When you are given a “safety word” at a haunted house, expect to be terrorized.
Like many New Yorkers, I consider Halloween to be my favorite holiday. I cherish the opportunity to dress outrageously, roam the streets seeking mischief and experience the controlled terror of local haunted houses.
I am not a diehard horror fan. So when I signed up to preview the Blackout Haunted House, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Known for its outrageous antics– last year’s show involved water boarding, forced tampon removal, and digging through a bucket of vomit– Blackout requires you to check your bags and sign a liability waiver before going through the haunted house alone.
Clearly this is not your mother’s Halloween adventure. Unless she has a really twisted set of boundaries. And enjoys getting groped by naked strangers in masks.
>> Note: To preserve the terror for other visitors, this review is not a step-by-step description of the 2012 Blackout haunted house. It does contain some general details about the show; if you want to be totally surprised, then stop reading when you see the next “spoiler alert” warning!
No Backing Out
Caught up with work and press events, I admit to not reading the Blackout press release very closely. In retrospect, there were a few clues I missed about the tone of the show, such as the description of visitors as “survivors” and the promise of an adrenaline rush surpassing an amusement park ride.
About an hour before showtime, I decided to take a closer look at the details. Big mistake.
This line from the press release jumped out at me:
“Please be aware, you will encounter: fog, strobe lights, complete darkness, crawling, stairs, loud noises, physical contact, nudity, and sexual and violent situations.”
Hmmmm. This was clearly a bit more extreme than the caliber of haunted house I was used to. (Blood Manor‘s zombie strippers were not actually naked and never physically attacked me).
My curiosity peaked, I followed a link on Blackout’s Facebook page to an article on XO Jane titled, “Since when is rape and torture fun?” This was mistake number two.
That article (written by someone who never attended the haunted house) directed me to a detailed review of the 2011 performance, in which blogger The Raven & Black Cat graphically described being waterboarded:
“I am roughly led to the next room where a wet bag is forcefully shoved over my head. I am ordered to kneel. Something firm pats my face and I am ordered to tilt my head back. Water pours over the bag forcing the bag to cling to my face. Unable to breath, I desperately force air out of my mouth. The bag raises and then comes crashing down over my face again and again. Next hands rub over my face and neck and then there is more water. Angry voices shout at me. One calls me a c*nt. I am ordered to scream several times and then told to bark like a dog.”
At this point, my baseline New York neurosis was turning to panic. What had I signed up for?! Would I have a panic attack, pee myself, and leave the haunted house in a catatonic state?
Arriving at the show, I convinced myself I was only there to interview the creators and vowed to reschedule this walk-through with a more adventurous member of Downtown Traveler’s writing team.
Fortunately, once I was at Blackout, it was impossible to back out. Not because the staff forced me but because other visitors intervened and actually convinced me to do it!
The women in line next to me had experienced Blackout 2011 and encouraged me not to miss the show; as an extra incentive, they agreed to wait for me afterwards so we could have a drink and debrief. Every other visitor I met in the waiting room was friendly and supportive, making me realize how silly it would be to skip this haunt.
I tentatively signed the liability waiver, zipped up my hoodie (the less exposed areas, the better) and waited for my number to be called. I mentally repeated the official safety word (“safety”), in the off chance I had to flee the house in terror.
Living a Horror Movie
Everything about the Blackout Haunted House is designed to be disorienting, including its location in a nondescript storefront on the border between Chelsea and the Flatiron district. My iPhone map told me I had reached 115 West 27th Street, but the blacked-out window and silence made me wonder if this was the right place.
I pushed open the door to find a dark, smoke-filled room packed with a group of unsmiling guys in t-shirts. Stickers with large, hand-painted numbers were attached to their chests. It took me a few seconds to realize that these weren’t actors– they were other visitors waiting for their turn in the haunted house.
This was stage one in building fear; by stripping visitors of our belongings and assigning us numbers, we became anonymous victims. When our numbers were called, we walked up to a closed door at the front of the room and waited to be snatched inside and terrorized.
For me, that was the scariest part of the whole experience. Not knowing what was to come, my mind was racing with possibilities. Would they dunk me in a water bucket? Sexually assault me? Make me eat bodily fluids?
If you take a minute to think rationally, the answer is clearly No. New York City does maintain some health standards and the crazed killers in the house are, of course, actors. You won’t actually be harmed in this show, but imagining the possibility is what makes the experience so exciting.
Blackout accomplishes its goal of making you feel like a protagonist in your own horror movie. Walking through the house alone with only a thin SARS mask to protect you, you’ll find out quickly if you have the mental strength to be an ass-kicking heroine (a la Scream) or a compliant victim.
>> Spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you don’t want any plot details from this year’s show!
Groped and Prodded (What to Expect This Year)
Since part of the excitement is not knowing what is to come, I won’t reveal any specific details here. But I will give you a general sense of what to expect.
>> Warning: Last chance to avoid a general description of the Blackout haunted house! Do you really want to know?
Since you go in alone, you will not be herded quickly from room to room (in contrast to a traditional haunted house that lets in groups of six people). This also means you can’t race through at a fast pace if you are scared. Your only way to halt the experience is to yell the safety word, which two people did when I was at the press preview. (Note: This comes with a great deal of snickering from other visitors in the waiting room once they find out).
You will get a full 20 to 30 minutes of one-on-one attention in the house, which validates the hefty $50 price tag. The earpiece-wearing crew seems to deal with any backlogs by holding you in a creepy confined area inside of the haunted house for an indefinite time period. (Claustrophobes, beware). You may catch a glimpse of other visitors while in the house, but for the most part it will just be you and a performer in a series of closed rooms.
There is no waterboarding at the 2012 Blackout haunted house (did you really think they’d do the same thing twice?), but there are plenty of moments where you’ll wonder, “why am I subjecting myself to this?” and “why am I casually going along with this?”
There is plenty of nudity– male and female– and you will be poked, prodded and rubbed against by sweaty members of both genders. If you are extremely homophobic or have some unresolved sexual issues, you probably want to sit this one out.
There are (simulated) bodily fluids, and you will be touching them.
You will be subjected to harsh lighting, confined spaces, smoke-filled rooms and forceful shoving, although the promise of crawling was unfulfilled at the press preview.
Strangely, I never received a flashlight (as noted in the press release) but I was fitted with a thin paper mask that ended up disintegrating before the end of the show– which is an indication of the conditions you’ll be experiencing.
Tips for Visitors
You will get sweaty and your clothes and hair may end up covered in strange substances. Or you might escape without a mark. To be safe, don’t wear your finest clothes and don’t plan on going to any red carpet parties afterwards.
I’d recommend wearing a hoodie; several cast members ended up messing with mine, putting it over my head or tugging on it in ways I couldn’t see. As a bonus, the hoodie covered my hair, which was a total mess by the end of the house. Ladies, make sure to pull your hair back!
Finally, talk to the other visitors in the waiting room and arrange to meet up afterwards for a drink. You’ll want to share your experiences before heading home to your safe, ordinary lives.
If Blackout 2012 doesn’t offer enough immobilizing terror for you, then consider attending their secretive non-Halloween events. In a blog post about their Spring 2012 haunt, The Jaded Viewer describes being stripped naked, covered in Saran Wrap and terrorized by a duo of burly men. Personally, I’ll stick with the tamer Halloween version!
The Bottom line
Blackout Haunted House is a 30-minute adventure in terror. Your adrenaline will be pumping as you are forced to go through the rooms alone and are subjected to physical contact in the pitch black. You’ll experience crazy, violent, sexually-charged scenes straight out of a horror movie. This is a uniquely tactical* experience: you will see, touch and smell things that will be imprinted in your mind for the rest of the evening. Even if you are not a horror junkie, get out of your comfort zone and force yourself to experience Blackout. You won’t regret it!
*Note: As a fan on Blackout’s Facebook page pointed out, “tactile” (relating to the sense of touch) would be a more traditional way to describe my experience. But I like the ring of “tactical” (relating to combat tactics), which conveys my battle not to cry “safety” and flee this haunted house!
What: Blackout Haunted House
Where: 115 West 27th Street, Ground Floor
When: Open now through November 4, 2012. See website for show times.
Tickets: Purchase advance tickets on the Blackout website. Walkup tickets may also be available at the door.
For more info: Follow Blackout on Twitter (@nychauntedhouse) and Facebook for the latest news and ticket details.
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