Oni and I were invited and given press passes to visit Nightmare: Fairy Tales, a haunted attraction in New York City and we did so on November 3rd, 2011. Nightmare has been running for a few years, and uses the phrase “New York’s Most Horrifying Haunted House” as it’s description–let’s talk about how well that statement holds up.
To start though we need to get some details out of the way. At the event they have a statement displayed saying that the look and feel of this year’s event is designed to replicate the look of a “pop-up book”–with a very two dimensional style. Along with the fairy tale theme, they really appear to be going for a much more theatrical concept, as opposed to a standard scare concept where people do jump scares every minute. I applaud anyone who tries to do something different when setting up a haunt, but there are definite perils involved with doing something very far off the regular haunt path–the bar for making this work is much higher.
So, let’s go down the line and talk about the experience we had at the event.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at the event was that they had a somewhat complicated system for the lines going into the location. There were 2 different lines one either side of the doorway, with no specific signs saying who was supposed to go where. There were some staff members around, but none were directly addressing new people coming up to the venue to direct them to where they needed to go. This location is on a NYC street, so it’s pretty tight and limited to how you can queue people up. One major suggestion we’d say is to approach this in the future like the Apple store, and have people positioned at the end of each line who stay there and direct new people to exactly where they should go. We were a special case, as press, so we actually had some issues getting info from their outside staff on where we were to go. In fact, we ended up standing around over 15 minutes before we were told to get in a line. At that point we waited for about another 30-45 minutes before we got in the door and to the ticket booth. Then there was another line inside that was again, another 30 minutes or so to get into the actual haunt. While we certainly didn’t expect special treatment, that initial 15 minutes of uncertainty meant that the line we initially got in had grown much larger, which contributed to our overall wait time. It seemed to us that many people were bumbling around and adding to their wait due to a lack of understanding as to where/how to get their tickets and which line to get in. Again, a bit more focus on the usability of their line system would be a good improvement.
Now we are up to discussing the actual haunt itself. The concept of using fairy tales as a basis for a haunt has been attempted and integrated into many other haunts, but these guys went for it as their central theme, and ran with it. The sets and other elements were quite good, with one standout concept being a shadowplay that ended with a spray of “blood” onto the viewers. The actors were very into their roles and really tried to sell their parts and the overall theme.
This is where things got unfortunate. As opposed to other haunts, where you continually walk through the environment, Nightmare used a vignette approach (for the most part) where we were placed in scenes that played out–with some of the people in the group participating. One major problem with this is the number of people admitted as a group was too large for the spaces used. As a result Oni and I, who were in the back of the group, were often stuck with peeping around a corner into the room as things played out. This obviously dulled our ability to see and understand what was going on. The sound was also a huge factor in that it was bleeding through from other scenes around us, so not only couldn’t we really see well, but we heard other parts of the event and therefore couldn’t quite understand what little we could see. It looked to us like they expected the 12-15 people to scrunch up a bit when entering the rooms, but let’s be honest, no one ever does that. In the few cases where Oni and I ended up near the front of the group, we had a decent time experiencing the haunt. It really seemed like it would have been best to have only about 8 people per group, which would have comfortably fit into the rooms and been close enough to the actors to hear them (while ignoring the sound from the other rooms).
Nightmare has changed their theme every year so far, and we’ve been led to believe that they will be doing so for next year. I like when haunts try out a different approach, but it’s obvious that they need to tweak things a bit for next year to iron out the issues that we encountered. We were a bit disappointed in our experience this year, but if they can get a grip on their issues they have the ability to do a good haunt next year.