Timothy Haskell, of Cold Spring, is a member of Psycho Clan, the creative team behind I Can’t See, an immersive “horror theater” experience in Manhattan that runs through Nov. 3. Haskell, who also co-owns the Cold Spring Cheese Shop, has created theatrical haunted houses for 15 years.
Why do so many people love haunted houses at Halloween?
We’ve come to accept this as the spooky season. Being scared is part of the holiday spirit. People like to be frightened because it’s cathartic; the pathos of it all, the screaming, the anxiety — the same reasons they go on roller coasters. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re done. It allows you to have an adrenaline rush while not genuinely fearing for your life. You fool yourself into thinking it’s dangerous.
Is there something fundamental that drives people’s fear?
It encapsulates a lot of things: the anticipation, the unknown. When you go into a haunted house, you know someone is going to try to scare you. The unknown is how and what. Just before you enter a haunted house, as the doors open and you’re at the front of the line, that’s one of the most terrifying moments.
Is music a big part of your repertoire?
It is in I Can’t See because people listen to the show through headphones while blindfolded. In the past, almost everything I did used original music. The moment builds, the string quartet builds, and there’s the payoff, the musical bang. Music evokes so much emotion. I use a lot of New Age music in this show. Something soft, lilting and meditative can be unnerving. Sound effects make it much more real. It has to be a holistic sensory assault; it’s about emotional and mental recall. The sounds, the smells, the feels, everything you can dredge up, makes it feel real.
Do you ever use humor to give people a break?
Yes, and sometimes people don’t appreciate it. They want it to be nonstop, “Hit me, hit me!” I create stories that read like a play. If you want to create good characters, there have to be moments of levity, but those moments can also be disarming. One haunted house trope is having a cheesy-looking animatronic lunge out. It looks fake; you know people will make fun of it. Then a person comes out from the other side and it gets them. That’s Haunted House 101.
Why has Halloween become such a big industry?
I don’t know what the tipping point was, but it’s about to overtake Christmas. It’s a holiday everyone can enjoy — a children’s holiday that adults have co-opted, so you have two audiences. And it’s nonreligious; it’s part of everyone’s life.