"Why have you come? These were real people." So asks a distraught mother in the opening room of the truly terrifying Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House, currently playing at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side.
This latest Halloween-themed outing profiles 11 historical serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, and The Zodiac Killer, and draws audiences into their respective lairs and gives them an up-close encounter. And beware, not everyone will make it out alive!
Unlike some other "haunted houses", the utmost attention has been given here to storytelling (the Jeffrey Dahmer dream ballet was particularly effective). So not only does Killers scare the crap out of its patrons, but it also gives them some insight into the motivations of their subjects.
Moreover, Killers is populated with very talented actors with their own unique brand of artistry. These performers have been trained to observe their audience closely and prey upon their perceived insecurities and fears. Let's put it this way: woe unto the audience member who would cling in terror to his or her loved one upon entering the room.
Amid its innovation, Killers also draws upon the tried and true staples of such enterprises: there are plenty of masked ghouls jumping out from behind walls to grab you. Yet, the high production values alone are worth the price of admission. Watching a terrified victim beg for mercy as H.H. Holmes hack into what appears to be her real leg is simultaneously deeply upsetting and extremely impressive.
In the end, though the scariest aspect of Killers is the persistent knowledge that the world has been – and continues to be – full of real killers and real victims. While some people will find this show in poor taste, considering it to be an exploitation of real human suffering in the pursuit of a cheap thrill, the overwhelming truth is that nothing is scarier than reality.