Nightmares…

Haunt Fire Safety – Lessons Learned from a False Alarm

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts with this PSA on fire safety following a recent experience in a haunted house whose staff was woefully unprepared for a fire emergency.

 

The Incident:

Opening night of a local haunt, the house is full and I’m halfway through the show when the fire alarm activates, the house lights automatically turn on, and the notification devices begin making noise that vaguely sounds like it’s telling us to exit the building.

 

The Problem: 

The fire alarm sounds a lot like a stereotypical alarm sound that fit right into the scene we were in. Also since the house lights were floursecent, they took a little time to warm up to full brightness.

The patrons and the haunt staff were unsure if the alarm was real. (It’s also possible for patrons to be uncertain if fire is real or not as well since many haunts now use various fire effects)

 

The Problem worsens:

After the alarm kept sounding, the staff and patrons quieted down and we were finally able to understand that the annunciators meant that we should exit the building… Easier said than done.

THE ACTORS DID NOT HAVE ANY TRAINING AND DID NOT KNOW THE EMERGENCY EXIT ROUTES FROM THEIR SCENES

 

In total, this was a negligent and potentially fatal situation had there of been a real fire. Thankfully the alarm was simply a result of a dirty fog machine that had not been cleaned out prior to opening night, however with all the electrical lights, audio equipment, fog machines, animatronics, prop controllers etc that go along with any quality haunt, there are countless potential sources that could activate the fire alarm system, and the only safe thing to do is to evacuate the building until the source can be positively identified and controlled.

 

Lessons Learned:

* In an active haunt, a fire alarm can be more confusing than helpful When patrons are scared they are not thinking clearly. Have a plan in place and drill on it.

* All staff members should know their nearest emergency exit routes and be familiar with the fire alarm system, even on the first night of the season.

*Accountability must be kept, everyone should have designated meeting places outside so management can know if all staff exited safely and if they were able to clear their zones of patrons.

* Clean your fog machines prior to each season. Suddenly heating and blowing out months of buildup from inside the heat chamber can set off smoke detectors even when using water based fog solutions.

 

 

 

 

The Haunted @ The Candle Shoppe of the Poconos

Admittedly The Haunted at The Candle Shoppe of the Poconos was not at all on the itinerary for our venture into the haunts in the hills of the Pocono mountains, however it was a pleasant daytime roadside surprise. From their website you would never even suspect that the shoppes basement includes a haunt, other than their ominous tag line “NOT YOUR ORDINARY CANDLE SHOPPE”. A little more web presence might do them well, but local and national media coverage have certainly put them on the map.

The Haunted is no typical fictitious haunted attraction, rather more of a family friendly haunted museum located in the basement laboratory of a doctor who conducted government funded experiments in the early 1900’s to develop vaccines for various malicious aliments. Unfortunately a century ago medicine wasn’t quite as precise a practice as it is today, so the necessary procedures of the time seem quite ghoulish by today’s standards. Rumor has it that the countless primates who perished in the lab for the advancement of medical science still haunt the building to this day. While we did not experience an paranormal entities, the guided tour was highly informative and fun. The Show is primarily composed of static displays with some animatronics and a couple clever scares. Be sure to take your time to take it all in, as the quantity and quality preservation of historical artifacts is rather impressive.

We did unfortunately find the tour had a few technical difficulties, which is quite possibly just a result of us visiting on a slow Saturday afternoon in September. Nothing too major, just a few light bulbs out and effects offline, but it was a little disappointing to find the vortex tunnel not vortex-ing.

Overall the Haunted is a fun roadside attraction, and the Candle Shoppe above an awesome historical building full of delicious Halloween scented candles among others.

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Be sure to take a little time to poke around the candle shoppe and gift shop after touring the haunt. Their pumpkin spice candle is simply to die for…

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Blackout – House 2014 Preview

For those of you not in the loop, Blackout recently announced that they are changing the rules for 2014, and that patrons will not walk through alone this year.

What this means, no one yet knows, but it’s a rather safe bet that customers will not be walking through in a large group of friends, not at all, as that would offer far too much of a sense of safety and security, which is not at all what Blackout is about.

As one of the first and likely the best/most extreme haunt, Blackout has a lot of new competition and media attention to stand up to this year, so this show is likely to be unforgettable.

Tickets for New York are on sale now with LA coming soon. With only 17 dates for NY, tickets are likely to sell out so buy them ASAP if you plan on attending.

www.TheBlackoutExperience.com

Zombies are lazy… A rant

This post is a long time coming, and I may not make any new friends, but bear with me.

After attending 5 Zombie themed attractions this season alone, the stereotypical zombie scare actor is getting old fast. The general impression is that of a Dawn of the Dead type zombie  A fast moving, still mostly human, but slightly bloodied character wearing slightly tattered street clothing and reaching, grabbing, lunging, and chasing patrons while growling or screaming/yelling.

While there are certainly plenty of startle scare possibilities with a zombie reaching out from the unknown and a certain spooky charm to several zombies “allover”, the scares are rather short lived as soon as the awkwardness of the zombie not being able to do anything after the initial scare sets in. While a zombie scene in a hayride can be fun, a full attraction based around zombies who startle scare, linger, and stalk till the next area becomes very boring very fast.

But zombies are soo popular…

Yes, zombie culture is huge, plenty of movies, tv shows, books, games, events, and general merchandise prove that fact without a doubt. However the popular aspects of zombie culture are not at all what the haunt industry tends to deliver. Rather than impressively gory, varied characters who really swarm and dig into whatever warm flesh they have at their disposal, most haunts are instead delivering mindless plain looking zeds who have a lot in common with the endless waves of nazis, terrorists, or other generic bad guys a cheap video game would throw at the audience again and again with limited interactivity due to the hands off 2 dimensional approach to such characters.

I am not saying haunts should drop their zombie attractions, but rather add some interactivity to them, either in the form of a gimmick or working in more interactive variety to make these shows work. Such gimmicks could include zombie paintball where the customers are able to fire upon padded zombies for a nominal fee, touch football belt challenges where zombies are instructed to attempt to take patrons flags as they pass by, or even the more extreme option of allowing optional touch to full contact in the attraction so that zombies can do more than just leer at patrons prior to nudging them along to the next room.

While those gimmicks would surely help any zombie haunt, a less easy but promising solution lies in looking more closely at why zombies are such a pop culture phenomena. The drawl to zombie movies is much more about the survivors than the zeds, as every living human is a lucky or special type of person who has managed to survive in a post apocalyptic world. It takes all kinds to make the world go round, but once the z virus hits the majority of people, be they children or adults, UPS delivery men or politicians, sports mascots or birthday clowns, will not survive and will join the brain eating team. Reflecting this variety of zombies will add fast visual and character interest as it’s no longer a faceless monster, but perhaps a delivery man with a box of bones, or a gas station attendant with a fake gas nozzle spraying water on patrons as it stalks them.

The Zombie apocalypse also entails many more threats than just zombies. There are sure to be other survivors who don’t want you drawing zeds to them and their supplies, who want to take your supplies, or worse. Animal populations may be affected, displaced or infected. There are also likely CDC and military folks about who will want to quarantine and “test/treat” those potentially exposed.

The moral of the story, zombie culture is awesome, and just the tip of the iceberg of distopian fiction which is ripe inspiration for haunts. So please stop being lazy with startle/linger/stalk zombies and start turning these attractions into the badass engrossing experiences they could and should be.

 

Pennhurst Asylum – 2014

Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City PA is an indoor walk through haunt located on the grounds of the long abandoned and dilapidated Pennhurst State School. Their tagline “The Fear is Real” is all too appropriate as the facility itself has a very long and troubled history, and looks like something straight off the screen from a high end horror film.

Pennhurst includes 3 indoor walk-through haunts and the Ghost Hunt (no scare) historical tour. The attraction begins moments after turning off the main road as the entry lane is a long, rough, winding, hilly, overgrown access road through the woods that easily sets most passengers and drivers on edge. While it’s a fantastic drive in, anyone on a motorcycle should take caution.  Upon arrival at the free grass parking lot, there is a fire and floodlight illuminated walk through the woods prior to arrival at the darkened main entry. Most of our group was on edge well before even arriving at the ticket booth. As with most larger Pro Haunts, there are separate lines for VIP tickets, online ticketing, and on site purchases. Purchasing online is a time saver, and VIP is a good option on a busy night at Pennhurst pulls in huge crowds on October weekends.

Pro Tip: Because it is a highly interactive haunt, Pennhurst uses metal detectors to ensure the safety of patrons and their actors. Leave anything metal other than your keys in the car, it’s a LONG walk to the parking lot and back again.

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The show begins with Pennhurst Asylum in the upper floors of the Admin building, and continues to the Dungeon of Lost Souls in the basement of the same building. Finally the Tunnel Terror is a seemingly endless walk in a concrete tunnel under the grounds of the facility. In queue for the asylum roaming actors dressed as doctors nurses and patients keep the crowd entertained. Two clever photo booths as well as a fire performer are situated just prior to entry into the Asylum.

All three attractions are filled with highly interactive actors who all have their own jobs or reasons for being a patient at the asylum. While there are certainly startle scares, most actors have lines much more clever than “boo” or “Get out”. The most impressive though is the facility itself, so much eye candy as the facility is an actual old building filled with artifacts from it’s time as a state school.

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The creativity within these walls goes to the extremes as Pennhurst is not afraid of controversial content and pushing it’s patrons further than most other attractions. Hilarious scares such as the rapid fire maternity ward brought about just as many laughs as scares, but the humane use of live animals, allowing actors to touch and grab patrons and doing so unseen from all angles, as well as illusions that make patrons question what exactly they are seeing are all elements that really set Pennhurst apart from the crowd.

Particularly notable is that all three shows stick to the common theme of what the place was, is, and could turn into in your nightmares. While there are a few creatures in the Tunnel Terror, rightfully so as underground tunnels do tend to make nice habitats for unwanted critters, squatters, and the like, the characters all fit in, as well as the patrons who are welcomed as new inmates who are of great interest to the inhabitants, not just as unwanted visitors.

I will admit to one slight gripe, technical in nature, which was an excess of fog in some parts of the Dungeon of Lost Souls. It just felt a shame to miss out on so much eye candy. Most of the time haunts use fog to hide lack of detail or to hide actors in plain sight, but neither were at all necessary here as the scenery is amazing and the actors skilled enough not to need to hide. It’s possible a fog machine just went rogue, but it did seem excessive at times and a bit out of place.

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After the 3 haunted attractions, there’s still plenty to do at the courtyard a snack bar with occasional actor visits was good for a snack with a laugh, as well as two new additions, the dollar scare booth and the coffin ride. The two dollar scare kiosks allow patrons to view CCTV cameras inside the attraction and trigger an automated scare via button for a dollar. A genius and fun add on for any haunt. The Coffin ride is set in a beautiful cemetery with two coffins available, a single and a double wide for two. Once inside, the motion controlled coffin has a sound system inside which plays back a pre-recorded show so that patrons hear, feel, and smell what goes on outside the coffin as the show progresses. The sensation of movement is surprisingly convincing when synced with the soundtrack, and best of all your friends can watch your experience via night vision cameras installed inside of each coffin.

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All in all, Pennhurst Asylum remains at the top of the game for the Philadelphia area and Mid Atlantic region in general. Their beautiful facility, progressive haunt techniques, and skilled actors make for a top notch experience. Just be sure to arrive early or come on a weeknight or Sunday to avoid the long lines that come along with any top notch haunt.

An Extreme Haunt Primer

Extreme Haunts are growing at an exponential rate with many new players on the stage in 2014, as well as long time contenders who never fail to produce unforgettable shows. These shows are often scheduled around the Halloween season, but often extend to holidays or even year round. The classification however is a topic that the media has latched onto and in the fury of uninformed news stories, confusion is abound.

Types of extreme haunt

Adult Content – Usually includes more/excessive gore, foul language, sexual content, and/or intense actors.

Solo entry – Group size varies, but many extreme shows only allow one or two patrons entry at a time. Often times you will be paired with someone, perhaps a stranger, for an experience of a lifetime.

Touching – Some shows allow their actors to touch patrons gently, others allow patrons to choose if they would like to be touched by wearing a glow necklace or fake blood on their faces. Others even allow for more violent or sexual touching.

Nudity – Actors and/or patrons may be partially, mostly, or completely nude for a portion or even the duration of the show.

Full Contact – These are the most rare, patrons will likely leave sore and possibly even with scrapes and bruises, clothing may be destroyed and you will likely be wet and or blood soaked at some point.

Mindf**k – Smaller more theatrical shows with highly skilled actors who focus on getting into your head, and staying there for days/weeks. This is likely to extend into an online community.

Since extreme haunts tend to start with a waiver and have significantly fewer rules to follow other than staying within the confines of the law, these categories often mix with each other. In more gentle extreme haunts the patrons have a general sense of what they are in for, but in the craziest shows, the audience is usually totally in the dark as far as the content of the show and simply along for the ride.

Consent

The point of any haunt is always to entertain, but what works for some patrons may not be acceptable by others. To ensure that the audience remains consensual participants in the show, a safety word or action is usually established. A somewhat new concept to the haunted attraction industry, safety actions can cause a variety of changes, as set forth by each show prior to entry, ranging from actors no longer touching a patron, a scene changing, or even the show totally stopping so the patron can be escorted out.

Aside from simply stating a safety word, other options may include taking off a glow necklace issued at entry, pressing a panic or exit button, or simply asking an actor to stop the show and be escorted out. Again this will vary from show to show, however haunt attendees should take caution as most safeties will interrupt/end the show, and are not able to be retracted. This penalty of no retraction and no refund is often a necessary evil to prevent safety abuse that would ruin the intensity of a scene, as well as to help push patrons to truly face their fears, or else go home with the dreaded “what if” curiosity in mind.

Ticketing 

Some extreme haunts sell tickets just like any other show, online or at the door. Most do sell out, have designated time slots and/or have few spots believable, so it is generally advisable to keep an eye on your favorite haunts webpage and social media outlets to purchase tickets as soon as possible.

A few of the more extreme shows however are much harder to gain entry to due to the demand for their tickets far exceeding supply because of the nature of the show severely limiting their maximum throughput. These shows often reward their diehard fans with invite only passes, and/or tips just prior to tickets going on sale. The best bet here is to pay attention, sign up for email lists, and take the time to do a little research on how the haunt has operated in the past.

Pro tip: Don’t badger a haunt for on sale dates or details easily found on their website and/or social media pages. Annoying a busy haunt owner is a sure way not to end up receiving an invite.

What to Wear

Simply put, be ready for anything. It’s pretty likely a bad idea to wear any clothing you don’t want stained/damaged/ruined/lost including shoes, accessories, hats, watches, etc.

Pro tip: DO NOT bring your cell phone into an extreme haunt. The odds of the phone being lost, damaged, water damaged, dropped, or ringing at a very wrong time are simply too high.

Simply be prepared for a bit of water, dirt, fake blood, paint, cutting, ripping, and possibly even removing one or more layers. In general, it’s a good idea to have a full change of clothes in the car as well as some wet wipes and a towel or two.

Some haunts will allow you to check your items like keys and wallets at the door, it’s best though to enter empty handed if possible.

*Do bring your ID and ticket, often ID is required when you sign your waiver so the haunt can verify your age

What Will Happen?

In short, an extreme experience that will run the gamut from a fun experience your friends might not believe and/or laugh at, to a possibly perspective and/or life changing experience that will at least temporarily change the way you look at the world. You may just be walking through a show, but often a patron will find themselves as a lead role in their very own horror movie type experience.

Rumors are abound of patrons at extreme haunts being punched in the face, water boarded, f*cked, stalked, shocked, beaten up, bound, penetrated, force fed, etc… While Nightmares Blog can neither confirm nor deny any of these allegations, one must keep in mind that these shows are businesses, artistic creations, and labors of love by their creators who have a vested interest in staying in business by giving patrons the show of their lives. Providing a non-consensual negative experience would not at all be conducive continuing their operations as lawsuits would surely follow.

Who Should Go? 

This varies wildly from haunt to haunt, some Touch optional shows that have been deemed extreme by the media are still as fully family friendly as any non extreme haunted attraction out there. Others however are only allow those 18+ or even 21 years of age and older. Many extreme haunts are not handicap access able as they may require crawling, climbing, tight spaces, and awkward positions, and some even request their patrons be in excellent physical condition as otherwise completing the multiple hour session would be exceedingly difficult.

The ideal extreme haunt goer is a person who has been to normal haunts and has become just a tad jaded to their scares. This is the patron who enjoys haunted attractions but has simply wanted a little more from them. Someone who is definitely adventurous, open minded, and enjoys testing their limits.

Just a Few Extreme Haunts Include: 

(This is a very incomplete list in no certain order, no guarantees, just a guideline)

Full Contact

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McKamey Manor – San Diego CA: Year round by advanced reservation only, 18+ entry with one other, multiple hour show. Expect water, blood, destroyed clothing, and be prepared for rough handling.

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Heretic – Los Angeles CA: A new player on the scene with various underground experiments and evolutions, Invite only 21+ and be prepared for ANYTHING. (no website)

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Scarehouse: The Basement – Etna PA – The Basement is a highly interactive, stylized, Halloween season18+ show with occasional year round one night only openings. You Enter alone or with 1 other, and will be bound, touched, and experience highly interactive theater within.

Mindf*ck

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Blackout –  NYC, LA, Chicago: Seasonal and off season shows, 18+ solo entry, be prepared for ANYTHING. These guys basically invented Extreme Haunting.

Alone

Alone – Los Angeles CA: An immersive 18+ solo experience that involves actor touching, physical activity, and an exploration of fear.

Adult Content

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The Haunted Hoochie – Pataskala OH: Haunt with adult content,reputation for brutal full sensory assault.

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Freakling Brothers: The Gates of Hell – Las Vegas Nevada: An R rated sensory overload experience.

Touching

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Kim’s Krypt – Essex MD: Accepting a bloodyK on your face to allow actors to touch and include patrons in interactive scenes. Be prepared for a bit of blood splatter.

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Terror Behind The Walls – Philadelphia PA: Located inside Eastern State Penitentiary, accepting a glow necklace allows actors to touch patrons and include them in interactive scenes.

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Pennhurst Asylum – Spring City PA: Located inside an abandoned state school, the inmates here are allowed to touch patrons and are top qualgity scare actors.

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Brighton Asylum – Passaic NJ: A traditional indoor walk through haunt that offers “contact nights” where actors may touch the patrons.

Nudity

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Shocktoberfest – Reading PA: A scream park offering the Naked and Scared challenge. At the end of the night a limited number of patrons are able to go through the Unknown haunted attraction wearing just their underwear. Secure changing areas are provided at the beginning and end of the haunt.

Scarehouse – Broken Hearts in The Basement 2014

To ring in the Valentines Day holiday the Scarehouse in Pittsburgh PA put their trademark twist on an extreme haunted holiday in the way that only a year round world class attraction run by a team of artistic geniuses could. Broken Hearts in the Basement was a pre-sold out one night only show on 2/15/14, which in typical Basement extreme haunt style only allowed a single couple to enter  at a time, promised and delivered on close encounters of the emotional, physical, aggressive, and sensual kind, and most of all provided an engrossing experience which pulls the audience in as part of the show, giving them enough food for though to chew on for weeks.

I was fortunate enough to be the very first in line during the first time slot, and entered solo as my date couldn’t make the trip. Being a show designed for couples, the acting staff didn’t miss a beat in tailoring each and every scene to work for just one person. The Valentines show was a little more playful than other editions of the basement, with scenes involving ballroom dancing, having your makeup done, a slightly creepy but still fun photo shoot, and even a set that looked to be straight out of an amateur pornography video. In stark contrast however were much darker and more difficult scenes punctuated by restraint, breath control, and even a disappointed past girlfriend who questions where you’ve been, why you left, and shows you her bandaged but visibly bleeding wrists to emphasize how your recklessly toying with her emotions nearly ended her life.

This series of thematically related scenes works but only because of the highly skilled acting crew that immediately pull you into each new scene. While there is little chronological sense to it all, the theme of the beauty and tragedy of love and lust was clearly apparent throughout the show.

Two of the most profound scenes were unlike anything I’ve seen in any haunt or theater production before. First was a run down school or college looking bathroom, you find yourself alone in the room with a male of medium stature and thin build standing at the sink wearing a traditional sports team style letter jacket. The actor started with a casual introduction typical of any school bathroom, “Hey, hows it going?” As the scene moved along, it became clear that the guy wasn’t a jock, but rather a stereotypical geeky kid, not living a glamorous life, dealing with rejection, and overall just lonely and looking for someone to talk to. In an interesting twist, full disclosure here, I too was a bit of a geeky loaner in high school, so instead of being a popular kid receiving a guilt trip from the character, I related with him, and his response was priceless. By the end of the scene the basement dared to have a male actor cry on my shoulder and ask for a hug, even go as far as make a tender romantic advance. Certainly not a comfortable experience for everyone, but one that forces the audience to think. Bravo to this actor, a job very well done.

Another stunning scene, was actually the climax of the show and is best described as walking into a craigslist killer setup, with you as the victim. The scene, an attractive 20 something year old girl wearing a black nightie excitedly takes you by the hand from one scene and guides you into hers while telling you how glad she is that you came. The set is a dimly lit room, seemingly a residential basement or rundown bedroom, with a dirty mattress on the floor and an old fashioned camcorder sitting on a tripod focused on the mattress. The first thing through my mind was how skeevy the setup was, but the cute girl was very reassuring that we would have fun, and she was glad that I came and we were goring through with it. Shortly after gaining my bearings, the girl asked me to lay down on the mattress and I obliged. Looking up at the camcorder and the red record light made for an awkward moment right before the girl suddenly pulled leather straps out from underneath the mattress and quickly fastened me down to it. Now things were getting interesting… A little more flirting from the hostess and suddenly a door flew open, an angry man wearing a stained white undershirt entered and wasn’t too happy to see his wife/girlfriend with me on the mattress. The actress quickly explained to him (and me by proxy) that I was a gift for them to share. Suddenly the scene took an unexpected turn as his anger turned into interest, I believe he even complimented my “pretty face”. Still strapped down to the mattress, my view was limited but from somewhere a large sharp looking kitchen knife came into play, and the couple became quite excited. In a very rapid and seemingly practiced motion the girl hopped ontop of me to pin me down to the mattress while the guy put a bag over my head to block my view. They excitedly talked about “doing it”, with the “it” they were speaking of turning out to be the knife being pulled across my exposed and defenseless throat, leaving a gushing trail of warm flowing blood as it cut into my flesh… or so it seemed. This was a very visceral and real feeling experience created by a flawless use of a bleeding knife and water at just the right temperature. Totally not expecting the sensation of blood pouring out as the dulled knife traced my neck from side to side, that was a very convincing scare. Best of all, once the scene ended, the couple dragged me, still hooded, into the final room of the show where a stunning grim reaper stood atop a staircase to welcome me to the afterlife.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Basements minimalist but effective set design and lighting coupled with top notch acting staff made for an amazing show. As always with any extreme haunt, I can’t recommend the experience enough, but be prepared for mature content, physical contact of moderate violent and sexual nature, as well as situations that will sit in your mind and develop for some time.

The Ghost Hole – June 2014

The oddly named “Ghost Hole” dark ride in Coney Island NY is a traditional family friendly tracked doom buggy ride through an automated darkened house of horrors. As soon as we spotted the attraction, complete with it’s weathered retro veneer and giant demon sculpture perched just above a vomiting mannequin in a clear glass box, there was absolutely no question that the day must include a trip into the Ghost Hole.

For Coney Island the ticket price was fair, and midday, even on a beautiful Saturday, there was no line to get in. Patrons ride through in classically styled and seeming hand painted doom buggies. Two adults fit in each, albeit a tad snugly.
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Once the ride lurches forward and through the entry blackout doors, it’s quickly apparent that the dark part of the name dark ride has you at an immediate disadvantage as daylight adjusted eyes take a few moments to adjust to the pitch black conditions inside. I would estimate the attraction to be around 80-85% darkness with around 15% actually occupied by props of various shapes and sizes, some static, some shaking about, and some actual basic animatronic movements.
To a seasoned haunt goer the Ghost Hole is not in the least bit scary, but definitely a fun and cute ride. The decor inside shows it’s age via wear and tear from years of use, however the managed decay adds a bit of a nostalgic and dystopian charm to it.
The ride path was also surprisingly well designed, with a longer than average ride duration, well concealed by the exterior which in no way led on that there would be two stories of scares inside.
Overall, The Ghost hole may be a little retro and worn, but the charm of a classic dark ride still operating in Coney Island is undeniable. Perhaps the most fun part of all was thinking about how a youngster, perhaps even myself years ago, would see the ride as a harrowing experience, primarily due to the darkness and uncertainty about what horrors lurked just out of sight.

The ScareHouse – Hooded in The Basement – 7/19/14

Standard disclaimer, The Basement is an extreme haunt, meaning an attraction containing adult themes, mildly violent and sexual content, as well as highly interactive actors that touch patrons and aim to create an immersive fear experience. Extreme  haunts are not for everyone, but are a real treat for haunted house junkies and thrill seekers.

The surprise Summer installment of The Basement was a surprising change of pace for ScareHouse. Whereas past installments were highly interactive and theatrical, this show was much more subdued. Instead of a series of thematically similar but unrelated intense scenes involving audience dialogue and personal choices, this was much more of a show on rails following a unified plot that made for a very engrossing experience.

The premise was that audience members are a new inductees to a society, however first, as with all new initiates of the secret society, a series of tests and a cleansing must be complete. The twist, as advertised, was that the audience members all wore a hood from the very first room of the show until the very last. The elimination of sight, except rare fleeting glances of lighted shapes here and there, served just as one would expect to enhance the remaining available senses. While taste and scent were not utilized, at least not in my experience, the multiple layered soundscape and constant use of touch for guidance, interaction, and scares, were masterfully utilized.

Custom entry tickets  show that the ScareHouse pays attention to it's clients.

Custom entry tickets show that the ScareHouse pays attention to it’s clients.

From the onset, I had intended to write a walk through of the haunt, doing the normal steps of such, with a wristwatch to time the event, a voice recorder ready to recap the sequence of events just after exiting, and notepad for any further details that come to mind. This plan, surprisingly, failed miserably. I know the show lasted roughly 45 minutes, and have notes of what occurred, but am unable to reconstruct with any certainty a series of events. The combination of a rythemless ambiance soundtrack coming from an (or possibly multiple) imperceptible source with the disorientation of being hooded while traveling along a winding path leads to a memory that is clouded as if from the far past. It’s truly amazing how much of memory is based upon visual input for not only images of the past, but also chronology.

What I did experience in the basement was a challenge to keep fear of the unknown at bay. Wearing the hood resulted in darkness, slightly muffled sounds, and very unexpectedly, humid stuffy air that quickly became mildly difficult to breathe. It was clear from listening to others breathing heavily that fear in the hood was a vicious cycle. More adrenaline meant breathing faster, creating more CO2, more hot humid air that was hard to breathe, and therefore even more rapid breathing. Via this cycle, it would be easy to work ones self into a panic, further intensifying actor scares by being distracted by the hood and the sound of your own breathing.

With calm, slow, steady breathing and composure, I walked along as instructed holding onto a rope strung between several stanchions for guidance. Clever twists included being told to turn and walk blindly backwards, as well as occasional transitions in the rope to string, chain, cord, a mylar type ribbon, and even a section with something unknown sticky and disgusting on the cord.

While a hand on the rope meant safety walking in the dark, much like a child taking a first step holding onto a parents hand, the occasional actor or actress who would hold your hands and guide you free from the ropes made for a curious sensation of simultaneous comfort and danger. I found myself hanging on the actors every word looking for clues as to if  the unknown person leading could be trusted or if they were leading to some trickery or scare.

Particularly notable tests in the initiation included a trial by fire where an unknown person asked initiates if they were strong and moved a lighter underneath their forearm in an attempt to make the weak flinch or withdraw their arm, (real flame as I later found I had lost a bit of arm hair to the fire), a ritual cleansing of yourself and a stranger with water conducted by an odd fellow wearing what felt like dirty gritty rubber gloves, and perhaps most notable of all, a scene where one inductee is made to shock another with a Victorian era quack medical device. The real curiosity of this scene was the 50/50 chance of being the tortured or torturer, all depending on earlier interactions with the actress leading the scene.

In total Hooded in the Basement was a hell of a good time. While scares were mostly a result of unexpected contact with either actors or other initiates all amplified by the darkness and unknown, the overall engrossing story and drawn out sense of tension and fear of what lay before you was unlike any other haunt I’ve experienced. Admittedly it had the feel of a Blackout event, but more on rails and linear along a unified story line. In typical ScareHouse style, it’s very possible the entire show was an easter egg related to the history of the building as one used for a fraternal order, or perhaps even the beginning of a greater basement experience that doesn’t just end at the door. Only time will tell.

Well done ScareHouse, see you in the fall!

 

 

The Purge Breakout

The Purge Breakout is at it’s core a promotional stunt to push the Purge Anarchy sequel due this summer. Make no mistake though, this is no rehash of the movie, but instead an immersive, interactive, and challenging experience based in the world of the Purge.

Each group of audience members is given an assigned start time and must arrive a little early for waivers and a debriefing prior to entering the show. The haunt itself is a mobile setup consisting of two connected tractor trailer truck box trailers, decorated on the inside so well that you quickly forget where you are and easily loose your bearings. The challenge, to solve a series of puzzles and challenges to escape in the half  hour given before the Purge commences.

Unlike most conventional haunts where you may not touch the scenery or props, in the Purge Breakout you must touch everything to search for clues and solve various puzzles. It’s important to keep your wits about you and think analytically, paying attention to details so not to miss important clues and/or become stuck without the ability to proceed through the show.

While the experience is short on scares, the tension of the time limit and pressure to solve each challenge made for an enjoyable haunt-like experience nonetheless. Set decor was top notch, as well a lighting that was all very naturally provided by contextually appropriate light fixtures within the sets.

Overall, the Breakout was  a great experience, certainly enhanced by attending with friends, but enjoyable in any group as long as cooler heads prevail to solve the puzzles as they come up. While the show does lack “replay” value due to the linear trail and necessary sequence of such an event, it is certainly an attraction to attend if possible. The concept of an ultra mobile truck trailer based setup traveling cross country is a genius one, and I hoope to see the industry take further advantage of the seemingly successful model.

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