2011 Haunted House Reviews


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Nightmare: Fairy Tales
107 Suffolk Street
New York, NY

I have attended Tim Haskell’s Nightmare Haunted House for 4 consecutive years. I loved Nightmare: Ghost Stories in 2008, Nightmare: Vampires was a treat for those with sanguivoriphobia in 2009 and last year’s Nightmare: Superstitions struck fear into the hearts of superstitious New Yorkers. Nightmare: Fairy Tales is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. 

“S” and I arrived at 9pm last Thursday for a journey through the depths of fairy tale hell. I wore one of my favorite woot shirts: ‘Revenge of the Damsels’ in honor of the trip. We picked up our VIP tickets at the box office (get half price VIP Tickets HERE) and happily bypassed a rather long line. We were given small cards to fill out. The information requested? Our first name and our biggest fear. Then we were lined up, blindfolded, and led into the darkness with only Rapunzel’s long braided hair to guide us. ‘Fairy Tales’ is spooky interactive performance art. The sets by Paul Smithyman are highly stylized to look like pages of a pop-up book and Candice Thompson’s imaginative costumes add an element of anonymity to familiar characters. It is an unconventional haunted attraction, but one that is theatrically exciting and full of artistic merit.    

After emerging from the fairy tale, a second attraction waits for you upstairs. ‘The Experiment’ is led by a group of scientists who are conducting a study on fear. They claim to be unafilliated with the haunted house below and thank you for participating. What follows is a display of different objects and situations intended to trigger common fears. My group was unable to experience the entire presentation due to technical difficulties caused by a bad mix of liquid and electronics.        

Is it Scary?

The official answer on their website: “Yes. but this year is more theatrical than most. Our goal is to scare you, no question, but this year could also be described as moody, creepy, eerie and twisted. A disturbing experience”

The Raven & Black Cat says: It’s not nearly as scary as previous years. The inhabitants of this twisted storybook will make you jump, but don’t expect a typical haunted house. Prepare yourself to be immersed in creepy performance art.  

Here’s A Tip

When you arrive at the haunt, use your phone to “check-in” on facebook here then show your phone to the box office. They will give you a map to help you find a secret room. Follow @NightmareNYC on twitter for secret words that will get actors to do different things (even give you prizes!).

What I Loved

I love the haunted house as interactive immersion theater concept and I applaud Tim Haskell for taking such a risk this year with Nightmare. His dark fairy tale land is a fun house of sinister characters, eerie atmosphere, and startle scares wrapped tight in a haze of childhood memories.         

What Could Be Better

There were a few behind the scenes/management issues the evening that I attended Nightmare: Fairy Tales. The first being that we had no idea where to go after we exited the Fairy Tale world. We looked around and then were about to leave when someone came up to us and asked if we had gone through the second attraction. When we made it upstairs we were added to a different larger group (I think our original group may have left by mistake.) and we missed the first Q & A portion of ‘The Experiment.’  It was also disappointing that the headphones and video portion wasn’t working. Since we experienced an abridged version in a group of 15, ‘The Experiment’ didn’t pack the punch that it could have.

A Letter to Rumplestiltskin

Dear Rumplestiltskin,

Please be more aware of those around you. You banged into my shoulder when you sat down and it really hurt.  

Thank you,

The Raven & Black Cat

Final Thoughts

Nightmare: Fairy Tales is perfect for those looking for a more artistic style of haunted house that favors theatrics over horror clichés. I would like to point out, however, that the Nightmare: Fairy Tales website does not reflect this change in presentation. It is misleading to advertise Nightmare: Fairy Tales as “New York’s Most Horrifying Haunted House.” It is not the most horrifying, but by reinventing itself every year it is certainly New York’s Most Innovative Haunted House.       

Nightmare: Fairy Tales Runs

September 30th – November 5th

Discount Tickets

Full Price Ticket Prices
General Admission: $35 at the door ($30 in advance)
VIP Ticket: $60
Super VIP Ticket: $100

  • $30 VIP Tickets & $15 Reg. Admission – Click Here!
  • Student Rush: $15-$20 Reg. Admission w/ Student ID at Box Office 1 Hr Before Opening. 
  • For Special Discounts & Promotions Click Here
  • $20 Reg. Admission, $45 VIP Tickets, $75 Super VIP Tickets (for certain dates) use Promo Code: FAIRY1

Age requirements

Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. No children under 10 will be admitted.

Additional Info


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Blood Manor
163 Varick Street
New York, NY

The seventh incarnation of Blood Manor opens tonight at its new Varick Street location. “S” and I had the opportunity to attend a preview on Monday and  it is still serving up the gore induced thrills that earned it the title of ‘New York City’s Premier Haunted Attraction.’ 

Is it Scary?

Let’s cut to the chase. Fear is subjective, but if your idea of the perfect haunted house involves blood, guts, gore, nods to popular horror films, chainsaws, clowns, 3D effects, and disgusting scenes of murder and mayhem then this is your dream come true.

What I Loved

The actors at Blood Manor are always fun to play with, but what really creeped me out was the pig butcher and his room of porcine mayhem. Other highlights include the very cool green tunnel, the dog-like creature (at what looked like a Donner Party Dinner from hell), and what I fondly refer to as the “Put the Lotion in the Basket” Room. Blood Manor does well offering up detailed sets depicting the most gruesome of environments.

What Could Be Better   

I have a confession. I don’t get the appeal of florescent 3D horror effects. The glasses are distracting and so often it feels cheap and kitschy. The one exception was the end of last year’s 3D section where three clowns with chainsaws appeared from the darkness. Please bring back the chainsaw clowns.

In addition, I believe that Blood Manor would be a lot more effective in smaller groups. Those looking for a scarier experience would love having the option to walk-through in pairs even if it meant having to purchase a higher-tier VIP ticket.

WTF Moment

During our tour there was a man who may or may not have been connected to Blood Manor in some way walking through the haunt as part of our group. In a fabulous section consisting of a pitch black twisting path, this gentleman tried to be helpful and instructed us on which way to go— completely ruining what could have been a very scary element to the haunt. Haunted House Etiquette Tip: “S” and I may look like sensitive little blonde girls, but looks can be deceiving. “Helping” when it is neither requested nor required can diminish the other person’s experience.

Final Thoughts

With its biggest competition offering creepy fairy tale-themed performance art this year, those in search of the horror and scares of a traditional haunted house will find what they’re looking for at Blood Manor. 

Blood Manor Runs

October 7th – November 5th

Discount Tickets

(General Admission: $25  Express Entry: $40)

Age requirements

Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Additional Info


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Terror Behind The Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary

2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Phone: (215) 236-3300

Tickets: $20-$30

Terror Behind the Walls is the Disney Land of Haunted Attractions.

Eastern State Penitentiary easily makes it into the top 5 creepiest places I’ve ever been. A rich 180-year history of heart-wrenching anguish, sadistic torture, and cold blooded murder has left its mark on the massive stabilized ruin, which was built in 1829. 

“S” and I arrived in Philadelphia at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. A quick ride aboard the “Ghost Bus” and these two little blonde girls were standing before the epically creepy 30-foot walls of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Terror Behind the Walls is very different from other haunted houses I’ve visited. The walk-through-style haunt is made up of six different attractions: The Gauntlet, Lockdown, The Infirmary, The Experiment in 3D, Night Watch, and Break Out. Each attraction has a theme, but they all employ a high-startle low-gore style of scare.   

The attractions follow one right after the other with a short wait in between. ‘The Gauntlet’ and ‘Break Out’ are essentially glorified outdoor lines leading in and out of the penitentiary. The interior locations house the scariest moments. It turns out that the true terror comes not from behind the walls, but from within them. Eleven acres of abandoned historic prison is nothing to scoff at. I got goose bumps just walking through the crumbling hallways and stairwells of the ‘Lock Down’ section, which also boasts a spectacular room depicting death row.

 Another highlight is ‘The Infirmary’ whose crazed staff elicit screams wielding rusty medical equipment. The production values are very high. Fabulous lighting, props, and make-up effects are all on display, but the location itself outshines anything you can bring into it.

Terror Behind the Walls has the potential to be heart-stoppingly scary, but they sacrifice true terror for a more family-friendly environment. Children under the age of 7 are not permitted, which means that 7-year olds are allowed into this haunted house. My personal recommendation is that it’s appropriate for ages 11 and up. Most of the scares are of the startling kind and easily laughed off.

For those looking for something scarier, they have a Terror Behind the Walls VIP Experience which begins with an hour-long flashlight guided tour of the cell blocks, death row, and the underground isolation cells.

For the ultimate thrill seeker? A contest was held in July to win a night alone in the penitentiary. In a place that creepy all you need is darkness, silence, and isolation to completely lose your mind in fear. 

    Final thoughts: The historic penitentiary alone is worth a trip to Pennsylvania. If I could do it all over again I would start with the daytime tour and then follow it up with the VIP Flashlight Guided Tour of death row. Maybe next year… 

   Additional Information:


The Spring Off-Season Event

***My experience of the Spring Off-Season Event as best as I can remember it due to the terror and disorientation that was experienced.***
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I am a block away from the meeting place for the off-season event and I’m beginning to think that maybe this was a bad idea. I nervously glance down at the clock on my cell phone.

4:26pm. Four more minutes. I type out a message to my fiancé and press send.

4:28pm. I go over the rules in my head:

#1 : Follow instructions.

#2 : Do exactly what you’re told.

#3 : Don’t touch the actors.

#4 : No speaking or screaming.

I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins. I look down again. 4:29pm. I wait 15 seconds and start walking down the street to the meeting point.  I see the man who was barking orders at the beginning of the last Haunted House. He’s wearing a headset and walking straight to me.

He nods and says my name. He leads me to the other side of the street to sign the waiver. “You’re the Raven & Black Cat, right?”

I nod, unsure of when the no talking rule is supposed to start.  I sign the waiver and then I have to repeat the last paragraph of the waiver on video.

(A video waiver?  What have I gotten myself into…)

Then he tosses me a set of keys and says, “Get in the van.”

I turn and for the first time notice a large white cargo van parked on the near side of the street. “Wow….cars this time,” I think to myself, “the expanded waiver makes sense now.”  I approach the back of the van, unlock the door, open it, and climb inside.

There are two men dressed in black sitting along the left side of the van and trying very hard to look very serious. The brown haired man to the left orders me to sit against the opposite side of the van. I sit in the wrong place. He yells, so I move.

Then they both stare at me.

After about a minute of looking around uncomfortably I decide to glare back. At the brown haired guy. The one who yelled at me.

The blond man next to him startles me when he shouts for the keys clenched in my right hand. I toss them over. The driver gets in. The ignition starts and the hum of AM radio static fills the van. A traffic report. The van lurches forward and makes a right. The blond guy tosses me a blindfold and tells me to put it on. I carefully place the black fabric over my eyes and tie it over my long blonde hair.

“Can you see?”

I shake my head no. (I figure it’s a safe assumption that the no talking rule now applies.)
“I don’t believe you,” the man barks. He crawls over and puts a second blindfold on my head. Then the van stops. Doors open and close.  There is shuffling about and then the van starts up again, backs up and drives away.

I clutch the side of the van to avoid sliding across the empty vehicle. As I imagine the consequences of getting sideswiped by a cab, the van screeches to a halt. The driver gets out, walks around to the back, and opens the doors.

“Get Out.”

I climb out of the back of the van and wait for further instruction.

“Follow the sound of my voice.”

I stumble along trying to feel the uneven surface in front of me. There is a step up and a step to the right. Another step to the right. And as I walk straight ahead I feel a door frame brush by my shoulder.

“Stop. <pause>  Now take off your blindfold and turn around.”

I spin around just in time to see a metal security gate close over the bottom of the glass doorway sealing the abandoned building in darkness. A chill runs down my spine.

I look around the dim candlelit room. It’s Gross, Dark, and Creepy.  “Come in,” a sinister voice calls out from the shadows.

I walk around a partition and see another set of men standing side by side in similar black clothing. A circle of candles illuminates the room. In the corner is a long robe on a dress form, dark shoes, and a round white laundry basket.

“Do you see the robe, shoes, and bin?” The man on the left asks.

I nod.

“Now take off all your clothes, put on the robe and shoes, put your clothes in the bin, and then sit in the chair.”

I can feel my eyes widen in horror. Instantly, I am ANGRY. I weigh the pros and cons of walking out punches flying. Safety word be damned. Then I think about how long I waited to get this ticket and how I can’t write about something that I didn’t experience. I justify it by thinking about all the people that have seen me do quick changes in the wings during countless musical theatre performances.

“Now repeat what I just said back to me.”

Now I’m angry again. I thought there was no talking? Do I ignore Rules #1 & 2 or Rule #4?

“Now repeat what I said back to me,” he says with added force.

I repeat the words and the two men turn to face the wall and I perform the fastest quick change of my life.

I lay my purse on top of my clothes and decide the expanded waiver really makes a lot of sense now. As I walk over to the chair, I wonder if everyone is wearing the same robe and if there is a fungus living in the dingy shoes. I sit down and the men return with a bucket. They bathe my arms, shins, neck, and hair in cold dirty water. The men bind my arms together and extinguish the candles. Darkness envelops the room and a bag comes down over my head. Someone leads me away from the chair to another room. My arms lift over my head and attach to a wire above my head. My mystery captor rubs his hands and face against the outside of the cloth bag and then vanishes.

I stand alone in the darkness for a moment. My nose catches the distinctive odor of a permanent marker. Within seconds the felt tip is scribbling on the upper half of my back. I endure it and silently obsess over how to get the marker off. My thoughts are interrupted when a voice orders me to open my mouth.

I open my mouth and latex covered fingers crawl inside my head. They probe the inside of my cheeks while I stand paralyzed in terror.

I am still recovering from the oral cavity search when the bag pulls over my head again and I am ordered to scream. I hold on to tight to Rule #4 and keep my mouth clamped shut.

I am moving again…nearly carried to another room. My arms pull out in front of me. The bonds are gone and a candle is now in my hands. They light the candle, pull the bag from my head, and instruct me to sit in a chair.

The scene before me is lit only by my candlelight. I squint to see the back of a naked woman crouching in front of the wall. She is moaning and completely covered in blood. There is a pile of matter between her legs and a baby cries mechanically in the distance.

I am trying to make sense of what stands before me when the woman turns and looks at me. She is chewing on something and mumbles. She slowly saunters over to wear I sit and punches me in the hand.

The candle extinguishes on impact. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I see she is standing just inches away from me moaning, chewing on a tampon, and clutching her crotch. Her bloody hand reaches to my head and she runs it down my face and neck, stopping occasionally to gurgle and coo.

Then she screams in my face.

The loud outburst is followed by a high pitched request. “Eat,” she squeaks out. Her other hand is now holding a white rubbery substance to my mouth. I shudder and take a bite.

I hold the rubbery bite in my mouth. I refuse to swallow this ‘vagina pasta’ or whatever the hell it is, when suddenly I am lifted from the chair and the disgusting snack falls from my mouth. 

I am placed down in another room where a woman stands in an opening between two walls. She wears jeans and nothing else. The candle she holds illuminates a message written on her stomach. I see my fiancé’s full name. Above it are the words: “I F*cked.”

“Put on your clothes.” She says.

In front of her is the laundry basket filled with my belongings. In a flash, I toss off the robe and start pulling on my clothes. In a panic, I stop. I look in the basket, again. I have no pants. Suddenly, I realize that the girl standing in front of me is wearing my jeans!

She stands frozen in place staring at me smugly. It becomes very clear that if I want my pants back I am going to have to take them back. I lean forward and unbutton my size 2 jeans. As I pry them from the curvy girl’s hips, I pull them down, exposing the lower half of her naked body. Then she screams.

I quickly finish dressing and a blinding light appears.  Through a doorway I see the van. A voice orders me to get in the van. I run over and quickly climb inside. The brown haired man hands me a card and says:

“It’s over. This is your last task. Take this card. Give it to the man in the green truck. Take what he gives you. Make a left on **** street and start eating it.”

I follow the instructions perfectly. I turn onto the street and take the first bite of my red, white, and blue popsicle. I try to wrap my head around what just happened, but I am so pleased that it ended with a frozen treat that I don’t hear someone run up behind me.

Without warning, I am in darkness and a voice screams, “IT’S NEVER OVER!!”

I pull the bag off my head. The patriotic treat is gone.

“What was that about!?” exclaims a man standing nearby.

I shrug my shoulders and keep walking.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I attended the NYC Halloween Haunted House Spring Off-Season Event on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 4:30pm. This was easily the most disturbing theatrical experience I have ever had. Even calling it a “haunted house” feels wrong because it defies all categories of horror themed entertainment.  A Horror Movie Abduction Simulation is the best way that I can describe what the Vortex Theater provides.  I was unprepared for how different this event would be from the haunted house in October.

What I Loved: There were several brilliant moments and details that took my breath away.  Here are a few of my favorites.

  • The van was genius. Just the sight of it instantly gave me goose bumps.
  • The visual of the security gate closing over the glass doorway was both horrifying and cinematic.
  • The location and the candles created the perfect ambiance.
  • The sensory deprivation is always used well and it is truly terrifying.
  • Violating our emergency contact person was both disturbing and hilarious.

Victim Feedback:  I have to admit that I was surprised by how rough the cast was. I assume I was accidentally punched in the hand, but I’m not entirely sure. Also, I’m on the small side and whoever carted me around in the dark used so much unnecessary force that my back was sore for a week.

This haunt was very over the top. All the shock value made me miss the simplicity of the early moments of the October haunted house. Reaching for a handful of rope and getting a handful of warm fingers or being alone in the dark with just white noise and your thoughts were both so effective for building tension. It forced your imagination into overdrive.

Taking my clothes off angered me more than anything else. It didn’t make me feel vulnerable. Instead, it pulled me out of the experience. I was no longer a frightened victim. I was a haunted house patron concerned about cleanliness and safety.

I always think that the scariest moments are when I’m caught off guard and I forget where I am. A brilliant meeting of surprise and imagination. It’s the moment when I think that horrible woman is going to put something disgusting in my mouth, but once she actually does it’s not scary anymore. It loses the power it had just a second ago because what you conjure up in your head is always worse than the reality.

Overall, I enjoyed being a part of such a crazy horror experiment. The formula is still being perfected, but NYC Halloween Haunted House gets a lot right with their new form of horror entertainment.  I look forward to what they’ll have in store this summer and in October.

Read My Reviews of Other Blackout Haunted House Events:

 



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