Review: Nightmare Killers 2 haunted house brings murderers to life (Halloween 2013)

The only safe way to meet a serial killer? A haunted house!

2013 Nightmare Haunted House serial killers

There’s something fascinating about serial killers. These stone cold murderers haunt our dreams, whip the tabloid media into a frenzy and single-handedly sustain the horror film industry with their gory crimes.

So it’s no wonder that NYC’s most intricately staged Halloween haunted house, Nightmare, has chosen “Killers” as its theme for the second year running. Like a quality horror flick, last year’s Nightmare: Killers left its audience wanting more.

Mastermind Timothy Haskell had to dive deeper into the bench of depraved murderers for this year’s show, so you won’t immediately recognize all of the characters. Still, this Lower East Side haunt provides genuine thrills as it puts you in the kill rooms of famous psychopaths from movies and real life.

During my opening-weekend visit, I opted to be “touched” by performers (signaled by red paint splashed on my forehead) and was poked, prodded and even picked up and whisked away by an infamous stalker.

Read on for highlights of the 2013 Nightmare Killers 2 haunt.

>> SPOILER ALERT! The following review contains details about Nightmare: Killers 2 haunted house characters and set design. If you want to be 100% surprised by this year’s show, scroll down to the “Details” section.

2013 Nightmare Haunted House poster

Touch Me Please

Nightmare is billed as New York City’s most “terrifying” haunted house, but faces stiff competition from Blackout (which requires visitors to go through alone and features the double-punch of aggressively “touchy” performers and nudity). Perhaps in an effort to compete with Blackout’s manhandling, last year Nightmare introduced the option to have performers touch visitors. When I consented to have an “X” painted on my forehead in 2012, I was treated to more in-your-face participation than the other members of my group.

This year, I received two large “X” marks on my forehead; when I asked about this upgrade, the doorman suggested this was a homage to Dos Equis, the beer sponsor. The red paint dripped down my face and, at the end of the evening, formed a pretty convincing scab that I proudly wore on the walk back to my apartment. (At this point in haunted house season, the cashiers at my local bodega probably think I am in a fight club).

2013 Nightmare Haunted House bloody mark

Another brave soul in my group opted for the “X” mark, and the two of us received the most attention from Nightmare performers. They singled us out for questioning and shouting, and even picked one of us to be removed from the group for private taunting. (That honor went to the Jaded Viewer, a fellow blogger who gets selected for this every year. One person is always plucked from a group to be whisked away to a dark room or crawl space, where they face one-on-one time with a performer).

However, this year the performers also interacted physically with visitors who did not have the “X” mark. They poked and teased a few other members of our group, who took it in stride. Nightmare may want to rethink this tactic, as some guests are not comfortable with any level of touching. In our Saturday night group, comprised of two bloggers and an unrelated group of four friends, one girl panicked in the opening room– before even seeing a serial killer– and rushed back to the lobby.

I’d recommend opting for the “X” mark; if you want the full haunted house experience, then go all in! As I’ve mentioned before, this is a haunted house performance so you will not be injured or unduly traumatized. The most dangerous aspect of Nightmare: Killers 2 is the bumpy sidewalk outside, which felled several tipsy club-goers during my visit.

The Rooms

The sets at Nightmare have always been elaborate and a step above the typical haunted house. Instead of piling on the gore, creator Haskell and his team focus on creating a creepy atmosphere.

Some sets look like middle-American living rooms, complete with TV dinner tray and Barcalounger. It takes a few moments to notice the sinister elements: vintage porn running on the TV, plates of rotten food and a hidden door to a basement torture chamber.

Sometimes the only cue to mass murder is the performer’s behavior. Mid-haunt, we were led by a cult member to a vinyl-sided suburban home, complete with a nursery. We knew something terrifying was coming because of our strange interaction with the female cast member, despite the lack of bodies hanging from hooks. This is one way that Nightmare sets itself apart from Blood Manor, a popular New York City haunted house that features campy, over-the-top, blood-splattered set design.

My favorite room was the steamy Louisiana bayou set, which forced me to navigate through thick brush and a string of crazed hillbillies.

Old Favorites and Some Surprises

While the “serial killer” theme was a carryover from 2012 and at least one killer appears in both haunts, Nightmare unleashed some unexpected faces this year.

Last year’s “Dexter” room was replaced by the depraved Wall Streeter from “American Psycho,” confirming that Occupy Wall Street has made its mark on 2013 Halloween performances.

A certain plush character also made an appearance, aggressively hugging and making sexual gestures to the men in my group. We were shrieking and cracking up at the same time, and my colleague the Jaded Viewer was picking blue fur off his shirt for the remainder of the evening.

With Nightmare searching for a second set of serial killers this year, we didn’t recognize many of the characters. Fortunately, their portraits and bios line the lobby where the Nightmare line forms. Including this information in the lobby may seem like a massive spoiler, but (during our visit at least) few patrons paid attention to the paintings until after the show– especially since a stage has been erected next to the line. A range of performers entertains the waiting crowd– from dancers to stand-up acts.

2013 Nightmare Haunted House stand up

Quality Time With Killers

At some haunted houses, performers rush visitors through the rooms so you barely have a chance to notice the set design. At Nightmare, I had enough time to dive into the act; the rooms and performers worked together to tell a disturbing story. After the show, creator Timothy Haskell revealed that each set is elaborately timed, with audio visual cues to tell the performer when to usher the group on. This ensures that visitors get the full experience in each room.

The system only broke down in one room at the beginning of the haunt, when we were ushered into a hallway with three doors. We chose the wrong one and ended up in a pitch-black, narrow hallway with seemingly no exit. Fortunately a performer came to our rescue, guiding us back to the right room while maintaining character. This is the type of glitch that often happens during opening weekend, as performers are still working out the kinks. Something similar occurred at last year’s Blackout, when I was left in a closet for what seemed like 10 minutes. When visiting haunted houses, it is best to be prepared for anything!

The Bottom Line

Nightmare is a truly creepy haunted house that puts you in the kill rooms of America’s most depraved mass murderers. The superior set design doesn’t rely on gallons of fake blood to send a chilling message. If you want to celebrate Halloween by screaming in terror with a group of friends, and don’t mind having nightmares afterwards about the Manson family, then this is the haunted house for you.


What: Nightmare Killers 2 Haunted House
When: September 27- November 2, 2013
Where: Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk Street, Manhattan
Tickets: $30 online or $35 at the door. VIP (‘front of the line’) and student tickets available. To purchase, visit
Follow Nightmare on Facebook or Twitter at @NightmareNYC.

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.