Editor’s Note: Embarking on a bit of haunted flaneurism, three of our writers visited three horrifying places in NYC. Edgar Allen Poe would be pleased.
1) BLACKOUT, NYC
By Laura Macready
“Get closer to the person next to you.” the recorded voice crackles in my ear. I gulp nervously and inch nearer to the stranger on my right.
“Closer.” the voice demands again. Now our thighs are pressing against each other and I can feel his leg trembling.
“This is your group now. Don’t get separated.” The recording shuts off, leaving our group of six in complete silence. I glance around, trying to discern which of the shadowy figures in the room is my roommate, but everyone’s features have been completely obscured by darkness.
We’ve been told to crawl over the bench we’re sitting on and follow the white line along the floor into the next room. Once we vault the bench we realize our pathway is pitch black, and the white line on the floor becomes invisible. We’ve been commanded not to touch anyone, even our fellow group members, and especially not the actors. Under no circumstances are we to speak, unless we feel the need to scream “safety” and be escorted out. I quickly loose track of my group members, the form of the person in front of me dissolving in front of my eyes and the footsteps of the person behind me quickly fading away. Fumbling around in the dark, I bump into hard objects scattered around in a seemingly random arrangement. Eventually I collide with a wall and crawl down it until I finally see rays of light peeking from under a doorway. I pick up my pace and almost reach the lit hallway, but suddenly a strong hand clamps over my mouth while an arm encircles my waist and I am pulled back and pinned against a very muscular chest. Hot breath creeps down my neck as I try to wrench away, but the grasp is too strong and I can hardly move. I try to scream but the hand covering my mouth muffles any futile noises I attempt to make.
That was only the first five minutes of Blackout, one of New York’s most notorious haunted houses. Blackout first started in 2009, and has quickly been gaining notoriety among horror enthusiasts as well as in the mainstream. Blackout prides itself in going above and beyond the typical BOO! fashion of haunted houses by making its exhibits psychologically traumatizing and all too interactive. A blogger for Gizmodo described it as: “The scariest haunted house ever…It was a legitimately freaky and uncomfortable experience.” The house consists of multiple rooms, each one holding a completely different and equally distressing scenario. Some go for the gore, some are more creepy and eerie, while others still are a disturbing blend of the two.
Since its beginning, Blackout has had a strict policy about audience members walking through alone. For the first time in history they offered group experiences, which is why my roommate and I decided to give it a try. We made the trip on the D train all the way to Houston street, and after reluctantly signing a release waiver stating we could not hold Blackout accountable for any harm that came to us, we were lead into the famous haunted house. There was a good deal of giggling and jokes being exchanged within our group at first, but we quickly realized we were in for a true horror show. The atmosphere is set from the very first minute, with a very intimidating security guard barking directions at you and even an unsettling coat-check girl. The tour through the house exposes you to scenes that seem only possible in the wildest dreams of the most ruthless serial killers or disturbed mental patients. Almost all of the actors are mostly naked, adding and yet another layer of discomfort and uneasiness to each encounter. Each audience member is singled out at least once and put through a special ordeal. I was blind folded and bent over a sink while a deranged girl dribbled water and what appeared to be blood down my scalp, before pantomiming rubbing her genitals with a rag and smearing said rag across my face. As the experience continued, more members of our group were blindfolded, saran-wrapped together, partially stripped, sprayed with water, written on, and at one point one of us was forced to eat a mass of bright red stringy meat. To say the least, it was not what we expected.
Blackout lends its incredible success in part to the popularization of horror entertainment. Darker shows featuring barbaric monsters or gruesome murderers such as True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, True Detective and the phenomenal series American Horror Story have become mainstream, so the demand for novel horror experiences is high. Things like scary movies, TV shows, theme parks, and even physically engaging adventures become more and more sought-after with each passing Halloween season.
The genre of horror used to be reserved for “goth” kids with dark senses of humor, or the occasional band of teenagers looking for a quick thrill. Nowadays, people are turning away from conventional forms of entertainment and are regularly seeking out thriller experiences. Real life horror stories are new and cutting edge to the typical audience member. Watching a vampire and a werewolf fight to the death or an evil doctor finally being exposed is definitely not something the average viewer will witness in his or her life. The horror genre offers people the chance to experience something dark and twisted, and see a side of humanity that they otherwise would never be exposed to.
The contributors to Blackout are experts at pushing their audience members to the brink. The exhibits of the house demonstrate a tremendous amount of shock factor and provoke mental distress. The audience member is more than just a viewer of the scene. They become a part of the horror.
2) Edgar Allen Poe’s Cottage
By Amy Palen
It seems like a no-brainer to include the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, at Kingsbridge Road and Grand Concourse in the Bronx, on a list of New York City’s haunted houses! Poe is a pioneer and giant of the horror genre, and many of his most famous works, including “The Bells” and Eureka,” were written while he lived here. Inside, one can see the bed in which Poe’s wife Virginia was ill and died, an event that may have inspired such disturbing characters as Lenore and Annabel Lee (Bronx Historical Society). Not to mention, Poe is arguably the first American bohemian – an impoverished artist, heavy drinker, and important influence on later figures such as Baudelaire.
Sources: “The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage.” The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <http://www.bronxhistoricalsociety.org/poecottage.html>.
3) Jeckyll & Hyde’s Haunted House
By Shanna Heaney
Think that the glitz and glimmer of Times Square can’t offer any spooks and scares this Halloween? Think again. Though gimmicky, the Haunted House that lies within the Jeckyll & Hyde restaurant provides quite a few twists and turns. I took a walk through its dark pathway to find people jumping out, chainsaws, hanging limbs, and the like at every turn. I got a decent scare mostly because of how dark the the passageway was kept. Though brief, my ascent into Jeckyll and Hydes’ world was quite creepy.