Every Halloween season, a handful of boutique haunted houses turn shuttered storefronts into temporary funhouses for giddy friends looking for an unusual night out—and willing to fork over around $30 and up for a ticket. Blackout Haunted House, situated on a drab block in midtown, is not that night out.
If fear were a drug, Blackout would rate as some pharmaceutical-grade stuff. The producers have been tinkering with volatile ingredients over the past few years, trying each October to concoct the perfect recipe of shocks to rattle even the most jaded New Yorker.
The first scare is the daunting waiver you're required to sign upon arrival. Patrons are also presented with a list of rules that rivals those of Fight Club. The first rule: "You must walk through alone."
"If you want, you can leave your glasses here," suggested one of hosts as I waited my turn to enter through a slit in a black plastic tarp. It was hard to imagine why my spectacles would pose a problem. Surely they accommodate for eyewear!
In hindsight, the most startling thing about Blackout is its disregard for your eyewear. And your personal boundaries. And your dignity. This scare factory brazenly breaks from the traditional coffins, rubber masks, and "gotcha" moments. Instead, Blackout evokes the torture-porn scenarios of films like Hostel, adding a dash of David Fincher's The Game. After all, you are essentially paying professionals to put you through the wringer.
There are two floors of soul-rattling treachery. The first floor seems inspired by the infamous Stamford prison experiment that tested the psychological limits of its participants. The lower level cleverly exploits rule number four: "You will be prompted to do certain actions. Please do exactly as you're told."
This sordid dungeon has a more theatrical bent, challenging you to interact with some very intense performers who make each gruesome scenario feel as personalized and filthy as a session with a dominatrix. There's even a designated safe word.
If you prefer rubber bats and cobwebs over genuine fear-inducers like confinement and sensory deprivation, don't even think about buying a ticket. Blackout Haunted House intends to separate the hardcore thrill-seekers from the tourists. I would liken it to a fraternity hazing if it wasn't for the undeniable artistry involved. Yes, I felt a bit degraded and my glasses were bent out of shape. But I emerged like the muck-covered survivor at the end of a slasher flick, stronger for having made it through the ordeal.
For more information about Blackout Haunted House, click here.