Blackout House — an "extreme," theatrical haunted house produced each Halloween season in New York and Los Angeles — has made a name for itself, both for pioneering the solo walk-through experience and for shifting popular notions of what it means to be "haunted." Blackout's creators play on predominantly psychological fears, and the results, for some, are intense; reviews have called it "more torture chamber than scare-fest," "horrific, painful, abusive," and a "psychosexual terror extravaganza."
BuzzFeed was invited to Blackout House's opening night early this October. This year, it's dropped the solo walk-through in favor of experimenting with group dynamics. Its website promises, cryptically, "you will not walk through alone."
What follows is our experience, with moderate spoilers. (That said, in our opinion, it's an experience you can't really "spoil" — it's one thing to read about it, and another to do it yourself.)
Arianna Rebolini: Well I think it's fair to say that the "lead-up" began the day before, when we decided to investigate what we were actually walking into. Personally, I said yes (as someone who's never been in a proper haunted house) because I like scary things in general, but once we started reading Yelp reviews and seeing the words "psychosexual" and "girl who pretends to shit in your hands" thrown around I was a little…reluctant.
Katie Heaney: Our conversations, out of context, started to sound like the paranoid, imaginary negotiations of crazy people. I was like, "I can deal with it if someone throws up on my back. But what I really don't want to do is dance with a naked man." We spent that whole afternoon (and the next) kind of cycling between reassuring ourselves, reading Yelp reviews, and freaking out all over again. At one point I emailed the PR contact and was like, "Just making sure, are we gonna get groped?" He said no, and I was relieved for about a minute.
AR: I would be lying if I said I wasn't soooort of hoping for a subway delay that would make us miss our reservation.
KH: I think on the subway over you kind of spiraled and I was overcome with that weird sort of pre-inevitable danger calm. When we got there there were just a few people in line — other press and some friends of people working in the house — but from what I understand, when it's open to the public, the line gets CRAZY. But we were ushered in quickly, and made to stand against a wall next to three other people, who'd make up the rest of our group.
The awkward thing was that I immediately got a crush on the guy next to me, who seemed maybe drunk? And we were getting called up one by one to fill out our waivers and then go downstairs, but while I waited I was, like, chatting with this cute boy about how we were so scared. But I wasn't really scared. I was excited. When it was my turn I filled out my waiver (which I did not read) and asked the male guard if you would be staying with me. He was being "mean" so he just glared at me, which made me laugh. I was like, "OK." They made me put on a surgical mask and I went downstairs and waited for you.
AR: Waiting in that line, overcome with panic that they were splitting us up, and then skimming the waiver (which warned about physical contact, exposure to water, and CRAWLING) was probably the height of my fear, to be honest. My mind is capable of imagining TRULY horrific and unlikely scenarios, including being accidentally murdered in a Halloween attraction. Actually, I was so shaken that I handed the waiver in without signing, and then had to ask for it back with a million apologies because I'd already accepted the fake reality that this woman was, like, a corrupt prison guard and could punish me.
The Blackout House
KH: So at the bottom of the stairs this big guy (who also flashed a light in my eyes) was like, "Line up against the wall. Don't move, don't talk." And I was like, "he hee." I saw the rest of our group and stood against the wall and looked over at the cute guy. There was a bunch of dry ice being pumped in, and a guy I could see across the low-ceilinged room who was like…rubbing these three huge marble balls, and pressing his face to them? It's hard to explain but it was weird.
AR: I did *not* notice the marble rubbing, but I'm guessing that was the same guy who, after we were all lined up, appeared through the mist and just sort of stood menacingly in front of me. And part of me was like, "Yes! Creepy!" but part of me was also like, "Are you a hunk?" I think he was kind of a hunk. The first section was a lot of following directions which I liked because the tall guy did something wrong and then the hunk kept whistling at him to fix it, but wouldn't explain what was wrong. I felt that we, as a group, were already struggling. It was fun in a childish, "We're making them MAAAAD!" kind of way.
KH: Definitely. Then we went through the obligatory "Does anyone have epilepsy, definitely tell us if you have epilepsy" prescreening procedure (in a pitch-black room), given a safety word, and told that one person could use the safety word and be taken out alone, but if two people used it, we'd all be taken out. Which I thought was really cool. They were like, "You're a group. You have to stick together." This haunted house really encouraged loyalty and I appreciated that. Then he counted down from three, and we had to quickly climb over this couch thing, under this heavy curtain, and then follow the white line. I kind of kept clasping the bra strap of the girl in front of me, whom I did not know. I was like, "I'm sorry but I can't see," and she was like, "I understand." We made the guy go first the whole time, which is sexist. But he was so tall, and it was dark, and who cares. You can't worry that much about feminism in a haunted house, I think.
AR: I got grabbed pretty early on, and then screamed, and then laughed. The first real tableau was a white room with a projected video and two blood-covered dudes hunched over, banging their heads against a locked door. As soon as they stood up, dropped mysterious objects (which we would discover were keys for the locks), and staggered over to us, I was like, "This is it, these are the naked guys, it's all happening!" But then I kind of forgot about them when we realized we had to find the keys to open the door, which I want to say took longer than it probably should have. I don't think our group would have survived had this been a real torture scenario.
KH: I was glad I went in expecting nudity because boy did we get it. I liked the teamwork aspect of this room; we all kind of scattered around looking for keys, and running up to the door to unlock one of the five padlocks, and then realizing one of the naked boys was crawling up to you and having to scamper away. I got my bolt unlocked at some point and was standing there trying to take the key out, and also kind of looking for the fifth key, which we COULD NOT find. I felt like even the bloody boys were trying to help us. They were turning over crates and stuff. Even though they were naked and one grabbed me and got blood on my jacket, I mostly felt bad for them. I was like, "They seem like they have an unhappy home life." Eventually I think we got the last lock open with their direct assistance. That might have been an opening night kinks thing.
AR: Yeah, I feel like those dudes were definitely creepy, but also on our side? Which seemed to be a running theme, like ragged-looking people throughout asking us to help them, and it's like, "Wait, are you in peril or are you trying to TRAP us?" (The house was most effective, I think, when you really committed to the story.) But anyway, we got through the door, and made the poor tall guy lead again, and then were pulled into a red-lit bathroom by a woman with dirty hair who made us wash our hands.
KH: She sniffed us and was like, "Ugh," which I have to say is a bit hypocritical for someone who proceeded to pretend to pee on one of us. Thankfully not either of us! (I didn't want to get my hair wet; I was being prissy.) We were split up and put in separate stalls — you with the fifth girl, and me with the boy I had a crush on, which was so exciting. I was like, "What if she makes us make out???" Instead we just kind of watched over the door as the woman "peed" on one of our compatriots by blindfolding her and pouring water on her head. Then we were let out and sent on our way. I think after that is when I finally was singled out — a woman in the hall grabbed my arms and kept saying, "You have to stay! You have to stay!" I yelled, "No! We have to stick together!" and I think she maybe laughed? But I couldn't tell. I was very determined not to be left behind. I have to say it would have been nice if you'd tried a little harder to save me.
AR: In my defense, I did shout, "Katie! We lost Katie!" into the darkness, but whatever. After the bathroom, we walked up some stairs into a hallway where we faced a room in which a woman was on the floor doing something which I assumed was furious masturbation but may have been hysterical dancing. IDK! It was dark! It wasn't apparent where we were supposed to go from here, so one girl on our team opened a door at the end of the hallway, and we all walked into a well-lit office with monitors on the wall showing real-time scenes from the house. At first I thought, Whoa this is SO EERIE, is this like a Truman Show false-reality thing????? but then someone suggested we were in a room that should've been locked, so we walked out. (They were right, and the room is now locked.) But I guess it shows that the guy was actually the best leader.
KH: Yeah I liked that, it was very, like, Pleasantville. But actually just a real office. So that won't happen to anyone else, which is almost too bad. But we got back on course and after some other hallway hijinks thing, walked into this big kind of lounge-y room where a woman who looked like Bellatrix Lestrange was kind of spacily wandering around and held up a red light. She saw us, and contorted her body so she was bent over with her back to us, like she was pulling something out of herself. And I was like, This is it, this is the part where we have to put a fake tampon in our mouths like we read about. Instead, she produced a few slips of paper, and gave us each one of them. They had little commands, and mine was to give someone a scalp massage. I thought about picking the cute boy but I was too scared so I picked you.
AR: I had to put my finger in someone's mouth — the hand-washing makes more sense now — so thank you for volunteering your mouth, even though you slightly bit me when we both started laughing. I do feel like we're closer now. I felt bad that we were laughing because it seemed rude, but I'M SORRY, I had an out-of-body experience in which I saw my finger in your mouth, your hand massaging my head, and a guy on his knees shouting "Fuck me! Fuck me!" and it was too much. He wasn't saying it sexually, it was in like a "Dammit, there goes my train" kind of way. But a girl in our group sang "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which was truly eerie, and I was impressed that she was just directed to sing any song and had chosen, IMO, one of the scariest.
KH: I'm sorry for biting you. It was just such a weird setup. After a minute or two the girl came back and told us to get out, and in the next passage we walked into, a guy made us get on our hands and knees. He shouted at us to keep our heads down, and he pulled our shirts over our heads, which I was not thrilled about. But it felt like we were headed into danger. I was like, "OK, it's about to get serious." But I crawled through a curtain and the next thing I knew I heard a guy say, "It's done, it's over." And I got up and it was actually done. I saw you standing there. And I was like "...What???"
AR: I take back the thing I said earlier about the anticipation being the scariest part, because getting on the floor and having my jacket pulled over my head was DEFINITELY the scariest. I thought we were going to have to crawl through a tunnel or something and I am incredibly claustrophobic. But then it was over and we were in a lounge having wine and I was trying to process what had even just happened. I was relieved that it was over and I'd survived, but I was also surprised because nothing nearly as gruesome as what we'd heard about had happened! And I'm not saying I wanted to be fake-waterboarded but I did feel like *something* was missing.
KH: I came into the final room kind of in shock over how not-scary I thought it was. I felt like I did something wrong — there was this massive disconnect between what we'd read about and anticipated and what I actually felt, which was kind of a low-level giddiness and amusement. Admittedly, I do not scare easily. I have a tough time buying into things. But I don't think I'm grandstanding. I am jumpy, so I expected to jump. And I never did. It was weird, though. It was fun, I think, and I think it sounds more fun the more time that passes since we did it. I would do it again next year, definitely.
AR: Same, and I would also recommend it to others. More than anything, it was fun, and I think it was really enlightening to hear the producer, John Harper, talking about how they're not going for "traditionally scary" but for disturbing — it just made the whole thing make more sense to me. I mean, if you're looking for monsters jumping out at you (which I think I am?) this might not be your jam. But it's certainly an experience. Just don't wear anything you'd like to keep clean.