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.


Frances said...

Scariest moments from my first year (2007) the room full of bloody baby dolls & the chamber with cemetary dirt - the undead scratching at the walls was terrifying. Looking forward to this year!

Crystal said...

Oh wow... between the fact that this years theme is vampires and reading this article... I can't tell you how excited I am to go this year.
I've been going to Nightmare for the past 2 years. Scariest highlights for me: 2007, the room with the flashing lights with manniquins and actors milling around. Best haunted house room EVER, hands down. It was so creepy and the actors managed to seperate my entire group of 8 while traveling through it. It was delightfully terrifying. Last year 2008, highlight for me was going through the turnstyle first. Staring down a dark, empty corridor with no friends around... I seriously felt like I was in a horror movie. I am SO happy you are going to incorporate more interactive elements into the house this year.

Corey Kosak said...

I love reading about the passion and creativity you are pouring into this project. Vampires are hot right now, so it will be interesting to see your unique take on this theme.

I've gone for several years and my personal preferences run toward rooms that tell some kind of eerie little story, even if they are not "scary" per se. So like the previous poster, I loved the room with the strobe lights/mannequins (I called them the "sand people"), as well as the room with the cemetery dirt. Other favorites for me have been when there's an element of humor: there was a room where a person was hanging with her legs chained to the wall, and then a moment later she's scrabbling towards you on the floor while her legs are stretching impossibly long. Another favorite room with humor was the mental patient reaching into the spinning electric fan while the other mental patient flipped the lights on and off. You sort of knew something bad was coming, but not quite *how* it would play out.

Anyway, congrats on your new location and best wishes for another great event this year.