Posted on October 24, 2014
Topics: Entertainment, Special EventsTags: , , , ,

There’s a reason why Blackout is considered one of the most extreme Halloween time events in the country – and this year it nearly made me snap.

I very rarely get startled in haunted houses anymore. I never get scared. Though I’m still thoroughly entertained by them all, I’ve simply become all too familiar with scare tactics and dark environments, desensitizing me to most events. But Blackout: House, the name of their 2014 experience, made me consider using a safety word for the first time ever – if only for a brief moment.

Blackout: House was immediately controversial among the event’s longtime followers when they announced this year’s rules changed, bringing groups inside instead of individuals. The group dynamic certainly changed the experience. But then Blackout decided to make two Los Angeles nights available as a solo experience. One of those nights just happened to be exactly when I’d scheduled myself to be there.

I was excited to be attending Blackout once again. Last year’s Blackout: Elements left me wanting more. I didn’t find it to be intense at all. It was extreme in its adult content – nudity, sexuality, forceful physical contact, and violent situations – but, as I noted above, I’m fairly desensitized to all this. So I was eagerly awaiting my time for Blackout: House, quite anxious to get started when I arrived to its secluded location.

Inside, after signing a waiver, I was quickly branded with Blackout’s three dot symbol. Its meaning is unknown, but the marks stayed with me for a couple of days.

To give away what transpired inside would ruin the experience for anyone who attempts it for the rest of the season. Look for that in depth description on an upcoming Outside the Magic podcast.

But what began as excitement for another Blackout adventure ended with me leaving completely and wholly frustrated and, frankly, pissed off – for lack of a better phrase. It was an uncomfortable experience, at best. At its worst, it was painful, annoying, and downright mean.

I consider myself a level headed, down to earth, easy going guy. I am not emotional nor do I easily get worked up. I have no violent tendencies and generally shy away from that type of behavior. But Blackout nearly had me ready to throw punches by the end. It truly riled me up in ways that nothing ever has. And for that, they deserve credit.

Blackout is shying away from the “haunted house” moniker. It’s a performance-based experience that relies on physical tactics to push people’s buttons. And it pushed every single one of mine – even ones I didn’t know I had.

What started visually unpleasant and somewhat irritating evolved into uncomfortable experiences, followed by a few gross out moments involving various bodily functions. All of that seemed to be in the spirit of an “extreme” Halloween event. But the latter half of Blackout: House made me feel bullied, perhaps even victimized. In that, there was one particular moment of discomfort that left me wondering, “Is this going to end?” And within that moment was an even shorter moment when the thought crossed my mind to yell “safety” and simply be done. But that thought was fleeting. As “done” with the experience as I was physically, I was not ready to give up mentally. So I endured.

I left with my dignity shattered, angry at Blackout for putting on what I thought was a horrible event – a waste of my money.

It wasn’t until several hours later, after I’d calmed down, that I realized that I wasn’t actually angry about the event. It was the event that made me angry – by design. And suddenly I was impressed that a Halloween event had shattered my desensitized nature and caused me to feel raw emotions, even if they were horribly unpleasant ones.

I would have gone back and done the 2013 version of Blackout several times more if I had the time. This year – not a chance. I would never want to experience Blackout: House again, but I am glad that I did. And yes, my curiosity will get the best of me and I’ll be back for whatever insanity they cook up next year.

Blackout: House continues through November 8 in New York and Los Angeles, with nearly identical experiences in both cities. More information can be found at TheBlackoutExperience.com.


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Posted on October 24, 2014
Topics: Entertainment, Special EventsTags: , , ,

As I stand in a small room made of sheets, a unicorn in a onesie is dancing to thumping dance music while encouraging me to engage in a silly pillow fight. I quickly realize Alone: An Existential Haunting is not a haunted house at all – by any stretch of the term – but performance art inspired by the Halloween season, designed to mess with your mind.

Going in, I was ready to be creeped out. I arrived in middle-of-nowhere Los Angeles last Friday at their “secret location,” a rundown alleyway surrounded by shops selling fabric by the bolt.

But as night fell, the bustling fashion district quieted down, leaving only the bright triangular glow of Alone’s logo. After checking in and signing a waiver, I discovered I’d be the first official guest of 2014 to experience their event on opening night. My nerves increased.

Heading inside, I was joined by the next four participants behind me. We all knew we’d inevitably be split up. It is called “Alone” after all. But together we rode up a rickety old elevator and were greeted by a representative of the Enola company, a fictional organization that wraps the event in a guise of psychological research. We engaged in some yoga poses and breathing for what seemed like five minutes.

And then suddenly, the peacefulness was replaced by darkness and our individual experiences instantly began. To tell how that happened or what followed would ruin the surprise element that is so crucial to these types of “extreme” attractions.

Alone takes its patrons through a series of vignettes, each seemingly unrelated to the last, yet all connected by a similar tone. Largely peaceful, each scene plays out with one or two actors. Sometimes they speak, sometimes not. Sometimes they keep their distance, but mostly they touch. And none of it entirely makes sense at the time.

It is art, after all. It’s up to interpretation and tastes. Those expecting gore, violence, or sexual experiences will be sorely disappointed. Alone is not about any of that. It’s best described as a haunted house designed to evoke every emotion except being scared.

At times I found myself happy, smiling and even laughing out loud at the wackiness of the situation I was in. In a room full of unmarked doors, I stumbled across a young man in what appeared to be a dorm room. He may have been eating ramen noodles. He looked at me, said “how’s it going?” – or something to that effect – and went back to his life inside. I shut the door and moved on.

Elsewhere in the experience, I sat down at a dinner table with an older man who told me of the conspiracies of the world. I had to actively pay attention to understand what he was saying… until he launched into a Latin incantation of some sort. After that – another surprise that led me into an equally confusing scene.

Confusion was present throughout, from the moments that invaded my real life privacy all the way through to finding myself stumbling back out into the darkened streets of middle-of-nowhere Los Angeles, wondering if the experience was over.

And you could easily read the confusion on my face, which was painted pink at some point during the experience:

But Alone never quite ends. It lingers in your mind for a while as you decide whether you loved it, hated it, understood it, or were simply baffled by it. It’s impossible to prepare for any of the sights inside, other than to know that none of it is “scary.” Haunting? Yes. Haunted? Not at all.

Alone: An Existential Haunting continues performances on select nights through November 1. More information can be found at TheAloneExperience.com.


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Posted on October 24, 2014
Topics: Entertainment, Special EventsTags: , , , , , , ,

By now you’re familiar with ScareHouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We’ve shown you a look around their haunts including a full walk through their newest, The Summoning.

But ScareHouse has amped up the fright with the addition of The Basement, an R-rated experience that guests walk through alone or with one other person. It’s an in-your-space approach to a haunted house, taking visitors through vignettes designed to test their fears, one by one. Needles, doctors, clowns, demons, sexuality, abuse, even religious beliefs are all themes of scenes in The Basement – and then some. Guests spend much of the time with a bag over their heads, cutting of senses to heighten others, as they are yelled at, manhandled, shocked with electricity, and placed into a variety of uncomfortably close encounters with brilliant character actors.

ScareHouse has given Outside the Magic exclusive access inside The Basement to film two of their key scenes this year. One features their iconic possessed character, the other a wild, child-like clown called “Happy.” Turn off the lights, crank up your speakers, and watch the POV videos below to get a sense of what it’s like to step into The Basement.

It begins as a bag is removed from over your head…


Video: “Happy” the Clown scene in The Basement


Video: Possessed demon scene in The Basement


Somehow amidst all that chaos, The Basement delivers a message of hope. ScareHouse’s goal is to have every guest out the door feeling a bit better about themselves and with a new, positive outlook on life. They are meant to feel like they have accomplished something.

Of course, that message doesn’t hit everyone. Some leave afraid, possibly even crying. And this year, everyone leaves looking like something this:

But I definitely got the message. I didn’t find The Basement to be “scary.” But extreme? Absolutely. It is intense, provocative, unnerving, unsettling, and above all extremely entertaining. And the electric shock is just plain awful.

It’s absolutely worth trying. If you’re too afraid, go with someone else. But be warned: I’m told friends and couples are quick to turn on each other inside. Don’t expect your significant other to protect you from the horrors within. They might just use the safe word and leave you there to go it alone.

Come back here after Halloween for a behind the scenes look at ScareHouse, including an interview with everyone’s favorite possessed demon girl, who’s quite a fantastic person when not trying to gobble up your soul.


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Posted on October 23, 2014
Topics: Entertainment, Special EventsTags: , , , ,

Extreme haunted houses are popping up at a rapid pace, each seeming to want to outdo the last. Many aim to push their patron’s emotional and physical limits, inflicting pain and inducing panic, stopping just short of what the law allows.

But at Eastern State Penitentiary, their version of “extreme” haunting – or “more intense” as they like to call it – is a far less controversial approach, staying rather tame with their touch, yet producing a perfectly choreographed experience that adds to Halloween thrills without ever traumatizing.

Terror Behind the Walls is the annual Halloween event at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s set inside a decades-old defunct prison that looks like it’s falling apart, a perfect setting for a haunted house. But the event actually funds the upkeep of the location, enabling it to be safely enjoyed by tens of thousands of throughout the season, ready to get scared.

Last year, they introduced their optional hands-on approach in which guests can be marked at no extra cost on the way in, indicating actors are allowed to touch them. It’s never inappropriate by any means. In fact, it’s quite the opposite with a lot of planning ensuring that each actor has a specific touching role to maximize the experience.

It works wonderfully, as if a horrifying ballet. As guests walk through Terror Behind the Walls’ sequential haunted houses wearing a red glow necklace and marked with a red X across a cheek, actors give them a quick brush on the shoulder, flip of the hair, or even a tiny surprise ankle grab. But that’s just the beginning, as occasionally guests will get pulled into individual experiences, separating them from friends and family to endure a few persoal horrors.

The newest haunted house in their lineup, The Machine Shop, is their first to be designed with touching in mind. And it’s one heck of an intense experience. Even a seasoned haunted house goer like myself will find themselves out of breath and shocked at the overwhelming nature of the individual moments. Guests may be pulled into a creepy prison cell by themselves, accosted by bald burly men eager to make them join their inner society by cutting off their hair, representative of them losing their mind. It’s one of many different solo experiences that, when surrounded by angry biker-type guys screaming, is exhilarating but never too far over the top.

Watch me take on The Machine Shop and a few other individual encounters in the video below. Worth noting is the fact that near the end of the Machine Shop experience, just when I thought it was over and I was out of breath, smiling, and feeling quite excited about the whole experience – I genuinely got startled by one perfectly sneaky actor. That almost never happens, so kudos to Terror Behind the Walls for that.


Video: Terror Behind the Walls 2014 – Machine Shop haunted house & interactivity


Other solo experiences throughout all the haunts could include sliding through an “air duct,” getting sent in unexpected circles through a maze, or being sat down in a crazy dentist’s chair. Each moment feels wild and unexpected – quite thrilling in fact. But after it’s over, guests will laugh about it rather than cry.

Most of the haunts fit in well at Eastern State Penitentiary, carrying the prison theme throughout. Though it does deviate in the final experience, a 3D maze called The Experiment that’s there basically to make guests who love 3D mazes happy – and there are a lot of them. Despite all their efforts to produce realistic experiences elsewhere, Eastern State’s guests seem to love The Experiment the most. Though that may change with the addition of the Machine Shop this year.


Video: Terror Behind the Walls 2014 The Experiment 3D haunted house walkthrough POV


For those wanting even more spooky fun at Terror Behind the Walls, an additional option is available to explore the grounds of Eastern State on a flashlight tour. The place is creepy during the daytime, but at night it’s even more foreboding, especially as guests are led only by small lights into cells, the old surgery room, and other incredible pieces of history. It’s a perfect way for those who have never been to Eastern State before to get acquainted with the real location before stepping into the madness of the haunts.

You might even capture a ghost on camera while touring at night. (Or possibly just flashlight trails…)

Terror Behind the Walls continues through November 2, with two additional “remix” dates on Nov. 7 & 8 which are “lights out” experiences in the haunts. More information can be found at TerrorBehindTheWalls.com.


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Posted on October 20, 2014
Topics: Entertainment, Special EventsTags: , , , ,

Last year Shocktoberfest in Pennsylvania made headlines countrywide by announcing their Naked and Scared Challenge. The idea was to allow guests to shed their “protection” by removing all clothing before walking through a haunted house that was designed to stimulate all senses.

But the town stepped in, deciding that patrons voluntarily walking naked through a private haunted house was “adult entertainment” and could not take place. Though it likely could have happened with a fight, Shocktoberfest owner Pat Konopelski decided not to make enemies at City Hall, instead making it the “Almost” Naked and Scared Challenge, in which everyone could participate in their underwear – still achieving the same stripped down effect.

For 2014, Pat has brought back the Naked and Scared Challenge after much demand, continuing to draw excited thrill seekers each event night. After all families have left and all other lines are cleared, the go-ahead is given for guests to take their clothes off, enduring the 40-degree weather, and brave “The Unknown” – the name of the haunted house that features air blasts, water, and other close encounters for one’s bare skin.

And this year, I took part myself, not only to get a sense of what it’s all about but also to shoot another fantastically entertaining video of all the fun. You’ll have to take my word for it that I was only wearing boxers while behind the camera filming the three guys and two girls in the video below. These are actual Shocktoberfest guests too, not actors.

Fair warning: Last year’s video was blurred to keep the video fairly safe. This year, it’s uncensored and shot from a POV perspective. And the two girls who accompanied me were strippers wearing thongs. So be ready for some behinds. (Yep, this is perfect Outside the Magic material…)


Video: Shocktoberfest Almost Naked and Scared Challenge 2014 uncensored


Being nearly naked definitely heightens the haunted house experience. There is little boundary between you and your surroundings, leaving you feeling exposed – because you are. On top of that, the cold weather coupled with surprising effects amp up what are otherwise rather ordinary startles. There’s nothing sexual about the experience, only a chance to break all barriers and take on the terrors within, leaving nothing to hide behind. I do think Pat stumbled onto something interesting with this experience, a chance for those who have become bored or desensitized to haunted houses to recapture that feeling of being on edge when entering. There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than stripping down with The Unknown quite literally ahead.

Find out more information about Shocktoberfest, including the Naked and Scared Challenge, on their web site.


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