Review: Haunted Basement manages to make mall walking and whimsical IKEA displays ominous

Image courtesy the Haunted Basement

Image courtesy the Haunted Basement

"You want your steps."

The Haunted Basement 13

Rosedale Center
$30-$50; $15 fraidy-cat tours

A Haunted Basement staffer read the mind of a patron who was getting ready to enter on Thursday night. The guest had placed her possessions into the grocery box provided for safekeeping, and was trying to decide whether to take her Fitbit off. The staffer grimaced and shrugged. The Fitbit went into the box.

"Mall walking" is taking on a whole new meaning at Rosedale Center this year, with the Haunted Basement taking up residence in "Herberger's Corpse," as tickets say. It's a surprising move for the longstanding Minneapolis frightfest—originally based in the Soap Factory (R.I.P.) and recently residing in a dedicated space on East Hennepin—but it makes a twisted kind of sense. Malls are creepy (see: Dawn of the Dead, Stranger Things 3), malls at night are creepier, abandoned shopping-mall department stores at night are creepiest.

After two years shivering under tents in a parking lot, the attraction's front-of-house staff, at least, seem delighted to be proffering their waivers and dragging their crowbars on the white tile floor of a nice dry interior space. Artists and makers ("I haven't heard any good screams in a while," mused one crafter stitching a fur hat) sell their wares at tables across from the Haunted Basement merch stand while ironically soothing muzak plays overhead.

The haunting is happening on the former Herberger's lower level, accessed via the parking lot: signage is clear, but be sure to allow time to find the entrance, because, you know, shopping mall. Also, pay heed to the website warning that it's a "messy environment." In other words, leave your Banana Republic sweater at home, mallrat.

While the space may in some sense be considered a basement, it has a very different feel than the previous Haunted Basements, which were dank descents into close quarters. The Herberger's ceilings, as you may recall from your school-clothes shopping days, are high, and the sheer amount of real estate provides a newly expansive environment for the Basement's tortured denizens to roam. The rooms may be large, but the ghouls move fast.

Jay Gabler poses with some metal shelfing after walking through the "basement."

Jay Gabler poses with some metal shelfing after walking through the "basement." Jay Gabler

Once your body is ready and your pockets are empty, you enter this year's Haunted Basement through a faux front door, yelling, "Trick or treat!" You don't have to wait long, and of course you have to understand that here, the tricks are the treats. What's in there? Wouldn't you like to know.

Although the setting has changed, the Haunted Basement's essential modus operandi hasn't. You'll move through a series of entirely original rooms, sometimes in pitch blackness and sometimes in startling brightness. (The latter may be more unsettling than the former.) You'll make new friends, including the unlikely allies you find among the other visitors you get mixed up with. There are places to sit, but none that are exactly restful.

This year's artists do riff on the retail venue, with its nostalgic whiffs of the '80s and its literal whiffs of... did the toilet get backed up? Oh, yeah, way the fuck up. Anyway, it's hardly a spoiler to say mannequins are involved, and you may make it all the way through without being quite sure whether any of them were alive.

There's a video store, where you may be invited to act in what you'll pray isn't a snuff film, and of course there's a water feature (just like at the Overlook Hotel). It's not all zombie mall, though. This year's designers seem to have been more broadly inspired by the idea of a shopping center as an artificial environment, where you leave the outdoors to explore inner space. You may, for instance, get lost in the woods sometime after you pass a dinner-table display that's the antithesis of IKEA.

It's scary, and there will be a lot of screams, probably including some of your own, but the terror isn't quite at the pitch it's been in some previous years. There's a dark whimsy at play this year, and you may find yourself backing into the capacious spaces' corners to take in the spectacle. Just be warned, you never know what—or who—you might trod on while you're getting those steps in.