By Jaweed Kaleem
Don’t let the fact that Timothy Haskell is a founder of something called Psycho Clan. Okay, maybe a little scard. This group of independent theater and film nerds have built expansive, labyrinthian mazes each Halloween season in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This year, they’ve taken it on the road. Nightmare: Ghost Stories, New York’s Most Horrifying Haunted House, opened at Soho Studios, a 33,000-square-foot space in Wynwood.
If reactions to other Psycho Clan productions are an indication, we should be very afraid — about 15 dart for the emergency fire exits each night — yet, the spooked are partially responsible for their own plight: The contents of his haunted houses are based upon the public’s suggestions. Psycho Clan surveyed thousands of Gotham residents online about their most blood-curdling stories — real or hearsay — and built the house around them. "There’s the hitchhiker who gets a ride to prom, but leaves his wallet behind in the car," says Haskell, who has staged his Halloween shows since 2004. "The driver goes back to the address listed on the boy’s license. Turns out he’s been dead for years."
Blending high-tech and low-tech techniques, there are old-fashioned zombies and blood-splattered, chainsaw-wielding actors plus poltergeists, floating bodies, ectoplasm (energy dispersed into the air in a cloud-like form), a neon vortex path and a 14- by 8-foot wall of haunted Chucky-like dolls. "It’s a lot of very small, confined spaces leading to big open spaces," says John Harlacher, director of the Miami house. "We want people to think ‘what the hell is going on?’"
In addition to Ghost Stories — a 30-minute walk-through — there’s Nightmare: Old School (a classic haunted house with vampires and the like) and Mortuary (a funeral parlor gone bad). "You sit down and watch this weird, bizarre show on stage with animatronics. It’ll stimulate more senses than just your ears and eyes," Harlacher says of Mortuary. And for those too easily creeped to tour the dark indoors, the milder courtyard — complete with a bar and ghosts that roam the crowds — may be the most manageable. The haunted house and all side attractions are organized from least frightening to scariest.
For its fifth year in New York, the clan is making Bad Dreams Come True. Once again, it’s all based upon an online survey of New Yorkers. "I picked some of the creepiest, oddest ones. A giant bunny chasing somebody," says Haskell. "The ubiquitous falling. Teeth being pulled out." If all goes well in Miami, we can expect to see bigger and scarier dreams here next year, Haskell says. "But first, you’ll have to survive the ghosts."
Nightmare is at SoHo Studios, 2136 NW 1st Ave., Wynwood; through Nov. 1; Thurs & Sun 7-10 p.m., Fri & Sat 7 p.m.-midnight; tickets $25 in advance, $30 at door, $45 VIP express entry; for more info, visit www.nightmaremiami.com.