I can't in good conscience write a review for Killers: A NIGHTMARE Haunted House. It was too vile, too disgustingly demented, and I had the unique pleasure of working there for two wonderfully horror-fueled nights. So I'm writing this postmortem instead.
This year's Nightmare Haunted House was without debate my favorite out of the four I've been fortunate enough to witness. It was more fun than one should feel comfortable having in a room full of the likes of Jack the Ripper [Joe Conway, left], Ed Gein, Lizzie Borden [Nana Valtiel, next down], Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy [Scott Kozel, bottom], and Jeffrey Dahmer, striking that wickedly perfect blend of horror and theater that Nightmare does so well.
If you went and saw this thing that takes place at the CSV Center, then you should know what I'm talking about. Experiences can vary greatly. I went through the house three times and all three forays into the dark had different cuts and gashes, but all were united in a common masterstroke of bleeding brilliance. One key element to Nightmare's macabre power is its cast members, many of whom return to get in on the gore year after year. On any given night you would not be hard-pressed to find less-dedicated performance on Broadway stages than the total commitment that pulses through the veins of the Nightmare cast. They are dead serious about what they do and approach their roles with a kind of feral, living joy that I only wish I saw more of in today's professional musical theater. Getting to hang with this cast and crew after hours was also a unique pleasure that I had the privilege of experiencing. These ghouls and gals do like to party.
For the two nights that I worked at Nightmare I was on the Front of House Crew, so if you went through when I was manning the portal, then I was the guy pushing you into the jaws of death and then beckoning you out as you began to see that deceptive light at the end of the tunnel. I was fond of telling particularly terrified patrons "Good luck" or muttering "You're gunna die in there" as they entered and "Do not look behind you" as they made their escape. As far as seasonal employment goes, working that front door was right up there with a job I had at a Christmas tree lot back in my childhood. I loved it, and one of the perks of working there, aside from the people, was having access to the House when its disemboweling gears weren't in motion. To walk those rooms and hallways alone, in silence, was almost as fun as running the gauntlet when their knives and bludgeons were out. My imagination took wing while taking in the design's attention to detail and how masterfully constructed the whole illusion was, not making something out of nothing exactly, but solving logistical problems with clever solutions in dauntingly tight spaces -- another nod to their theatrical roots. It was the proverbial peek behind the Wizard's curtain (I am told the Wizard goes by the name of Dave Hinkle).
I was originally brought into this delightfully dark world by one of Nightmare's directors, John Harlacher, and have since had the happy opportunity to meet the House's other master, the man who started it all almost a decade ago, Tim Haskell. All I'm going to say about these two gents for now is that they make for an unlikely combination of artists and business men while remaining guys you'd be happy to belly up to the bar with. If future Houses will have me, I hope to once again be rendered ineligible to review by proximity.
Nightmare is over for this year. If you missed it, then accept this autopsy as a cautionary tale. Next time: DO NOT MISS NIGHTMARE. You've been warned -- and keep an eye out for The Experiment, coming this holiday season. It promises to be the severed finger in your happy holiday punch bowl. - C. Jefferson Thom
To follow future Nightmare activities and buy tickets to The Experiment: HauntedHousenyc.com
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.