When you have to worry about real-life monsters at the pizza shop and in the olive aisle, it can be hard to find haunted houses' ghosts and goblins frightening. Which is why this fall, a L.E.S. haunted house is scaring visitors with a new kind of monster: Real-life serial killers.
On Saturday night, we visited "Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House," which has caught flak from the families of murder victims whose killers' lives are dramatized to spook visitors in this show. In groups of about five, guests walk through a series of rooms, each dedicated to a famed killer such as Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer.
In the lobby you can enjoy a drink from the bar or check out some of the real-life killers' artifacts. Then, after choosing whether you'll receive a red cross on your head—indicating you want the "killers" to touch you during the show—the tour starts with a nod to historic murderer Albert Fish: You'll meet the weeping mother of his 10-year old victim, who implores you to consider that "these people are real." How meta! Throughout, you'll meet other historic murderers like bone-collector H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper.
Not a history buff? Don't worry, the house is full of the modern serial killers you know and love. Once lucky member from each group gets the privilege of executing Ted Bundy. You'll also watch Jeffrey Dahmer give a haunting speech (and then perform a decapitation involving an electric drill!). And if you've ever wanted a six-foot-plus John Wayne Gacy in full clown costume to shove you into the dungeon under his house while performing unmentionable acts with a phallic balloon, then this show is for you.
Throughout the house, which spans the first floor and much of the outdoor lot behind the LES cultural center, you'll also meet pop-culture killers like Leatherface and Dexter, along with "guides" clad completely in black who emerge out of the shadows for a quick scare.
"Killers" doesn't venture far beyond the usual jump-scare territory—although in one room, royal killer Lady Bathory invites you to enter her "crevice," a long, tight, pitch-black fabric tunnel, in which this reporter felt the urge to shout "I don't have the red cross on my forehead! No touching!" But even if most of the scares are of the typical character-jumps-from-unexpected-shadowy-place variety, the fact that they are portraying real-life killers adds a degree of psychological depth to the experience. We also found the art direction, from theater veteran Justin Haskell, to be superb. You'll feel like you're in an actual shipping container from Dexter or at the family farm from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Our only criticism is that the house's rooms could benefit from some soundproofing: While you're executing Ted Bundy you may hear Jack the Ripper in the next room, and at Jeffery Dahmer's trial you'll catch Leatherface's chainsaw in the distance. But if you can stomach the real-life subject matter, we found Killers to be a total blast, a high-quality show with consistently original (if not fictional) haunted house characters and unexpected scares throughout.
The house will be open through November 3rd at the Lower East Side's Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, and costs $30-60 for the 25-minute tour.