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.