Event Report: The “Dead of Night” Extreme Immersive ExperienceBooks/Art/Culture,News Madeleine Koestner
In mid-November, I arrive home at a quarter to three in the morning from one of the most bizarre theatrical experiences of my life. After washing the blood from my hair, and the sticky combination of food, foam, and god-knows-what from my skin, I begin to scribble things down in hopes of not forgetting too much of the haphazard timeline of the evening. Drug trials. Cult initiation. Worship. Splatter. Interrogation.
Dead of Night is an extreme haunted house which FANGORIA had covered once before in an interview with a man going by the name P.H., the creator of this immersive experience. Dead of Night’s 2015 show, hosted by the Chamber of Horrors Haunted House out on Long Island, invites guests to a uniquely challenging experience during the haunt’s off-season.
Fellow FANGORIA writer Heather Buckley and I arrive at Dead Of Night in the late evening, leaving all of our things in the car and venturing in with nothing but the clothes we were wearing and our IDs, so someone can identify our bodies if this is actually just an elaborate plot to murder us. Although the entrance to the lobby is still done up with a giant monster prop, it’s been stripped down inside, the walls lined with red curtains and the staff a group of intimidating looking men in suits. There are four other guests waiting inside with us, all wearing white T-shirts and jeans, unlike Heather and I.
We befriend the other group: three marines and one of their girlfriends, and one by one they confess to us they are shaking with nerves. “I was in Afghanistan, but I cannot believe how afraid I am of this,” one of them admits. We are given waivers by a man in a suit and told the safe word is ‘Cthulhu’ which causes Heather and I to giggle, as we are the only two who can correctly pronounce the name of the elder god. Just as we sign the waiver, a strip of duct tape is slapped over our mouths.
We are all herded into a room and made to sit down at tables lining the walls. A doctor enters, barking at us with a thick european accent. He is joined by a nurse who keeps yelling at anyone who begins to laugh. We are told we are about to be given a test drug and requests we remove the tape from our mouths just momentarily. I take too long and the nurse walks over and tears the tape from my face.
We tilt our heads back, closing our eyes, and the doctor walks around with an eyedropper giving each guest a few drops of some liquid. We are instructed to keep our eyes closed and marched into the next room. An old hippie stamps a cult symbol on our foreheads and seats us at tables. Another hippie comes around and gives us each a pill and a small cup of punch. We take the pill and are instructed to hold hands.
I realize we’re still on the line. This isn’t the show. It’s all primer.
One by one, the couples are taken away by a man in all black and a mask with a high pitched voice. He comes for Heather and I. Another man in the same outfit who is far more aggressive takes us from him, and at his command, we walk into the darkness. As we turn a corner, I stop dead in my tracks. In front of me, behind a transparent black mesh curtain is a surreal scene and I lose my grip on reality for a moment.
Ahead of us is a massive grey room, dimly lit, with curtains lining the walls and ceiling. In the center of the room is a standing lamp, bleeding red light, a wheelchair on either side and a television in front. I cannot see what is on the screen. There’s a figure in each chair. Against the wall, close to us just through the entrance, are two lines of people all in white, kneeling with their backs straight, hands clasped behind them, in a strange prayer. The man barks at me to keep moving. I take a deep breath and continue, and as I get closer I can see the praying figures are the other guests, and now he’s shoving me to the back line, pushing me onto my knees and telling me to stare at the back of the TV, which is maybe 30 feet ahead. Heather and I have been separated; I will not see her again.
Loud synthesizer music begins to swell throughout the room, and I see a red light emerge from the darkness. A figure comes into view. I recognize this figure from the bit of mythology P.H. had divulged to me during our interview: this is the Pharmanaut. Hunting through my brain to recall his words, I remember this man, or maybe now a creature, experimented so heavily with drugs its body is only sustained by the suit it wears, and we are now down on our knees, worshipping it.
The Pharmonaut enters the room, walks the line, chooses the next pair, and leads them to the chairs. Time and time again I watch the ritual. I am never chosen. I begin to suspect I’ve been targeted. Do they recognize me as a journalist? Or maybe it was just my demeanor upon entering the room, my stumbling. Maybe it’s in my eyes. Maybe they’ve identified me as scared.
Finally, he comes for me and the man kneeling in front of me, who I recognize as one of the marines. The Pharmanaut takes me gently the hand, and slowly leads us through the massive room, towards the wheelchairs. I have only been able to see the back of the television that is the centerpiece of the display, but as I am led around and sat in one of the chairs by the Pharmanaut, the screen is finally pointed at me. Static. Blood is running down the front of the screen.
The Marine and I sit silently, watching the static. Without notice, my chair is violently grabbed from behind, and suddenly I am being rocketed out the back of the room, into a long dark hallway. I cannot see who is wheeling the chair, but he is leaning forward, pressing his face against my ear and whispering brusquely, “We’re professionals here, you can trust me, don’t be afraid!”
We’re dumped from the chairs into a small dim room, and I see a bright light in the corner. Is that a camera light? Then there are a pair of legs in front of me. “Get up,” barks a woman’s voice, and I rise to my feet. It’s another nurse, although if nurse is her day job, she is certainly a dominatrix by night. She tells me to keep quiet, then rips the tape from my face, snarling: “Do you like this?” I open my mouth to answer her, and she slaps me across the face, hard.
One of the first things you learn in Dead of Night is to do what you are told, and you are told not to speak. If you speak, you will be punished. Although I know full well that the worst punishment is to be ejected from the event, it’s hard to be sure when I’m playing along and when I’m actually scared. The nurse puts the Marine and I back on our knees, drawing all over his face with lipstick, and writing “WORTHLESS BITCH” across my chest in permanent marker. She ties his shirt in a knot, so it resembles a bikini top, and tapes me back up, then we are ejected into the next room.
We stumble in together, and are greeted by another grinning dominatrix nurse, a large medical instrument in her hand, leaning back against a table. I realize it’s not a table at all, but a stretcher, with a dripping mutilated corpse atop it. She barks at us to get on the bed, and we turn to see a beat-up, ratty old mattress. We kneel down, and she stomps over, nudging us closer together. She returns to the corpse, fiddling with the medical tools, her back to us, then spins around. “Open your mouth,” she snarls at me, “I’m going to give you something. Hold it on your tongue. Don’t swallow.” I open my mouth hesitantly, and then she’s standing above me, squirting a vial of the corpse’s blood into my mouth. She does the same to the Marine. “Spit it on him!” she commands. I spit the mouthful of blood over his white shirt, and then he does the same to me.
She throws us out of the room, and the Marine turns to me panicked as we make our way down the short hallway to whatever the hell is next. “My girlfriend is going to kill me.” I realize his girlfriend has been paired up with another stranger, or maybe one of his friends, for this strangely intimate experience. We’re going to be getting to know each other very well over the next half hour or so.
Another dominatrix pulls us into another room, where we are told to dance with each other suggestively, and then crawl on our bellies into a small inflated tunnel, which pushes down on us from all sides. It seems to go forever, but finally we are out. A doctor grabs me, his lackey holding me down in a chair and the two of them forcibly holding my mouth open, reaching inside to “check for parasites”. My tongue goes numb after this.
We’re thrown into a dark room that smells foul, and as my eyes adjust, I realize it’s a dilapidated restroom; the walls are dripping with feces. A huge man charges at us, wearing nothing but a stained pair of white underwear, embracing the Marine and I in a rough hug. He points at a stall, directing me to enter. He leads the Marine in behind me. “Do you see what’s in there?” he asks me, pointing at a disgusting looking toilet bowl. I falter, and he puts his hand on my shoulder, lowering me onto my knees. “Shove her head into it,” he says to the Marine. I look up at him and we lock eyes. I definitely do not want this, but I also don’t want to say the safe word. And this is fake, right? It can’t be that bad. I silently nod to him, and he dunks me face-first in a bowl of chocolate pudding. It’s revolting, but it’s hard not to giggle.
We meet a cult leader who baptizes us by having us hold each other’s heads underwater; yet another exercise in trust. The Marine and I have certainly bonded. Another pill is placed on our tongues, which begins to sizzle, and a fresh piece of tape is slapped over our mouths. Men in black suits and sunglasses grab us and pull us into a brightly lit interrogation room. There’s a man face down on the desk. I crane my neck and see the top of his head has been blown off, and there’s brain matter splattered over the desk and on the wall.
“We’re going to ask you a series of questions,” the men in black bark at me, “And we need you to answer honestly: yes,” they both shake their heads no. “Or no,” they nod yes. I look up and see screens with myself on them. They are recording the interview. They begin to rapidly ask questions, getting more and more personal, and if all of this is on camera, it looks like I’m agreeing to having done absurd things; I start to get paranoid. Should I lie? How am I supposed to answer?
They start to show me pictures. They want to know what I know about the Pharmanaut, but I claim not to know a thing. I can’t speak anyhow, there’s tape over my mouth. “Memorize this,” they bark at me, holding a page full of numbers in front of my face for a few seconds and abruptly pulling it away. I’m completely disoriented, and they eject us from the room.
More cult members harass us. Two freakshow types make us feed each other some vile looking chunks of I-don’t-even-know, and when I look as if I might hurl, I’m given permission to spit it out in a bucket. They laugh in my face for it.
The Marine and I stumble down the final hallway, and enter what looks like a waiting room. A row of chairs line the back, a few potted plants, a television, and a desk. Two tall men wait for us, instruct us to sit down. They are both handsome, wearing glasses and slacks, with tucked in button-downs. “Are you scared?” one of them questions me; I nod. They separate us, sitting the Marine in a chair directly in front of the television and instructing him to stare at it. The two of them surround me, chattering maniacally. “She looks scared, do you think she’s gonna ruin it? Do you think she knows? What is she even doing here?”
One of them bends down to stare me right in the eyes. “Have you ever heard of poison foam?” he questions, and then moves in close, and I feel something cool on my head. Then something heavy. “It’s balanced on your head now, and you can’t let it drop.” As he says that, the other kicks the wall next to me, hard. I jump. The can falls. The foam starts to drip down my face. They both start to scream, swearing, pacing around the room.
After a few moments, they move me to the chair the Marine had been in, placing me inches from the television screen. One of them leaves, and the other pulls up a chair, close to me. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes, continuing his weird banter. “Do you want to leave?” I’ve been playing along till now, staring at them big-eyed and trying to make myself look as scared as possible. Yet, now I feel I should be honest: I’m having the time of my life. I don’t want to leave. I shake my head no, and he grins at me.
He grabs me by my shoulders, pushing me out the door, and I’m outside. “Sit down!” I hear a woman’s voice yell, and I see a chair in front of me, I sit. Something very cold and slimy is suddenly on my head, and I recoil as the stench of something fishy completely overwhelms me. A camera flash goes off, and it’s all over.
As I reflect on the event, I realize every single thing I did, I did by choice. Dead of Night is about pushing your limits. P.H. had told me the point of the event is to get people to leave before the end, but almost no one does. We all want to see how far we’ll go and almost everyone who is willing to take the first step takes the last one, and finds themselves being photographed, sitting on a chair in the freezing cold, with an octopus on their head.
For their next event, Dead Of Night will be moving to Brighton Asylum, located in Passaic, NJ. P.H. tells us this will likely be taking place in February and will be a Valentine’s Day-themed haunt. Personally speaking, this writer cannot wait to see what strange romantic horrors they will be cooking up next.