I fit the giant brass key into the door lock, turned it, and was terrified to hear it click open. This wasn’t my hotel room, and I didn’t know what was waiting inside for me. I just knew it was nothing good.
My life had taken a strange turn in the past day, and I was living inside a horror movie at the Timberline Hotel, the iconic hotel that served as the outdoor setting for The Shining and the host of the horror-centric Overlook Film Festival. Like any old hotel, it has its share of ghost stories and we had been essentially snowed in the day before. There was so much snow that it came to the window of my second-floor room. Last night screams echoed through the hallways. They could have been drunken revelers or something far worse.
And now, here I was, participating in Blackout, an experience that has been dubbed the scariest “haunted house” of all time. This was the absolute last place I should be walking around, entering strange bedrooms. I hesitated for a second, hearing what sounded like static coming from a radio, and strained my ears hoping to get a hint of what else might be in the room. No, nothing good would come of this.
I took a deep breath and pushed on in.
It’s Just Like Pictures In A Book
I was incredibly excited when the opportunity came to check out the Overlook Film Festival for /Film, but I really didn’t really want to do their exclusive Blackout experience. The immersive horror experience has been running for years in New York City (where I live), but I had managed to avoid it, believing that I didn’t know if I could trust myself in situations like this. You infamously walk through Blackout all by your lonesome, but only after signing a waiver that essentially absolves the performers of your untimely death. It’s the only haunted house I know of that has a safe word.
This is an extreme experience to say the least, and I felt I was too chicken to try it out, as funny as that may seem. See, I’m known among my friends as a horror guy. I used to run a horror website and host screenings of classic movies to unsuspecting bar patrons. I’ve seen hundreds of them from all over the world, so many that it’s rare that a film will scare me anymore. A video game or virtual reality experience almost always does a better job at getting me in the right mindset, so I knew that Blackout, which is the closest to living in a horror movie that I’ll (hopefully) ever get, would be a lot to take. Being a lifelong horror fan is great until you realize that it also means you know that many more ways that you can be tortured and murdered.
When the experience almost instantly sold out to badge holders, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had an excuse not to do it! And then I was informed that there were special tickets for press. I gulped, signed up, and got this cryptic email afterwards:
I won’t lie – I was on edge all morning. At random moments, I’d remember what was to come and a chill would seize me. What type of horror was coming? Was this a ghost story? Torture porn? Something worse?
I kept telling myself to get it together. Christ man, you’ve had articles published in Fango! But then I’d imagine some other new horror and worry once more. I had to supply an emergency contact number and I gave them my wife’s information…and then I promptly warned about what was coming just in case she became involved in some way. Would they call her and say something insane? Who knows! She thought I was nuts and her anxiety about the whole thing didn’t help my own.
God, I’d Give Anything For a Drink
I went to the bar at the exact time they told me to be there. Not earlier. Not later. A man sat in a booth nearby in a rumpled white suit, carrying a black notebook.
He gave me a waiver to sign and a safety word that would stop the experience at any moment I didn’t like it (simply “Safety”) and we were off. He placed a pair of cheap white headphones on my head and I tried to listen to the voice that was speaking to me from them…but it was hard. We were in the middle of a public bar, after all. And then this man, this stranger, started holding my hands and pressing our heads together. He reached a dirty hand into a pocket and pulled out something – oil, it turns out – and started rubbing it on each of my hands. Then he started rubbing it into my neck, all the while we sat with our heads pressed together. It’s funny: while I didn’t really care that a stranger was touching me, my social anxiety was making it so I also couldn’t help but notice regular patrons of the bar coming to sit nearby, clearly confused by what their neighbors were up to. This was a brilliant way to start things off, I thought, a great way to make me unsettled even in a bright, public space.
Then he started choking me. Just a little, but enough to give me pause. The man got more and more intense and then he abruptly shoved a lumpy envelope into my hands and ripped the headphones from my ears, telling me to move out of the bar, fast, and follow the instructions within.
I ran off, not pausing check out the reactions from the people around me, and ripped the envelope open.
Holy shit, this was getting intense, I thought, knowing less than Jon Snow. My heart, already pounding like crazy, started jackhammering. Why a hotel room?
Wendy, I’m Home
As I stood in front of the unlocked door, I wondered if I would be pounced on immediately.
Would it be killers? A monster, even? Would I somehow be the villain? Would I be expected to do anything that made me uncomfortable? Little did I know…
Inside, it was dark and foggy, like someone had left a humidifier on high. Two lamps on either side of the bed were the only source of light from within, and static blared from a radio on a nightstand. All the windows were blacked out and while I couldn’t see anyone around, I noticed a closed closet to my left and assumed something was going on in the bathroom. There always is.
I creeped inside, half-expecting someone or something to burst out at me, and followed the instructions as written. I took off my shoes and socks and left them at the foot of the bed, placed the key on the nightstand, and turned off one light. I started to peel back the covers of the bed before I turned off the last source of illumination so I could jump right in like a frightened child, hoping to be protected by his blanket.
I did, and appreciated just how dark the room became as the radio suddenly quieted. Blackout, indeed. I tried to calm myself, but it’s hard when you’re laying down in a bed, knowing that something is coming, but not exactly what.
The creaky old Timberline lodge didn’t help the experience here, as I heard what was coming next. One person from the closet, another from the bathroom. They were dressed in black. The walked over and stood by either side of my bed.
They’re just actors, I told myself. There’s no danger here.
They climbed into bed with me and started snuggling. I’m not a small guy but one of them was big, and breathing heavily into my ear. Their breathing got heavier, and heavier, and then they threw the sheets off me and shoved a pillow over my head. I briefly wondered if they’d hear me yell “Safety!” through it before they took it off, and pulled me out the bed.
They shuffled me over to the bathroom, which had a dim red light emanating from it, covered my eyes, and shoved me into a corner of the bathroom.
“Do not say a word until she asks you.” one of the guys growled at me. And they left.
WARNING: You probably have a good idea of how intense Blackout can get. If you plan on attending the show, don’t read any further. Honestly, it will just ruin the surprise. I should also note that the experience grows increasingly uncomfortable and intense beyond this point, so please consider this a trigger warning.
Continue Reading The Blackout Haunted House Experience >>
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