Monday, August 31, 2009

The Improvements in Nightmare This Year pt. 3

At last the final, and perhaps most crucial element in my three part deconstruction of how I am going to improve Nightmare Haunted House over past years, as well as what i perceive as the general pitfalls of haunted houses the world over: CREATING WHOLLY UNIQUE AND REALISTIC WAYS TO SCARE PEOPLE THAT GO WELL BEYOND BOOGIEMEN HIDING BEHIND WALLS AND THEN JUMPING OUT AT YOU.

I mean, isn't this what you really want when going to a haunted house? Yes and No. In NYC, and likely elsewhere, people really like to see value for their dollars spent. I have seen people screaming their brains out for 20 minutes, enjoying every minute going through the haunted house, and then when they come out the first thing they do is look at their g-d watch to see how long it lasted. And they they start adding up the cost per minute. And then they start assessing the production values to see if the cost per minute was put back into the production. Too many can't just evaluate it on whether they had a good time, were scared, had fun with their friends, etc. So that is what I addressed in my last two blog posts LENGTH and MAKING THE DESIGN LOOK AS AMAZING AS THE MONEY WE SPEND ON IT. But now that I have made clear how I am going to sate the appetites of even the most cynical New Yorkers who focus on the above as much as anything, I would like to detail for a moment how I am going to scare you in a way that you were never expecting.

Obviously, this is a delicate subject. If i tell you too much then you will know what's going to happen and it won't be a surprise anymore. but what i can tell you is how I approached it and you can glean things from there.

I am a theatre guy who loves haunted houses and loves horror. I am constantly trying to reinvent the form and take haunted houses to a whole new level. I feel if I can successfully combine what is most successful about live theatre with the most successful parts of haunted houses it can truly be a sublimely terrifying experience (in a good way). The trouble with haunted houses in general, and the trappings i have settled for in the last couple of years as well, is what makes things truly, genuinely scary is not things jumping out at you from cleverly disguised places. No, that's shocking, and momentarily scary, but not anything else. Is it even possible to create unsettling, viscerally haunting moments in an event that has 10-15 people per group hanging out with you, as well as the inability to feel alone, isolated or have eerie silence? There is just too much noise floating around too much activity, and not enough verisimilitude. In the traditional sense it is not possible, but if one digs deeper they can find ways of skewing reality.

This is what I have attempted to do this year. Skew reality. There is no doubt, not unlike a movie, that you are clearly in no real danger. Nothing truly is going to happen to you. Obviously thousands of people are going through this thing a year, so the producers aren't daft enough to kill a member in every group to prove that anything goes. But how does one make a patron feel that way anyway? Unlike a film, something live and immediate and has lots of possibilities. A lot could happen, the trick is for me to make you feel like what is happening to you quite possibly could be the first time it is. And that is something neither my haunted house nor any haunted house i have ever been to has been successful at doing. But I think this year is different.

By creating this realistic scenario of you visiting a museum, you will naturally be unsettled by the possibilities. It is not about looking around each corner trying to pinpoint the spot where someone is going to jump at you. I am playing with your expectations the entire time. This year the house you are going through will have a story. We know the story, you don't. You are a character in that story, so we are playing with things that haunted houses rarely do, which is empathy turned into reality. You will feel like you are seeing things happen, but then you realize you are crucial to the next thing happening. I have made it so that the story really does play out differently depending on what you do next. We are also going to toe-the-line between what is real and what isn't. There are going to be some truly un-haunted house like moments that you won't know if they are happening in reality or not! But perhaps i have said too much. But i don't think so. You have no idea what I am talking.

But you will love it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Goth Kid Scare-A-Friend

This year all the good things about Nightmare are staying, and all of the bad things are leaving and being replaced by good things! Our marketing campaign that we are rolling out is reflecting these changes. This year is about being disturbing, weird, unsettling, psychological, thoughtful and truly haunting. This isn't just about hiding behind doors and jumping out at you, but really getting in your head and staying there. This new scare-a-friend video is a continuation of this thought process. This ain't "boo" scary, but it is certainly unsettling. The house will make you feel like this, but more, because you are in it, you will live it. I can't wait to hear what you think.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Blood: The Biggest Sucker Episodes 10

As a season winding down is wont to do, things are really starting to heat up around here. I almost don't want it to because that means no more True Blood for awhile and i need my fix. But at least we get Dexter in a couple of weeks, and I love that show just as much. And then there is Vampire Diaries on network TV. Yeah, no.

So now onto who was the biggest sucker for week 10. This one is actually a little tougher because all of the major characters have brought their A-Games so they are not acting so stupidly. And it is also tough because the entire town of Bon Temps is possessed by Maryann, and i picked them last week, so despite acting like a band of buffoons, I can't pick them again. So it really only gives me the lead characters to choose from, and the dumbest one of that bunch is always Jason, so...

Was it Jason Stackhouse? He now seems to think he is some sort of superhero just because he was able to shoot Steve Newell in the face with a paint ball, and the vampires seem to like him a'ight. So much so that when the Dallas travelers arrived back into town and saw the havoc that had been wrought, and the fact that everyone had turned into a black-eyed zombie the first thing he thought to do was load up on some nail guns and kick some ass. He would be the biggest sucker if he wasn't actually successful. He did end up saving Sam Merlotte and executing his plan. So although he went in like a bat out of hell, and probably should have had it handed to him, he didn't, so i guess he wasn't such a big sucker after all.

Was it Tara who after being saved from possession by Bill and Sookie the first thing she says is, "we've gotta go save Eggs!" No you don't. Why would that be a good idea? And speaking of which, does anyone else believe that Lafayette could beat up Eggs? Because he did in week 9 and i never addressed that. I'll admit, Lafayette works out and probably can handle himself, but Eggs is enormous. He actually looks like there is something wrong with him he is so big. as if his torso is actually a giant goiter. and he is like 6'6". So, can Lafayette beat his ass? no. But ultimately Tara is not the biggest sucker this week because the episode ended there. so if it happens it will happen next week.

I don't even need to pose who was the biggest sucker as a question. Anyone who watched the show knows the answer to this. You cringed when it happened. It is undoubtedly Sam Merlotte who fell for the cheapest horror genre trick there is (this side of falling down in the woods) - a bad guy (in this case the possessed waitress Arlene) acting like a god guy in distress so that the hero comes and helps and then the bad gets 'em. Classic. Sam was suspicious at first, but in the true nature of this column which diagrams how even in the most sophisticated entries into the genre (which i think True Blood is), horror requires people to make really dumb decisions in order to progress the storyline, so he went anyway. He had to. He wouldn't have got caught any other way. Sure, maybe it is easy for us to say that he was a sucker because we could see the fact that the filmmakers were hiding her eyes from us, and the character on the other end of the phone didn't know that. But he knew, he did, and he went anyway. And then he got caught. And then Jason acted like a god and was successful (i am sure that will go to his head) and saved him.

I don't know if this world can handle anymore suckers these last two episodes, but let's watch and find out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Improvements in Nightmare This Year Pt. II

A few postings ago I discussed that there were three areas i always strive to improve every year in the haunted house. The last posting i discussed how i was going to improve the LENGTH of time it took to walk through (making it longer that is) and now...

MAKING THE DESIGN LOOK AS AMAZING AS THE MONEY WE SPEND ON IT: The Amazing duo of Justin and Aaron Haskell over at BAD (Brooklyn Art Department) are the art directors of the house. At times i hamstring them with big ideas that are impossible to achieve with the budget we give them. It is not that we don't put a lot into the props and art - we do. A LOT - but sometimes it is absorbed by the hefty costs of things that don't really get the bang for the buck that it deserves. For instance there were three items in the house last year alone that costs over $20,000 - the rocking bridge, the isolating turnstile, and the giant head that came swooping down on you at the end. Out of those, only the turnstile that isolated some people outside of the house only to be attacked by a dedicated scarer - for those of you who were that person out of every group...sorry (tee-hee) - had any real impact. The other things were nice, but the money would have been better spent on extra actors or more detail in the rooms. And that's how i thought about it this year. DETAILS and ACTORS. But in terms of this column, this thing is going to be loaded with details. We are getting very precise with the museum feel of this thing (The MoVa as we call it - the musuem of vampyric artifacts). There will be "artifacts" and "antiquities" and statues, and busts, memorabilia, and novelties, and signs and placards, and "security guards", and case lines, and red velvet ropes protecting the "exhibits", and on and on.

In fact, it is going to be so incredibly detailed that instead of wasting all of these little touches because you are running away from the things attacking this "museum" we are going to open up the venue during the day for $5 for people to roam around and really look around without the fear of things trying to scare you. Even if you don't visit off-hours i believe the verisimilitude of the house will amke you feel totally transported into another world. A world where the things that happen to you inside this house could really happen. There is nothing haunted house cheesy about it. It bis not like i am just going to have a ton of typical haunted house props. This is wholly original. You will feel like you are really there, and hence the fear will feel really real as well.

So instead of large set pieces that have very little pay-off (the other large set piece we have had in the past that really works was that spinning vortex tunnel. that thing was awesome. that unit is currently in Miami at the house down there. But we are going to bring it back for next year), we have focused on details, and thoroughness in design. It will be beautiful...and scary as sh*t!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

True Blood: The Biggest Sucker Episodes 8 and 9

I gotta be honest, although the last two episodes of True Blood have quite possibly been two of the best shows in its two season existence, I am now loading in my haunted house Nightmare so i don't really have time to write full analysis of who the biggest suckers were in those episodes. So no teaser suckers, just the suckers:

Episode 8: Reverend Newlin. Cuckolded and unsupported by his followers when the vampires came for blood, he is a true foo' and our biggest sucker. Where's your god now, SUCKA!

Episode 9: The town folks who partake in Maryann's orgies that make them black out and wake up in pain and in precarious positions. Out of all of them, is there seriously not one of them that thinks somethings up? I guess not, and they are going down clown. Sucka punks.

sorry, that's all i gots. I will spend more time on the final, exciting, three episodes.

Joshua Hoffine Designs Elizabeth Bathory Room

One thing I am doing that is completely different this year is that i am utilizing the creative genius of several independent emerging visual artists to design several of the rooms in the house. One artists I am very excited about working with is the notable horror photographer Joshua Hoffine out of Kansas City. I have actually commissioned him to create and photograph the room already for me to use in the "Girls" gallery of my horror/haunted house website Haunternet.

I have included here that image. It is a small teaser. This is what the room in the house will look like as well. It is a cheeky version of reenactment of Elizabeth Bathory. It is stunning and breathtaking and some other adjectives that describe paralysis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Improvements in Nightmare This Year

Every year i take all the notes that were given to me throughout the run and I try and improve the house. There are several areas that i feel we can always improve upon. I listen to the patrons as well as myself and i constantly try and raise the bar not just against my own expectations, but also against other haunted houses throughout the world. Some of these are general haunted house conundrums, but i am striving to figure it all out to someday create the perfect haunted house! I think Nightmare: Vampires could potentially reinvent what a haunted house can be. so in my next three blog postings i am going to break down the three things i focused on when conceptualizing this years house: length of tour, making the design look as amazing as the money we spend on it, and creating wholly unique and realistic ways to scare people that go well beyond boogiemen hiding behind walls and then jumping out at you. Today I will address one of them.

LENGTH: One complaint we always get, and as i read up on criticisms from other haunted houses elsewhere so do they, is how long it takes to go through. Unless you are in a football stadium, length of the tour is always an issue. People pay good money and they want it to last forever. I understand this. I, too, get disappointed when i am enjoying a decent haunted house and then it is over in like 10 minutes. I understand the want for this, but you have nooooo idea how hard it is to actually accomplish. The roadblocks to creating a truly long haunted house are the following:

space. If you are going to have people keep on moving, especially on truly busy days, there is just not enough square footage in 99% of venues to keep you walking in circles for much longer than 15 minutes.

Second, size of groups. often what happens in a haunted house is that groups catch up to one another because the event that happened in one room didn't have enough time to reset and do it for another group so the group that has caught up with the one in front of them doesn't get to see anything and thus the house becomes a much shorter experience. they end up walking through rooms with no event. this is especially true on really busy nights when the intervals between groups grow shorter and shorter in order to get everyone in.

Third, actors getting tired and pushing groups through instead of performing their bits. I am not impugning my actors when i say this. My actors are brilliant, and we have some amazing performers, but i understand it is a hard job to do something over and over again and sometimes it is tough to keep it up every 4 minutes. i get that, but the patrons don't, nor should they, so i have to figure out away to transcend that. in fact, i had to figure out a way to transcend it all if i want to improve this house and make it longer!

So how am i gonna do it? well, for starters we actually have more square footage. we have changed venues for the first time in 6 years and it is considerably larger. we have taken over two floors of an old crunch gym, and this alone will make the house larger and thus longer to literally walk-through. secondly, because the house is larger i can make the rooms much larger; large enough to fit more people into if it came to that. so instead of speeding up the intervals between groups we can make the groups slightly larger instead and it have little to no impact on the experience. finally, because we are not jamming patrons down our actors throats at a sound-breaking speed, they will not be as inclined to phone any groups in. Every night should feel like a a regular night and thus preserve their energy to scare the crap out of you. No pushing people though.

That is how i plan on addressing the length of the house. Next I will address the elevated design.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Official, Nightmare Is Moving!

We are announcing this for the first time today. Nightmare is moving after 5 years at its most recent home in the lower east side. It has been an amazing run. I love the neighborhood and i wish we could have stayed, but our venue there was no longer an option for many reasons, so we had to move. And we are very lucky for it. Our new venue is located at 623 Broadway. The entrance is on Mercer and Houston. It is right next door to the Angelica Film Center, and right across the street from the NYU Recreation Center. Could you ask for a better location! It is an old Crunch Gym, and it is nearly twice as big (hence the haunted house itself will be much bigger - and longer, yahoo!) I couldn't be more excited about embarking on this new adventure with this year's addition - Nightmare: Vampires, our most ambitious house (by far) to date. We are addressing all concerns from past years with this house (bigger, LONGER, more actors, etc). this house is taking all of that into consideration and is doing something about it! It is also going to be the most immersive; truly theatrical this year with a cohesive plot, through-line, repeating characters and you, the most important character of them all. You are going to love what we have in store, and you are going to love the new venue. I am giddy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

True Blood: The Biggest Sucker Episodes 6 & 7

So apparently I'm destined to continually fall behind on these postings. Instead of writing two back to back, i am just going to wrap up the last two weeks' episodes in one posting. But man almighty, what a great pair of episodes. Cheese Wiz this show is good. I couldn't be more pleased with the current plot lines and the direction it is going towards its "exciting conclusion." Now if i can only get the show to be a sponsor of my haunted house (it is about vampires for christ's sake! and they have a new drink hitting the market around the same time that we open! but anyway...):

Episode 6: "Hard-Hearted Hannah".

this episode was one of those episodes where all the potential suckers from the previous weeks all had what was coming to them. I sincerely don't know if i could pinpoint who the biggest sucker was because the whole TB universe was designed to be chumped. but I'll give it a shot. but it may result in a tie. I'm gonna start writing and I'll see what happens.

Was it Sam Merlotte who finally, after 5 agonizing weeks of staving off the inevitable, got what we all knew was going to happen which was Daphne turning on him and selling him down the river to Maryann. And man was she mean about it. She wasn't even like, "I don't want to do this Sam, it pains me to hurt you, but she's gotta me by the horns and I can't seem to shake her so i have got to do it" No, she was more like, "You a bitch Sam Merlotte, I punk'd you like you were Ashton Kucher's nutsack," when only moments before that she was telling him how he was the love of her life. ouch. How on earth is this guy ever gonna trust another woman again? Thank god he is a fictional character. But was he the biggest sucker? maybe.

Was it Sookie who all season has been told that this mission of infiltrating the Light of Day Institute was going to be dangerous and end badly? Bill begged her not to do it, yet she did it anyway. We all saw coming to the point where she was last week's biggest sucker because of it. She got got, locked up and sold down the river. Her naiveté, or perhaps her arrogance, clouded her judgment and now she is in a cage with that other human stiff who is also dating a vampire. maybe, maybe, maybe.

Was it Jason who finally went through with sleeping with the preacher's the g-d church for crying out loud!? He was certainly a sucker for her wiles (read: hot bod) and could not control himself. But he is simple folk, the kind of salt-of-the-earth type who thinks with his wiener because he's a man goddammit and that's what men do. And while she was sucking so was he. But was he the biggest sucker? oooooh, maybe.

Was it Bill who never saw that Eric actually had designs on Sookie (whether romantic or otherwise is still unclear) this whole time and never saw it coming? Eric the Blond dialed up Bill's maker to put him on lockdown and keep Sookie all to himself. We'll see what happens there. But Bill had to be curious why Eric would go out of his way to tolerate her insolence this whole time, and now the truth comes to light that it might be because he wants to put his stake inside of her. maybe it was him. it would be the first time for Bill. he is such a cool customer. But it isn't.

it's Sam again. sorry sucka.

Episode 7: "Release Me"

Now the heat really turned up. I truly loved this episode. it was intense and action-packed and is definitely setting up the final episodes beautifully. The only thing that will piss me off is if this "show-down" they have been promising for weeks doesn't happen until the final episode. They gotta get to this now, no more mister nice guy. At this point it would just be stalling. But as we all know, Suckers make this world go round, so let's get to it. Who was the biggest sucker for Week 7:

Was it Sheriff Bud Dearborne? what? that's the first time his name has been mentioned isn't it? And he didn't do anything particularly stupid, but he does suffer from Scully. This is the disease derived from the X-Files' Agent Scully played by Gillian Anderson. The properties of this sickness is that no matter how acclimated you are to all the weirdness the world has to offer, you still don't believe anything out-of-the-ordinary and treat people like they are crazy when they proffer a theory that is remotely supernatural. In Scully's case the she was abducted by aliens, had sex with them, shared a smoothie with a few, and would still never believe that there were aliens. or anything odd for that matter. Here, Andy Bellefleur came to Dearborne reporting that something tantamount to a zombie trance orgy party happened at Sookie's house vis-a-vis Maryann. That doesn't even have to be supernatural per se, but Dearborne told him he was crazy anyway. This is in a world were vampires are an accepted part of life. Wouldn't you say, "hey, nothing is crazier than vampires walking amongst us, so anything is possible?" but he doesn't. He accuses Bellefleur of being drunk and that was that. It is so strange to me in storytelling when people are incredulous despite aby reason to be incredulous. What could be so far-fetched about zombie orgy trance? that's is only going to lead to his ruination, but since he is a newcomer, I wouldn't say he was the biggest sucker.

Was it that guy Hugo who went to the Fellowship with Sookie as the other human dating a vampire, only to turn out to be the traitor, and then learn that the people he was selling his secrets to turned on him and could give two cents about his survival? Now he is hated by the vampires and the humans. To trust that betraying the vampires was a good idea, and to trust jesus freaks for anything makes him an enormous sucker. He would be the biggest sucker hands down any other week, but this week, there is an even bigger one...

Daphne (and i know i have only posed 3 possibilities, but jesus, i gotta go). She takes the cake. after her monologue about how Maryann is god and/ or the devil and is supreme and beautiful and all-powerful, blah, blah et al etc., Maryann then kills her for her. oopsie boops. no take backs. Sucker.

Monster Link Madness

That sonofabitch Mark Blankenship over at The Critical Condition continues to write his True Blood confessional with his very own "Sucker Punch" column. Goddamnit why does he have to be so damn witty and clever?

My man Joshua Hoffine (who has designed a room in my upcoming haunted house, and has created an exclusive photo just for me!), is selling the photo that made him famous for a very, very good price.

Bloody-Disgusting announces that James Wan (you know, that "Saw" guy...and "Dead Silence" which i was actually fairly creeped out by), will be directing a big screen version of Castlevania, the Nintendo game. I mention it because it is about vampires, and Castlevania is featured in my upcoming haunted house.

From the website that refuses to give my haunted house any love, Fearnet, has a good story analyzing the veracity of several big-name "based on true events" horror movies.

IGN has exclusive interviews with several members of my favorite network tv show "Lost". I have a love/hate relationship with this show. it drives me nuts.