New York haunter Tim Haskell looks forward to this summer’s all-night “CAMP NIGHTMARE”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Samuel Zimmerman
It’s the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and summer, however unofficially, is here. A season with special ties to horror, it is where the youthful inclination of exploration and reckless abandon meets undeserved punishment, and when you close your eyes it’s envisioned as converging in one place: Camp. Endlessly revisited through FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels, THE BURNING and what have you, camp is a kind of mythical space whose forest getaway is recognizable to audiences and conceivably not very far from their own cabin experiences, minus the kills. Well, until now.
A seeming logical and wish-fulfilling next step in the haunt business, Manhattan’s annual and always experimental Nightmare is staging an overnight horror camping experience in upstate Lexington, NY this July. Aimed at being an ambitious, atmospheric and terrifyingly immersive event, creator Timothy Haskell tells Fango, “I think any haunter’s dream is to do a sort of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL kind of experience where twelve people show up and one person gets out alive… metaphorically.”
“Obviously, we’re not really killing people, but in the way that we’re setting up our ‘game,’ there is one, lone survivor at the end when the sun rises. So, it’s fulfilling to focus on a smaller group of people and make it a longer event so that it can build. That’s exciting. You don’t want to be, ‘here it is, here it is, here it is, now get out.’ As storytellers—which I think most haunters would like to be, and I certainly am as a theater director—I would really like for it to develop and play out and this gives me the opportunity over the course of seventeen hours to make it a slow burn with a climax and then a denouement, and then you get back on the bus and go home. It’s artistically, incredibly satisfying and I think for the audience, even more satisfying. I wish I could make it twelve people, but it is the smallest that I think we could have.”
Naturally a setting such as this—and the incredible one Haskell goes on to describe— leaves visions of slashers stalking through fans and prospective attendees’ heads, and Haskell admits this contemporary horror folklore is most readily drawn upon. “It’s tricky, because as much as I want people to chase people through the woods, there’s still a great deal of liability in that. I don’t get that trope as much as I would like, but in terms of every other iconic, slasher moment, I am trying to fulfill. We’ve got characters that you’re told about and then the mythology of it builds, and you’re met by that character and they’re responsible for a character’s demise, they pop out… I do want it to be more cerebral, though. I want it to be part slasher, but also part independent horror film where what’s scary is how unnerving and how there’s so much pressure on you and how you have to do something before this thing gets you. So, it’s a level of suspense and something you internalize.”
“And I want it to be extremely dark,” he continues. “The space is incredible, the woods that we’re in. They’re the whole reason I decided to pull the trigger on it. It has a wide open space, flat land, where I can put the tents. It has hills with paths built into it. It’s got areas where there are just canopies of trees, so it gets extremely dark. There are creeks you have to go over. On top of the hill, there’s another landing, so you can do things up there. There is from 150 years ago, a cabin. There’s an old outhouse [seen right, from a recent trip to the location] left there from a bygone era. Everything about this is just so perfect for what I need to do. That’s the set. For me to try and transcend the set with my own set pieces would be foolish. So what it’s really going to be is idea heavy, very character driven. Ambience, which is not a luxury you get with a haunted house because there’s always a group and you’re pushing through, I can now actually create. There’s no electricity, so I don’t want powerful generators powering things. A) They’re really loud and B) if I did get a relatively quiet one, I don’t want it to feel artificial in any way. I want everything to feel like it comes from the space. The things that we do have that are electronic will be battery operated, so they don’t have an overly electronic feel to them. I’m just really looking for something that feels very organic to the environment.”
This environment allows a limited number of patrons tasked with objectives to invite frights until deep into the night (2:30 a.m.), while allowing Haskell to break out of a haunted house comfort zone and instead of a herd, focus on each and every one of his victims. “What I’ve discovered—I do have a script for it, like I do for the haunted house—is that this is a totally different animal. The logistical side of it is every bit a part of the story. With the haunted house, I know if I build a maze-like structure and you start here and exit here, I know how it begins and I know how it ends and the audience knows when they’re supposed to go and when they’re supposed to leave. But, with something like this where I have to feed them, they have to go to the bathroom, they have to sleep, they have to clean up, they have to sign in—there’s so much that I am responsible for helping make part of the experience. Logistical things, perfunctory things have to become part of the experience. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is wildly entertaining, it’s just that it has to be included into the script because I need them to go from here to here to here; I need them to be in this place, I need them to be in that place. It’s much, much more involved because the creative part doesn’t change that much, although I need to expand it. The logistical part about where to put people, what they do next, how do I keep them safe, how do I keep it from being chaotic and disorganized, is every bit a part of the process as the entertainment itself.”
“As far as the entertainment is concerned, I have 80 acres,” he says. “That is a ton of space, but at the same time if I have 100 people, I still can’t have them going off walking as a mob. It’s still space. So, me and my team, what our job is, is to figure out how to make the experience individualized and have [people] accomplish things on their own. It’s not about ‘you have to do this alone’ like certain other haunted houses. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt in the sense that you are responsible for achieving certain goals, collecting certain talisman… You start off with 100 points and through the night you get points deducted if you don’t accomplish things. Because you are being judged as an individual throughout the night, I believe it will make people voluntarily make the experience more personal. But, even though I’m providing entertainment that’s individualized, you can still grab on to your friends and say, ‘we’re all going together.’”
As I go ahead and start making plans for a perfect flannel/short shorts ensemble, Haskell beaming with anticipation says, “I’m really excited about. I mean I’m not going to say it’s going to be the most amazing thing that any horror fan’s ever experienced, but I want it to be.”
CAMP NIGHTMARE will take place this July 12th and 13th and in addition to intense thrills, will also features s’mores. For much more, including ticket and tent info, visit the official site.