Monday, October 25, 2010

NYC Haunted House - Steampunk Haunted House (Review)

You would have thought 3 haunted houses would have been satisfied my scare quota but as Halloween creeps closer, a few more haunted houses in NYC are getting buzz. After Nightmare: Superstitions, then Blood Manor, then Vortex Theater's NYC Halloween Haunted House I figured the trifecta was complete and I could relax, take it easy and rewatch Trick R Treat.

But I realized there were other haunted houses in NYC that I missed. With that hanging over my head I couldn't NOT go...right? Dammit. I've already been to 3, hell let's make it 4.

I read about this Steampunk Haunted House in the NY Times and I knew I had to go. I mean it wasn't your traditional haunted house. Check out their description of the place below.


In this truly immersive experience, audience members are thrust into a beautiful and terrifying dreamscape of neo-Victorian elegance and phantasmagoric clockwork horrors. Once inside, audience members are separated, until one by one, they find themselves alone, lost somewhere within the three sprawling floors of Abrons’ majestic century-old playhouse. From there, they must choose where to go, exploring innumerable twisting hallways, looming balconies, and labyrinthine cellars. All the while, a whirlwind of mechanical apparitions, wraithlike sleepwalkers, and gear-powered beasts hurtle through corridors and lurk behind every corner and within every room.

Created by Bessie Award-winning artists, the Steampunk Haunted House is an integration of contemporary installation and performance art, and is an accessible, fun, utterly breathtaking experience. Unlike traditional haunted houses that rely on gore or graphic violence to horrify their patrons, this event chills, delights, and terrifies its audience without having to show a single drop of blood.

Haunted house tour groups are admitted incrementally into a labyrinthine world that trades conventional devices of blood and gore for the more terrifying nuances of suspense and meticulously engineered surprise. The aesthetic of steampunk offers a fresh, romanticized view on technology and fashion by making it retro, set in an alternate, anachronistic Victorian-era that retains a pre-industrial elegance.

Like most attractions of its kind, this is roughly a twenty-minute experience.

I kinda knew what steampunk was. Its sorta a blender of 1800s Victorian style with modern day tech. Think an iPhone but with transparent gears and gadgets. But how would this be converted into a haunted house? I knew I wasn't going to get my traditional BOO! factor but being a haunted house you'd think the actors would utilize funky gadgets to scare you. I kept also thinking I'd see some kooky outfits like Sherlock Holmes style wear with a jetpack or a woman in a corset wearing a mechanical arm extension.

But none of my imaginative neo-tech was realized as I went to Abrons Art Center's Steampunk Haunted House attraction. So what was the reality check? Simple. Steampunk Haunted House is a walk through mesmerizing steampunk art with a ballet of neo-noir Agatha Christie surrealism. This is not your tweens or teens haunted house. It's a up close and personal performance art set to breathtaking steampunk backdrops.

So what's the experience like?

The Disclaimer.....

Serious warning to all you haunted house enthusiasts. This isn't your traditional catch em off guard and scare em haunted house. It's more of a open house to different scenes in different settings that have a steampunk flavor to it. If Vortex Theater's Haunted House was on the extreme scared shitless end of the haunted house spectrum, Steampunk is on the other end. More relaxed, more eerie and more subtle with their performances.

This is a haunted house for steampunk enthusiasts and also for people who are interested in seeing what steampunk is all about.

The Walk Through.....

The first steampunk gear your given is a vintage lantern flashlight gizmo. It helps guide your way through the theater. As they began, a performer silently guides you to hold on to rope as they lead you to a section of the theater. It's designed to give separation to all the participants so you'll encounter the performers in a wide variety of ways.

You are free to roam the playhouse as the action takes place all around you. Each part of the playhouse is filled with exquisite steampunk sets and the silent performers scene out an orchestrated piece of performance art for you to watch. The tour I went though was for the performers to get a taste of a real audience. It started out a bit clumsy but once it got going it became like a waking dream.

I didn't know what to make of what I was seeing as this was my first ever steampunk anything. Given no direction on what to do or where to go, I started wandering around. Later I was told you have 3 options on how to experience this haunted house.
  • Follow the "main" actress who is in distress in the opening scene
  • Stay in one room to see a scene play out
  • Wander aimlessly and encounter the performers in each room
I wandered, then stayed in one room and then followed the main actress (in that order).

I'll admit I kept shaking my head as I wasn't sure if I had to be aware of clues to a "story". Would I be given cues to "do something"? None of that happened and so I tried to immerse myself in everything I saw. I realized that this experience is 80% style and 20% substance. It's like a steampunk fashion show.There is no inherent story but more of a styilized ballet of steampunk retroness.

In one scene, a few actors dressed as school children tried hiding underneath a large colonial style bed. Other school children hid in a large wooden trunk. A "school teacher" soon caught the boys at play and ordered them to sit in a chair as she waved a large ruler at them. Another school boy was "captured" and put into a large tube like contraption that had a Frankenstein laboratory steampunk look to it.

If I read into this scene, it's taking the old brickhouse school world and using a steampunk edge to punish the crime. As much as I tried to decipher what I was seeing, I had to just let it go. Without any knowledge of steampunk culture, I was as clueless as a monkey at NASA. If these were scenes from steampunk novels or film, I can only imagine what else has been reimagined.

Another scene that brought in the eerie took place in the main seated theater as a man in a gas mask "scared" guests while "human spiders" crawled on the seats. This took place while a man on stage pulled a chain over and over again. This is David Lynch-ian live imagery come to life. The best way to describe it is as a noir painting come to life.

The Sets.....

Many of the sets we're very steampunky. There were not alot of tech blending but more of Victorian style rooms with a surrealistic twist. Armours with torn paper, a wall full of violins and a large bed that echoed haunted.

The one design that impressed me was the laboratory I mentioned earlier. This could have been a set straight out of Frankenstein with its futuristic glass tube enclosures and gizmos and gadgets.

My only gripe is I would have wanted more of what I've seen on the interwebs about steampunk and their crazy retro-tech. I've always wanted to see these "inventions" and somehow I felt gypped I didn't get to see more of it.

The Jaded Viewer's Final Thoughts.....

Steampunk Haunted House is not for everyone. But for the art crowd, it's a definite must see. If the movie The Others came to life, it would be Steampunk Haunted House. The performers do a solid job of acting in tight spaces and within the confines of the playhouse. At times, they interacted with me like I was a splinter in their dreamworld.

What you'll get is a taste of the steampunk world mixed in with fantastic elegant scenes and an odd feeling your walking through a nightmare that isn't your own. I can only say that I've never experienced anything like it and it's actually peaked my interest of this sci fi subculture.

This is the future of the past in 2010. Enjoy it while it's here.

The Vitals....
  • Steampunk Haunted House is located at the Abrons Arts Center which is located at 466 Grand Street, at the corner of Pitt Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
  • Days and Times are October 23, 29, 30 | 8-11:30 pm and October 24, 27, 28, 31 | 6-9:30 pm
  • Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students
  • The official site
  • The Facebook page
  • Trailer is below!

Steampunk Haunted House 2010 from Third Rail Projects on Vimeo.


  1. This is SO cool.I wish I was near NYC I'd hop on over there. We only have the standard haunted houses; nothing unique. Thanks for the indepth post on it for those of us who can't be there!

  2. I ended up following one of the dreamer girls (one of the girls in the white nightgowns). I wanted to follow the "main" girl, but she was too hard to follow - she kept disappearing and running off. The dreamer girl I followed had some rather trippy interactions with the other characters and it was fun to watch it play out.

  3. Hey Princess. I went on the first night and had no idea I had to follow anybody. I decided to linger in a few rooms.

    I wish I could go again to see if I missed any other "scenes" play out. But overall, it was unique for a haunted house.

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