She was right.
It was an unpleasantly cold Friday night for the official opening of Haunted Basement: Unhinged. Now in its eighth year, the Soap Factory's Halloween thrill experiment has a reputation for being the most terrifying haunted house in town, and for good reason. It's an adults-only experience, with waivers, and dress codes, and safe words -- all serious stuff.
Last Friday, patrons were greeted by a friendly volunteer who asked people to sign paperwork before being ushered in (you can download a waiver at the gallery's website this year). Inside, we checked in with ticketing, who handed us masks to wear, checked to make sure that we were wearing sensible footwear, and recommended that we check all coats and bags.
In addition to the masks, which are new, this year's event is structured differently. Instead of promptly heading to stand in line to be put into groups, we were invited to chill in the main gallery area, which has been turned into a spooky speakeasy. There are tables lit with electric candles, dark mood lighting, and a musician casually playing a musical saw. Also on the screen is a projection of four areas from the basement. For the most part, there was little action on this freaky footage, though there were occasional glimpses of the people we would soon meet.
Once the crowd had grown, and the witching hour was upon us, a guide took the stage and invited us to come forward. The masks went on, and we were told to keep them on for the remainder of the experience. The safe word, as usual, was "uncle," and we were told that we shouldn't use that word lightly. Much like a strip club, we were warned that the characters could touch us, but we could not touch them. The only talking allowed would be screams or safe words.
After our brief haunted-house orientation, we were told to walk toward the basement entrance. With our masks on, it was already apparent that friends and couples were getting confused and losing track of each other.
Up to this point, each year crowds have typically been formed into groups who travel through the basement together as a team of sorts -- though separation and trickery from characters is to be expected. This year, we formed a line and people were allowed in at a staggered pace, sometimes completely alone.
We're not spoilsports, so we won't go into too many details on what happens below the gallery at Soap, since surprises are half the fun. However, here are some things to expect, and some tips.
- They're not kidding about sensible footwear. There will be times where you will need to walk fast or through areas with zero visibility. Final girls wear sensible shoes. Don't be that person who dies after tripping on a tree root. (They won't even let you go down there in heels or open-toed shoes. And seriously, why would you want to?)
- Check as much as possible. Purses are going to get in your way. You don't want to be carrying anything. And coats are too bulky. If you have to get past something quick, coats are going to stop you from doing that.
- You might get a little messy. While you won't be need to be wearing protective jumpsuits, as at last year's adventure, there are still gross things that might get on you, like bodily fluids, prop fluids, fake blood, and other things that don't smell good and might stain. I wore an old T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. They are in my laundry hamper right now.
- The darkness and the masks means that most Haunted Basement travelers mostly look alike. So the chances of you ending up by yourself at some point is high. This can actually an awesome thing. For maximum scares -- not to mention upping the chance that the ghouls will want to mess with you -- try to go it alone.
All in all, this year's basement was pretty awesome, with new elements and some unexpected bits. They've adjusted the structure a bit to unsettle things, and it really works. The happening is more open-ended. There's no clear route to travel, just places to explore and people to meet. You will get lost and turned around, but the things you will see will keep you alert and on your feet. Just go with it. You will escape when they want you to. Just keep telling yourself that there will be booze at the end.
Personal Bias: I love horror movies, and I love Halloween. I have a pretty high threshold for grossness, haunted-house confusion, and for creepily in-character people asking me to do weird stuff. However, I startle pretty easily, and get turned around and lost at pretty much any opportunity. I screamed as much as I wickedly laughed at what I was seeing. Entering the basement, the first few challenges got my adrenaline spiking. By the time I was walking up those steps again, I was pumped in a way similar to a post-roller coaster high. I was also weirdly paranoid and expecting jumps while walking on the street to my next destination.
The Crowd: Friday night's early crowd was a mix of couples, groups of friends, and a few lone dudes. I never heard cries of "uncle." However, I spent a lot of my time wandering alone, mostly interacting with the ghouls.Overheard: "Now where's the bar? I need a drink." -- some lady, post-basement wandering, while waiting in line at coat check.
IF YOU GO:
The Soap Factory
$25; $27 Friday and Saturday
Wednesdays through Sundays, now through November 2
For more info, visit the Soap Factory website.
The Exile Lounge is open on before and after appointments on all nights this year. Enjoy cocktails from Johnny Michaels and others.