We at Geekanerd would like to help you make some informed decisions regarding your Halloween expenditures. And with haunted house tickets being about $30 a head, it would be a shame for you to waltz into the wrong one. So here is our in depth, exhaustive review of the two heavy hitters in NYC: Nightmare: Ghost Stories and Blood Manor. Hit the jump for the full report.
Nightmare: Ghost Stories
Where: 107 Suffolk Street at Rivington, Manhattan
How Much: $25 for the house, $5 more for the Maze, and $50 for a VIP ticket that lets you skip the line and gets you a "goodie bag."
Nightmare's scares are purportedly based on the paranormal experiences of your fellow Yorkers. There's a poster on the wall as you wait to enter the house that runs through a dozen or so types of ghosts that you may be seeing inside: poltergeists, apparitions, phantasms, etc. I've never been much of a ghost man myself, preferring more natural horrors like insane people with sharp instruments. Fortunately they don't stick to their mission statement too strictly, as the only ghosts I remember seeing are a girl that walked through a curtain as if it were a wall (a cheap illusion that is ultimately shattered when you have to walk through the same hole to continue through the house) and a possessed girl twisted into an unnatural position up on the ceiling.
A room densely packed with stiff, tattered mummies and lit by a strobe light. The exit is on the other side of the room and you have to maneuver your way through the mannequins, brushing dangerously close to them. Your savvy haunted house-going mind knows that among the fakes are one or two "live" mummies, but the strobe light makes it nearly impossible to keep track of what you're seeing. A flash of human eyes among the mass quickly disappears and you're left wondering if you ever saw them at all.
A small room with squishy body parts and guts and excrement under your feet, and a little pot-bellied woman with a knife who eyes you up and down, giggling and muttering to herself about what a fine specimen you are. Oh, and it smells rotting-flesh awful.
The most scared I got in the house was in a claustrophobia-inducing pitch black section of the house that had some "dead end" offshoots that led nowhere. Things were backed up, so our group would be standing still in the dark for minutes at a time. Everyone would reach out and touch the person in front of them every once in a while to see if we were moving yet, and while it was partly a relief to not feel someone because it meant I could move on, it was also scary because I didn't know where the hell to go. Due to the offshoots and the little hidden hallways the actors always seemed to pop out of, it became a very real fear in my mind that I had stumbled down the wrong path and wouldn't be getting out for a long time. It didn't help that every once in a while there was a loud bang from the other side of the walls that squeezed me from both sides and I was convinced the whole thing was going to come down on top of us.
The Maze, which was just a bunch of black flats set up with no decoration or spooky lighting, provided some good fun. It was inhabited by some great actors who always seemed to know just when to pop out from around the corner and into your face. It was also the only time I felt isolated, because I struck out on my own away from the group. Being face to face with a dead girl is much spookier when there are no other people in sight.
A general lack of creativity permeated the house. Most of the actors had on white or black leotards, regardless of the situation they were supposed to be a part of. For example, one cool setup involved walking "underground" through a hallway filled with deep sand (cork, actually) that swallowed your feet. It led to a glass display where someone was stuck in a coffin, buried alive. It would be unsettling if the unfortunate victim was dressed like me, but the ballerina look really ruined it.
Overall, the sets were sparse and the fun factor low. If I had paid for the visit, I'm afraid I would have come out feeling a bit stiffed.
Where: 542 W. 27th Street, Manhattan
How Much: $28 in advance, $33 at the door, $48 to skip the line
Outside of Blood Manor, an eight foot tall two-headed creature stalks up and down the line, leaning down to gurgle unintelligible things into guests' ears. An 11 year old boy is nearly in tears yelling at the group he is with: "I ain't going in there! One a ya'll take me home! I'm not joking, I ain't going in there! Please! Some eight foot freak looking at me! He was breathing on me! It ain't funny!" His voice gets higher and higher as his pleas continue. From the beginning it's clear Blood Manor doesn't take itself as seriously as Nightmare. I laughed (albeit nervously) more than I yelped in this one.
If you know me or have been reading G'nerd long enough, you may know I'm a Robert Rodriguez slut. So imagine my joy when I turned a corner in the house and saw the neon sign: "Titty Twister: Open From Dusk Till Dawn." There was the Cheech lookalike greeting us at the door (unfortunately not giving the infamous "Pussy Speech"), the Selma Hayek lookalike vampire stripper hissing for a tip of our blood, and the exploding band lookalikes playing (well, miming) that awesome jam from the movie: bum bada dump dump dum dum dawwwng. This G'nerd's dream!
In general the house is much more dense than Nightmare. There are more rooms, and each set is dressed to the extreme. There's an obese blood smeared guy sitting at the head of a dinner table munching on the last bits of his guests, guys chasing you through strobe-lit rooms with chainsaws, and even a section where you don 3D glasses for a surprisingly fun effect. Simply: these guys aren't afraid to have some fun, and their fun becomes your fun.
There are a lot of animatronics and fake people where real people would be more fun. The guy in the electric chair, for instance, would be a lot more intense if it were a real guy writhing and screaming rather than a hissing animatronic jolting stiffly back and forth.
It really wasn't very scary, aside from the strobe light chainsaw bit.
And the Winner Is....
Blood Manor. Despite not being scared, I had a great time in the house. I felt like there was a lot of variety and care in each setup, in contrast to Nightmare's sparse and slightly homogeneous rooms.
Nightmare: Ghost Stories photos by Jaisen Crockett
Blood Manor photos by James Edstrom