Monday, September 3, 2012

The mind of madness

The Mind of Madness

I believe that most people will understand why Killers makes a great deal of sense for a haunted house. Even think it is a damn good idea. In my last post, I deconstructed the reasons I chose it as a theme as anthropologically relevant. But I do believe the gallery of serial killer art and artifacts will really get people’s dander up. I feel strongly that it shouldn’t.

Our team is not trying to piss you off. We are not trying to create something controversial to sell tickets. We acknowledge it is a controversial subject, but we are trying to create the scariest, most sublime haunted house in the city. This gallery is a perfect companion piece to the main event. And I mean that artistically, not financially.

This is what is on the website about the gallery:

"The lobby waiting area to the haunted house is being converted into a full-scale Serial Killer Gallery. Broken into 8 different parts, the gallery will include art work by Serial Killers, artwork about serial killers, memorabilia, items related to them getting caught and their incarceration, as well as novelties related to our culture’s obsession with these monsters, turning them into celebrities.

Above all else, this showing merely contextualizes the bogeymen you will find inside the house. It is in no way a celebration or a glorification of their acts of violence, but rather provides some psychological insight into what makes these people tick, and why we are so fascinated by them.

The events inside the haunted house are fast and visceral and do not reenact any of the crimes. We treat these killers for what they are – killers. We should be afraid of them. They are terrifying, and will be presented that way. That said, you are likely to be too busy screaming and averting your eyes to get any real understanding of the people you are seeing or their crimes. The Mind of Madness Gallery helps provide that context."

 But I would like to take the opportunity to elaborate even further here. These people are part of our history whether we like it or not. Seeing their work and memorabilia will have an effect on you. When my co-director, John Harlacher, and I went to pick this stuff up from a private collector we both felt ill afterwards. As we pulled out each piece our stomachs churned. These things belonged to, were made by or are about some of the most evil people to have ever graced this planet. At least artistically we knew this stuff evoked the kind of feeling you should rightfully have. It is very disarming, and in many ways is truly the perfect companion piece to a haunted house. And in this case, is contextually tied-in. Just like the History Channel running documentaries about Hitler (by no one’s account a good person, and by all accounts the most loathsome human being of all time) the documentaries themselves have to be well-made enough to keep you tuned in. A good documentary, as Harlacher put it to me, has “an obligation to be engrossing”. No matter what the subject matter. As do we. I think we have curated a thoroughly interesting and appropriately disturbing, and certainly engrossing gallery of all things related to serial killers.

There are some very iconic pieces in this collection. None of them beautiful. I don’t want to give the impression that we are presenting this stuff because we think it is good work. Most of it is awful. But a lot of it you will recognize and it will give you that weird feeling of recognition that one gets when they see a landmark in person that they have seen in movies, or a famous painting in real life after they have seen countless times on postcards. It will mesmerize you in that way. It did me. And I think it is important to recognize that. The Mind of Madness is a companion piece to the haunted house. The way we have put the show together is looking at the whole experience. Someone suggested to me that if I felt weird presenting this perhaps take out the “Novelties” section because that was kind of frivolous. And it is. We have collected trading cards, calendars, aprons, games, etc., that have been inspired by these killers. And I think the exhibit is incomplete without including it. It puts these killers into social context. People have made stupid tzchatskes about them. Fun, frivolous bullshit. I too have created something “fun” with a haunted house. Its kind of Meta in that way. I am commenting on the desensitization of violence and these people who have hurt real people and devastated many lives, by desensitizing violence and these people who have hurt real people and devastated many lives. I am aware of this. I am just as much a social by-product of this level of violence as anyone.

This is why I think it is, not to sound too self-aggrandizing, an important collection. It provides insight into how these people thought, what they considered beautiful, how they saw themselves in the tapestry of our culture, what significance they had not just on the direct lives they affected, but on our culture as a whole. They are part of our history whether we like it or not, and I hope that this exhibit can illuminate or at least provide some new information. And, yes, I hope it creeps the hell out of you. I really, really do. Because if it doesn’t, then we need to worry about you.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Very Creepy Serial Killer Videos

These are two pre-production promotional videos for KILLERS Haunted House. These people will make your skin crawl. They sure do mine. One is the extended version of the other. The extended version truly devastates me:


So I believe Killers is going to be controversial. That much is clear. I say that because of recent comments on this Huffington Post article that was written about us two weeks ago; that, and the fact that I am not an idiot. Heck, after reading some of those comments it made me feel like protesting the event. But, alas, I have to work it. I won’t have time to picket.

 I mention this because that’s not what I want the story to be. One might say, “who would want that to be the story?” and I would say, “Most producers”. Controversy sells, right? What producer wouldn’t want a ton of controversy then? Well, this one right here. I don’t want people going to this because it is controversial. I want people going because it is going to be the most kickass haunted house in NYC (with all due respect to the other haunted houses that say the same thing). But whether after attending you agree with my superlative, that is still why I wanted you to go. And that is what I am striving to achieve. I want this to stand alone on the merits of how good of a haunted house it is. Out of the haunted houses we have done as the Nightmare team, I am confident this will be the most satisfying for those who want to be very, very scared. Sure, I understand for some they will not be able to get past the controversial subject matter. And I know and respect all the counterarguments as to why this is a good idea, but I know I do things for the right reasons, and I believe, with integrity.

So knowing that the controversy around the subject might lead the conversation, why choose this subject when there are so many ripe for a haunted house? This is our 9th season. Every year since I started asking our audience what we should do next and then how should we do it, Serial Killers has been the number one requested theme; by far. I have resisted it until now because I have had my own reservations, and there were other stories I wanted to tell. But now I want to tell this one. Serial Killers are fascinating to me as a cultural phenomenon. I don’t have a mordant affection for them, nor do I follow them and obsess about them like I know too many do. But I do find them to be a significant part of American culture. Anthropologically speaking, it’s relevant to note that here in America serial killers, although not unique, vastly outnumber cases in other countries. We are certainly “NUMBER 1” in serial killers… by an overwhelming margin. China has had like one. Recently. Amongst 2 billion people. And that’s sad, unfortunate, embarrassing and something worth reflecting on. They have become legend. So many are plain mythology. Lizzie Borden, considered an axe-wielding maniac, was acquitted of her crimes. How many people know that? She has become mythological. A folklore. Some might not even think she is based on a real person. But it is important to us that she is painted as a monster. Ed Gein doesn’t even fit the FBI definition of a serial killer, yet is one of the most famous serial killers of all time (three different major motion picture characters are based on him).

We as Americans crave monsters. And when I looked at it that way, monsters are for haunted houses. We are by no means going to celebrate their crimes. There is no didactic dissertation on the events surrounding their murders. I will have no one applaud a killing, celebrate it as fun, or turn these villains into anti-heroes. No sir. They are monsters. Monsters are scary. I have no interest in humanizing them, but I feel they are scary because they are human. They were living and breathing, honest-to-goodness human beings. Just like you and I, except they are nothing like you and I.

America is a country of individualism and excellence. But despite being around for over 300 years, we didn’t have our first serial killer until HH Holmes at the turn of the 20th century. What changed about our country then? I have my theories, but that is a longer, probably more boring essay. But what changed and only grew was not only a culture that created serial killers, but one that sensationalized them as bogeymen. These people are what nightmares are made of more than Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers, yet they seem almost as fictional. But because they aren’t, they are more terrifying. They ARE bogeymen. You are supposed to be afraid of them. They are not sexy or cool. They are awful and despicable. But they have entered our psyches like few can, and because of that, they make the most terrifying monsters in a haunted house.