Photo credits: Jeff Eason and Haunted House NY

In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to give myself a fright tonight at a haunted house. To be honest, before I went, I was pretty skeptical about whether or not I’d actually feel the fear. But oh dear god, it scared the bejeezus out of me.

I headed to ‘Killers2‘ housed at the Clemente Soto Velez Center in the Lower East Side, where actors draw from crimes committed by real serial killers with a few fictional characters thrown in.

After queuing for an hour (despite having a ticket), my group of six was led inside and forced against a wall. Yes, they were rough with us – grabbing, pushing, shoving, holding guns to our heads – and that unwelcome contact added to the surprise.Killers

We began creeping through the maze of dark rooms, either running from the killers or being forced along the route. In each room, we were cornered by the tormentors, hearing stories of their crimes or what they wanted to do to us as we squirmed away from them. In some rooms, we were chased with chainsaws, in others masked creatures lunged at us from the shadows. To get to some rooms, we had to inch through pitch-black spaces, squeezed either side by inflatable walls, making it hard to run.

Among the killers referenced at the house were Harrison Graham, who strangled seven women while having sex with them in Philadelphia in the 1980s, and Ed Gein. The actor playing Gein was wearing a mask of stitched-together human skin that the murderer had pilfered from his victims and graves; he had decided he wanted a sex change and had been making a ‘woman suit’ before he was caught. John Wayne Gacy was also there, towering over us in the horrifying clown costume he wore as he sexually abused and murdered at least 33 young boys in Illinois in the 70s.Killers

While I interacted with my group and the actors throughout – and even managed a few laughs – it was terrifying. And, after leaving the darkness after about 30 minutes, I was pretty stressed out.

But to be honest, the reason I was so scared was because it was horribly real. These scenes were based on real-life events and the victims could have witnessed similar scenes before their deaths.

Morally, that sat with me really badly. I felt ashamed paying for something that gleaned entertainment from these killings. And feeling even a tiny fraction of the fear that those victims could have felt left me feeling really, really sad. I research crimes and murders at work all day and there is nothing entertaining about any of those deaths or the way they devastate families.Killers

This feeling really hit me in the Charles Manson room. We walked in to see a brutalized body (of a mannequin) on a sofa with Manson hiding in the shadows. It was so, so eerie – us stepping further into this dark, bloodied room, not knowing what he was going to do to us – if anything. To think that someone was in that situation in real life? Ugh…

Yet being real was precisely what made it effective. They’ve had other themes at the venue in the past, such as mythical creatures, and I just can’t imagine those ones working so well. I mean, I don’t exactly fear a giant monster that I know doesn’t exist, but a crazed bearded man holding an ice pick to my neck? Yeah, far too real to dismiss as fiction.

So while morally I hate the idea of this event, I can’t deny it was really effective. I’m glad I went for the experience and go if you want a fright – but for me it was definitely a one-off.

Photo credits: Jeff Eason and Haunted House NYKillers