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According to Michael Speece, the Soap Factory's haunted house threw down the gauntlet. He just picked it up.
"Scaring someone was easy 50 years ago," Speece says. "You leapt out and shouted, 'Boo.' But every decade since, the bar's been raised. Today the Soap Factory is the standard. I say it's time to raise it once more."
For many in the Twin Cities, the Soap Factory is indeed the height of horror and summit of suspense for local haunted houses. A waiver must be signed before anyone may enter the basement of this Minneapolis art gallery, and no one under 18 is allowed inside without a parent. On top of that, a special word is provided ("uncle") that allows those too terrified to continue to be swiftly removed from the mayhem. Many have screamed it in abject desperation.
"I've been to the Soap Factory's little minefield of madness, and it's something to behold," Speece says. "But all it's done is fuel my own efforts toward presenting the next level in haunted entertainment. My production renders the Soap Factory little more than kids' stuff."
Speece calls his Halloween offering "Death," and he says there's scarce difference between coming to his "ghoulish pageant" and actually being hunted down and murdered.
"We don't have a safe word to give you an easy out," he says. "If you don't like the experience, tough."
According to Speece, "Death" operates much like a rave, with the time and place passed along solely by word of mouth. The spectacle never appears in the same setting twice and is illegal in most municipalities.
"We've had it in St. Paul and Minneapolis and haven't been caught yet," he says.
After attending, I can see why. I was expecting to enter an abandoned warehouse or unoccupied home, but I encountered something far removed from the traditional haunted house fare. After receiving an anonymous tip alerting me to the time and location, I arrived at the appointed intersection in Nordeast Minneapolis only to find a vacant lot. I wasn't out of my car 30 seconds when three large men with masks came up behind me, threw a hood over my head, and wrestled me into the trunk of a sedan. Speakers in the back seat were blaring heavy metal music, and in the trunk, alongside me, was what appeared to be a dead sheep or goat, freshly killed.
Not so much frightened as grossed out and livid, I demanded to be freed, protesting that this was not the agreement Speece and I had made when I promised to check out his presentation and possibly write a column about it. My pleas were ignored.
When the car came to a stop 20 minutes later I was pulled out of the trunk. The hood I'd managed to tear off my head was secured in place once again. My wrists and ankles were bound with plastic bands, and I was placed on the ground on my side. The music was then turned off, and the only sound I heard was that of a shovel being pushed into the soil, as if a hole were being dug. No one in the group uttered a word. Within minutes another vehicle pulled up, and I heard something being unloaded. I realized it was a wooden coffin as the three men lifted me inside and closed the lid. The entire time I'd been angrily informing the crew that there would be no column, just a phone call to the cops. I shouted that if Speece was one of those involved he was ruining his chance for any free publicity. I never received a response.
At this point fear began to grip me, and, though I fought against the notion, I began to worry that this was no longer a game nor a fantasy ride for haunted entertainment. I worried that I had walked into the trap of some profoundly disturbed individual. I was sweating and my heart was racing.
The casket was lowered into a hole in the ground, and I heard dirt landing on top of the lid as sounds from above grew muffled.
I began to cry.
I don't know how long I was in there, maybe 15 minutes. It felt like an eternity. I don't know how I was able to breathe. I only know, after a while, I heard the shovels once more and I was pulled from the hole and released from the casket. As the men drove away, heads still covered, I saw my car 30 yards in the distance. My keys were in the ignition. A note on the steering wheel read, "Live."
I have not heard from Speece since.
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