Despite minor setbacks, the Haunted Basement's visceral terror is intact in its new space

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"I'd really like to know what's in my pants right now."

Haunted Basement XI

The Haunted Basement
$25-$27; $40 Blind Invocation sessions; $10 Fraidy Cat tours

That was something I found myself saying on Sunday night as I navigated the darkened depths of an industrial building in northeast Minneapolis. An unknown liquid had been seemingly puked down the back of my shirt, making its way right through my pants and into my shoes. Word of advice: Don't wear your Sunday best to the Haunted Basement.

It's the Basement's 11th year in operation, and the first in its new home. The creative fright fest was founded as a project of the Soap Factory, but this year it split off as an independent nonprofit and moved out of the art gallery, which is now undergoing renovations. The Haunted Basement will have its new space year-round, and the proprietors are still figuring out exactly what they'll do with it during the non-Halloween months.

Job one was to get this year's haunting up and running, and that mission has been accomplished, albeit with a couple of last-minute hiccups. "Matters far beyond our control," according to an email from director Christopher Barton, forced the postponement of a media night originally scheduled for last weekend.

Then, during the rescheduled media night on Sunday, a fuse blew, forcing the temporary evacuation of the basement. A real fuse? Oh yeah, a real fuse. None of those fancy circuit-breakers for these vintage digs.

The current was restored in short order, and guests returned to what might be America's scariest art installation. As a multidisciplinary collaboration among visual artists and theater artists, the Haunted Basement is a dark feast for the senses — and "feast" is a particularly appropriate word for this year's incarnation, which takes inspiration from the fact that the new venue was formerly a General Mills research facility. A disproportionate share of the ghosts lurking in its basement have culinary interests, and sometimes the main course is you.

The good news for Haunted Basement traditionalists is that the new space functions very much in the same way the Soap Factory basement did, so once you descend those stairs, you'll find intact everything you've always loved (and/or hated) about the experience. It's very dark, it's weirdly smelly, and you have absolutely no idea where you're going or when it's all going to end. Even after you pass the exit sign, there still might be a surprise in store.

Since the experience is completely redesigned every year, to reveal much more would be unsporting. Suffice to say that there's a new twist on the old Haunted Basement trick where you follow a rope through a pitch-black room, and this time you may find yourself wishing for a rope. There's a test kitchen. There's a crazed creature... on a chain, but it's a pretty long chain.

The pace of your experience is modulated by the various characters you meet as you process through a wide variety of rooms, each creepy in its own fashion. In many of the rooms you'll find yourself somehow detained, interacting with not only the ghouls but with your fellow guests. At one point, I ended up slow-dancing with a bearded man in a Minnesota Wild shirt, under the supervision of a demon in a mask who gyrated mockingly beside us. "Grab my ass and we've got a problem," said my dance partner. Then, they told us to dance faster.

A challenge, and an opportunity, for the new Haunted Basement is the fact that they no longer have the Soap Factory gallery space to serve as a lobby. In past years, the upstairs space has been used as everything from a bar to a historical exhibit, but moving through that area before or after the basement descent has been part of the experience.

Now, ticket-taking and coat-checking and merch sales are situated under tents just off a large parking lot, and on Sunday night staffers were working to erect a couple more tents for shelter from the rain. With eerie woods and active train tracks running nearby, and lots of room to roam, there are some intriguing front-of-house possibilities for future years. For now, just know that the Haunted Basement is back, and it's as visceral as ever.

IF YOU GO:

Haunted Basement XI
2010 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Through Halloween
HauntedBasement.org; 18+


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