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Each Halloween season, the subways in New York City are
adorned with nightmares. They’re ever changing, but the residents know what it
means: one of the city’s most lauded haunts is returning. And this year, with
creator Timothy Haskell reluctantly giving in to his audience’s blood
thirst, it sounds like Nightmare is at its most vicious yet. FANGORIA spoke
with Haskell about his already hot button theme of serial killers, as well as
the incredible gallery of murder history accompanying the 2012 chapter.
FANGORIA: From what I gather and what we've spoken about in
the past, you sort of base each year’s themes off of exit polling in the
previous haunts. Did this work that way?
TIMOTHY HASKELL: It was exit polling in a different way. My
partner tells me never to apologize for anything, but “Fairy Tales,” although I
personally loved it and I enjoyed working on it, some of our audience thought
it was a bit soft. So, they let me know about it. So, my exit polling was that.
What’s the opposite of soft? A house about serial killers.
I did ask people to tell me about—I didn’t use the word
favorite as I’ll usually ask, “What’s your favorite ghost story, What is your
favorite vampire?” This one, it’s a bit déclassé to say, “What’s your favorite
FANG: Although, people have one.
HASKELL: Sadly, people have them. Which I think is an
interesting phenomenon and that’s a little bit of what our house is about.
There is an obsession with serial killers and there’s a romanticizing of them,
sex-ifying of them, which I don’t personally get. If they ever happened to be in the same room as them, they’d kill
them. So, I’m not quite sure why… So, I did ask people what serial killers you
were most interested in, which were most fascinating. They are truly fascinating. I’ve
read a ton, and I’ve watched enough DVDs and documentaries and specials to choke
a horse. I’ve learned a lot about these people and although, universally
twisted and sick, the thing that’s really interesting about them to me, is that
I and they are both people. I don’t mean that in a way that’s trying to
humanize them. I mean that in a way that’s fascinating in the same way that
when I see a hulking, 6’8” muscular person and compare myself. It’s amazing to
me that as a species, we’re both people. It’s fascinating with the way that
they think and what their modi operandis are, that we are both people.
So, I wanted to sort of explore what similarities we shared
as people, as well as our vast differences. So, me being a little bit sheepish
about the subject at first, I chose it because I thought, “you guys want scary
and in your face, I’ll do serial killers.” It’s been the most requested theme
in our nine years. I’ve resisted it and rejected it. I just didn't want to deal
with the negative blow back of it. I thought “Why? There’s a million haunted
house subjects.” I thought the time was right to do what is potentially the
scariest haunted house that you can do.
FANG: Do you have an attitude of, “You may have regretted
asking for this so much.” Do you have an aim—
HASKELL: To nail them down? Well, no, because the way that
I’m presenting them, I don’t want to sound too dark, it’s really pitch perfect.
I’m really happy with this. I regret—and I discovered this from a recent
Huffington Post story that ran on this, not knowing anything about it—people’s
reactions to it. It was very negative; people calling me all kinds of awful
names. I regret people will come to that conclusion without getting to know the
FANG: When anything lives on a fringe like that…
HASKELL: Anything insensitive, people presume that we are
going to approach it that way, but not at all. In my original blog post, that I
do every year, where I say, “Hey, tell me
about…” where it’s always a more trivial thing, I gave a bunch of disclaimers; a
ton of caveats. Let’s keep the child killers to a minimum, let’s keep the women
killers to a minimum. I figured that’s what people would be most sensitive
about, and man, did my audience really lambaste me for this. They were like, “if
you’re gonna do it, do it.” That was basically the response. If you’re gonna do
a house about these people, do it the way you’re supposed to do it. If that’s
what everyone’s telling me, then I will. But how I present them, will be my
FANG: Within the house, are you recreating actual events?
HASKELL: That’s what I very intentionally did not do. There
are no reenactments. Well, that’s not true. The reenactments that there are,
are from pre-1920 events like H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper; things that are
not too soon. The others, I’m treating for what they are: very scary, very
horrifying, terrible people; what people refer to as bogeyman. Just like Jason,
Freddy, Michael Myers, vampires, werewolves, Frankensteins are bogeyman, these
have become part of the cultural fabric. John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy and
Jeffrey Dahmer, they have become icons. Obviously, not positive ones, but they
are icons in the same and they are icons for being scary, awful people. So, I’m
going to treat them like that. You are supposed to be afraid of them, so I will
make sure that you are. In that way, I don’t believe I’m glorifying them,
making them sexy. I’m making them exactly what they are, which is very scary.
And in some of them, they get their comeuppance. Not to give away any secrets,
but there will be an execution. You will experience some of the crimes through
the victim’s family’s eyes, and not necessarily the perpetrator’s. You will be
the perpetrator, at times, and you won’t feel good about it. But then, the rest
of the time, you are either the victim or the perpetrator’s target.
So, the one thing I did not want to do is sensationalize
watching Richard Ramirez kill some young person. To me, aside from that being
presentational and not very scary—it is certainly disturbing—I don’t find it to
be in good taste and wholly unnecessary. It is not like a museum exhibit, like
“Watch how John Wayne Gacy murders this person. Now let’s discuss. Watch how
Jeffrey Dahmer would murder this person. Now, let’s discuss.” That’s not really
what a haunted house will do. So, I didn't think reenactments were in order.
Aside from I find them completely tasteless and insensitive, but I thought they wouldn't make for a very good haunted house.
So, to me, it sort of worked out perfectly. I don’t regret
picking the killers that I picked, the subject, because I feel like it really
lends itself to a haunted house without having to be tasteless or insensitive.
I am in the job of scaring people and people want me to scare them, and I feel
like this is a really scary one.
FANG: NIGHTMARE has never just been about the jolt, but an
atmosphere and you always include audience participation. This year sounds like
you’re never omnipresent. Does this push the audience participation further
HASKELL: Yes, in line, I am asking who wants to participate,
and furthermore, who wants to be touched? And then—I’m not going to put a
swastika, because that’s going too far—but in a Manson-esque way I’m going to
grease pencil an “X” on everyone who wants to participate, which by the way
will be 95% of people. There are people who are, “keep your hands off me, I do
not want to participate,” but most people do. So, the actors in the room will
know who we can touch. Every room, you will either have something happen to
you, or you will do something to someone else. Every room has the opportunity
for someone to participate in a big way, not just that I’m going to scare you,
but that you actually have to physically do something or become a victim of
Or, there are a lot of people that really want to be
spectators and they have that opportunity. They can watch. If not a single
person in a room wants to participate, the rooms can happen just the same. And
if you’re in a group where everyone else wants to participate and you don’t,
then you’re going to love it because you’re going to watch everyone else in the
group have things happen to them. And if you’re someone who this whole time you
always want something to happen to you, there are thirteen rooms and only
groups of ten. You will definitely have the opportunity.
FANG: Is each room predicated on a different serial killer?
HASKELL: Yea, it’s exactly that.
FANG: Are certain rooms and killers unrevealed, so far?
HASKELL: I don’t want to reveal all. I don’t know if I’m
ever going to mention all of them, and there are a couple of reasons. One, if
for some reason there’s one people will be particularly outraged by, I don’t
want to deal with it. Also, I don’t want people going into the house
analytically. I feel like that sort of dampers their fear receptors. So, if
they know all thirteen of the killers and they go into each room like, “Oh this
is the such and such room,” then they’re automatically thinking. I want them to
be more disarmed then that. In the past, I've listed all the ghosts, or all of the
vampires. I want people to be as disarmed as possible, and then they can
discuss it afterwards.
I’ll tell you this, there’s nobody as recent as twenty years
ago, besides Jeffrey Dahmer. He’s the most recent. To me, like H.H. Holmes
deserves his own haunted house. If this one does well, I think next one we
should call “Horror Hotel” and just do a whole hotel on H.H. Holmes, because
that guy was sick. What he did, was so incredibly elaborate. He built a hotel.
Each room was a torture room, and there were secret passageways. That could be
a whole hotel.
So, he has a room in this house, but maybe next year we’ll
build his whole hotel.
FANG: Well, normally there’ an addendum each year, right?
Like a separate piece? Did you ever consider just giving Holmes his own mini
HASKELL: Our addendum this year is the gallery ["The Mind of Madness"]. We are
renting and purchasing hundreds of paintings and artifacts from actual serial
killers, as well as novelties that are about serial killers and memorabilia. We've got everything. We've got "wanted posters," fingerprints; we've got Pogo
the Clown paintings. But then, the novelty section’s really interesting. We've got trading cards. There was a Jeffrey Dahmer cooking apron. There’s some
really ridiculous, stupid stuff; calendars and games. And we’re going to
feature all of it.
I think it will upset people, but to me, I don’t quite
understand because I’m fascinated by it. I don’t necessarily think it’s
beautiful, but as artifacts go, these are important, dynamic, interesting. I
don’t feel like this is making them out to be heroes as much as, “Hey, this is
how some of these really sick people thought. This is the effect that they had
on our world. This is how people feel about them. These are some relics that
you might find really interesting.” People come to New York City and they want
to go see the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building and to us, these things
have sort of lost their allure. And the Empire State Building isn't even that
beautiful of a building. So, it’s not at all that you think John Wayne Gacy’s
paintings are attractive, but everyone’s seen his self portrait of Pogo the
Clown. So, just seeing it will be like seeing something that you’re really,
really familiar with. That’s kind of fascinating to see it live. It doesn't mean you think John Wayne Gacy’s amazing. I don’t think anyone would think
FANG: In picking the rooms, did you try to search for
anything regionally specific to New York?
HASKELL: That was one thing, because victim’s families of
David Berkowitz are still alive and I’m not that crass, so I tried to avoid New
York and the tri-state area. Some people might think that people picketing
would be really great for press or something like that, but I’m just trying to
make a really good haunted house. I want it to sell tickets on the merits of
the events that I’m doing, not so much on the controversy around it. So, I didn't do anybody in the area. The only one is Albert Fish, but he’s from the
There are also several women. People don’t think there are
women serial killers, but there are. I have three of them in the house, and
Aileen Wournos is not one of them. Most people know one, we've been out there
promoting it on the Facebook page: Lady Bathory. It’s funny, I try not to read
those comments on that Huffington Post thing and I stopped, but I found it
awfully naïve that some people would call me a misogynist and insensitive to
the victimization of women. The victims of the killers portrayed in the house
are majority men. That’s true, if you take out Lady Bathory. That’s kind of
ironic, because she killed like six hundred girls. Take her out, and the
majority of victims are men. It’s ironic that it’s a women that pushes it over
FANG: Are there things you've put in there coming from your
anthropological standpoint, that you've gained insight to, or you believe made
a room better?
HASKELL: Hm, that’s a good question. I assume all my
education informs everything I do.
FANG: This one seems relevant, based so much in reality.
HASKELL: I did a lot of research. The Ed Gein room is going
to look like Ed Gein’s house. That was the thing. Last year, we went with a
really stylized look that people didn't quite understand. Some people thought
it was a lack of attempt, but I made everything two-dimensional because I
wanted it to look like a pop-up book.
FANG: That’s strange it had such a bad reaction. I remember
being blown away specifically by how stylized it was.
HASKELL: Artistically-minded people, I think thought “Fairy
Tales” was their favorite house, but a lot of our audience, they can’t really
get their hands around that. So this year, stylistically, is photo-realistic.
Sometimes, you've got to fudge the history. Lizzie Borden, she’s mythology at
this point. She actually was acquitted of all the murders.
FANG: So, you can essentially do what you want with that?
HASKELL: Yea, she’s just a monster, you know. That’s what I find
funny about the whole thing. All of them are. What’s the truth about them? Some
people, you know more details than others, but for the most part, they’re all
mythology. They’re just monsters, and haunted houses are good places for
NIGHTMARE: KILLERS is open September 28-November 3 at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (107 Suffolk St). For much more, including tickets, head to its official site Haunted House NYC.
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