To say that Oni and I were amazed by the quality and concept of the Steampunk Haunted House in New York City would be an understatement. Our first time through the haunt we were given press passes, the second time we paid ourselves (so consider that a spoiler for how highly we thought of this event). In fact, I can tell you, If I could have I would have gone through the haunt 20 more times if I’d had the money and time.
This year marked the third year that the Abroms Art Center was converted into a full blown haunted house by the Third Rail Projects team. The first 2 years were “steampunk” inspired as well, but done in entirely different ways than this year’s event. This year used a “Through The Looking Glass” theme for the experience.
So, what makes this event one that Oni and I feel was “best in class” this season? Simple” Branching paths. I’m not kidding. There was no “set route” through the experience. In fact, they tell you before going in that you will not see everything that is going on, and in fact, your experience will be individualized no matter who you enter with or when you go. The people and experience of the house will have you taken in different directions from those in front and behind you in line. In only one case can you go through the house with someone else–in each group one duo was selected to carry a special rose which kept them together.
At first Oni and I were slightly concerned that this would make the experience weird–we usually have a process for going through haunted experiences–but in retrospect this actually made the experience even better for both of us.
So, to start off they put through people in groups of 7. 2 as a duo, and 5 as individuals. At the “front door” of the experience you were actually lead by the hand into the doorway and into your first room. This is where the branching element began. There were (as far as we could later tell) at least 3 directions you could initially be taken. The 2 times we went in we both ended up going 2 different ways.
The scenes themselves were inventive interpretations of concepts from the Lewis Carroll book. I was placed into many of the scenes as part of the action itself: sitting down, being given objects to hold, and placed into various positions and locations. In some cases, your actions (like accepting or refusing an item) seemed to dictate where you went next–though not until later did we know that was the case. One other thing to know: Your timing for entry to the various rooms also didn’t always “start from the beginning”. It looked like there were looping parts for each area, with your entry being random for what you saw, or even participated in. Afterward with a group we all discussed what we saw and did, with a large amount of the experience being unique to each person with only partial crossovers. In fact, I received access to a room which seemed to be “ultra rare” during my second trip.
Ultimately the experience was not in fact scary, but very dream like. Everyone we talked to who went through really felt like they had experienced what it would have been like to actually be within the book. For Oni and I this event captured an experience we always wanted in a haunt…the ability to forge your own path through the experience. For most haunts the path is pre-set with no variability, for breaking from this mold, and nailing it so well, we applaud the effort of Third Rail and look forward to their event next year.