Where: 8th ave., between 42nd & 43rd, New York City
When: Every day except Monday, year-round!
How Much: $27
Only in New York.
The concept of a haunted attraction that operates year-round with regular hours seems like a thing that could only exist in New York City. It’s not the only one in the world, but consider the environment of Times Square in particular. New York is culture and humanity and commerce condensed to an extreme, and Times Square is the central hot spot of it all. There is a literally infinite supply of customers in that area, so if you can afford to carve out a space for yourself, nearly anything has a chance to thrive.
Three years ago I was in the city and happened upon Times Scare one morning. I was alone, and it was far too early for a haunted attraction, so I vowed to return at a later point, and never found the time. As luck would have it, last week I found myself staying in a hotel near Times Square, mere feet from the haunted attraction.
It turns out there’s a bar inside! My party and I entered the historic New York edifice and ascended the short staircase up to the bar, where we were greeted by tombs and skeletal remains.
The bar is off to your right and the entrance to the haunt is on the left. We grabbed a few drinks at the Kill Bar, as it’s called, to sweeten the experience beforehand. The bar has a surprisingly understated decor for being grafted onto a year-round haunted house. The lounge area could pass for any standard bar, if not for the walls emblazoned with faux morgue containers, which was very cool. Behind the bar itself, meat hooks and torture implements dangle (possibly real ones – it wasn’t the plastic garland you can buy at Party City), and a small TV set plays a selection of horror movies at the bartender’s discretion.
For a gimmicky bar (or one attached to a gimmick), drink prices were not unreasonable. Double the shock for a place in Times Square. And granted, this was a Sunday night, but there was hardly anyone there besides us. Needless to say, next time I’m out for a night in New York this is where I’ll be drinking.
Here, of course, is where my review gets less visually exciting. Obviously, photos are not allowed within the actual haunt, as is standard policy (and for good reason). As always I will attempt to convey the experience verbally.
At the entrance to the haunt you are greeted by an actor who really makes a meal out of the presentation, blasting you with insults and macabre humor to warm you up before opening the doors. He was genuinely funny and not phoning it in at all, despite it being close to closing time (we were the last group of the night).
We were then escorted up another flight of stairs and into the belly of the haunt, which, unsurprisingly, was cramped and labyrinthine (as you are likely aware, NYC is not known for wide open spaces). Several corridors were dark enough to have to feel your way around from place to place, and as I was the frontman of the group I repeatedly got the sensation that I was headed in the wrong direction and into a dead end. This kind of thing is possibly meant to diminish your sense of control (and it does work), but I’ve always found it a minor nuisance. I worry about accidentally wandering “backstage” or through an emergency exit and ruining the illusion.
Where Times Scare puts most of its chips is in the props. As you go from scene to scene there are actually very few actors jumping out at you – there are banging noises of unknown origin and compressed air blasts and things like that, but it’s clear they’re working with a skeleton crew (apologies for the pun). This makes sense – full-time employed actors working year-round simply to pop out and scream would be a massive waste of expenditure. So the focus is on creating a spooky environment with static and animated props. A continuously vomiting mental patient and a hanging, twitching tangle of torsos were among the more memorable bits. The few actors they do have on the inside do double duty and (I’m sure) beyond, and give scripted performances as stalking tour guides and the like.
There didn’t seem to be much of a theme going on here. You’d think being in the middle of New York City, inside a supposedly haunted building they could capitalize on some NYC-specific horror: run-down serial killer apartments, scary hobos, giant rats, toxic sewage, or even simply vengeful spirits. Instead, the motif was more insane asylum/torture chamber/Hellraiser, but it was executed well (again, apologies).
To be honest, I was preparing to be ripped off. This IS Times Square, after all, and nothing in New York is cheap. The $27 ticket price seemed close to reasonable (just a shade above what a typical seasonal haunt charges here in Phoenix), so I expected a short, mundane walkthrough. But to my pleasant surprise, the whole experience was just about as long as you’d want to be inside a haunted house (roughly 20 minutes), and both the actors and the atmosphere were in top form. The props and environments were clearly built with a lot of care, and felt unique. I would have appreciated a bit more misdirection and jolt scares, but it’s understandable for a place like this to be running a small crew (I suspect, it being close to closing time on a Sunday, we were seeing an even smaller crew than usual).
The included Kill Bar is truly the icing on the cake. The exit of the haunt takes you down stairs and directly into the bar itself to file the edges off your nerves with a cocktail. If you’re ever near the heart of Manhattan looking for a good place to drink and are of a certain disposition (i.e. someone who would be reading this site), drop in to Times Scare.
Also, the bartenders and the staff were all incredibly nice! Another New York rarity!