Heads up, this isn’t a theme park story, it’s a haunt thing. A very, very scary, probably one of the scariest haunted houses which is still terrifying guests this season in Downtown LA. For those who dare . . . read on.
“Blackout,” My friend asked, “What is that? Do they blindfold you or something?” “They might,” I explained, “Apparently it is, like, the Holy Grail of haunted houses. You have to be 18, you have to sign a waiver, the actors can touch you. It’s supposed to be intense.” So went one of the the first conversations I had last year with my friend Matt about an independent, New York-based, haunted house that was making its debut on the west coast.
Curiosity fueled nightmarish imaginations about what might be inside the secretive walls of this feared attraction. It seemed that everyone knew about it but nobody seemed to have an accurate account of what it was really all about. I would hear things like, “Oh yeah, I had a friend that went once.” or , “Yeah they only let, like, 50 people each year into it.”, or, “I hear they strip you and lock you in cages and torture you.” Seriously? ‘Is it really that extreme?’ I thought to myself, ‘Had anyone survived through to the end of it?’ It seemed that the more people talked about it, the wilder the stories got.
Of course, I had to know more. So, I did what any person does and began Googling the term “blackout”. Started in 2005 in New York, Blackout Haunted house was a much celebrated maze for those looking for more than your average spook-house walk-through. More performance piece than haunted attraction, this annual event became the talk of the town in New York City. Due to the boutique-like experience there was an extremely limited amount of tickets that could be sold. Once those were gone, they were gone.
According to the website, the rules for Blackout were simple.
- You must be 18 years old to enter.
- You must go in alone.
- You are not allowed to talk, but you may scream.
- You are not allowed to touch the walls.
- You must do exactly as you are directed to while in the maze.
- You must be free from any health issues.
Upon entering guests would be given a safety word. If the experience became too intense, visitors had but to say the word and they would be escorted out, no refunds.
‘Fine, but what happens inside the maze?’ I pondered. A further search led to reviews that divulged every single detail of the experience. It turned out that some of what I had heard was, in fact, true. Not all of it of course. But the running theme was a grueling physical, mental, and emotional ordeal. Through the reviews it was clear that Blackout was a maze that was meant to stay with you long after you had left.
The 2012 Halloween season came and went and I did not get a chance to visit the Blackout Haunted House during its original Los Angeles run. I was determined to visit if Blackout returned to L.A. for the 2013 season. It did . . . and so did I.
The 2013 Haunt Season
Fast forward to May 2013. My dear friend, MiceChat columnist Jeff Heimbuch, made the move to California. My ears perked up when I discovered that Jeff was a Haunt enthusiast as well. Hatching my nefarious plan, I spoke with him about Blackout. Without even looking it up, (sucker), Jeff agreed to go with me when Blackout returned to L.A. Return it did, and for 2013 it was called Blackout: Elements.
Over one year after hearing about the much-feared Blackout Haunted House, I found myself driving up the 5 freeway on October 10th, tickets in hand, eager to jump into the darkness. My compatriot, Jeff, was not as excited. In fact, I would say his countenance betrayed a sense of dread that was chilling. But, true to his word he ventured forth. Good man.
I navigated the traffic snarls and tangled highways of the Los Angeles Freeway system and landed us one block from the L.A. LIVE complex. It was here in the Variety Arts building, that both Blackout and the Blumhouse production, The Purge: Fear the Night, are both housed. Our appointments were for 8:00pm and 8:30pm, but we were about a half an hour early.
I suggested grabbing a drink to calm our nerves. But Jeff asserted that anything that he ate or drank would certainly repeat on him. I chose a martini and he chose to sit and watch. He resembled a nervous chihuahua, shivering, eyes darting about.
Jeff and I left the restaurant and headed over to Blackout. Overjoyed, I was literally skipping through the crosswalk. I was finally going to be entering the most frightening haunted house ever made. Would this surpass anything I had ever been through before? Would the experiences scar me for life? Would I be horribly disappointed? What was going to happen???
We stood in front of the ornate, six story, Variety Arts building. While The Purge: Fear the Night had the grand lobby of this performance space as its entrance, Blackout merely had a dimly lit concrete hallway off to the side. Almost unnoticeable, a sheet of paper was taped to an open door that read “Blackout: Elements”. At the far end of the hall were two workers. One was standing, the other, at a tiny table staring intensely focus at the Macbook in front of him.
Jeff and I entered the cool passageway and were asked to read and sign a waiver. The waiver essentially asked that visitors to Blackout understand the rules and would not break them. It also made it clear that the cast was free to touch or grab you in any way during the performance, and that you would not hold Blackout responsible for injuries if you deviated from the set rules. Reasonable enough.
The girl that was standing and attending our check in process collected the forms, then asked if we wanted to store anything. The both of us grabbed our wallets and cellphones and handed them to her. She carefully placed them into a small, nylon mesh pouch marked “102” and slotted it into a storage space just beyond our view around a corner. As she returned to us she was writing numbers on a pair of index card-sized stickers with a black sharpee. She peeled one of the stickers off and stuck one to Jeff, “5” and one on myself, “6”.
Jeff chose to go first and we were told to stand on lines of black masking tape on the floor. He stood closest to the girl, whereas I was at a marker 10 feet behind him. The girl would occasionally take a few steps back, away from us, and look up a passage way to our left. Soon, the girl motioned to Jeff and pointed up a concrete staircase. “Okay, go.” Jeff disappeared and I was asked to move up to his spot.
A cool breeze blew through this open-air, concrete hallway. The two workers made small talk with each other. I knew that this experience was supposed to be a reality bending mind-trip and began to wonder, “Had the experience started?” Was I supposed to be paying close attention to what they were saying? Suddenly a woman that I had not seen before, appeared out of an exit door, with a black headband looking thing hanging loosely from her neck. Wincing, she thanked the attendants with a head nod and went out towards the street.
The suspense was relentless. I decided to do a little bit of stretching as I figured being limber would only help me if I were trapped in a confined space or made to eat mealworms or some other torturous thing.
An eerie calm set in. The attendant that had just before motioned to Jeff now pointed up a blind staircase to my left. “Go.” She said flatly.
I proceeded up a long flight of concrete stairs. “Hurry!” The attendant yelled at me, “Fast!” I picked up my pace. “Run into the room!” She yelled, “Keep going!” My heart began to race as I was literally running upstairs. The staircase ended and I ran into a darkened room. A man about 6 foot tall shined a bright LED flashlight in my face and stopped me by grabbing my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye I saw, off to the left, there was a small stereo system playing some weird tribal chanting music. The man screamed at me, turned me around and bear-hug lifted me, throwing me into a room off to the left.
Holding me from behind the attacker growled in my ear, “Do you have heart conditions?”
“No” I said, out of breath.
“Do you have epilepsy?”
“Do you have asthma?”
“Do you know the safety word?”
He let go of me, I continued to face away from the door. “Don’t move an inch!” He demanded, and then he left me in the darkness, slamming the door behind him as he left.
I stood there, chest pounding, adrenaline coursing through my body. ‘What had I gotten myself into?’ I thought. The chanting from the other room droned on.
The door opened behind me and the room I was in was flooded with a red light. There was a toilet about four feet in front of me and a sink to my left. Suddenly I was grabbed from behind. “Take off your shoes and socks! NOW! Keep facing the wall!” I quickly tore everything from my feet and was forced onto my knees. The person behind me turned the water in the sink on and leaned in, inches from my ear. “Don’t turn around.” I was left in the bathroom awash with red light from the room behind me, on my knees, facing the toilet. Water continued to run in the sink and the chanting music continued.
After what seemed like an eternity, I could hear footsteps behind me, louder and louder and the man returned. Black plastic was draped over me and I realized it was a poncho. The man shut off the water and ordered me to my feet. With another forceful pull he dragged me out of the bathroom and across the empty room where he met me with a flashlight minutes ago.
We approached a wall of black tarp wrapped from the ceiling. After peeking in to what was behind the curtain, the faceless taskmaster handed me a glow stick. “Take this.” He said. “When you meet him, you need to give him the message. The message is, ‘The sky is falling.’ Do you understand?!!”
“Yes.” I answered. “You will see two glow sticks on the floor. That is where the steps are. Do NOT pick the glow sticks up.” He then grabbed me by the shoulders, and shoved me behind the black curtain.
What transpired after that was something out of a nightmare. I will not go into the details of what further transpired in Blackout for a number of reasons. To begin with, it is an 18 and over maze for very good reason. It is NOT family friendly. Secondly, the experience changes every year. Finally, the nebulous threat of the unknown is far more effective than spoiling the surprises in store. If your curiosity drives you so, feel free to look up detailed reviews. However I would advise against it.
What I can tell you is that Blackout is a wild fever dream of paranoia and madness. It perfectly captures the sense of unease of a nightmare. Minimal lighting and sparse sets allow your imagination to run wild with fear and apprehension while the threat of assault lingers around every turn and in the depths of the inky darkness that surrounds you. To put it in cinematic terms, if David Lynch produced a haunted house with Tobe Hooper, Blackout would be it.
I must sing the praises of the actors for a moment. It is upon the shoulders of this talented bunch that the experience weighs. Their conviction and wholehearted performances, some if for just fleeting moments, flesh out the gloomy landscape and make the connection with the visitors. One weak performance and the illusion of danger and mystery would be destroyed. Thankfully, each and every person was ultimately very strong, very mysterious, and very disturbing.
I can honestly say that after all that I heard, Blackout:Elements exceeded every expectation that I had over the past year. To be clear, Blackout: Elements isn’t much of a haunted attraction, but it is terrifying. It isn’t something with a linear story, but it is very familiar because this is the stuff of nightmares. Situations arise that require no explanation because they defy comprehensible description.
Tickets are still available for Blackout: Elements on November 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. If you are looking for something truly mind bending, something that pushes the limits, GET YOUR TICKETS TO BLACKOUT NOW. But don’t blame me if you forget the safety word.