STANDARD NUMBER FOUR: There must be a live-entertainment venue featuring acts that haven’t been seen on prime-time television for at least two decades.
My favorite example of this sort of venue no longer exists. The B. J. Thomas Theater in Pigeon Forge, TN, underwent a name change, and now the “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” superstar is a touring act only. But my fallback choice for best retro live-entertainment venue ever is the Yakov Smirnoff Theater in Branson, MO. Smirnoff is the Soviet-era comic (“What a country!”) who not only survived glasnost and the Berlin Wall’s destruction but still does live shows that sell out at 35 bucks a pop.
Can Niagara Falls compete in the retro-entertainment sweepstakes? I have two names for you from the current lineup at the aforementioned Fallsview Casino showroom.
We have Sinbad.
And, even more impressively, we have Herman’s Hermits.
I rest my case.
STANDARD NUMBER FIVE: All tourist cities must have a resident “internationally famous” magician who is not internationally famous.
The resident magician—and usually his lovely assistant—are probably doing illusions on a grand scale, the sort of stuff that David Blaine and Criss Angel are known for, the kind of tricks that experienced magicians call “box jumper” acts, a form of magic that reached its apogee in the form of Siegfried and Roy. Basically this means the guy looks good in a suit and the girl looks good in a body stocking but they have an amazingly well-equipped facility. These are original shows—nothing retro about them—that rely on stagecraft and quite a bit of flash powder.
Welcome to the Greg Frewin Theatre. Greg dresses all in black, works with Siberian tigers, and levitates various members of his hot-body all-female dance team. Yes! Again, a perfect score.
STANDARD NUMBER SIX: There must be a water park overrun with screeching children.
I think this one is fairly self-explanatory—who has not feared the yellow water in the kiddie pool?—but Niagara Falls has not one, but two “family fun time” water parks: the Great Wolf Lodge water park, featuring a thousand-gallon bucket that “tips from the treetops” (dad will love it!), and the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, featuring six-story waterslides and direct tunnel and hallway connections to three huge hotels, guaranteeing a constant stream of swim-suited urchins somersaulting and whining outside your room at all hours of the day and night. It doesn’t get any scarier than this.
STANDARD NUMBER SEVEN: Nevertheless, you do need a haunted house.
In simpler times, a “haunted house” attraction would have been a spooky shambles of a frame house surrounded by local legend, preferably one involving a murdered child from the 19th century who still roams the attic. But in 2011 we can’t wait around for real estate to crumble, regardless of how many subprime-mortgage foreclosures we have. When people say “haunted house” today, they don’t even mean an actual house, except in the old carnival sense of “fun house.” What they mean is a dark, cavernous maze full of high-tech gadgetry and minimum-wage college students trained to scare the bejabbers out of you every time you round a blind corner. So successful are these attractions that they now have their own trade association and hold annual conventions dedicated to the fine art of devising ever more devious means of inducing hysterical states just this side of heart attack while avoiding messy litigation.
Niagara Falls has not one, not two, but six fully functioning haunted-house attractions, including the plot-heavy Nightmares Fear Factory (a vengeance-seeking Victorian businessman named Abraham Mortimer roves the halls of his abandoned coffin factory), the mildly confusing medieval-themed Mystery Maze, the Horror Manor, the House of Frankenstein, the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone Haunted House of Wax (on the American side), and the one considered the scariest by aficionados of the genre, Screamers House of Horror, in which a Freddy Krueger lookalike stands outside to beckon you in and, once inside, hissing snakes wrap themselves around your legs and you watch your own severed arm crash to the floor as Jason Voorhees materializes before you clutching a machete.