Blackout has always been the antithesis of the current dogma of the haunted house.
Nine years ago, they asked: why do you need to go through a haunted house in a group? Why are haunted houses marketed to kids? And why can’t a haunted house touch the guests? They decided to turn the cornerstones of traditional haunted houses on their head—and Blackout was born.
Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor, the creators behind Blackout, sit with me on the top floor of the Timberline Lodge. Snow falls outside a large window, blanketing the ground in white. We’re there to celebrate the art of horror storytelling at the Overlook Film Festival. But Blackout has a different approach to storytelling than most here.
“I don’t want to tell a story,” Randall explains. “Blackout is not about telling a story, it’s about a feeling; it’s about emotion.” While in other stories, you can walk away with a conclusion—an end to the narrative. You get an answer. “There’s no Blackout story that you will know to that extent. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. It’s about the feeling you are having in that moment.” When you can’t figure something out, it sticks with you. And that’s exactly what Blackout wants. They want you to go back to your hotel room, your home, your bedroom. And even though you are in a different place, when you flip off that light, a thought flashes through your head: Could that happen here? Is there someone in my closet? Am I really safe?
And that’s exactly how I felt leaving their unnamed, thirty-minute experience. I find a man, disheveled, in a dirty white suit. His breath smells of whiskey; his blue eyes are bloodshot. He pours us both a generous glass of whiskey. Liquid courage, I think. We raise our glasses and swallow it in a few large gulps. It burns all the way down. Without saying a word, he hands me headphones. Voices speak to me, of nightmares, of identity, and of responsibility. The man grabs my hand and rubs my fingers with alcohol swabs—each finger awarded with its own attention and care. Who is this man? Does he want my finger prints? He pours another glass for both of us and I swallow mine. It burns less, but I’m noticeably impaired at this point. He then hands me an envelope with my name scrabbled dozens of times across the front and back. It holds instructions and a room key—and the start of my journey.
I never got an answer to who that man was—and the terrors that I witnessed in that hotel room only exacerbated my curiosity. I never learned that poor girl’s name who I found in that room, or her relationship to the men that were waiting in the closet for us both. But do those names really matter? The feeling that enveloped me, propelled my fear into the following days. The horrors remained to haunt to me. My hotel room was no longer a place of safety. I made sure to check my closet every night; in case a hooded tormentor decided my closet was just as nice as the one in room 107. The room Blackout inhabited became every room; a symbolic representation that it is never over. Blackout understood how to take a space and make it universal—effectively driving a fear into me that lasted for days. But the images that I saw, those still persist in my memory, imprinted into the folds of my brain.
So what’s next for Blackout? “People may not hear from Blackout for a bit,” Randall admits. “There are many projects we are developing, but we’re being more selective in where and when we decide to release them.” Blackout was born about not being impressed with the status quo of haunted houses—and their lack of being able to truly scare an audience. Now there is an oversaturation in the market of events aiming to do the same thing. “Blackout has always been the antithesis of what’s happening currently,” Thor explains. Randall continues, “I’d rather have people saying, ‘I love Blackout; what are they doing? When are they coming back? I don’t want people to come to expect a predictable schedule of a haunted house every Halloween with an off-season in the Summer.”
Blackout has always been the forerunner in the haunted house community, paving a way for the creation of other experiences. They don’t play it safe and they definitely don’t conform. They will continue to trail blaze their own path into the unknown, rejecting the popular, and creating for those willing to brave the dark.
Next time you’re walking alone at night, maybe you should worry about the guy in the black hoodie walking behind you. Next time there’s a car in front of your apartment building, pause for a minute and wonder who is in it. And next time you think you’re safe in your bedroom, check your closet one last time—because you never know when Blackout will be there.
It’s never over.