"It's sort of like a strip club," the guide at the top of the stairs said before ushering our group down into the pitch-black depths of the Soap Factory's Haunted Basement. "They can touch you, but you can't touch them."
It was nothing like a strip club.
For years, the Soap Factory has frighted thousands of visitors in the Haunted Basement during the month of October -- horrifying enough to make a few unlucky souls wet themselves along the way. This year, they're baaaack.
As our brave group of four waited in line, we realized that the folks lined up by the stairs in heavy-duty masks and baggy jumpsuits weren't working at the gallery. They were there to descend into the darkness just like us.
Unlike other years when rugged attire and a pair of sturdy shoes were sufficient enough to plunge into the basement maze of spooks and spirits, this year is markedly different. "You're gonna get dirty," a few people leaving the Soap Factory post tour, warned us. Take that warning seriously.
"Have you introduced yourselves?" asked a volunteer.
We realized that through all our idle chit-chat and efforts to diffuse nerves, we'd only determined that half the group were Haunted Basement vets (having gone together the last three years in a row) and the other half were first-timers, me included. It's a good idea to know everyone's names, because you're about to get a whole lot more acquainted.
We shuffled into over-sized and undersized jumpsuits with faded names embroidered on the chalky fabric. Then, it was time to pull on our masks, wiped mostly clean of a greasy, wet substance by the faithful Soap Factory volunteers.
"Oh, what is that? Are those guts? Are we going to get guts thrown at us?" someone asked. Our answer would come soon enough.
Once we were at the front of the line we got the rundown of Haunted Basement rules. Then it was finally time to become one with the darkness.
That said, we won't give away any of the scares, as the Haunted Basement is all about the surprise factor. It's easy to chicken out and get caught up in the horror of the unfamiliar, but once you remember that this event is meant to entertain in the most macabre of ways, it's bloody good fun.
A few words for the wise:
- You will get messy. While a change of clothes isn't totally necessary, be prepared, and don't wear silly shoes. (Though the Soap Factory has extra pairs on hand.)
- Be prepared to take orders. You will get told what to do, and you should definitely listen.
- Safe words are okay. If you really want to cry "Uncle" during the trek, you can -- but you should probably just tough it out. As one of the guys in our group said, "Don't say the safe word. That's no fun at all." Having lived to tell this tale, we agree.
After all the screams and scares, we definitely recommend you take a trip to the Spooky Speakeasy to drown those post-hell jitters. Like something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas, a loop of accordion and guitar music drift through the dark doorway in a delightfully creepy minor key.
The speakeasy consists of a wide expanse of dimly lit converted gallery space where you can let your heart rate settle among the company of old friends (and the new ones you made while clinging together downstairs). You can also watch the looks of sheer terror on the poor souls still meandering around in the basement thanks to the camera feeds projected on the walls.
The bar boasts all the usual (beer and mixed drinks), but there are a few hand-crafted cocktails from Bittercube's Nick Kosevich and La Belle Vie's Johnny Michaels that are to die for. We recommend the Howl for those of you with a fondness for Old Fashioneds.
All that being said, this year's Haunted Basement is definitely killer, and the Spooky Speakeasy is sufficiently wicked. Once again, it's a must-see, must-do event for Halloween aficionados.
Personal Bias: As a self-professed horror movie lover, I felt like I needed to prove something for all those times I'd sought out the creepiest of films, trying to one-up myself and my friends on the fear scale. That being said, I was terrified going into the basement, and rightly so. But, after being scared half to death, I came out feeling more alive than ever.
The Crowd: A healthy mix of folks who had visited the basement before, and a few who hadn't. One Soap Factory volunteer told us (right before we went downstairs, thanks) that during this year's dress rehearsal, five people had used the safe word in a matter of two and a half hours.
Overheard: "I'm trying to get my shirt back...?" Asked by a man who emerged from the pits of despair shirtless.
IF YOU GO:
The Haunted Basement The Soap Factory 18+ $25; $27 Friday and Saturday Wednesdays through Sundays, October 3 to November 3 (closed Wednesday, October 9) For more info, visit the Soap Factory website. The Spooky Speakeasy is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (and closing night on November 3) through the Haunted Basement's run.