For hardcore horror fiends, a typical Halloween haunt is amateur night, like New Year's Eve is for alcoholics. Halloween is when suburban teenagers go to corporate approved "haunted hayrides" and freak out over fake skeletons and "scary" clowns with rubber knives--strictly for squares.
Vortex Production's Blackout Haunted House is the opposite scene. It’s an underground theater event cum torture chamber that brings real terror back to Halloween. Instead of yawning at hoary horror-clichés, customers of Blackout are thrown into a snuff movie and abused and terrified. Blackout strips the props and costumes from horror, and reveals the cruelty at its heart. It’s gritty, visceral and totally unique -- like Hostel in real life, or Guantanamo Bay as entertainment.
Regarded as one of the most extreme haunts in the country, Blackout's victims begin their adventure in a sketchy office building in Downtown L.A. A homemade sign on a black door leads you to a “lobby” lined in industrial black vinyl. White-noise plays at ear-splitting volume as you sign an extensive waiver detailing the graphic, extreme events to come, including sexual content, tight spaces, darkness, strong odors, physical contact and more.
The waiver and accompanying rules (You must be over 18. You must walk through alone. You cannot touch the actors. If you say the “Safe Word” you will be escorted out, but no money will be refunded.) are more than just William Castle-style gimmicks. A large percentage of patrons forfeit their $35-$45 bucks after a few minutes of Blackout. You actually do need to be minimally physically fit to enjoy the house. Your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder probably will be triggered by the sexual and physical ordeals of Blackout – it’s pretty extreme.
After signing away all responsibility for my life, it was my turn to enter the house of terror. I am immediately separated from my friend, issued a paper surgical mask, then led by the hand to a pitch-dark place. My unseen guide leaves me there, alone, in total darkness. Just when I’m starting to regret the entire decision to come here, I see a very faint light. It quickly disappears. Someone brushes by me. Touches my neck. My ear. It's all disconcerting and strange. Suddenly, an unseen person grabs my hand and leads me through the darkness at a full run, yelling at me to “keep up” the whole way. If you’ve never run at full speed in total darkness, I do not recommend it: It’s terrifying and dizzying, and leaves you totally dependent on your guide.
Our destination is a small, fetid “room,” populated by a lunatic eating soup and watching a blurry TV showing surgery being performed. It’s as charming as it sounds. The crazy-lady insists I sit and eat from her metal pot, and then she begins crawling all over me. She removes my shoe while staring at my eyes, and then her friend enters and grabs me by the neck. My shoe and sock are stolen, and I am again thrust into darkness, to blindly stumble down a dark hall, alone, almost missing my crazy, shoe-stealing friends...
Those were the most "mild" parts of Blackout. I really don’t want to give away many more of the haunt's secrets, because I think you should go, and part of the fun is not know what to expect, but in general terms: There will be naked people. There will be fluids. No one is afraid to violate your personal space. Terrible things will happen in the dark. And you will have an experience unlike any other haunted attraction I have ever heard of.
Everything here is designed to force you to give up control, from the waiver and rules to the darkness and the actors’ lack of respect for personal space. Everything in Blackout is designed to make you feel helpless and trapped. Whether you have an exhilarating, cathartically good time as a quasi-victim, or you seriously freak out and start yelling the safe word depends on how comfortable you are putting yourself into the hands of other people, and how much you suspend your disbelief.
It’s easy to remind yourself that a haunted house is fake, even while a naked man is tying your hands behind your back and slipping a plastic bag over your head, so whether you find Blackout “scary” or not will really depends on how seriously you take its S&M-meet-grindhouse feel. Like all horror, you have to believe in it a little bit for it to “work,” but the threat from Blackout’s naked sadists and total blackness are a whole lot easier to swallow (and a whole lot scarier) than a rubber-knifed clown chasing you through a typical Halloween Haunt.
You can get tickets to the Blackout Haunted House in New York City and Los Angeles from Blackout’s website or Facebook page. I suggest you act quickly – this is exactly the kind of insanity that sells out or gets shutdown by the cops.