Nightmares…

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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!

 

 

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