After standing in line for upwards of an hour, signing a waiver, and swearing that you aren't epileptic, you're suddenly thrust into a jarring realm of strobe lights, psychosexual torment, and faceless people shouting orders at you. As odd as all that may seem, still stranger is the fact that you actually paid for all of this to be done to you.
This is the Blackout haunted house - a horror attraction that's one of the scariest haunted houses in the world, and more of an endurance test than a haunted hayride. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be taken against your will, or how long it would take for you to lose your mind while sitting alone in the dark with a bag over your head, then Blackout is just the thing for you.
What is Blackout? Is it a haunted house? Is it an art project? Or is it a cruel experiment that pushes people to their breaking points? It’s all of these things. Participants in Blackout are jarred from their everyday lives and dehumanized as they run and crawl through a wasteland of terror populated with freaks who have been instructed to do whatever they can to break someone’s spirit. The one thing that Blackout is not is a standard haunted house. There are no ghosts, ghouls, or goblins. Quite often the most terrifying things inside are whatever you bring in with you. Are you still on board?
The first red flag that should jump out at you is the fact that you have to sign a liability waiver before even entering. If you're going to take part in Blackout, you have to be okay with the performers touching you and physically interacting with you in whatever way that they please.
You also have to say that you're not going to try to fight back at all.
One of the many ways that Blackout blends its reality with that of the rest of the world is by making use of modern tactics reminiscent of what insurgents experienced at Abu Ghraib. A write-up about an older version of the experience described the torture methods as being similar to an ad hoc home invasion. Meredith Woerner of io9 said:
Someone tied my hands behind my back (which was not tight, and would have been easily escaped from, but was still keeping my hands behind my back) and bagged my head. I was left shoeless and kneeling against the wall. The bag over my already existing surgical mask made it hard to breathe. Thinking about the difficulty of breathing made it even harder.
By Blackout's 2016 Sundance launch, the methods had mutated into actors pouring water down the participants' throats until they choked.
One of the sketchiest pieces of the Blackout puzzle is their commitment to subjecting patrons to what they refer to as "simulated sexual assault." One of the co-creators of the experience, Josh Randall, realizes that it's "sensitive subject matter," but he believes that the faux-experience should go "deeper than shock value, it's about finding what an actor and audience [are] interested in, and [making] them interested in going to that place. We try to be as clear as possible about what people are in for."
So, what does this "simulation" really mean? There's no way to know without going through Blackout yourself; however, according to commenters on Blackout's Yelp page, it's incredibly similar to the real thing. Nancy T. from Los Angeles writes: "A lot of the actors and actresses were naked, FOR NO REASON. One man even pushed me to the floor and put his d*ck in my face because I wouldn't put my hand in a toilet full of vomit and poop."
The existential implications of this portion of the Blackout experience are vast. Is this simulation anything more than actual assault with a liability waiver attached to it? Are actors who are comfortable with committing this anything more than would-be offenders protected by the anonymity of their profession and the disclaimer that welcomes you to the experience? The most frightening part of this aspect of the performance is that the audience has to allow it to happen.
Most haunted houses that you'll come across in October are full of weirdos in rubber masks and varying levels of theatrics from cobwebs to dry ice - but that's not what you're going to find in Blackout. The experience literally leaves you alone, allowing you to sit in your own dread waiting for something new and horrific to happen. In the Blackout experience, the thing that you're most afraid of is likely to be the thing that's going to lead to your biggest freakout.
As you'll soon come to find out, the most frightening thing that happens in this place is discovering what you'll actually allow to be done to you.