I slowly make my way down a hallway lit only by the glow of a few TVs strewn about the floor. As I creep forward, so does a figure on the screens. The footage is a live feed of myself projected onto each television. But I can't focus on that now, because my bare foot just stepped on what feels exactly like a condom. Yep, it's a condom.
In order to participate in the NYC Blackout Haunted House experience, you must be over 18, you must go through the entire experience alone, you must sign a waiver, you must be willing to be touched, and you must be out of your mind. I couldn't miss a chance to participate in what was being called the scariest haunted house of all times. But I was strongly reconsidering once my toes were touching a hallway covered in prophylactics.
The entrance is innocuous. Just another building in Chelsea. At the door, you're greeted by a staff member manning a table stacked with waivers you must sign in order to participate. The rest of the room is covered in black curtains. No skeletons, fake spiderwebs or any of the usual "haunted house" trappings. Many years ago I heard a rumor that you could buy a shot before the beginning of the experience, but there were no signs of alcohol present in 2010 when I attended (Note: We chose to report on an older Blackout experience to keep future participants spoiler free. The group changes the house drastically every single year).
Instead of alcohol, I received these rules — the longest set of rules I've read before heading into a haunted house.
YOU MUST WALK THROUGH ALONE.
You must be over 18.
Stay on the marked path at all times.
You will be prompted to do certain actions. Please do exactly as you're told. This is for your safety.
There is absolutely no speaking allowed inside. You can, however, scream as loud as you'd like.
Do not ever touch the actors.
Do not ever touch the walls.
You must wear a protective mask and carry a flashlight at all times. (We will provide both of these items for you. Please do not bring your own.)
If you have an emergency while walking through the house and need to be escorted out, please yell the word "SAFETY" as loud as you can. Stay where you are, remain calm, and someone will come to get you and bring you out. Once you call "SAFETY", there are no refunds and there are no options but to leave.
Please be aware, you will encounter:
FOG – STROBE LIGHTS – COMPLETE DARKNESS
CRAWLING – STAIRS – LOUD NOISES – WATER
PHYSICAL CONTACT – SEXUAL and VIOLENT SITUATIONS
To participate in Blackout, you have to sign up in group sessions every half hour so they can stagger people through a few minutes behind each other. I missed out on tickets with my particular group of friends, so I had to wait alone in a bar for half an hour until it was my turn. I wasn't happy about waiting alone and as my anxiety rose, so did my instincts.
In desperation, I tweeted this:
The reasoning was simple. If I focussed the attention on my pals currently lined up outside of Blackout, the cast of crazies would spend all their energy messing with them. By the time it was my turn they would be exhausted from proving their freaky worth, and I could slip under the radar with the minimum amount of terror. Also sometimes, I'm just an asshole.
The plan didn't work out. Soon enough, it was my turn. Quietly I lined up outside of a black curtain with a group of strangers. Suddenly a man pops up and starts picking off people in line three at a time into sectioned off room. I quickly did the math and realized I would be sharing whatever horrors awaited with the excited couple in front of me. I wondered if I could convince both of them to hold my hands. The worker points to the three of us and whips a curtain open. The man handed out surgical masks, instructed us keep them on at all times, and asked individually for a verbal response to his question, "DO YOU HAVE EPILEPSY?"
"NOOOoooo," I wailed, realizing this was the first time I had spoken in a couple hours and now sounded like a little kid in a time-out. The couple wrapped their arms around each other and took a cautious step away from me.
Then I found out why we were asked if we had epilepsy. The worker disappeared and the tiny room filled with smoke and strobe lights. It was awful. Not scary, just awful. You could only see a few inches in front of your face. This was where headaches were made. Then suddenly a new worker appeared and pointed at the girl, "You first." She was gone. A few minutes passed and he came back for the man. I was alone in the room full of smoke and strobe. There wasn't any noise but it was loud as hell in my mind, "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT," was my only thought. Then there was a face in my face (a man?). I was being mercifully escorted by my elbow out of the smoke room and into total darkness.
Not knowing where to head to next, I froze up against the person who is directing. There was nothing to see but black, and flashes of nonexistent white from the exposure to the strobe light. Slowly, the person on my arm grabbed my wrist and put my hand up against a concrete wall. "Grab the string!" they commanded.
A few desperate paws later my hand found the string, taped against the wall. "Follow the string," the voice said behind me, and so I started shuffling along with the taped string. "WRONG WAY!" bellowed a voice from who the fuck knew where. So I smooshed my whole body up against the wall, and started inching in the darkness. Predictably the string goes from high to low, but I follow it closely for eight miles (or possibly, 15 feet). While I'm on the string trek, strange things started to happen. First I felt a hand on the back of my neck. Then I felt a hand on my head while I was following the string low. Since it was pitch black, there was really no reason to turn around, so I kind of froze with my arms out, like a cat when you put a sweater on it.
Finally, I reached the end of the string, and a hand appeared on my back. Another on my wrist, and I was smushed against the wall, police search-style. "Stay here," someone whispered. "Not a problem," I thought. At this point, I had become adjusted to the darkness and imagined all the creepy brushes were from the helping hands of Labyrinth. "She chooooose down!"
After a brief frisking, I was escorted, still in total darkness to a chair. There I sat while while someone proceeded to just mess with my head in the darkness. All sorts of strange occurrences took place in the chair. My pant leg was rolled up and ice cube or a cold tongue (I prefer to think of it as an ice cube) was dragged across my shin. My hair was playfully tugged. People blew on my neck. A pair of hands grabbed my calves, giving off one hell of a creepy mental image of an adult wiggling under my chair. My friend later informed me that he was in "the chair" someone popped a balloon in that room. Thank Christ that didn't happen to me, or else they would have one wet chair on their hands.
Suddenly a tarp was lifted up, and I could see a light, in what looks like a tunnel made out of black trash bags. "Get on your hands and knees," the voices commanded. I slumped down and headed over to the light. "Go through it." I looked up, but I could only see a shadow, and figured heading towards the light is better than more groping in the dark, so I moved on.
This is when things started to get weird.
The entrance to the plastic tunnel was dropped, and I was forced to push through the endless plastic tunnel (held up only by my shoulders). I realized I was still wearing the surgical mask inside its plastic pocket, and should probably get out as soon as possible. So I started flopping around, like a manatee out of water. Finally my head poked out of the exit, and I was met with a pair of hands thwapping me down on my belly. My legs, and torso, were still basically in this tunnel, while another human straddled my back, pinning me down. "HEeeyeeeeeey," the person on top of me whispered in a laughably Hatfield–McCoy-esque Southern accent. "We got all kindsa fun ready ahead. Ooooh you're so pretty I could eat you up." This was not scary. I think it was the accent.
"You wanna stay and play? Or run away?" He asked. "Run away," I meeped. But even today, I still wonder what additional play time would have consisted of. Perhaps it's best we never know.
The playful "Southerner" conceded, and I scurried off through the only possible exit, marked by parted curtains and additional light. Right outside of the exit was a pair of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs stood a young woman in a hospital gown. She was blocking the last step, and looking directly at me. "Go!" She hissed.
I looked around for any other possible route, but there was no way to go but down. Which meant walking right into the hospital gown girl, whom I observed was not wearing a bra. I started down the stairs sideways clutching the railing. She kept staring and blocking my escape. I took a few more sideways steps, but she still wasn't moving. A few more, and when I was about 6 steps away from her, she extended her arms like a little kid, and started greedily grasping the air, getting ready to grab me. Hospital girl shrieked and grabbed my arms, and swiftly plopped me into a old reclining dentist chair. She was definitely not wearing a bra.
The ghostly white girl began cooing, and reached under her gown, revealing newly red fingers. She took the blood(?) and painted a smile on my surgical mask, all the while humming, giggling and stroking my hair. Another girl in the same hospital gown popped up! The second hospital girl went straight for my legs, grabbed my foot, and took off my shoe and sock. The two ladies then began fighting over my shoe. I was exceptionally uncomfortable.
At some point, one of them placed noise-canceling headphones over my ears. And they disappeared.
I was still sitting alone, staring at the ceiling in the reclined dentist chair, without a shoe. I couldn't hear anything. Then a dark figure appeared in the corner of my eye. He was wearing a ski mask. He grabbed my arm and whipped me out of the chair. The headphones were ripped off, and I was shoved into another room. Filled with about 3 other people kneeling with against the wall, bags over their heads. At least, I think it was three people, because within seconds I too was pressed up against the wall and told to kneel. Someone tied my hands behind my back (which was not tight, and would have been easily escaped from but was still keeping my hands behind my back) and bagged my head.
I was left kneeling, one foot shoeless, tied up with a bag over a surgical mask. It was hard to breathe. Thinking about the difficulty of breathing made it even harder to breathe. You could hear rumblings in the room, but there was no real clue what was happening. I pushed my tongue out of my mouth, in hopes of forcing the surgical mask slightly off my face. It was hopeless. Panic set in — I got ready to yell the safe word, which was actually the word "Safety." I think I was on the ground for maybe seven minutes, but I couldn't breathe — I was unraveling the ropes on my wrist and getting ready to rip the bag off when someone grabs my arms and lifts me off the floor.
"Scream," a voice ordered! I screamed. "Scream better than that." I screamed better than that.
When the screams were sufficient, and I was practically lifted to another room by someone holding onto my back. I was held in place and untied, but the person behind me still held my arms. I could feel the presence of another person in front of me. Slowly the bag was taken off. Sweet sweet air — and holy shit, that guy is Rob Zombie.
I swear to God, Rob Zombie was standing before me five inches from my face. Two seconds after the bag was removed, Rob Zombie was rubbing a cold metal thing against my face. He leaned back pulling the metal contraption back away, revealing it to be a staple gun. The second I realized it was a staple gun, it was back on my face, and Rob Zombie was fucking stapling my face. THREE TIMES. There weren't any staples in it, but it still hurt. Okay, it didn't really hurt — but it hurt all the same. Rob Zombie was not amused and started screaming, and the guy behind me (who I totally forgot was there in the presence of the face stapling) threw me into a hallway of TVs.
Each TV was on, and showing video footage of me walking down the hallway. On the floor of said hallway: condoms, just crap loads of condoms. They were wet. I followed the TVs into the biggest mind fuck room of all. I pulled back a curtain and someone screamed "STAND ON THE X!"
I spied the 'X' and stood there. Behind the curtain was a room covered in condoms and shoes. There's a dirty mattress on the floor, and a dead naked woman lay on her back. In the corner a skinny man stood with his back to me. He turned around, and revealed that he was really not wearing any clothes at all. None. Full dong. Out. It's something. He started walking right towards me. My brain started rattling, I could actually hear my own insides rattling around inside my skull at the sheer confusion of the condom parade naked basement man. He started walking towards me, and horror set in as I realized: He has my shoe.
The Naked Man got closer and pointed to the bed. "Nope!" I said, turning around.
Naked Man said, "get on the bed." I sat on it. He grabbed my feet and pulled them up, so I'm now laying on the bed. He sat at the foot of the bed, holding my shoe while staring down at me. It was dead silent. Then the Dead Naked Girl woke up, and flipped over on top of me. She started screaming, "HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME!" I screamed back, "IM SORRY, IM SORRY, IM SORRY, IM SORRY, IM SORRY!" The naked man was rubbing his face on my exposed foot the whole time. Finally, after an eternity of nakedness, the Naked Man thrust my shoe onto my chest and yelled "GET OUT." And I got the fuck out.
Somehow during the calamity a door appeared and I ran through it, up a flight of stairs, and head towards someone in a staff shirt. I was told to go into the bathroom and put my shoe back on, wash my hands and head out. I went in the bathroom and put my shoe on. Not five seconds had passed when someone came barreling out of the bathroom stall and chases me out of the bathroom and back through the entrance. Fuck this shit.
To this day, it is absolutely the most horrifying thing I've ever willingly participated in. I didn't attend last year, because I heard there as a brief plastic bagging experience, and that's a deal breaker. To say the least of the woman who made you eat her tampon, which was rigged to look like it was coming from inside of her.
Was it disturbing? Yes. Did I have fun? Yes. Does that probably say something about me internally, possibly. Mainly I just really wanted to see if I could make it through the world's scariest haunted house. And I did, so WINNER *points to self.* Should you do it? Perhaps. I can't imagine this would be fun for anyone who has experienced a similar trauma in their lives.
You must be exceptionally comfortable with the nudity of strangers. And with the hours you'll waste trying to comprehend the reasoning behind Naked Shoe Man. What was he doing with all those shoes? Why did Rob Zombie have a man that was obsessed with shoes in his basement? Was part of this experience some sort of shoe hospital? You will also probably throw away your shoes. Is it worth $50? For the theatrics and insane posse of crazies Blackout crams into one room — heck yeah.
Side note, Joe (pictured above) is attending this same haunted house again tonight. Make it up to me, Blackout.
Top image via Blackout Haunted House.