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A Sadistic Haunted House in Midtown?

[caps]A[/caps]t 54 West 39th Street, just steps away from the stone lions guarding the New York Public Library, there is a small storefront with windows covered in black plastic. It could be just another boutique in the early phases of construction, but if you stake out the location at night you will see people cautiously entering a hazy room, and every so often you’ll catch someone exiting with wet hair and rumpled clothing, telling stories too awful to be true. I visited the Blackout Haunted House on press night, ahead of the lines which will surely stretch down the block as Halloween approaches. I had to sign an extensive waiver which warned of:

FOG – STROBE LIGHTS – COMPLETE DARKNESS – CRAWLING – STAIRS – LOUD NOISES – WATER – PHYSICAL CONTACT – SEXUAL and VIOLENT SITUATIONS

Upon entering the first dark room, a flashlight was shined in my face as I was handed a surgeon’s mask and told to put it on. When it was ripped off a few minutes later, I felt naked and vulnerable to the psychotic characters lurking around the corner. In one room I was cornered by a dour nurse and got a chill when I noticed the form of a second woman creeping up behind us. I was quite uncomfortable with the first woman, who was moaning and possibly oozing something onto my neck, but my instinct was to appeal to her to shield me from the unknown figure behind me.

But there is no help here, only angry men berating you and making you bark like a Bush-era terrorist suspect. And those who smile at you are even worse, forcing you to reach into places that you would never, ever reach. The Blackout Haunted House will certainly be too invasive, offensive, and frightening for some — but for those who prefer sadistic movies to tales of vampires and ghosts, it is a chance to be haunted by a set of distinctly human fears: perversion, filth, loneliness, and simmering violence. The cynic in me tried to remind myself that these are only actors, but the pleasure they were deriving from torturing me was scary in a different way.