frightening of all, the drenched, lurching Laie Lady, who epitomizes the archetype of a desperate, haunted soul.

Thankfully, this writer survived the experience.

Will you?

OR MAYBE the better question is: Will you survive the line?

During the peak night last year, on the eve of Halloween, more than 4,300 visitors shuffled through an hours-long wait to take their turn on a canoe at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Haunted Lagoon. While 12,000 visitors passed through the attraction in 2008, about 45,000 swamped the lagoon last year, for an average of about 2,300 each night.

Raymond Magalei, PCC marketing director, acknowledged that the wait can take commitment. This year, however, the crowds are anticipated.

To make it easier and more entertaining for those waiting their turn, the scare-mongers have taken over one of the PCC’s luau grounds, where creatures will roam among those in wait … and there will also be seats for kupuna, vendors selling carnival-like fare like pizza and hot dogs, even movie screenings and roving magicians. On Fridays beginning next week, the 24-VII Danceforce crew will treat those in line to a take on "Thriller."

Prefer not to wait so long? Go now, instead of holding out until it’s almost Halloween. Check the website for ticket availability. Go on a weeknight (but check the website first, as some nights coincide with school breaks and/or teen nights).

As it gets closer to Halloween, the guests themselves will provide some of the entertainment, Magalei said, by coming in costume.

Next year, if the crowds keep coming, Magalei said, the attraction may begin offering timed tickets.

In the meantime, however, rest assured that the more people who join you in line for the ride, the more protection you’ll have from the evil clowns, possessed spirits and furtive creatures along the lagoon.

MORE THAN 130 volunteers haunt the attraction. One of them is Kaipo Manoa, 47, a member of the zombie crew.

"It’s fun; it’s addicting," he said. "You get to learn your craft: how to scare people."

Manoa said he spends about an hour prepping for his role, getting his pale, bruised skin airbrushed, donning his tattered clothes and getting into character.

There is a back story, he says good-naturedly: "I’m not a flesh-eating zombie. We’re vegetarian, but we don’t tell the people that."

For Manoa, the best part of the gig is watching the faces and reactions of the "tough guys" who approach him on the canoes.

"Once you get on, you can’t get off," he said.

"They’re all brave from afar, but when they get a little closer … I hear comments like, ‘You can’t get me.’ And then the canoe stops. … The biggest men will scream like little girls."

New features have been added this year, including a tunnel full of laser-lighted fog and the Laie Lady’s son, another lost soul who also haunts the waters of the lagoon. (Beware the Laie Lady’s corridor!)

"The Laie Lady is probably everyone’s favorite character," said Magalei, the marketing director.

There has been plenty of speculation over the curse that has driven the scary Lady to haunt the lagoon: Was she murdered? What happened to her son? And why is there conflict between them?

Perhaps the canoe ride will hold some hints as to the diabolical answers.


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