Monday, October 21, 2013

Blackout Haunted House: Elements 2013 (NYC Review)


[This is just a review of Blackout Elements. A spoiler filled walkthrough will follow after the show's run ends.]

Well if you're reading this fellow jaded viewers, you have probably read all the stuff  I've ever posted about Blackout. There is no doubt that this once upon a time, urban legend of a haunted house, the one where "they touch you" and "they water board you" is now a full fledged powerhouse now running in both NYC and LA and will be unleashed in Chicago in December. The formula is being copied by mega haunted houses all over the country and even Kickstarters are being created to fund what seems to be a poor copy cat. But to experience Blackout, the original waiver signing, full frontal nudity and torturific experience is one that has to be done in NYC, where filth and grime are synonymous with the people. Who are these brave souls who dare go to the haunted house the other haunted houses are afraid of?

What's odd is the people who decide to go. Blackout participants aren't just goths or metalheads, but normals from all over the city who flock to Blackout to experience what the fuss is all about. Abercrombie and Fitch sweater alpha's wait in the lobby with motherfuckin gangsta wannabes. Old grampas walk in with college freshmen. They all come because they're curious and want to try their luck at the most extreme haunted house in America.

I went twice this year. The first during opening night and then last week. In essence, I saw the same show but with notable differences. I also saw an evolution as well as it seems night after night and possibly patron after patron never had the same experience. Because this year, with it's elemental theme which I'll get to later, people get to choose what happens top them (though they can choose, they never know what will happen). It's a simple choice between letters but leads to the fact that if two people went back to back, they'd wouldn't see the same rooms or get the same experience.

So like previous years, everything in October is entirely new from last year. This is the first time Blackout has employed an overarching theme to their haunt. Previous years were completely changed but this was the first time both NYC and LA get the same basic haunt. Located at 164 Eleventh Ave, near Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, the location brought back memories for me of their off season haunt in 2011. I was very familiar with the space but it's been turned into a deviously constructed maze that  Jigsaw's deranged uncle might have created. The lobby is ominous and has that NYC smell of decay. Even the staff  you'll meet immediately will let you know they aren't here to take any of your shit.

What takes place behind the walls is a curious mix of old school Blackout brutality, psychological warfare, sexually charged feargasms and an ending that will have most people scared stiff. But your journey through is an obstacle course through the Captain Planet approved Elements. You'll encounter water, air, earth and fire in some form or the other. Each of these will happen in the company of  archetypes such as enforcers and delicates (it's the best way to describe these variety of characters). There will be moments of lull followed by all out assaults on your senses and sometimes lack thereof. Blackout has a reputation of silently stripping you of your sight, drowning your hearing and making you touch repulsion. This year, they'll earn it again but are more clever in how they do it.

Like previous haunts, Blackout test your limits in being touched . It's not a simple tap on the shoulder but a tad more aggression in the form of being bearhugged and having your face being used as a palette. You'll also  have to trudge through various obstacles, climb and crawl and kneel and experience all sorts of levels of uncomfortableness. It's 30 or so minutes of shock and awe and all sorts of general weirdness designed to indoctrinate you into the world of Blackout. The willing should go in wanting to play their part in the show, obey all the commands and descend into the madness of it all. You've paid to be part of this interactive horror movie, be that final guy or girl so play the fuck along. Milk the haunt for all its worth. Even though it felt a bit ridiculous that's what I did and it amplified my victim-hood.

Both times I went, I had the same overall basic experience. However, the October trip was a bit more cleaner in it's execution and amped up a level. The beta test in September has been tweaked with heavily and there were parts I loved like the original ending. It played with a theme which referenced the 2013 off season haunt and I do love those Blackout easter eggs. It's hard not to compare the two experiences but as a whole, now looking back I'm glad I did it twice as seeing the changes gives me a perspective I wouldn't have otherwise.

With your choice factoring in, going twice has its advantages in that choosing the opposite of what you had selected previously opens up rooms you had no idea existed. This level of interactivity is refreshing and different. It's a gimmick that will have you second guessing, fueling a what if scenario for days after. Going with friends may give you a glimpse into what you missed though the choice is really up to you. It's an odd sensation to try to be coherent while shit is hitting in the fan all around you.

What I did miss is what worked well in previous Blackout experiences, their namesake. You will encounter darkness in spurts, strobe lights and all sorts of icky. It's the elements that are taking center stage this year and you should be well aware that anything I've written before is mostly NOT going to happen.

I would also have liked a unifying story that would tie the haunt together in a way that would have transcended the other theme running through. If each successive scene in different rooms built up a level of crazy that led up to the final uber ending, I think the payoff was there. Horror movies are all about the buildup and I hope one day Blackout employs a centralized mythos during their haunt.

The actors give it their all and at times will tailor the experience to what you do and how you react. They may improv as they go along and add a few things that worked on others. The fact they can keep modifying the attraction is a clear indication that creators Josh Randall and Kristjan Thorgeirsson are smart enough to know fear is subjective and you have to adapt to your audience even if it means person by person.

There is only one haunted house that pushes you into another dimension of twilight zone like horror and it's Blackout. New, inventive and full of WTF moments. Elements is brilliantly awesome. It has a way of fucking with you like no other haunted house can. It has never positioned itself as a traditional haunted house. It's evolved into something without comparison even through it's being carbon copied by others. What you realize is that it teeters on the edge of extreme audience participation and that most people will wonder if the team behind this production are seriously mentally disturbed.

But shouldn't we all question if the people who pay for it are as well?


 The Vitals

Blackout Haunted House Reviews and Walkthroughs
Blackout Haunted House Invite Only, Off Season Winter/Spring Haunt Reviews and Walkthroughs
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7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the share! I agree with you that a haunted house definitely needs a good back story to kind of increase the scare experience. A few of the Haunted Houses here in NJ I have been to had great back stories which really took them to the next level. If you are interested I would definitely check out Night Of Terror, they had a great background story and the cast was superb.

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  2. Hi, I understand why you can't post spoilers or a walkthrough at the moment, but I was wondering when you will be able to post them? As in when does the run end? I love reading these spoilers, as I live in the UK, so won't get a chance to go. Flights to America are expensive :( But if it ever comes to England, I'd be first in line (although I'd probably sob my way through it!)

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  3. when will there be a walkthrough of blackout elements?

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  4. No walk through for 2013 yet?

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  5. Oh come on! We need a walkthrough of 2013 to read before you accomplish 2014 in a few weeks!

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  6. The best haunted houses in LA run the gamut from big-budget theme park productions to more homegrown horrors.

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