Created by Timothy Haskell; Directed by Timothy Haskell and John Harlacher
Produced by Steve Kopelman
Off Off Broadway, Interactive Theatre
The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Weston Clay on 9.30.14
A scene from Nightmare: New York. Photo by Michael Blase.
BOTTOM LINE: A professionally executed spin on the classic Halloween haunted house that explores the spooky lore of New York City.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. Forget the drunken debauchery and slutty maid costumes--what I love about Halloween is the opportunity to focus on the darker sides of life in a way that isn’t actually threatening. I love it all: death, murder, ghosts, zombies, witches, and all the evil things in the world and our imaginations. One of the greatest institutions of Halloween is the haunted house. There’s something thrilling about challenging yourself to face a situation that you know is meant to scare the crap out of you, but that you know won’t actually hurt you. There’s some interesting human psychology there.
For many years, I’ve been curious about the handful of haunted houses that pop up around New York in the fall. Since theatre people usually put on the haunted houses, and New York has the strongest theatre community in the country, it follows logic that we would also have some of the best haunted houses around. When you really think about it, haunted houses are the closest pre-cursor to a show like Sleep No More, where you walk freely through the set and interact with the characters.
The longest running haunted house in New York is Nightmare, currently in it’s eleventh season, and created by veteran haunted house-makers Timothy Haskell and Steve Kopelman. Each year, the Nightmare house follows a different theme and the theme this year is Nightmare: New York, in which they recreate the urban legends and creepy bits from the city’s history.
Before you enter Nightmare, you are debriefed about what you can and cannot do inside, and are then asked if you want the “extra crunchy experience.” If you say yes (I did), a red X is painted on your forehead in fake blood. Then, you are directed through a door with a small group of other people.
The experience is, indeed, pretty scary. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are plenty of people screaming in your face, jumping out at you, and chasing you down dark passageways. Many of our common fears come into play as you wind your way through the series of hallways, rooms, subway cars, alleyways, and other real and created spaces of the haunted house, and scenes meant to scare you play out all around you. (I believe the only difference between my “extra crunchy experience” and that of the rest of my group was that some of the characters touched my face).
If you’re interested in knowing the lore behind these scenes, it seems you’ll have to do some extra work. There is a narrative to Nightmare: New York (or, perhaps more accurately, a series of narratives), but each unfolds rather quickly and out of context, so it’s hard for your uninformed haunted house-goer to have any real idea of the stories on which what you see is based. That said, the Nightmare website’s blog is a good resource to learn about the legends that comprise the Nightmare experience, should you be curious before or after you go through.
It's important to note that the Nightmare experience is scary and not recommended for young children. Also, you will find yourself stepping over things and walking blindly in the dark, so wear appropriate shoes and clothing and be careful.
The one thing I feel is missing from Nightmare: New York is gore. Perhaps because the scenes are based on real New York stories, it seemed to lean more towards psychological rather than physical terror--there are plenty of crazy people ranting in your face, but there aren’t very many bloody scenes or moments when you feel like someone is trying to murder you. Whether the "New York" theme helps or hurts the haunted house is debatable, but I would say that I probably prefer a more classic take on a haunted house, with zombies emerging from graveyard mounds, mummies walking around stiffly, and masked men with chainsaws chasing you into a corner.
Still, if you are looking for a thrill this Halloween season, Nightmare: New York delivers just that.
(Nightmare: New York plays at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street between Rivington and Delancey, through November 1, 2014. Hours vary, see website for schedule. Tickets are $30 online, $35 at the door; $50/$60 for VIP ticketing with front of line access; $20 student rush tickets are available one hour before opening time each night; group prices for groups of 10 or more are also available in advance. Tickets are available at nightmarenyc.com or by calling 347.577.9999. For more info visit nightmarenyc.com.)