Oh, the Horror!


Frightening prospects for Downtown Halloween happenings


This, dear friends, is my favorite time of year — when theatres cease to be hotboxes and noisy refrigerators and the atmosphere outside is thick with the traffic of ghouls. Theatre began as a means of summoning spooks (ones with names like Dionysus). Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t need a crystal ball or even a Ouija board to get in touch with the spirits — just a bunch of exhibitionists and a stage!

Already open as of this writing is “Nightmare” — which bills itself as “America’s #1 Haunted House” (although I might give that honor to Congress at the moment). Created by Downtown theatre director/producer (and former publicist) Timothy Haskell, “Nightmare” is smarter than your average spook house (and by that I mean more conceptual, NOT less scary). This year’s theme is fairy tales. If you don’t think fairy tales are frightening (especially in their original versions, as they are presented here), you ain’t human! Cannibalism, child abuse, murder, torture: and that’s just “Hansel and Gretel!” Staged in the atmospheric old schoolhouse known as the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (107 Suffolk St., btw. Rivington & Delancey Sts.), “Nightmare” is already in full swing and runs through November 5. For tickets, visit Hauntedhousenyc.com.

If “Nightmare” is calculated to trouble your psyche, the mission of its principle competitor “Blood Manor” seems to be to make you heave. Blood, gore and rotting zombie flesh are the principle ingredients — making this one more “Saw” than “Sleeping Beauty.” Its claims for supremacy are less grandiose (merely “New York City’s Premier Haunted Attraction” rather than “America’s #1”). But if dismemberment and the screams of innocent victims are your poison, “Blood Manor” is for you. It opens its creaky doors (located at 163 Varick St.) to the public on October 7. Additional info may be found at bloodmanor.com.

Also opening October 7 is Todd Robbins’ spook show “Play Dead” — an amazing, inexplicable experience (mostly because it’s hard to describe without spoilers). Directed by Teller (the silent half of Penn & Teller), it gives us an evening of theatre starring sideshow king Robbins as he orchestrates a series of thrilling old school theatre illusions. There are long stretches of total darkness and the door is “chained” behind you before you are served up a full compliment of ghosts and murderous mayhem. To the best of my knowledge, every night one of the audiences doesn’t make it out alive. I hope it’s not you. More to the point, I hope it’s not me! October 7-November 6, at The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St.). For Tickets and info, visit playdeadnyc.com.

If you like your thrills a little more literary, you may want to investigate the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble’s “Poe Project,” playing at Theater for the New City (115 1st Ave., btw. E. 9th & 10th Sts.), October 6-9. The show is a mélange of Poe’s most dream-like stories such as “Ligeia,” “The Angel of the Odd” and “A Dream Within a Dream.” Is Poe having the nightmare or are we? To find out, book your tickets through Theaterforthenewcity.net.

Opening October 8 at the Richmond Shepard Theatre (26th St. & Second Ave.) is a bloody little cocktail called “Vampure.” This show must have something to commend it; it made its debut last Halloween season and it was successful enough for the producers to revive. Further, they’ve optimistically announced a run through December 17, just in case you want to get your vampire on between bouts of holiday shopping. “Vampure” is described as a “late night Rocky Horror-esque romp about seven vampires forced into rehab to cure their vile addiction to blood.” Why, there’s even a vampire-addict talent show! Reality television is asleep at the switch if they’re letting an off-off-Broadway theatre company steal an idea like this! For more info, go to Vampure.com.

A number of years back, I caught a fun show called “The Go-Go Killers” — a self-consciously exploitational tribute to Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, et al. This Halloween season, the two principle collaborators on that show (playwright Sean Gill and director Rachel Klein) each have a production of their own on the boards, both at the Wild Project (195 E. 3rd St.).

Gill’s “Dreams of the Clockmaker” (playing October 17-30) is the smaller scale of the two productions. A one-woman show starring Jillian Gill (the playwright’s sister and frequent collaborator), it promises to take you on a “mystifying voyage to one of those old, out-of-the-way places; a land of splinters and shadows and the darkest corners of the world.…” Vague enough for ya? No vaguer than many of the great classics of the genre, so don’t let that stop you from investigating its mysteries. More dope can be found at juntajuleil.blogspot.com.

Klein’s piece, “The Tragedy of Maria Macabre,” is described as a Dia de los Muertos dance piece. Athough the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead starts November 2, this show runs October 20-30. But that’s okay — it also draws from 19th century European Circus imagery and silent horror films. Here’s the plot: “Arriving in the land of the dead, Maria Macabre is greeted by the King and Queen of the Dead, and many other ghoulish Hades-Dwellers including a maniacal Ringmistress, a Beauty Queen burnt to a crisp, a menacing French Clown, and three skeletal Mariachis!” Learn more at rachelkleinproductions.com.

October 22-31, don’t miss the stylishly horrific “Steampunk Haunted House” at the Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St., at Pitt St.). Created by Third Rail projects, the producers promise an immersive experience featuring “neo-Victorian elegance and phantasmagoric clockwork horrors.” This year’s “Through the Looking Glass” theme is a tribute to the visions of Lewis Carroll. Beware the Jabberwock, My Son! Read more at steampunkhauntedhouse.com.

Halloween itself is the launch day of Dysfunctional Theatre Company’s “Brew of the Dead II: Oktoberflesh” — a creeptastic confection all about zombies, the apocalypse and mind-altering drugs. The show is a sequel to the company’s earlier 2008 production, and takes us on a journey from a Canadian bowling alley to the first ever post-Apocalyptic music festival, all the while asking the musical question, “Can the dead get high?” The show previews at Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place) on Halloween night and runs through November 19. More information, if you dare, at Dysfunctionaltheatre.org.

Lastly, there is only one Downtown theatre company to party at on Halloween: Theater for the New City — which has been throwing their huge Village Halloween Costume Ball for something like 30 years. TNC co-founded the Village Halloween parade, and you will find the same mix of costumed bacchanalia and spooky ancient ritual at their 115 First Avenue location, inside and out. Every year, 1,200 people (or more) turn out for this extravaganza. And if you don’t dress up yourself, there’s plenty weirdness to look at! It’s the East Village after all! Come to think of it, who needs to wait until Halloween? Tickets are $20 (although the outdoor performances are free). More info at theaterforthenewcity.net.

Happy haunting!