Nightmares…

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 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!

 

 

Hooded in the Basement

The Scarehouse in Etna PA (near Pittsburgh) is at it again with a one night only showing of the basement. This time the twist is not holiday related but rather sensory, or more accurately lack thereof.

While details are vague, guests can safely assume  from the title that a hood will be worn for at least part of the experience, which is a genius and bold twist because the Scarehouse is so well known for it’s elaborate and beautifully detailed sets, even when minimalist as with past basement events. One can only imagine what may be planned as an assault in the absence of sight upon on the heightened senses of touch, hearing, smell, and perhaps even taste…

To say the least, the Basement is not for everyone. To start, patrons enter alone  or with one other, must be 18 years old, and willing to sign a waiver. As the tagline reads, patrons will be touched, restrained, and scared out of their minds.

With the short but stellar history of The Basement at Scarehouse, it’s very likely this event will sell out so get your tickets now, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Holiday Hauntings

For most Halloween fanatics, November and December are tough months of cleaning up the decorations and dealing with holly jolly ho ho consumerism. For a devoted few though, we have holiday haunts! Weather permitting I should be attending and reviewing all of the below.

Castle Blood Cryptmas

Castle Blood Cryptmas

Castle Blood  located in Monessen PA will be hosting the Scary Little Cryptmas on December 14th and 15th.

Scarehouse Xmas

Scarehouse The Basement X-mas

The Scarehouse in Etna PA (near Pittsburgh) is reopening their extreme haunt The Basement for one night only on 12/28/13. I visited The Basement in October and cannot recommend it enough for those  into extreme hands on haunted attractions.

Fear Factory Xmas

Fear Factory Xmas

The Fear Factory in Mays Landing NJ will be hosting Tinsel Town Terror on Friday and Saturday nights from black Friday – December 21st.

 

Brighton Asylum

Brighton Asylum

Brighton Asylum in Passaic NJ will be hosting Santa’s Slay on December 6, 7, 13 and 14.

Last call…

Post Halloween blues have kicked in for many of us, but there is still one last chance if you happen to  live in or around Pennsylvania. On Saturday 11/9/13 both Terror Behind the Walls in Philadelphia (now sold out) and the Scarehouse in Pittsburgh will be open for one last, lights out night of haunting. Particularly of interest is one last chance to catch the new extreme haunt at Scarehouse called “The Basement”.

http://www.Scarehouse.com

http://www.easternstate.org/halloween