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'Nightmare' Brings the Urban Legends of NYC to Life

The NYC-themed haunted house takes you from Sleepy Hollow to the subway.

Photo by Michael Blase

At season 11, Nightmare is New York's longest running haunted house. This year, to spice things up, the theme of the spooky adventure is the horror stories and urban legends of New York City. Spanning from the original Native American inhabitants of the island to Hurricane Sandy's "super rats," Nightmare is a trip through the history of the dark side of NYC, a fascinating and eerie experience that's almost as much a theater performance as it is scare-fest.

When you get to Nightmare, you are given the option to choose whether or not the actors can touch you, but be warned, if you accept the dare and have a big red X painted on your forehead in blood, they will be all over you. From there, you're off to encounter Native American shamans, headless horsemen, asylum inhabitants and more. It's a bit of a history lesson, but even if you don't know everything about New York's most famous serial killers or legends, you'll still appreciate the pieces of each different era.

The historical stages on the whole were more exciting and spooky than the modern horrors--if you're a New Yorker, you've probably encountered scarier rats and roaches in your daily life than the unmoving ones in this haunted house. The insane asylum piece is particularly fascinating and disturbing, with the characters circling around you threatening violence even as they reveal how little they understand the world they are living in. A few others, such as the classic Sleepy Hollow and the alligators in the subway, passed by a little too quickly.

There are enough pop out and scream moments throughout the piece to remind you that you're in a haunted house, of course, and the various characters you encounter in the alleyways of New York are suitably creepy and looming. On the whole, though, what makes Nightmare unique is not its moderate scare factor but its eerie, entertaining romp through the history of New York City's horrors.

There were moments when the characters would pull back from their act and reveal themselves to be well-meaning actors, such as the drug dealer who ultimately doesn't frisk you or when they make sure you know all of the safety rules before they walk you through the maze with a bag over your head, a slightly disappointing but necessary measure as far as liability is concerned. And while the path through the house does take you roughly forward chronologically in time, there's no real sense of climax at the end; in fact, some of the scariest parts are at the beginning.

Still, if you're looking for something a little less generic than haunted houses tend to be, Nightmare is a refreshingly unique take on the Halloween classic. And if you really want to take it to the next level, take a risk and say yes to the guy in the back alley who offers to sell you drugs. What's the worst that could happen?

Nightmare runs at The Clemente on 107 Suffolk St through November 1. For more information, check out their website.

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