Nightmares…

scarehouse valentine

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.

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