The Soap Factory's Haunted Basement brings new spooks to the 2012 season
A previous year in the basement.
The Soap Factory's annual Haunted Basement, now in its sixth year, has acquired a reputation for serious scares. When the 12,000-square-foot, 125-year-old basement opened for its seasonal run on Friday night, just 24 of 10,000 tickets for the month were left unsold. By 11 p.m., enough brave souls had gone through the basement that those waiting in line for their turn got to hear stories of the factory's first victories: A handful of people had resorted to the safe word, "Uncle," and opted out of the rest of the tour. Already, one poor visitor had, yes, peed.
But don't worry: Chances are, you won't be the fraidy cat who ends up in a corner with wet pants. Because the Haunted Basement doesn't go in for the kind of easy spooks that might catch you (or your bladder) off guard. Instead, it engages in something more unsettling -- and interesting.
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Half the fun of any scare is the surprise. But without giving too much away, we can say that the basement starts by messing with your senses. Once you climb down the stairs from the friendly, well-lit Soap Factory galleries, you're quickly plunged into darkness and thoroughly disoriented. And since you can't see, everything else starts to loom bigger -- where are you going? And what's that smell?
In past years, the basement has had themes like "disturbing;" it's employed spinning rooms and mazes. The creepiest parts of this year's experience, though, aren't the ghosts and animal masks (though yep, both are involved). It's more... the familiar, almost cozy living room. Or the performers who, instead of playing otherworldly specters, tread the far side of insanity, and make you much less certain about what they're going to do next. If the basement were a horror movie, it would have more in common with The Shining or even Saw than with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Haunting.
After a certain point in the 20-40 minute tour, you remember that the ghouls jumping out at you -- or massaging your head, or grabbing your ankle, or taking your hand to lead you through another unmarked door -- are actors and artists. That's when the basement starts to get fun. Because then, it's more like performance art than the haunted house you grew up going to in the elementary school gym. And once you're ready to play, the direction becomes as much up to you as to the masked, bloodied performers who are guiding you through the interactive experience.
By the end of the basement you might find that your cold sweat has dissipated, and that it's exciting to see what the creative minds behind the tour have set up to spook you next. Which means that in some ways, the most frightening parts of the night come after you climb back up the Soap Factory's stairs -- when you start picturing, again, that one particular mask; when you turn the lights on in your apartment just to be sure that spot on your couch isn't blood; or when you find yourself turning over the question of what, exactly, it is that most scares you.
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