Previously: Childhood Traumas.
One of the great joys of the Halloween season is all the haunted houses and other fear-based experiences that pop up during the month of October. If you’re looking for some unusual haunts, though — ones that aren’t just your run-of-the-mill walk-through haunted house (or ride-through haunted hayride, and so on and so forth) — well, there are plenty of those, too… if you’re willing to dig a little deeper.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
Not all of them are what are typically classified as “extreme haunts,” either — the ones that might push you around, strap you down, and make you perform actions that don’t necessarily sound like a fun time. Some of them are, of course; others, though, are a little subtler. Or they’re in a different format — not a “haunted house” at all, but something else entirely. They’re all interactive, so expect to get your hands dirty, literally and figuratively.
They’re none of them for the faint of heart. Again, sometimes that means blood and guts and awfulness. Sometimes, though, it means something more… emotional. Or intellectual. Or both. Whatever the case, though, it’s always visceral.
Make sure you’re ready before you proceed. The path is long, and dark, and deep.
This Is Real
Available in: New York
The premise of This Is Real is simple: You’ve been kidnapped; you need to escape. But it’s not a haunted house; it’s not exactly an escape room; and it’s not exactly theatre. It’s all that, and more — with the goal being to create an experience that is, as the name implies, real.
If you were a fan of Nightmare NYC, you’ll likely want to check This Is Real out; it’s another production of Timothy Haskell and Psycho Clan. What I always liked about Nightmare NYC was that it was created and run by theatre people — which means that it was more about storytelling than a lot of haunts tend to be. It’s also possible that I’m slightly biased, given that I am a theatre person myself; still, though, I think the point is important. Every year, there was a brand-new theme and a brand-new haunt, all of which was aimed at telling really terrifying interactive stories, rather than just grossing patrons out with buckets of gore (although there certainly was blood, particularly when the themes were things like serial killers or vampires). This Is Real takes this philosophy a step further, making you, the audience, the protagonist of the unfolding narrative.
Trapped In A Room With A Zombie
Available in: Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, New York, and a whole lot more
Trapped In A Room With A Zombie is a little more lighthearted than a lot of the other options on this list; however, it still has an edge of danger to it: You are, in fact, trapped in a room with a zombie (or at least, an actor playing one) during the experience. It’s a fairly standard escape room… except that every five minutes, a buzzer sounds, indicating that the chain holding the zombie to the wall is being let out exactly one foot more. The idea is to solve the puzzles and escape before either the time limit is up, or before the zombie — with its increasingly wide reach — gets you.
Available in: New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco
Blackout is the first extreme haunted house (or “house,” as the case may be) I remember hearing about; I was still living in New York when it debuted in 2009, and I kept seeing casting calls for it on Playbill’s job boards and thinking, “Huh. That sounds… interesting.” In the years since, Blackout has expanded to a variety of other U.S. cities; additionally, in San Francisco, an extreme escape room produced by the folks behind Blackout took up residence at the Armory. If you choose to go through Blackout, you will be touched (in many cases, roughly), you will be yelled at, and you will be required to do extremely unpleasant things. Also, you must go through it alone.
Admittedly I’m not totally sure what the status of this one is this year — I haven’t seen any dates anywhere, so it might not be running at present — but I’ll keep my ear to the ground.
Available in: Nashville, Huntsville
McKamey Manor began as a home haunt in San Diego, where it gained a reputation over the course of a decade or so for being the most extreme experience you’ll ever have. Now located in Nashville, Tenn. and Huntsville, Ala., it’s gone so far beyond where it started that I’m not even sure it counts as entertainment anymore — or at least, it will only be entertaining for a very, very select few.
Apparently no one has ever made it through the entire ordeal — which, by the by, might last for more than 10 hours.
There are a lot of warnings noted on the McKamey Manor website which should definitely be heeded, so if you’re intrigued by this one, you’d better make damn sure you’re both willing and able to deal with everything this experience entails before you agree to participate.
Also, there is no safe word.
Available in: LA
Like the various works by Psycho Clan, Creep LA’s creator, Justin Fix, has a showbiz background; as such, each of Creep’s creations are story-driven, rather than charged by shock value. As Fix said to LAist in 2016, “We think of ourselves as a hybrid of stage-meets-film and gaming-meets haunts, like choose-your-own-adventure for adults. We want our guests to explore and discover things both as a group and individually. Instead of jump scares over and over, we like to focus on internal darkness and what scares people from within.” Unlike traditional haunts that typically have people in and out in about 30 minutes, max, Creep LA takes around an hour to an hour and a half to complete.
Last year’s story followed a (fictional) artist, Erybus Burwick, and a cult that had an unhealthy obsession with him; then, this past spring, The Willows offered a unique twist on whodunnit dinner theatre. I was delighted to discover earlier this fall that the theme for the 2017 Halloween season haunt is inspired by the podcast, upcoming Amazon Prime series, and book Lore.
The Escape Rooms at Laurel’s House Of Horror
Available in: Laurel, Md. (between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)
Looking for something a little more serious than Trapped In A Room With A Zombie? Good news: A huge number of traditional high-octane haunts have started including horror-themed escape rooms in their offerings. Laurel’s House Of Horrors is one such haunt; you’ve got your pick of four rooms, some of which include live actors to give the experience an extra boost of fear. You won’t be touched — unless noted in the room’s description. So, read carefully.
Not in the DC or Baltimore area? There are plenty of options spread out all over the country, ranging from The Basement in LA (not to be confused with ScareHouse’s The Basement, which we’ll talk about in just a few minutes) to House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs’ Locked-Up Escape Rooms in Buffalo.
Then She Fell
Available in: New York
Even if you don’t live anywhere near New York, you’ve probably heard by now about Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s landmark interactive production inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. You may not, however, have heard of Then She Fell — but although it’s flown a little more under the radar, it’s definitely worth paying attention to. While not produced by Punch Drunk (rather, it’s a creation of Third Rail Projects, which also mounted the Steampunk Haunted House in New York from 2009 to 2011), it’s a similar type of walk-through, immersive theatre experience; the name of the game is Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland, and it’ll take you on a journey through a crumbling hospital built in an old church.
Worth noting: Then She Fell is not a haunt. It is, however, eerie and beautiful and creepy and sad. If you like slow-creeping dread, this one is for you.
Available in: San Francisco, Tulsa, Basel (Switzerland), Doncaster (UK), others
Heretic is pretty adamant that its works are not Halloween attractions; they’re about pure, unadulterated horror. They’re different in each location, and they’re in the vein of Blackout and McKamey Manor — that is, you’ll have to sign a waiver, you might even have to apply for access (which means you can be rejected), and you should be prepared for the most extreme of the extreme, including a ton of physical contact and psychological distress.
Honestly, I can’t tell you much more than that; information about Heretic’s experiences is kept tightly under wraps. Proceed with caution.
Hunted: Dark Lake
Available in: Australia, New Zealand
While I wouldn’t necessarily classify Then She Fell as horror theatre, per se, Hunted: Dark Lake most definitely is. Here’s the blurb from the website:
Nobody quite knows what’s wrong with Dark Lake. Inexplicable things happen there. People go missing. People go there after dark, then come out… strange. Changed, somehow. People see things, they hear voices… No one knows what’s causing the pervasive air of menace around this place. Rumours of hauntings and unquiet spirits abound.
… After entering a darkened waterside at night, participants find themselves unexpectedly invited to a little girl’s birthday party. But as they try to find their way to the celebration, they soon discover that no party in this dark and threatening place can be anything other than a nightmare…
Also, you won’t find out the precise location at which the experience will occur until you’ve bought your tickets. Fun!
The show is currently on tour in Australia and New Zealand, making a number of stops between now and January; head to the website to see where it will be when.
ScareHouse: The Basement
Available in: Etna, Pa. (near Pittsburgh)
At ScareHouse near Pittsburgh, there’s an optional experience called The Basement. You’ll need to get a separate ticket to try this one out — but make sure you’re really certain you want to go through with it before you do. ScareHouse has worked with sociologists (notably Dr. Margee Kerr, who wrote the excellent Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear) to pinpoint exactly what works when you’re purposefully trying to scare the pants off of people; indeed, that’s how they designed The Basement. 2017’s theme seems to revolve around a girl named Maggie, who… may not be what she seems.
There’s a safe word (“Bunny”), so there’s always an out if you need it.
The Lust Experience
Available in: LA
In 2016, director Darren Lynn Bousman (best known for his work on the Saw series from the second film onward) and writer Clint Sears unleashed a months-long ARG on Los Angeles that culminated in The Tension Experience, a live, interactive performance that… honestly you probably had to actually go to in order to really understand. (This review might help; same with this interview.)
The Tension Experience was nothing like the Saw franchise.
This year, they’re back with The Lust Experience. We don’t know much about it right now, but if you’ve read about The Tension Experience — or if you actually, y’know, experienced The Tension Experience — it’ll be worth checking out. And probably going back to again and again and again. There’s always more to be uncovered.
Barrett’s Haunted Mansion: Darkness Unleashed
Available in: Abingdon, Mass.
The Darkness Unleashed event of Barrett’s Haunted Mansion is perhaps the most “typical” of the experiences listed here; it’s more along the lines of a traditional haunt. However, there’s one big difference: Your only source of light for the entire thing is a flashlight. Experience it on Oct. 17 and 24 only.
The experiences filed here ended up separated out because they might not have availability for the 2017 Halloween season. Whether it’s because they occur in the off-season, because they’re taking the year off, or because their status is… unclear, however, I still think they’re worth noting; they sound incredibly unique. You might want to keep an eye on these ones for the future.
Alone: An Existential Haunting
Available in: LA…?
Alone’s first season was in 2013. To use an analogy, based on what I’ve read, it might best be understood as a 2h32 kind of experience, as opposed to a Marble Hornets one — that is, it’s more visceral and abstract and less narrative in structure — except, of course, that it’s not a web series; it’s live. Currently, the Alone website looks like a perplexing computer interface; you can find out what you need to do to enter it here, although doing so might not really answer any questions. It might just inspire more of them.
Available in: Various
Alas, you’ll probably have a hard time finding a horror camping experience in October; most of the ones I’ve looked at — The Great Horror Campout, Survive The Night, 13 Hours In Hell, etc. — take place during the summer, or in September at the very latest. It’s worth keeping in mind for 2018, though — because if you’ve ever wanted to see what it’s really like to be in, say, Friday the 13th, these overnight, often multi-day experiences are for you. In them, you’re literally camping in the woods while monsters, serial killers, and other big bads hunt you down. Your only goal is to survive.
Have fun, kids.