Over the past 72 hours, I have come to discover that there are two distinct types of New Yorkers – those who have not yet experienced Blackout Haunted House, and those who will spend the rest of their lives wondering if everything that happened within its walls was real. Though I’m sure it’s foolish to write about my experience at Blackout before undergoing a serious and careful psychological assessment, I feel inclined to share my raw feelings.
I first heard about Blackout on Reddit via a ‘Today I Learned’ post titled, TIL there is a haunted house that makes you walk through alone and witness violent and sexual situations. You can say “safety” to be escorted out but you receive no refund. A subsequent ‘Ask Me Anything’ Q&A from a survivor confirmed my suspicions – this was so far removed from anything I’ve ever been comfortable doing. In short, I absolutely had to go… for myself, for New York, and for journalism.
It’s Blackout’s fourth year in New York, a journey that has put out four completely different experiences in just as many different locations around the city. Its creators are bound by a housing market that’s, quite frankly, pretty skeptical about welcoming an event this disturbing into its arms. But this year’s most awesome landlord award goes to the guy who rents out 115 West 27th Street. Formerly a speaker store, it’s been completely transformed into a house of screams loud enough to put the best JBL’s to shame.
Its premise, according to co-founder Kris Thor, is simple – subvert the traditional haunted house by turning two long-standing rules on their head – that which assumes you will be with friends when you walk through, and that which assumes you will not be touched. From there, Kris quipped, it all “spiraled out of control.”
Blackout starts in a dimly lit lobby that epitomizes simplistic design. Aside from the counter where you’ll sign away your life and the chair where you’ll anxiously await your fate, there’s nothing in it. When you arrive, you’ll be asked to sign a waiver allowing the actors to do (almost) everything short of killing, maiming or abusing you. You’ll be asked if you’re prone to seizures or have asthma, and a few other questions by someone who has seriously practiced close-talking. If it all checks out, you’ll take a number, grab a seat, and wait… a common theme throughout.
When your number is called, they’ll ask you to stand on an “x” in front of the room’s only proper door. You’ll stand with your back to it, the first of many anxiety-marred moments in the house. You may wait 5 seconds, you may wait 60, but at some point, a pair of arms will slide the door open, grab you by the neck, and pull you into the darkness. It’ll be too late to say your last words to your friends. You’ll see them on the other side.
I don’t want to mention too many specifics, as much of Blackout’s charm comes in having absolutely no idea what you’re getting yourself into. However, I can tell you:
1) You will be pushed around and yelled at by people you may never even see, let alone get to know. Some will be naked, and many will breach your comfort zone in ways you can’t imagine.
2) There will be sensory deprivation. You will wear goggles that obscure your vision. Things will be put over your head moments before you’re forced into blindingly bright rooms. Headphones playing droning static will be forced on your ears.
3) You will be tortured. Actors will string you up against concrete walls, force you to your knees, pour water over your head, shove disabling objects beneath your arms, and much, much more.
4) You will see things you’ve never seen before, and you will become part of scenarios you could never have imagined. They will be traumatizing.
5) You will briefly question why it is you came, and what it is you have (or haven’t) actually done during your stay.
There is a moment in which you’re pushed into a frozen, dilapidated basement bathroom that I think accurately sets the tone for Blackout. A dirty, exposed actress crouches down in the corner as you grip the pair of pliers you were given moments before. As she approaches you and begins to scream, “Why did you do this to me,” you can’t help but wonder, “Wait a minute. Why did I do this to you?”
It’s these moments of irrational self questioning that make Blackout truly haunting. As you play back the memories again and again long after you’ve left, it’ll finally hit you – this house is everything it promised it would be. Should you choose to give Blackout a try, we wish you luck, courage and a very Happy Halloween.
Brave enough? Get tickets here.