To the naked eye, the place looks no different than any of the other looming office buildings or retail spaces. But unlike its slumbering neighbors, there’s something quite different lurking on the second floor of 163 Varick Street.
Outside, dozens of eager patrons stand together in a line that wraps around the corner. Collective breathing grows into a palpable anticipation, and screams can be faintly heard echoing from inside the walls.
At one point, a door on the side of the building opens and an older woman rushes out onto the sidewalk in an eruption of hysteria. As her shrieks fade away into the October night, crowds watch in silence as a bloodied clown steps out of the same door. He pulls mockingly on one of the many fangs jutting out of his mask, shrugs his shoulders, and laughs.
Welcome to Blood Manor, one of NYC’s longest running haunted house attractions. For 30 bones, anyone above the age of 14 can traverse more than 5,000 square feet of themed rooms, corridors, and a labyrinth of passageways filled with terrifying costumed actors, all hell-bent on one thing, and one thing only: scaring the living shit out of you.
But just how scary can Blood Manor really be? We summoned our courage here at BTR and sent three of our bravest writers into the unknown. They made it back alive, and with tales to tell.
The mouth of the neon clown suddenly jerks close to my face. I can see in detail his tattered face and coffee stained teeth as he explains the “rules” before sending us off to our fearsome fate.
Strobe lights block my usual sense of dimension and motion as I allow myself to become swallowed into the doorway that lies ahead.
Here, by the wake of decaying corpses and deranged chainsaw killers, I find the depths of my primordial screams roaring for an escape. With my human shield held before me–Aubrey, a dear friend she is–I start my descent into the world of the crawling dead.
At the end of a blinding tunnel of green lights, a broken body lays captive on a hospital bed gushing with blood and a silent stare. Meanwhile, a cannibalistic doctor walks calmly towards us with an unnerving empty gaze.
Soon enough he ambles too close for our jittering bodies to handle and we scurry out of the room in screams–only then to find ourselves trapped amongst dangling meat that hangs idly from the ceiling.
Like a wild beast, a man curls around us, breathing heavily from his chest with a meat cleaver in hand. Screaming–the loud and constant kind–feels right. I get a rush of adrenaline that places me squarely in the moment of each brooding cell.
I’m trapped in an escape of fictional, subterranean species that mock the serious worries of life. Reaching a culminating obsession to the challenge, I stride into the final dwelling with arms wide open to fear.
“Who the fuck do you think you are,” yells a tutu-adorned corpse reacting to my confidence with the guttural provocation of a New Yorker ready to brawl.
The fictional world dissolves and I am transported back to the reality that this girl could kick my ass. I scream and exit.
I like to think of myself as a somewhat poised, resilient person who would keep her cool if the zombies ever arrived groaning at the front door. (Let’s be clear that I’m talking about plodding, moronic, Shawn of the Dead-style zombies–if they’re fast, raging, meth-head zombies a la 28 Days Later, you guys are totally on your own.) Blood Manor taught me otherwise.
This is not to say that Blood Manor itself was particularly terrifying.
My personal experience was perhaps heightened by a certain unnamed coworker of mine who claimed to be mostly immune to manufactured horror. She may seem sweet in the office, but in the instance of a true life-or-death scenario, say, a man in a Michael Meyers mask wielding a fake axe at us in slow motion, I now know that I should be fully prepared for her to grab me by the shoulders and use me as a human shield.
The haunted house was everything that you might expect for it to be: a campy cross-pollination of neon laser-tag aesthetics and standard fear fair set to the tune of a 15-year-old boy’s imagination. Rooms divided by black rubber curtains prey upon fears so disjointed that it’s difficult to make sense of why you’re afraid at all, other than the very human reaction to scream back when a dead clown screams at you.
However, somewhere between being chased from the set of Tales from the Crypt by a man gleefully slinging a chainsaw and hurrying through a room of actors feigning enthusiastic sex with corpses, I had enough time to realize that I was making the God-forsaken sounds of a genuinely scared person.
So, cheers to you, Blood Manor, for teaching me that I’d never last in a horror movie, for reminding me that necrophilia is not really my thing, and for showing me who my real friends are.
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not the easiest person to frighten. Call it self-inflated machismo, dulled nerves, or reckless abandon. Maybe it was all of the Stephen King novels I devoured back in elementary school. Either way, the prospect of putting my fear levels to the test at Blood Manor seemed like an entertaining challenge.
The experience was definitely startling. It’s hard not to feel a little jostled when you’re walking through a freezer filled with swinging flanks of raw meat suspended from the ceiling, and suddenly a human butcher with his eyes stitched shut jumps at you from behind a rotten cow carcass, waving a chainsaw in your face. Even the thick-skinned badasses of the world will no doubt experience a pang or two of genuine surprise.
Jump-scares abound, with a host of disfigured and hideously-costumed (I mean that as a spooky compliment, of course) actors lurking in every shadow. As a natural self-defense mechanism, I began to feel something a bit more unsettling than what was actually happening around me: a cold and calculated militaristic reasoning settled into my perception.
I felt like a trained soldier in the Marines, ready to enter an unknown terrorist cell. Door breached. Quickly enter. Back to the wall. Scanning all sides for hostile targets. Eyes searching every cranny for a hiding place. Surveying walls for all available exits.
The transformation into this mentality was unnerving.
But by far the most effective and terrifying aspect of Blood Manor happened to be the most under-utilized. It was the darkness and silences that scared me most. Sure, any zombie stripper in a jackknife corset can scream in your face between oozing teeth, but throw me in a hallway where I can’t see my hand in front of my face, where all of my friends have suddenly disappeared, and all that remains is the sound of my frantic, beating heart…