Volume 76, Number 23 | October 25 - 31, 2006

Photo by Joan Marcus

The Devil Inside: “Hell House” hath plenty fury, and dark humor.

Get your spook on

From conventional haunted houses to ghost walking tours, there is plenty to fear this Halloween

By Noah Fowle

Nightmares: Face Your Fear
Through November 5

CSV Center
107 Suffolk Street
(212-868-4444; hauntedhousenyc.com)
Afternoon and evening performances; admission $15/25

Designed to confront some of our most visceral and common fears such as heights, rats and being buried alive, “Nightmares,” presented by the Off-Broadway production company Psycho Clan, leads visitors through an interactive tale of a young girl tormented by a horde of deranged doctors. As original as the storyline is, it takes its cues from successful horror flicks, modeling some of its rooms after scenes in the film “Hostel,” and screening “The Ring” in the bar area, where many steel their nerves as the sound of blood curdling screams and thumping emanate from behind the closed black curtains. Once you enter, beware: lurking in the shadows are bit players all too eager to play on your mounting anxiety. The thrills that wait inside vary and some are more startling than others, but perhaps the creepiest aspect of the tour is the fearless look on some of the actors, who would win any staring contest. As with most haunted houses, this one is most terrifying when experienced from the front of a large group, and the disorienting maze helps play into even the most basic of fears, from being in the dark and to being separated. Contrary to the guides’ recommendation, the performance is not best experienced in a large group — too often there is strength, and giggles, in numbers. But take the other half of their heed and show up early to down a little liquid courage first.

Les Freres Corbusier HELL HOUSE
Through Oct. 29

38 Water Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn
(718-254-8779; artsatstanns.org)

Drawing from the original script inspired by Rev. Jerry Fallwell and his evangelical cohorts, Hell House offers a trip into the world of sin. Since the 1970s, small town parishes have been putting on similar performances to help scare younger parishioners into leading better, more holy, lifestyles. The fact that this show is performed in earnest around the country and is used to deter kids from premarital sex, drinking, and lampooning the Christian faith, is scary enough as it is.

Following a devilish guide who delights in the misfortunes of others, 13 different scenes are visited in an exceptionally wrought tour of Hell, and eventually Heaven. Certain rooms are down right disgusting, and yet, the performers at St. Ann’s have sense enough to treat the material tongue-and-cheek, and they make room for a few laughs to break the tension between the suicides and other tragedies. By the time Jesus shows up, and punch and donuts are offered in addition to the friendly tunes of “at About Sunday,”a mock Christian rock band, the guffaws are too much to stifle. Spine-tingling this is not, but the black humor of Hell House is a welcome addition to New York’s twisted takes on Halloween. (As we went to press, there were only a few tickets left — call for availability.)

Blood Manor
Through Oct. 31

542 West 27th Street
(877-340-3002; bloodmanor.com)
7:30pm-1:00am; admission $25

Buried in the meatpacking district, Blood Manor is by far the most extensive and expansive of New York’s Halloween attractions this year. Do not be surprised to find long lines and a bouncing staff as menacing as Crowbar’s. But despite its magnitude, the crowds seem to flow smoothly through the 20-or-so rooms, where ear shattering screams assault your senses, and pitch black hallways, decorated with felt sheets, offer little hope in locating an exit. Blood Manor also tips its hat to recent films (there is an exceptionally surreal day-glow-paint portion that gives some well-deserved respect to Rob Zombie’s “Devil’s Rejects”) and though it’s not nearly as interactive as the other houses, it will overwhelm you with images sprung from some of the oldest ghost stories. The obscene amounts of fake blood and severed limb gags might grow tiresome, but this haunted house certainly boasts the most disgustingly authentic roach scare, second only to a genuine, late night sidewalk.

Ghosts of New York, hosted by Dr. Phil
Various locations Downtown
(718-591-4741; ghostsofny.com)

See Website for schedule and pricing
The city’s best ghost tour guide, Dr. Phil, holds three history degrees, and is overflowing with spooky anecdotes and dark secrets about the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Though a skeptic by heart, his wealth of stories and his humble delivery provide plenty of evidence to the contrary. (“I can only tell the stories that I know,” he often says with a light smile and shrug of his shoulders.) During a recent East Village walking tour, Dr. Phil described hauntings like the spirit of Peter Stuyvesant, who still oversees the grounds of St. Marks Church in the Bowery. Even more eerie was his tale about the horrors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, still alive and well around Cooper Union, which was used as an annex to store the dead bodies for identification weeks after the tragedy. Leaning towards the lives, and deaths, of some of the city’s most famous inhabitants, from Edgar Allan Poe to Harry Houdini, Dr. Phil remarked that just as in life, celebrities make for better stories. “Who really wants to hear a ghost story about Joe Blow?” he asked with another smile and shrug.

The Merchant’s House Museum
Through Oct. 31
29 East Fourth Street
(212-777-1089; merchantshouse.com)

See Website for schedule and pricing

Working in New York’s oldest preserved family home, the staff at the Merchant’s House Museum busies itself with academic pursuits 11 months out of the year. But considering as many as eight Tredwell family members died here 100+ years ago, it is hard to escape its ghostly past come Halloween. The home boasts actual photographic evidence of a spirit’s presence, in addition to more than a dozen personal accounts of Treadwell sightings. This year’s program includes candlelit ghost tours, a 19th century funeral and cemetery recreation, and on Halloween, the staff will read gothic horror stories.

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