Creeping Around
Nightmare: New York

October 21, 2014 | Bucky Turco

“If people scream it’s a round of applause for us, but if they have to leave because they’re having a panic attack, that’s a standing ovation,” said John Harlacher, co-director of Nightmare, New York City’s most controversial and longest running haunted house that’s located on the Lower East Side.

Now in its 11th season, Harlacher is discussing the body count, which he defines as the “number of people scared out of the haunted house each night” and according to him, the 2014 body count is expected to be higher than ever. The record is 68.

This year, Harlacher and co-director Timothy Haskell decided on a haunted New York theme, so the duo took all the urban legends, horror stories and other dark histories of the city and embellished them.

Visitors to the haunted house will travel through time and see Native Americans cursing those who stole their land, a sickly Typhoid Mary infecting everyone in her path, bad guys roaming around a crime ridden transit system, mole people demanding to know why the fuck you’re traipsing around their subterranean homes, and other sections that play off NYC lore, like an encounter with the Son of Sam.

I asked if patrons thought any of the skits were offensive. “The biggest complaint has been about the portrayal of the 80s as a criminal time,” said Harlacher. People experience that era by walking through a graffiti-bombed subway car featuring a gun-wielding vigilante who looks a lot like Bernard Goetz, the controversial New Yorker who shot four black men in 1984 after he says they tried to mug him on the 2 train.

All in all, Harlacher says people are more interested in being scared than courting controversy. “People come to be shocked, they don’t come to leave offended,” he explained.

“It’s a haunted house, not a Broadway play.”

More information on Nightmare: New York can be found here.

(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)