updated 24 Oct 2012, 13:19
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Mon, Oct 22, 2012
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Facing my Fear Factor
by Clara Chow

Once in a while, a mother's got to go out and fight some ghouls.

That's what I told my young sons last week, as I put on my khaki-coloured playsuit, dog tags and army jacket to channel G.I. Jane, before leaving the house for Universal Studios Singapore's Halloween Horror Nights 2 attraction.

"I'm very good at fighting zombies," said my elder son, six.

This is the boy who makes me vet his favourite ninja cartoon, so I can note when the creepy snake characters appear and warn him to close his eyes.

"Of course you are," I replied, giving him a hug on my way out.

"But you better not come with me - they can't handle you."

When I was a kid, my parents would take me to the goriest horror movies: pontianak films, exorcism B-movies, and - the worst, in my impressionable mind - Asian gongtau (Hokkien for "black magic") shows full of writhing maggots and people spewing black stuff.

Chainsaw-massacre flicks and creature features were played on a video loop at my grandmother's house.

Back then, people had no inkling that exposing children to such images could cause lasting psychological damage. Conflating celluloid illusion and reality, I became a big scaredy cat.

To this day, I leave all the lights on if I sleep alone away from home.

Now, when disturbing PG scenes pop up on TV, I yell at my kids, "Don't look, don't look!", and clamp my hand over their eyes.

Even the most innocuous animated films potentially have scary villains, made even more menacing by the cavernous darkness of a theatre. Childhood should be safe and as free as possible from threatening elements.

It seems silly to puncture that safe space in the name of entertainment.

But, recently, the idea of getting shocked out of my wits at some spooky theme park took hold of me. I suddenly felt the urge to have demons creep up on me and spectres breathe down my neck. Maybe my neurosis fell away as soon as my maternal defence instinct kicked in.

Really, sometimes, a mum's got to get out of her domestic comfort zone and hone her fight-or-flight reflexes with some bogeyman stimuli. Get the blood and adrenalin pumping, to stay sharp when our families are faced with real danger.

The Halloween attraction - which also runs this week, from Thursday to Sunday - did all that and more. We were led through several haunted zones: a main avenue with roving, deformed dolls; a Total Lockdown area, the aftermath of a biohazard disaster; an Egyptian bizarre bazaar with leopard men, freaky slaves and mummies; a 1920s Chinatown with cannibal butchers and ghosts of courtesans and opera singers; and The Insanitarium, a claustrophobic maze filled with actors masquerading realistically as the criminally insane.

It was like being on the set of a horror film. I tried to dodge the scare actors, taking cover behind my braver colleague, who was laughing and snapping pictures with his iPhone. I screamed loud enough to shatter glass when I walked past an oil drum and a burnt, bloody "victim" crawled out.

The park's New York zone, which I had merrily traversed in two minutes in the day, became the longest street I ever had to walk down.

But my favourite is the Dungeon of Damnation, an icky fright house of stomach-churning sights and zip-lining devils.

By the time my friend and I staggered out from its psychedelic spiral-illusion tunnel, I was ready to call it a night.

As I drove home, I wasn't exactly jumping out of my skin at nothing, but things were coalescing into uncanny clarity for me.

I eyed with suspicion an old woman crossing the road: was there more to her than meets the eye? That man wheeling his motorcycle out of the carpark: Was he an unwholesome character?

I turned the key to my front door. "Boo!" shouted my sons, hiding behind the door to ambush me. Little monsters for whom I would lay down my life.

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