Last month, Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak received an email from the PR Team at “New York’s first and most terrifying haunted house, NIGHTMARE” inviting him and a guest free passes to “encounter various psychopaths […] who are neither glorified or romanticized – but rather presented for what they are...scary as hell!” at a seasonal attraction located a convenient yet ominous 13-minute stroll from Gawker HQ. On Thursday night, Juzwiak and Caity Weaver made the 13-minute journey to the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, ready to experience a night of culture and education…AND TERROR. It was time for “NIGHTMARE: KILLERS2.”
What follows is an informal discussion of our journey through a house (cultural center) inhabited (temporarily) by nightmare killers (2).
(Warning: While this discussion is unlikely to ruin your experience of NIGHTMARE: KILLERS2, some spoilers about the attraction.)
Rich: OK, the scariest thing about the haunted house was the anticipation leading up to the haunted house. I really thought we might die.
Caity: I startle very easily (like a guinea pig) so I was worried that I would experience heart palpitations. Or that my GLASSES WOULD SOMEHOW BREAK, which is a constant fear.
Rich: I was more worried about maniacs. I love horror movies so much that I apply their principles to my life. I don't put myself in situations where someone might put a machete through my head. I don't camp; I've seen too many slashers to know better. And I don't do haunted houses because I've seen The Funhouse and I know it would be easy for an actual crazy person to be hiding and kill you and no one would care because they would think that it's all part of the show. So this was big for me.
Caity: I was much more worried about (probable?) scenarios, like being identified as an "easy mark" early on by the actors, which did in fact happen.
Rich: Yes, they fucked with you more than me. No one really fucked with me. Not even during the gay-sex part (more on that later) that I would have gladly volunteered for.
Caity: The terror really kicked off while we were waiting in line to go in, when I saw a guy who seemed to be staring at me, and for about 30 seconds I couldn't tell if he was part of the show or just…a guy who was also there. He was wearing normal street clothes.
Rich: I'm still not sure that he was part of the show.
Caity: I'M NOT EITHER!
Rich: He followed us out when we left at the end and then just walked off down the sidewalk. This is the kind of brush with murder that I'm talking about.
Caity: Can't believe they hired an actual, real ghost to appear last night; impeccable attention to detail.
"I was worried that I would experience heart palpitations. Or that my GLASSES WOULD SOMEHOW BREAK, which is a constant fear."
So as we were waiting in line—you had ordered and been given a beer and I had ordered and not received a water, which was spooky because dehydration is the silent killer—we saw a group of friends emerge from the haunted house, having completed the experience. And they. Looked. ROUGH.
Rich: They all looked so unhappy. Like traumatized.
Caity: Not a smile among them.
Rich: It was like, "You can't be serious." But they were. They were serious about their seriousness. AND THEN we got the disclaimer.
Caity: The disclaimer is delivered in a very fast, rote way that only serves to make it more terrifying: "If at any point you get too scared and want to leave, an actor will assist you. If you freeze up and can't move, an actor will assist you…”
Rich: Freeze up! I didn't even know that was possible!
Caity: I froze up at the thought of freezing up. What could be more terrifying?
Rich: I started to consider my physiology in an entirely new way. Will my body do something it's never done before tonight? It was kind of like a trip.
Caity: I also worried my body would rely on its old stand-by tricks, which include throwing up and crying.
Rich: I was afraid I was going to pee myself. Can you imagine if you were so scared you just stopped functioning? "My legs don't work anymore." There were, like, dozens of things to worry about.
Caity: The final part of the spiel was "The actors will not touch you unless you want them to touch you,” and then a pause, during which we all imagined actors reading our vibes. "I know you want it (hey hey hey.)"
Rich: They hate them lines, and so we were given the option of being painted with giant red Xs on our foreheads for a more "immersive" experience, which included possible caresses, shoves, being pulled away on alternate routes...He really said, "They might caress you." I imagined a sultry beach atmosphere at 6 pm and a big nipple against the setting sun.
Caity: I was caressed! I was caressed twice. Once by a metal hook. After the employee introduced the possibility that anyone might be forcibly separated from the group, I became EXTREMELY paranoid that would happen to me. And what if my glasses broke!
Rich: You did not want the immersive experience. I saw it in your face. I forced you. I knew we had to.
Caity: As soon as we entered the first “scene,” I debated taking my scarf out of my pocket and wiping off my red X’s. I reeeeeally, thought about that. Let's talk about that first room.
Rich: The scariest. By far.
Caity: I agree.
Rich: It was dark. There was a lamp hanging from the ceiling like a cinematic interrogation room. And a man in a terrible mask — sort of like a non-leather version of the leather man in American Horror Story (Season 1) came out and yelled at us, and hit the wall near our heads, and made us turn around several times. He was really dom.
Caity: The SCARIEST part though was that, as he was screaming and smacking the wall, a second, unseen man crept up behind us and whispered things in our ears. "Leave." "Why are you here?”
Rich: "This post's traffic will disappoint you."
Caity: Exactly, lots of horrifying things.
Rich: It was legit scary; a wonderful intro. And then everything got really silly.
Caity: It turned on a dime.
Rich: What a relief. For the first time since we started planning this, I exhaled.
Caity: So the theme was famous killers (real and fictional) throughout history...
Rich: But maybe the only fictional one was Patrick Bateman?
Caity: Who knows? As we were jostled (and occasionally just left to wander) throughout the haunted house, we encountered Patrick, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, and several unidentifiable though vaguely historical (or Southern!) characters…
Rich: The guy at the end simulating masturbation with the Cookie Monster toy—I didn't catch his name/reference. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. So there's some doctor ranting about serial killers that haven't been caught in the second room. Zodiac…The Smiley-faced killer? (Was that one?) And then he starts talking about some tall man in a suit that we should beware of and, as he’s saying this, the “painting” (of the tall man) behind him reaches out and grabs him.
Caity: The tall man just kind of looked like something you'd see on Rocko's Modern Life. Some faceless white cartoon creature with pointed limbs. And part of the guy's warning about him included something like "People on the Internet say he is real,” which is just about the weakest way to justify anything.
Rich: People on the internet say a lot of things….
Caity: People on the Internet say this is their favorite post they've ever read on Gawker. Wow, thank you; very humbling.
Rich: ….Some are right, some are wrong.
"It seems moderately fun sometimes. Like retail. Sometimes a hot person comes through and brightens your routine. But it’s such a routine."
Caity: So actually, because it often wasn't clear to me who the characters were supposed to be, I was frequently bored by their monologues. And these guys, God love 'em, were not the best actors to begin with, which is why they work inside a haunted house instead of a television. It sort of felt like a very, very dark children’s Christmas pageant.
Rich: They were aspiring. Charlie Manson was the best, and even he wasn't dead-on.
Caity: "I am Ted Bundy and this is how I kill people and this is why I kill people and I sure do love to kill people; what if I kill you?" stretched out to 70 seconds. (I don’t even know if Ted Bundy was one of the characters represented because I was so often lost.)
Rich: Yeah, over and over and over again. But you figure, these people are on a loop. It’s gotta be exhausting.
Caity: Right, I bet it's a very trying job.
Rich: It seems moderately fun sometimes. Like retail. Sometimes a hot person comes through and brightens your routine. But it’s such a routine.
Caity: I never had any fun working retail (shout out 2 Marshalls department store). The real standouts for me were the actors who weren't supposed to be anyone in particular. They just sort of seemed like frazzled extras. And maybe because they didn't have rote lines to perform, their interactions with us seemed a lot more...uneasy, in a way that was scary. Unpredictable.
Rich: There was a guy that popped out and just sort of mumbled. He didn't even really tell us where to go.
Rich: And it was like “I can’t tell if you just wandered in off the street…” That is effective.
Caity: Also effective were the frequent traipses through pitch darkness. I kept worrying about you touching me (or not touching me), as we bumbled through a hazardous obstacle course like it was surely in violation of some kind of fire code. Any time you touched me, I worried you were an actor trying to bring me into the scene. Any time you stopped touching me, I worried you were lost. We basically just had this nervous interaction over and over:
[There was a video here]
Rich: Eventually, we emerged from the darkness into John Wayne Gacy's scene. He was good. The best thing about his vignette was the gay vintage porn (nothing hardcore; just nipple sucking) he was watching when we entered his "house.” That was the point at which they temporarily “kidnapped” the other guy in our group to be his play toy. That was so weird. (Rape was a constant threat, so trigger warning.) John Wayne Gacy, in his clown get—up, opens a trap door in his floor and out flies this twink in tighty whities, that the guy in our group (who was being caressed) was supposed to have sex with? And really the whole time, I'm like, "Why'd they pick that guy to fuck and not me?" I felt overlooked.
Another highlight: When Patrick Bateman asked me who my girl was and I said, "Caity," and he said that he was going to snort coke off your dead pussy.
Caity: There were weird bursts of vulgarity and swearing that surprised me almost as much as the masked people jumping out of corners.
Rich: I would never let that happen to you.
He also handed me his blood-spattered business card, which was a cute touch. Oh, and THIS is cool: In the intervening hours, the "blood" has faded to a darker red, as real blood would as it dried. Last night it was a vibrant crimson.
Rich: Maybe it was real blood.
Caity: They must make them fresh every night: "Time to make the blood-spattered business cards."
Rich: Major major major points for the Mason part, which we reached by going outside to a trailer, because it involved "creepy crawling," which they referenced by name. "Creepy crawling" is the scariest thing in Helter Skelter: the Family would go into people's houses and rearrange shit while they were sleeping or just stand over them and then leave. Very much like that "Good thing you didn't turn on the lights" urban legend.
Caity: Yes, that was interesting to learn about, though I learned more from your description of it than the vignette.
Rich: Before we forget, we need to talk about one actor’s body odor, which I thought was a nice multisensory touch that contributed to the scene.
Caity: I don't think it was intentional! I think it was just stage fright sweat.
Rich: That person’s room had a funk to it.
Caity: It was GAGGINLY bad. I started to freak out that it was coming from me when I first smelled it, because, in a sweater dress, fall coat, and boots, I was boiling the whole time.
Rich: I would have told you. Some people don't like it when you tell them. Even when you're good friends and you think that's the good friend thing to do. Even when you say, "But you're a guy and some guys like that."
Caity: Would you really have told me?
Rich: Yeah, I really would have.
Caity: I don't think you would have
Rich: I totally would have, Caity. Would you want me to? For future reference?
Hopefully I would be able to do something about it. Sort of pointless to tell me in the middle of a haunted house.
Rich: You can tell me, although I will say that sometimes I let my deodorant fail on purpose, just to get that man funk going, in case there are guys like me who like male pheromone so much even when it’s terrible, it’s still good. (There are guys like me).
Caity: If I ever smell like a natural human body, something is wrong. Please alert me immediately.
Rich: OK, done.
Aileen Wuornos was so weird. I love Monster, I think it's hilarious, so it was nice running into her. My favorite thing about Wuornos is she wanted to run off with this woman and raise she-wolves. That was her post-jail dream.
Caity: I had no idea who she was during her scene
Rich: It was very Orange Is the New Black.
Caity: YES, I thought the same thing.
Rich: Probably because her jumpsuit was orange. Her skit veered from history at the end, because Wuornos didn't kill herself. She was executed by lethal injection. I guess that doesn't make a good exhibit.
Caity: Right, and when she shot herself at the end of her scene, the actress threw something wet (and a little solid?) at us, which I guess was meant to represent her brain. But I was like "Did she throw up on us?" I didn't immediately realize what had happened. And then I had some wet gunk on my tights!
Rich: Yeah, I worried a little bit about not being presentable for the plans we had after. But it was all good. And then everything got surreal.
"I didn't realize there was a small cookie being fucked. I actually thought that guy represented the anti-Semitic Elmo in Times Square."
The end was transcendent. Oh, God, did I love it so much.
Caity: We met a monster. A cookie monster.
Rich: Yeah, so we walk through this room with a bunch of dicks and vaginas scrawled on the padded walls...
Rich: ...And there is a guy on a mattress simulating fucking this Cookie Monster toy.
Caity: WHAT?! Are you making this up?!
Rich: That happened.
Caity: I have no recollection of this.
Rich: You don't remember the dicks?
Caity: Not at all. Maybe I didn't go to the haunted house after all.
Rich: Maybe you blocked it. I said, "Look at the dicks."
Caity: I don't remember you saying that! Did I respond?
Caity: Did I have an aneurysm?
Caity: I do remember going to heaven and meeting St. Peter at the gates, and him telling me "It's not time for you yet," and then all of a sudden I was back in the haunted house. You remember that right?
Rich: Nah, I remember dicks.
There was a man in a Cookie Monster costume there who, I think, represented the small Cookie that was being fucked. Because big Cookie was really scared, and clinging to me. I felt really bad for him.
Caity: I didn't realize there was a small Cookie being fucked. I actually thought that guy represented the anti-Semitic Elmo in Times Square.
Rich: I had emotions. He kept hugging me. And at one point I said, "Should I go with you?"
Caity: I’m dying picturing this. You whispering to Dora Explorer: “What is death?” I wish I hadn’t been taking a psychedelic journey through my own head when that happened.
Rich: I thought he was trying to show me an alternate route. I thought he was trying to show me what love was.
Caity: I DO remember that when he started hugging you, you lost it. We actually have some good audio of that moment. ("Wuh....uah...uhaaAAAAAH"):
[There was a video here]
Rich: So anyway, Cookie's pleading with me to save him…
Caity: That actor never spoke though, right?
Rich: No, that is what made it so sad. There was a lot of frustration there. Honestly, this was like a dream. A janky dream of mine.
Caity: It’s extra like a dream of yours (or, rather, a nightmare...killers....2) since you claim I was there but I have no memory of it.
Rich: We walk by a suit of armor that I was like, "Oh, this is gonna come to life." And then it did, and it was still scary.
Caity: I concur.
Rich: AND THEN, we are pushed into this passage constructed of, basically, inflated parachute material on both sides, with a narrow opening. It’s the birth canal, essentially. Cookie is still clinging to me.
Caity: I remember you yelling at me to “Gooo!” but I was scared to go down the canal which was pitch black. And what would I do if my glasses fell off?
Rich: You weren't going fast enough!
Caity: A Nerd’s Lament.
Rich: And then Cookie let go and that was it. The last part was kind of scary but really just weird. And the fact of the matter is that I experienced a makeshift birth canal while someone in a Cookie Monster costume clung to me from behind. And I am really glad to have experienced that. Because I never have before.
Caity: Next time, I would like more spooks. Less talking.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, double-edged sword, because jump scares are the only real scares, but also that kind of sucks. They hurt my heart. I was glad to have avoided them for the most part. This was more like a goofy play, where you were vaguely threatened and occasionally confused.
Caity: I would say FREQUENTLY confused. It wasn't clear exactly where we were meant to go a majority of the time.
Rich: Yeah. That was kind of liberating, though. Felt like anything could happen. The spooky side of YOLO.
NIGHTMARE: KILLERS2 performances run through November 2nd. General admission tickets can be purchased online for $30, or at the door for $35.
[Images via NIGHTMARE: KILLERS2, Rich Juzwiak, Caity Weaver]