Standing in the lobby of The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center with John Harlacher, director of Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House, I can’t help but nervously flick through the pages of my notebook. Above the shadowy house entrance is an ominous list that includes the names of some of the most ghastly people in history. Jack the Ripper, The Zodiac Killer, and Ed Gein are just a few. Reading this, I can’t quite imagine what lays behind the black curtain in the what Nightmare’s website describes as “designed to scare the more fearless adult – it’s VERY SCARY.”
“There’s absolutely nothing kid-friendly about this,” Harlacher says referring to this year’s theme requested by last year’s audience members. No one under the age of 10 years is permitted and those under 15 are recommended to tour alongside an adult. Hearing that, I make a cowardly effort to stall my walk-through and ask about a name that sticks out on the roll: Dexter, the only fictional sociopath listed. Harlacher explains that after polling audiences, “80% of people wanted to see Dexter in the house. He’s mythological, just like the rest of them.” Perhaps the others were once real human beings, but “America tends to make serial killers into celebrities,” he notes, thus mythologizing them and turning them into ghostlike incarnations of “madness – the most realistically frightening thing imaginable” Harlacher says, scaring me even more. With that, we enter.
Passing several original works of art created by the killers themselves, Harlacher notes that some of the pieces in the house are part of the collection of a well-known (but unfortunately kept anonymous) person who collects criminal art. Don’t expect to get out of this chill-inducing gallery without a fright. And if you’re a person who chose to wear a red “X” through the tour, remember what you’ve gotten yourself into – “some safe roughhousing and maybe even a chance to see parts of the house no one else gets to see.” Needless to say, I’m not the marked one.
As we continue along through the creepy scenes, I notice the meticulously created sets. This is not your average hokey Halloween scare and it’s like no haunted house I’ve seen before. “Everything was made specially for this house,” says David Hinkle, Production Designer for Nightmare. “I began making things back in March.” His favorite piece is Jack the Ripper, whose ruthless face he cast from Harlacher’s own (a wholly kindhearted face). But most impressive is the shocking and totally gruesome scene found in “Lady Bathory’s privy,” based on a photograph created by horror photographer Joshua Hoffine.
Most of the chambers contain live incarnations of the killers, imploring that we respectfully remember the reality that was — and the very real deaths of many innocent victims. Actor Scott Kozel, this year’s embodiment of John Wayne Gacy, the ghastly serial killer clown, tells me that sometimes, taking this reality into account scares people into “laughing uncontrollably, crying, or pushing their friends out of the way to get out of the room faster.” He laughs, “Some of them even want to fight me.”
But, those who really give back the best thrills to the house’s creators are those patrons who, well, don’t hold water. That’s right. Kozel’s grisly rendition of Gacy so scared one female customer that “she actually peed.” So far this year, the “pee” incident tally has already reached two – and they haven’t even begun the busy season. For the crew of a haunted house, “screaming is like applause,” says Harlacher, “but peeing is like getting a standing ovation.”
Nightmare’s Haunted House is sure to scare you. Don’t worry too much while you’re there, though. There are restrooms just outside the door.
“Killers” runs most evenings at CSV (107 Suffolk St.) through November 3, 2012. Tickets start at $20. For tickets go here.