Want to have yourself a scary little Christmas?
The Haunted Basement, a Twin Cities haunted house operator, has decided that horror isn’t just for Halloween anymore.
It has created a holiday-themed nightmare before Christmas show this December that it calls “The Workshop.” It will also sponsor “Season’s Bleedings: A Helliday Shopping Maker’s Fair.”
The attraction is being held in a venue that’s particularly scary at this time of year: a shopping mall.
Haunted Basement organizers have turned a floor of the closed Herberger’s store at Rosedale Center into what they call “a disturbing den of yuletide terror.”
The experience is part of a booming national trend to open haunted houses year-round, scaring couples on dates with a “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” deploying creepy leprechauns for a “St. Patrick’s Slay,” spooking college kids at “Scream Break” or opening the doors whenever Friday the 13th occurs, no matter the month.
Over the last 10 years, as scaring the bejeezus out of people has become a full-time occupation for many haunted house operators, shows have increasingly crept beyond October, said Larry Kirchner, owner of three haunted houses in St. Louis and publisher of a haunted house trade magazine called Hauntworld.
“If you like Halloween or you like horror, it’s not a seasonal thing. You like it year-round,” said Kirchner, who said haunting houses is a half a billion dollar business in the U.S. and Canada. “My actors have more fun for the Christmas event than anything else.”
This December, for example, the Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, a Denver-based chain of haunted houses, will be offering its “Krampus: A Haunted Christmas” show at eight of their locations, including Chicago and New Orleans.
“We trade out pumpkins for Christmas lights,” said Zachary Douglass, marketing manager for Thirteenth Floor.
Douglass said his company has done Christmas hauntings for at least four years. “Everyone seems to love it,” he said.
Haunted Christmas shows often feature seasonal touches like ugly sweater contests or toy collection drives (“Toys for Terror”). They also lean heavily on frightful puns: “Happy horror days,” “Slashing through the snow,” “A very scary Axe-mas,” “A Christmas to dismember.”
“We’ve tried and wanted to do a holiday show for years,” said Walker Friend, operations director for the Haunted Basement, which had its first holiday haunt at Rosedale Friday and Saturday. The Maker’s Fair,” selling unusual and creepy gifts, is open on Sunday. The show continues on Friday (the 13th) and Saturday. Tickets are $20 and you must be 18 or older to go.
Garrett Vollmer, Haunted Basement show co-director, said recent Christmas-themed horror or slasher films like “Krampus” and “Black Christmas” demonstrate there is a market for holiday terror.
In the Haunted Basement’s Christmas show, there’s probably less bloody gore compared with a traditional Halloween haunt. There’s a spooky Christmas tree farm, for example, but no chain saws, and you won’t see mommy killing Santa Claus.
Instead, the show features disturbing, unsettling twists on family dinners, holiday shopping and wrapping paper.
It mines the anxiety and stress that a lot of people feel about the season and offers a “release through horror,” Vollmer said.
“It was really fun/awkward,” Javier Gutierrez said after he previewed the immersive, interactive show last week. The Hamline University associate dean of students and sometime Haunted Basement actor said the show taps into the dread and tension that can come from being home for the holidays.
“A holiday haunt gives us a unique position to look at and explore what frightens people about a time of year that is usually seen as joyous,” says Guy Dalbey-Thomas, one of the Haunted Basement show designers. “It also provides an opportunity to comment on the corporate takeover of the season.”
The Haunted Basement got its start 13 years ago in the basement of the Soap Factory arts venue in Minneapolis. It became known for “absurdist psychological terror” and artist-created frights that were so scary that patrons were given “safe words” to stop the show and a lights-on “Fraidy Cat” option.
It eventually spun off into an independent nonprofit and it moved out of the Soap Factory space, which recently closed. Haunted Basement had been staging shows in a basement in a former General Mills research facility in Minneapolis until representatives from Rosedale Center asked if they wanted to haunt the vacant Herberger’s space.
“I cold-called them for weeks and they thought it was a prank call,” said Sarah Fossen, Rosedale Center marketing director.
Once Haunted Basement realized the mall was serious, the group welcomed the chance to use the 20,000-square-foot space for Halloween horror, followed by Christmas creepiness.
“What more fitting place to do a holiday haunt than in a mall?” Friend said.
“Rosedale is always trying to push the boundaries, and so is Haunted Basement,” Fossen said. “As we strive to make retail more experiential, Haunted Basement is a great fit.”
At the very least, it’s an alternative to screenings of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or saccharine Hallmark Channel holiday movies.
“It’s the polar opposite of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” Friend said.
Richard Chin • 612-673-1775