Madame Tussauds: ‘Chamber of Horrors’ Still Causes Shivers

It doesn’t take much to get me quakin’ in my boots. I’ve been known to hide under the covers when watching a horror movie – even leaving the room when the suspense reaches a fever pitch. I always return, though, to see how it all plays out. Maybe that’s why, years later, a visit to the “Chamber of Horrors” in Madame Tussauds wax museum in London is seared into my memory as much as any other site on my travels.

I explored the city with a friend who insisted we had to visit Madame Tussauds – an odd choice to me what with the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Big Ben surrounding us. We did hit those spots, but soon enough we were waiting in line for what I discovered is one of the top 10 attractions in London.

Madame Tussauds has been an institution in London since the 1830s when Marie Tussaud opened her permanent museum displaying wax figures of notable folks of the time. Today, the museum is filled with wax lookalikes from showbiz, sports, politics and, of course, royalty. There are also more museums across the world in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia.

Marie Tussaud learned the art of wax modeling from a physician her mother worked for as a housekeeper and claimed in her memoirs that she’d search through decapitated heads of executed people during the French Revolution to make death masks.

With such a macabre history, it’s probably no wonder that she included a Chamber of Horrors exhibit with figures of murderers, criminals and victims in dim and disturbing settings, as well as reproductions of torture devices like spiked wheels and iron maidens (ouch!). She kept these in a separate area to protect the delicate sensibilities of ladies of the day, but now signage allows you to opt in or out as you choose. Returning home, I recounted the scenes to horror-buff friends in as much detail as I described centuries-old sites to the history lovers.

Since my visit, Madame Tussuads has kicked it up a notch and expanded the Chamber of Horrors to include a maze-like series of rooms where live actors blend with wax figures and lurch out of the darkness to chase and scare you. It sends a shiver down my spine just thinking about it.

One blogger wrote of his encounter in the maze: “As you enter this labyrinth of corridors which is themed to look like a prison (with all sorts of gruesome wax figures locked up in the various cells), you begin to realize that some of this jail’s cells are empty. Or – rather – the doors to these cells have been left unlocked. Which means that the murderer that was occupying this cell must now be loose somewhere inside of this gruesome prison. Perhaps somewhere very close to you.”

I’ve had experience with interactive haunted house-like attractions. Growing up in Southern California, Knotts Berry Farm transformed sections of its amusement park into “Knotts Scary Farm” during October evenings with various ghouls and walking dead prowling around the grounds and on rides.

My college roommate majored in theater and one of her professors handled all the monster makeup. I can still hear her gasped cries as she reared back into her ride seat trying to avoid a swiping zombie hand – “Abel did the makeup…Abel did the makeup…Abel did the makeup!” – chanting it like a protective mantra meant to ward off the living dead, real or not.

So will I deign to willingly enter the live-action Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds on a future trip? Despite being a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, it may be too hard to resist, but it might be wise to pack a blanket just in case.

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