If there's one thing you learn in the Haunted Basement this year, it's that the butcher shop line feels a lot shorter when you're the meat.
$25-$30; $40 blind invocation tickets
The annual celebration of creative horror has settled in, unsettlingly, for its second season as an organization independent from its former parent, the Soap Factory. If last year was about exploring the space at their new Minneapolis home (2010 E. Hennepin Ave.), this year's experience goes straight for the gut: It's the scariest Haunted Basement in years.
In keeping with a decade-plus tradition of keeping fright-seekers guessing, the Basement's proprietors have decided to enlist a new director each year. This year's haunting is led by filmmaker and theater artist Paul von Stoetzel, who promised "to truly fuck with those who have the sand to step into the basement."
Mission accomplished. The Haunted Basement had its genesis as a spooky synthesis of theater and visual art, and some years have felt like museums of the macabre, with artists creating immersive installations for ticket buyers to progress through. There's less to look at this year, as von Stoetzel and his army of creeps run through a greatest-hits list of the most frightening tricks the Basement can play in the dark.
For starters, you're asked to check your coat, your phone, your watch...anything that could create light to penetrate the darkness, or could conceivably fall away from you. Plan to hang on to your wallet? "You could be turned upside down. Are you prepared to take that risk?"
Warnings read like the signage at Valleyfair's ("You will get wet. You may get soaked.") Thunder Canyon. You will get dirty...the kind of dirty where if your loved ones are waiting at home, you may need to text them with a warning not to scream when you walk in the door. In other words, don't wear your favorite cashmere sweater.
This year's experience starts with a walk across a mezzanine overlooking Foci, the glassblowing center where hulking furnaces set the mood of artful apprehension. Then, you enter the basement in small groups, "but it doesn't matter," the guides note. "You'll get separated anyway."
Separated, caged, pushed, pulled, prodded, and very extensively sniffed. Walls are not what they seem, starting with the first of many surfaces you're asked to spread your fingers out upon. This is an especially digit-threatening year, and you'll be glad for the requirement to wear closed-toe shoes.
You're also surrounded by terrified voices, and it quickly becomes clear that you can't know which come from your fellow patrons and which come from the ghouls haunting the depths. Cry your friend's name, and you may hear it echoed back to your from an unexpected direction. Darkness and disorientation are pervasive, and it's hard to tell which way is out.
As seasoned Basement-goers know, at its best the experience creates a spine-tingling tension: Do you linger to savor the effects, or do you rush along to get back to safety as quickly as possible? You may find your feet pounding full-speed up the final stairway to freedom, but in the meantime you'll be dazzled (like it or not) with detailed makeup, vivid smells (long a Haunted Basement trademark, this year particularly unsubtle), and other sensory extremes.
Enough said, except to note that the climatic chamber — with the most daunting creatures of all, and a devilishly clever technique for imprinting them into your consciousness — is worth making the perilous journey. After that, you'll be glad it's over. Until next year.