Blackout Redefines Extreme Haunted Houses

Warning: Today’s article will discuss adult situations that simply reading about them may make some folks uncomfortable. If you are easily offended, please enjoy this video of a cat dancing to Gangnam Style. For those of you with an open mind, carry on.


After you’ve been through enough haunted houses in your life, they become formulaic in nature. You form a human conga line with your friends and snake through dimly lit rooms in a spooky setting. Somewhere lurking in each room is an actor waiting to pop out and scream at you. Shrieks of joy and/or terror ensue and the group congas into the next room. Yet again, someone lunges at your group… rinse, lather, repeat.

Extreme Haunted House

Copyright Vortex Productions

Blackout, arguably the most extreme haunted house in the world, throws out this recipe and starts from scratch. As Josh Randall, co-creator of Blackout, told me they started with three simple rules to take people out of that traditional haunted house comfort zone.


You must walk through alone. Think about it. You’re going through Dr. Creepy McStuffin’s Mad Scientist Laboratory and some mutant six foot rat breaks through his cage and comes charging at you. No matter how petrified you may be in that moment, having your friends as human shields still brings a sense of comfort and control to the situation.


You must be over 18. Again, a large mutant lab rat may look scary, but is it truly terrifying? Nah. Somewhere deep down, your gut says its fantasy and you just keep walking. The true demons that haunt nightmares don’t look anything like Jason, Freddy Krueger or Miley Cyrus. It’s the atrocities that happen behind closed doors that no one really talks about. The ones you probably don’t even think about that can shake you down to your core.

Copyright Vortex Productions

Copyright Vortex Productions

You will be touched. No matter how scared you may be, the odds of someone touching you in a traditional haunted house are slim. Even then, it’s a light tap. Blackout’s touching is not kiddy stuff. You will be touched and handled in ways that you never even thought possible in any kind of situation with a complete stranger, much less a haunted house.


Blackout is the brain child of Josh Randall and Kris Thorgeirsson, two Columbia University theater students who became fascinated with experimental, immersive shows. One of their earliest productions was “The Blind,” by French playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. The entire show took place in the hull of a real ship during the middle of winter. Guests were served dinner as part of the experience. Josh and Kris wanted the show to be a visceral production by allowing audience members to smell the dinner being cooked and feeling the unique tactile environment that is the hull of a ship.


After talking to Josh for nearly an hour, the guy is truly passionate about immersive theater. The idea for Blackout literally came from Josh and Kris trying to “scare the shit out of each other” while going through college and spending time in darkened theater spaces. They felt that even in an empty stage under the right conditions, you could truly terrify someone.

Copyright Vortex Productions

Copyright Vortex Productions

Full disclosure: I have never experienced Blackout for myself. I love immersive theater and am on the fence about if this is right for me. After asking Josh if there are any examples of what happens in the house that I could share in this article, he told me, “I don’t really need to comment on that – you can read plenty of that on the internet already. Feel free to take it from there.” Following his instructions, here are a few examples of what patrons have experienced in Blackout:


People have had a bag put over their head and while wearing it, had water poured over the bag. Some have been asked to suck on what appears to be a used tampon. Others have had to sit in a room and watch a rape scene be played out. Some reported having to wear dirty goggles and headphones while sitting down at a table with their arms strapped down where someone threatens to cut their fingers off. If you want to do some digging on your own, you will see stories where people had to dig through a vomit filled toilet to find a key or some were threatened with a staple gun.


Keep in mind, all of this was taken out of context. Trying to explain the show is like trying to explain a nightmare you just woke up from to your friends. It makes no damn sense to anyone but you. Blackout isn’t a linear experience and contains no plot or story. The idea is to take you out of your comfort zone and push your buttons in whatever form that may be.

Copyright Vortex Productions

Copyright Vortex Productions

Many people wonder if this is even legal. Thanks to an extremely solid waiver everyone must sign before going through the experience, it is indeed within the limits of the law. This is not some underground operation where you have to know someone to be invited into this unique piece of theater. Tickets are on sale to the public via their website and they are very up front about their policies before you pay the $65 to go through. Blackout currently is running in New York and Los Angeles and starting in December of 2013, they will be adding Chicago to that list.


It goes without saying; this haunted house isn’t for everyone. Josh told me people either love it or hate it with very little in between. He encouraged me to check out the Yelp reviews people have posted and to see how ordinary people responded to the show. It’s a yo-yo of emotions, where one reader absolutely loved how intense the experience was, while others literally call it a “slimy-sleezy cockfest.” Secretely, Josh told me he loves the negative reviews, because whether they liked it or not – he got a reaction out of someone. Which the reaction is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So you’ve now got the checklist: bag over the head, bloody tampon, rape, vomit-filled toilet, etc. Now when you go to Blackout, you know what to expect so at least you can mentally prepare, right? Wrong. Every season the show changes and they throw out all the old stuff and come up with entirely new ways to fuck with people’s heads.


If things are getting too intense, you can scream the word safety at any time and the show is over. Josh told me that roughly one out of every seven people end up bailing out before they get to the end. No refunds either. If you paid to get scared out of your mind and that only takes three minutes? Mission accomplished.


On the other end of the spectrum, Blackout has some diehard fans that are obsessed with the show. These “survivor clubs” started popping up on Facebook in the past few years and are accessible by invite only. Most of these survivors will let you join their secret society if you have been through at least two blackout houses without yelling safety.

The 2013 season is the first year where Josh and Kris gave the show a specific name, Blackout: Elements. I was given no hints as to what horror lovers will experience this year, which I think is a testament to how much they try to catch people at their most vulnerable.


After telling Josh that I had never experienced Blackout, he told me that being a fan of immersive theater, I might like it more than I think I would. He said no matter what happens in the show, as individual, you definitely learn something about yourself and how you would react in certain situations that you would probably never find any other way.


While I ponder if Blackout is right for me, what do you think? Is it something you would try? Have you tried it? Do you think it’s going too far for a haunted house or any kind of entertainment, for that matter? Leave your comments in the section below.


For more information on Blackout and tickets visit To get the latest stories in the world of themed entertainment, like our TPU Facebook page by clicking here and follow us on Twitter by clicking here.

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