How The 'Blackout' Haunted House Turned My Life Into A Real Horror Movie

I fit the giant brass key into the door lock, turned it, and was terrified to hear it click open. This wasn't my hotel room, and I didn't know what was waiting inside for me. I just knew it was nothing good.

My life had taken a strange turn in the past day, and I was living inside a horror movie at the Timberline Hotel, the iconic hotel that served as the outdoor setting for The Shining and the host of the horror-centric Overlook Film Festival. Like any old hotel, it has its share of ghost stories and we had been essentially snowed in the day before. There was so much snow that it came to the window of my second-floor room. Last night screams echoed through the hallways. They could have been drunken revelers or something far worse.

And now, here I was, participating in Blackout, an experience that has been dubbed the scariest "haunted house" of all time. This was the absolute last place I should be walking around, entering strange bedrooms. I hesitated for a second, hearing what sounded like static coming from a radio, and strained my ears hoping to get a hint of what else might be in the room. No, nothing good would come of this.

I took a deep breath and pushed on in.

It's Just Like Pictures In A Book

I was incredibly excited when the opportunity came to check out the Overlook Film Festival for /Film, but I really didn't really want to do their exclusive Blackout experience. The immersive horror experience has been running for years in New York City (where I live), but I had managed to avoid it, believing that I didn't know if I could trust myself in situations like this. You infamously walk through Blackout all by your lonesome, but only after signing a waiver that essentially absolves the performers of your untimely death. It's the only haunted house I know of that has a safe word.

This is an extreme experience to say the least, and I felt I was too chicken to try it out, as funny as that may seem. See, I'm known among my friends as a horror guy. I used to run a horror website and host screenings of classic movies to unsuspecting bar patrons. I've seen hundreds of them from all over the world, so many that it's rare that a film will scare me anymore. A video game or virtual reality experience almost always does a better job at getting me in the right mindset, so I knew that Blackout, which is the closest to living in a horror movie that I'll (hopefully) ever get, would be a lot to take. Being a lifelong horror fan is great until you realize that it also means you know that many more ways that you can be tortured and murdered.

When the experience almost instantly sold out to badge holders, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had an excuse not to do it! And then I was informed that there were special tickets for press. I gulped, signed up, and got this cryptic email afterwards:

Blackout email

I won't lie – I was on edge all morning. At random moments, I'd remember what was to come and a chill would seize me. What type of horror was coming? Was this a ghost story? Torture porn? Something worse?

I kept telling myself to get it together. Christ man, you've had articles published in Fango! But then I'd imagine some other new horror and worry once more. I had to supply an emergency contact number and I gave them my wife's information...and then I promptly warned about what was coming just in case she became involved in some way. Would they call her and say something insane? Who knows! She thought I was nuts and her anxiety about the whole thing didn't help my own.


God, I'd Give Anything For a Drink

I went to the bar at the exact time they told me to be there. Not earlier. Not later. A man sat in a booth nearby in a rumpled white suit, carrying a black notebook.

He gave me a waiver to sign and a safety word that would stop the experience at any moment I didn't like it (simply "Safety") and we were off. He placed a pair of cheap white headphones on my head and I tried to listen to the voice that was speaking to me from them...but it was hard. We were in the middle of a public bar, after all. And then this man, this stranger, started holding my hands and pressing our heads together. He reached a dirty hand into a pocket and pulled out something – oil, it turns out – and started rubbing it on each of my hands. Then he started rubbing it into my neck, all the while we sat with our heads pressed together. It's funny: while I didn't really care that a stranger was touching me, my social anxiety was making it so I also couldn't help but notice regular patrons of the bar coming to sit nearby, clearly confused by what their neighbors were up to. This was a brilliant way to start things off, I thought, a great way to make me unsettled even in a bright, public space.

Then he started choking me. Just a little, but enough to give me pause. The man got more and more intense and then he abruptly shoved a lumpy envelope into my hands and ripped the headphones from my ears, telling me to move out of the bar, fast, and follow the instructions within.

I ran off, not pausing check out the reactions from the people around me, and ripped the envelope open.

Blackout Letter

Holy shit, this was getting intense, I thought, knowing less than Jon Snow. My heart, already pounding like crazy, started jackhammering. Why a hotel room?


Wendy, I'm Home

As I stood in front of the unlocked door, I wondered if I would be pounced on immediately.

Would it be killers? A monster, even? Would I somehow be the villain? Would I be expected to do anything that made me uncomfortable? Little did I know...

Inside, it was dark and foggy, like someone had left a humidifier on high. Two lamps on either side of the bed were the only source of light from within, and static blared from a radio on a nightstand. All the windows were blacked out and while I couldn't see anyone around, I noticed a closed closet to my left and assumed something was going on in the bathroom. There always is.

I creeped inside, half-expecting someone or something to burst out at me, and followed the instructions as written. I took off my shoes and socks and left them at the foot of the bed, placed the key on the nightstand, and turned off one light. I started to peel back the covers of the bed before I turned off the last source of illumination so I could jump right in like a frightened child, hoping to be protected by his blanket.

I did, and appreciated just how dark the room became as the radio suddenly quieted. Blackout, indeed. I tried to calm myself, but it's hard when you're laying down in a bed, knowing that something is coming, but not exactly what.

The creaky old Timberline lodge didn't help the experience here, as I heard what was coming next. One person from the closet, another from the bathroom. They were dressed in black. The walked over and stood by either side of my bed.

They're just actors, I told myself. There's no danger here.

They climbed into bed with me and started snuggling. I'm not a small guy but one of them was big, and breathing heavily into my ear. Their breathing got heavier, and heavier, and then they threw the sheets off me and shoved a pillow over my head. I briefly wondered if they'd hear me yell "Safety!" through it before they took it off, and pulled me out the bed.

They shuffled me over to the bathroom, which had a dim red light emanating from it, covered my eyes, and shoved me into a corner of the bathroom.

"Do not say a word until she asks you." one of the guys growled at me. And they left.


WARNING: You probably have a good idea of how intense Blackout can get. If you plan on attending the show, don’t read any further. Honestly, it will just ruin the surprise. I should also note that the experience grows increasingly uncomfortable and intense beyond this point, so please consider this a trigger warning.

The Blair Witch Project Alternate Ending

In the Bathroom

I stood staring at the wall, feeling like a chump in a Blair Witch movie and sure enough, I started hearing moans, and the sound of chains. Was this some ghost story shit? I can deal with serial killers, but if I turned to see some Ringu shit I was going to lose it. I stayed standing in the corner since I was told that I had to go along with the experience lest they stop it, waiting to see what would happen next. I assumed I was supposed to stay there, but her cries got louder and louder and finally someone tugged my leg. I turned around to see a woman in her underwear with a hood over her head, with manacles on her wrists. REMOVE HER HOOD was scrawled on the wall, possibly in blood, but in the confusion it had come off already, and she was wide-eyed, frantic.

She vomited into the toilet near my legs.

"I need my medicine!" she started screaming.

I turned to the bathtub she had emerged from to see piles upon piles of red pill containers. Fucking fuck. I started rummaging through the containers but each one was empty, and there seemed to be dozens. She was laying on her back coughing and screaming and sputtering as I grabbed container after container, coming up with an empty one every time, throwing them aside and trying for what felt like hours to find one. I started throwing a few empty ones in the sink as I came across them just to get them away from me.

It's probably around here that it started feeling a bit too real and I got a little panicky. I'm the kind of guy who's always losing things and running around trying to find my keys before I leave my home, so it was a familiar freak-out. It was funny in retrospect, because the poor actress probably was just getting frustrated with me not figuring things out.

I finally found the one (one!) container holding a single pill, opened it up, and placed it in her mouth.

She coughed a few times and seemed better. "Thank you," she said. "What's your name?"

"Alex," I replied, realizing at the time that I had probably cursed out loud a few times while dealing with the pill situation.

She lifted her manacled hands to me, which were securely locked with a padlock, and asked me to find the key. There wasn't much around the room – was it over the sink? In the bathroom? Then I saw where she was pointing. The toilet, the one she had been throwing up into.

Well, I'm no germaphobe, so I shoved my hand right in. Sure enough, a key was on the bottom. I pulled it out, unlocked her chains, and things got much more weird.

She thanked me and got close to me, way too close to me. She thanked me over and over and started tugging at my clothes, lifting off my shirt and grabbing at my belt. I tried to pull her hands away for a second, but she was insistent, and soon I was standing in a shower in my underwear not knowing quite how this had all happened. Was she the real villain here, in some sort of weird Audition-esque twist?

She then tried to give me a drink from a medicine cup and I drank it – just water thankfully – and she started getting more and more manic as she poured cup after cup down my throat.

And then there was a banging from outside the bathroom. We peeked out and there was nothing there. She checked the front door ("Oh no, we're not going outside in our underwear are we?" I thought, crazily). And it was clear...or so she said.


I'm Not Gonna Hurt You

Then she led me to the bed and pulled me down.

As a married man, I know it's probably frowned upon to lay in my underwear with a similarly clad stranger, but we did so, laying down side to side. My heart was still racing and I was just going along with everything, and she started asking me questions even though I wasn't exactly in the mood for conversation. She asked me what fear was, and I replied with some nonsense like "The Unknown". She asked about what I was most afraid of, and I laughed. She asked me why I was laughing? "I laugh when I'm nervous," I responded.

"Don't you trust me?" she asked.

I swallowed down the obvious answer to that and said yes, and that's when she started strapping my hands down to the bed with some conveniently placed wrist straps.

pulp fiction

Bring Out the Gimp

She strapped me in there pretty well and then she put headphones over my ears. I couldn't hear anything but static...and that's when the guy in a zippered gimp mask appeared behind her. She didn't listen to my insisting that she turn around (I was getting into it at this point!).

He grabbed her and started hitting her. At this point, I had to remind myself once again that it was only a performance. I tested the straps – they were tight, but I could probably get them loose. But that wasn't the deal – I was supposed to experience this. The guy stood in front of the bed, well within distance of my feet, and it took a lot to refrain from trying to kick him. An actor, Alex. He's an actor. He looked at me, and turned to her, and started beating her more. He hit her until she stopped moving and left her on a couch on the side of the room.

He came over to me and straddled me and then put his mask over my face, careful to replace the headphones afterwards. I could barely see through the eye slits, and the headphones started blaring "Puff the Magic Dragon" and he pulled his clothes off and began to assault her while she grabbed at my arm. This was the purest horror moment and I'm probably even getting the order of events wrong as I write this, because it's all jumbled up in my head from the absolute insanity of the moment. It all happened, at some point.

At this point, it should be more clear than ever that this is not an experience for everyone.

Watching this, helpless, with that song playing – it was a lot to take. This is surely the moment that breaks most people and it was incredibly rough to lay there and watch while reminding yourself you can't do anything. The fest was playing a number of movies that depicted brutal scenes of sexual assault – Hounds of Love, M.F.A., and more – but this was one performed just for me, which made it that much more disturbing. It put me in the mindset of a victim better than I ever have been in my life, and for the next few days, I would get jumpy recalling what happened. I imagine this is the part of the performance where the most people would have called "safety."

After he finished, the guy jumped back on top of me and started shoving down on my chest, staring at me intently. I stared back until he covered my face with a mask and left me in darkness.

I was able to see a tiny bit out of a hole (mouth?) and saw flashes of what happened next as he pulled me off the bed and pushed me towards the door. This is the point where I started to get worried that I was about to be paraded through the lodge in a gimp mask and in my underwear. But it was not to be. The other guy appeared and they started dressing me, quickly and roughly. My shoes were shoved on my feet without my socks, my pants were undone and my belt hanging in front of me.

"You will think of this every time you're in the dark," the man whispered in my ear, or something similar to that, because at that point I could feel my mind buckling in all the ways my pants were not.

And then they shoved me out of the door and told me to run.

Confused and bewildered, I stumbled down the hall. I fixed my pants and noticed my shirt was inside out and backwards, so I pulled it off and righted it, laughing maniacally. It was an insane, exhilarating, and absolutely amazing experience. In all my years I'd perhaps become numb to the scares of horror movies...but I'd never take one for granted ever again.

A Coda

Hours later I was walking back to the bar for dinner when I saw a bewildered-looking guy stumble down the stairs with a familiar envelope in his hand. "Good luck," I told him, and he looked at me nervously, nodded, and set off into the darkness.