Review: What to expect at Blackout Haunted House in New York City (Halloween 2013)

Water droplets snake through my hair, pass the blood streaks on my face and seep down the back of my soaking wet t-shirt. For a moment I am blinded by the headlights of cars tearing down 11th Avenue. I almost fall on my knees as I stagger out of the crumbling warehouse and into the frenzy of a Saturday night in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

This is not a nightmare. This is preview weekend at Blackout, New York City’s most terrifying haunted house– and the only local haunt that requires visitors to enter alone.

Read on for my first impressions of Blackout 2013, and advice for other visitors.

>> WARNING! This review of Blackout 2013 contains a few general details of the show and offers advice on how to prepare for it. There are no major spoilers here! Look for the “spoiler alert” labels (in red) if you want to be totally in the dark.

>> UPDATE: Read our 2014 review of Blackout NYC!

Survivor of Blackout NYC Haunted House

After posting this post-Blackout photo to Facebook and noting I was left "bloody and wet," a concerned family friend replied, "What happened? Don't know if it's fun or serious..."

Not your Grandma’s haunted house

This was my second year at Blackout NYC, so I had some idea of what to expect and did not suffer the extreme case of last-minute jitters that overcame me in 2012.

Way back in September 2012, I was just a newbie who only found out about Blackout from a chance encounter with The Jaded Viewer (a well-respected horror blogger whose love of haunted houses is so extreme, he attends the terrifying off-season haunts that take place in hotel rooms and corn fields).

After finishing Blackout 2012 without calling the safety word, I proudly joined the ranks of “survivors.” And like many haunted house fans, I was eager to convert other newbies to the experience. This year my husband Jake joined me for the 10:30pm Saturday slot on preview weekend. It was his first Blackout, and I couldn’t wait to see his reaction. Admittedly, September 7 was a bit early to experience a Halloween attraction, but it got me into the holiday spirit!

You will get dirty

This is not a children’s haunted house where animatronic ghouls jump out at you. Blackout is a highly tactile experience (meaning you will get touched, poked and prodded).

>> Mild spoiler alert! Read on for general details about his year’s show. If you don’t want any more details, however vague, then skip to the ‘bottom line’ section below!

If you’ve read descriptions of past Blackout haunts, then you know to expect some crawling, pushing, rubbing, grinding, kneeling and/or climbing. You are always advised not to wear your best clothes, but I am taking this advice up a notch this year. In fact, here are my hard-fast wardrobe rules for the 2013 Blackout show:


  • Wear nice shoes! They may be destroyed, like Jake’s fancy sneakers.
  • Wear heavy makeup! Unless you want to look like Tammy Faye Baker on a crying jag.
  • Wear a skirt! One can only imagine how this might be incorporated into the show. Plus, you don’t want to crawl desperately around dark, confined spaces in a miniskirt!
  • Wear an outfit appropriate for a community service day at your house of worship, gardening, painting your living room and/or being trapped in a serial killer’s dungeon for a week. 

It may get sexual

As I mentioned in my review last year, if you are homophobic, squeamish in sexually charged situations or uncomfortable with strangers touching you, then Blackout is not your haunted house! I’d recommend visiting Blood Manor, a family-friendly haunt with impeccable (and campy) makeup and set design.

Blackout is a series of rooms/scenarios manned by different performers. Some are very touchy-feely and “in your face,” while others just bark at you from a distance. You never know what to expect, but there is usually at least one semi-naked performer.

Your experience may depend on the time of day, your chemistry with a performer, and perhaps your gender and the level of fear you display. Jake experienced a lot more nudity and sexual content than I did at Blackout 2013, although he entered just after me and had a similar trajectory. I was actually a bit disappointed not to get some of the hands-on action he described during our breathless recap of the evening.

A note for macho / homophobic guys

When I included the above warning in last year’s Blackout review, several guys asked me on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments field what I meant by “homophobic.”

Rest assured, you are not going to play out a scene from Oz, but you may have a male or female performer touch you– or rather, imply they will touch you– in a sexually-charged way. For reference, during the 2012 Blackout I had a male performer lick my face with only a plastic bag between us. It was like being french kissed by a serial killer through a giant condom! I also was exposed to scantily clad men and women in the 2012 show.

This is a Halloween attraction in America’s largest city, not a ping pong show in Bangkok, so things will not get X-rated. However, at times you may experience a hard R. 

Blackout haunted house safety word

The truth about the safety word

People do panic at Blackout and use the safety word to ensure a quick exit. (In my interview with creator Josh Randall last year, he described a woman so panicked that she curled into a ball and had to be carried out of the attraction).

While the safety word is a good option for people suffering from PTSD, aversion to strobe lights, panic attacks or other conditions that exacerbate the terror, I’d advise you not to use it unless you really need to. Remember that this is a performance, with highly skilled actors who are not really going to murder you. Making it through the haunted house without calling “safety” is a badge of honor– don’t rob yourself of it!

The bottom line

Blackout is meant to get you out of your comfort zone; if this were a horror movie, you’d be hanging on the edge of your seat in anticipation of the killer’s next move. It is incredibly scary for a ‘newbie’ visitor to walk alone through this much-hyped haunted house, but don’t let your nerves get the better of you. You should visit Blackout NYC haunted house at least once in your lifetime; it will get your adrenaline pumping and chances are, you will want to go back the next year for more! Just make sure to wear your lazing-around-the-apartment clothes and bring an open mind.



What: Blackout Haunted House
Where: The Vortex Theater, 164 Eleventh Avenue (Ground Floor), Manhattan, NY
When: Open now through November 5, 2013. See website for show times.
Cost: $65
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.


Did you attend Blackout? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!

Blogger disclosure: I attended the Blackout show on a press pass.

About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.


  1. Interesting. I don’t think I would do it. But, interesting. 😀

    • Go for it! You should try Blackout once… it’s scary but you’ll feel proud you made it after 🙂

  2. Never! I don’t do scary stuff! Disney movies only!

    • This sure isn’t Disney! 😉

  3. Sounds interesting, but I think I would pass on getting licked through a plastic bag. Good to know there is a Chicago one in case I get the itch.

    • No plastic bag kissing in the cards for you, Ted? What if it was a lady? lol. Yeah, Blackout is a unique experience and definitely not for everyone.

  4. Montgomery Gray

    “Your experience will depend on the time of day”
    I hope that’s not true, I’d hate to think I’m paying $65 for a watered down experience because I bought 8:00 tickets. I live in PA and It’ll be about a 5 hour commute both ways, I would have gotten a later ticket but I didn’t feel like driving on strange roads at 3:00 am if I didn’t have to.

    • Thanks for your comment! The point I was making is that the Blackout experience is not cookie cutter– it is based on interactions with performers. Therefore, no 2 performances/experiences are alike. I’m sure you will be fine whether you book a 7pm or 10pm session. I’ve spoken to attendees from earlier sessions and they had similarly creepy but not exactly the same experiences. Also, my husband also went at 10:30pm (same time as me) and his experience in the house was slightly different than mine. Hope you post a comment after you attend and let us know how it goes!

  5. Leslie, this is awesome! I live in Reno and would love to time a trip to New York to be able go this. Yikes on $65! I have no problem paying that but I wonder how long the trek of horror takes? I’m in my late 40’s and love stuff like this. I thing a good, haunted house scare is as good for the sould as a great laugh! Thank you for the post! 🙂

    • It is definitely a unique experience! I was in the house about 25 min; I think 20-30 min is typical. They really cram a lot of activity into that time period! If you do go, leave a comment after and let me know how it goes 🙂

  6. Montgomery Gray

    I went through Blackout last night and it was just stupid bad, it started out great but quickly became cheesy and stupid. I can’t say this will be everyone’s experience, but this was mine. I’m actually embarrassed that I spent $70 on this. Here’s why:


    !.) Everyone asking me “A or B” just through me completely out of the action and killed whatever tension was built up. And “A or B” doesn’t mean anything to the “victim”, there’s no point to it. If I was asked “are you going to do this or that” and actually knew what the options were, the decision making aspects would make sense. but all it did was making every room they asked me “A or B” seem super fake, and it happened in almost every room.

    2.) There were only 2 actors in my run, neither of which were at all threatening or scary. One smeared Vaseline all over my face and made me put a shoe on him in a VERY childlike fashion, not in any threatening way, it was just awkward and weird. The other was a woman who kept making me touch her, she would literally grab my hand and force it on her shoulder and then scream “don’t rape me”. Then she would force my hand on her waist and again scream “don’t rape me”, it was awkward and weird because she was in complete, obvious control and she would (honestly, badly) act like she wasn’t. If I walked into a room and she was tied up or something, and she screamed that and she wasn’t visibly in control, then it would be creepy and unsettling. All that was after she brought me into a small room, got on her hands and knees and begged me to sit on her, which I refused but was eventually forced to do it (to move the action along) while she awkwardly moaned. Every moment with her was awkward as hell. Everyone else in the action wore Blackout T-shirts, which broke my suspension of disbelief and really pounded into my head that I was in a haunted house attraction.

    3.) This is a minor thing, but it had absolutely nothing to do with elements. I would think the “elements” was a metaphor or something, but I read an interview with the main guy in charge of the attraction explaining that the elements were “earth, fire, water, and air”, only one of which I encountered (water in a rain section, which was the coolest part of the experience because it was almost impossible to see.)

    4.) I looked at my watch before and after my run, and whole thing only lasted 23 minutes, and from what I’ve read after going through Blackout, it lasted about 45mins in past years and cost less, it was also way more intense then what I went through. So I feel like I paid more for less and had a watered down experience.

    5.) Before I went in, they pounded into my head 2 main rules that are not to be broken, “don’t talk” and “don’t touch the actors, EVER”, but I was forced to break at least one of these rules in almost every room. Which made things confusing and slowed down the action because I wasn’t expecting to talk or touch anyone, so when I was prompted to do one of these by the actors or t-shirt wearing crew (don’t know what else to call them) I was slow to do so (especially the touching part, that’s why the actress above forced me to do it). It just made everything seem unorganized.

    6.)The only people on staff who were even remotely into it was the bearded man who screamed at me if I understood the rules and the two at the very beginning who grabbed me after I turned the first corner, threw me on the hard ground and tapped trash bags to my feet. Those two were really forceful and made things seem “real” and frightening, everyone else was who was supposed to be forceful was gentle in comparison and it made everyone else seem fake.

    7.) The “ending” really brought home how fake everything was. I was put in front of a kneeling woman and given a cheap airsoft gun and was told to shoot her in the face. At first I thought this was a decision making area, so I didn’t do anything. But after having two t-shirt wearing crew scream at me for 3 minutes to pull the trigger, I got really bored (I didn’t know it was the ending and wanted the action to move on) and pointed the the thing away from her and fired it. There was the expected “click” (it was empty? Gasp!) and then the two screamed at me “You were going to shoot her! You’re a monster!” when the barrel of the “gun” wasn’t even pointed in her direction. It was just stupid and fake. I was then gently thrown into another room which turned out to be the nearly empty lobby. Where I then awkwardly took off the trash bags tapped to my feet as the bored lobby staff looked on.

    (End of Spoilers!)

    This was my experience, I’m sure others who went through Blackout had a great time. But my actors were awful and ruined the experience for me.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! While I didn’t have the same experience (notably, I was not told not to talk or not to touch performers) but it’s helpful to hear your feedback.

  7. very very scary place..

    • Definitely. I think the scariest part of Blackout is having the courage to go in and do it!

  8. Gina

    I’m going for the first time ever this Friday. I’m terrified and refuse to use the safety word! I have searched high and low for reviews and spoilers just to psychologically prepare as best I could but there is really nothing posted to really help prepare….

    I will bring a change of clothes! Have a cocktail prior to entering to calm the nerves a bit, and perhaps a pair of depends as I may need them!

    Thanks for a great review!

    • Enjoy your first time at Blackout! That is always the scariest 🙂 Trust me, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish. Please let us know how your experience goes!

  9. Dev

    I went through this haunt last year, and I have to agree with monty. As much as I wish this wasn’t the case I really wasn’t even close to as nervous inside as my first time through the year before.

    Last year I was almost manhandled in every room and was terrified about what the next room would contain. This year not so much. Again, agreeing with monty, I loved the first two and also the rain room. I ended up walking straight into the actor because I couldn’t see anything with my tiny glowstick while water was pouring all over me. But after the strobelight room it just really didn’t feel scary/real anymore..

    The guy that made it was there and asked me if I went through the year before and asked my fav part. He again talked to me once I was thrown out of the last room and asked which year I liked better..and I obviously told him last year.

    Im really not sure what the deal was.. apparently all the other years were terrifying. This year not so much.
    Meh… my .02$

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Dev! I agree I felt last year’s haunt was “scarier”– but it was also my first time at Blackout so I’m sure that played a role. There were elements of the haunt this year that were amazing– the water and crawling for example– but I also have some critiques about the flow. I continue to be impressed by the Blackout performers, who have to stay totally committed to their roles 100% of the time and adapt their performance to each guest– often putting themselves in really vulnerable positions alone in a room with an unpredictable stranger. That’s something that no other NYC haunt can boast. If you think about the flip side, Blackout is probably the “scariest” haunt for the performers as well as the visitors.

  10. Devin Troy

    completely agree with you bud. I was tossed around in every room last year and was generally terrified about what the next room would contain. Not so much this year.

  11. Tom D

    This is a REALLY insightful comment that people seldom realize and generally never post! Your appreciation of these performers and this experience is outstanding and very encouraging for those who are on the fence about attending!

  12. Complete Waste - Save Your $$

    @ Montgomery Gray…I agree. This wasn’t the least bit scary.
    I feel like I talked and touched (both of which you aren’t allowed to do – per “Rules” ) each character and the walls which was very confusing and makes the experience weird. Many times I stared awkwardly at the actors as they tried to interact physically and vocally with me.

    FYI…Choosing A or B makes no difference to how everything plays out. I say this because I went there with 4 other guys who had the same experience.

    Initially you are told to sign a waiver by Girl 1 which is very difficult to read especially in the dark and fog from the fog machines. After handing over the waiver Girl1 directs each participant to a corner and tells you to stare at the wall and “count the dots”. Once your turn does come up to start you are told to walk down a dark hallway at which point a Man 1 grabs you and forces you to crawl and lay down looking into a 2 feet deep hole in the ground. I thought we’d have to go through that but nope…just look at it while Man1 tapes plastic bags to your feet. He then proceeds to force you up and shoves you against the wall. I’m not a homophobe but this part got really uncomfortable. I didn’t need to be patted on my crotch, be kissed on the cheek, sniffed vigorously, or what basically felt like getting my beard braided (I have a full beard) by this individual… After he is done coping a feel you are told to walk down a dark hallway.
    At one point you are told to put on a raincoat/poncho and told to walk straight. Here you encounter yet another dark hallway with dripping water from above and a puddle of water a few inches deep. I guess this is where the plastic bags are supposed to keep your shoes/socks/pants dry. But Man 1 failed to properly secure them so needless to say…I need to buy new sneakers because by the end of the whole haunted house they were disgusting and smelly. You walk towards Man 2 who, for a few minutes, just stares aimlessly into a void of what he has now realizes this entire Haunted House. He does eventually notice you and says “Choose A or B…choose wisely”. You go through more plywood constructed hallways. At one point you are given a glow stick to help you navigate in the dark…it’s basically useless. There is a section where a guy asks you if you understood the ‘Rules’ but maybe he failed to realize these ‘Rules’ say no talking to the actors. You will come to a section where 2 girls confront you and yet again ask you “A or B” – I stuck with B the whole way. One of the girls, Girl 3, then takes you and basically dry humps you for a few minutes then again takes you into another room where she takes your hand and stabs herself with a fake syringe and convulses. Again dry humps you and leads you to another room where you have a guy put a plastic bag over your head…pokes some holes in it so you can see and breathe. He gives you fake pistol and attempts to shoot Girl3 with it.
    Before you know it you are walking down another hallway and where do you end up? Right back in the main room where you filled out your waiver. Yup folks that’s it! All together the whole walk through was about 15-20 minutes. There was no scary music/sounds (whatever that is)…I don’t think the banging on the walls and having heavy metal-esk music they had really loud qualifies. At no point are you ever scared. At no point are you provided a “protective mask” or a “flashlight” as stated in the ‘Rules’. It was just extremely awkward and not the least bit frightening. Maybe the one in LA or Chicago are/will be different but NY one was atrocious!! Skip it if you are thinking of going. You will probably have a scarier time walking up the stairs in your house with the lights out.

    Thanks BHH for ruining what could have been a great experience and charging $65/ticket. They should pay you to walk through this disaster. Bit of a rant but that’s my $.02.

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