One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Reviews: Nightmare, Paranormal Activity, Sinister and Boo at the Zoo

The Princess and the Warlock pretty much celebrate Halloween all October. As we like to say in our household, October is our favorite holiday. We try to pack our weekends full of fun events such as haunted houses, scary movies and Halloween parties as much as we can.

This past weekend we visited local haunted house “Nightmare”, saw two horror movies (Paranormal Activity 4 and Sinister) and went to the Bronx Zoo to check out their Boo in the Zoo event. So rather than do a separate post to review each and every event, we’ve decided to just review it all in one big post.

Nightmare Haunted House 2012


We’ve been attending Manhattan-based “Nightmare” haunted house for the past six years. Over this time, we’ve seen the productions vary from the outstanding to the underwhelming, though mostly the house is a crowd pleaser with only two years of the six being in the “underwhelming” category. This year? It gets the stamp of approval from us.

Every year Nightmare tackles a new theme. This year’s serial killers theme was its most controversial so far, but director Tim Haskell is not one to shy away from his artistic vision, nor does he sacrifice integrity either.

Without giving away any spoilers, let us begin by saying that this year’s house starts out very different than its previous iterations which set the foundation by making the small group of guests feel incredibly venerable. This vulnerability certainly carries over to the next room which is quite unexpected and delivers home the message that the artistic directors are mindful of the content they have created. It was this second room which had us and our friends talking at great length around a diner afterwards. The dialogue and theme presented in this particular room were a tad jarring but ultimately we felt it was probably a very important message to send the audience to ground them before diving ahead.

From then on, we traveled through a number of rooms featuring various serial killers, from the past and in more modern times. The acting and set designs were well done and certainly raised the bar from the past three years. The scares were a wonderful mix of your typical haunted house jump-out-of-the-dark-and-into-your-face scares to the more twisted and disturbing psychological mind screws, such as the Jeffrey Dahmer trial room which was the room both the Princess and the Warlock found the most unsettling. In addition to this, other highlights included the fact that the Princess bravely jumped down John Wayne Gacy’s crawlspace alone and was later “killed” by Jack the Ripper (she had one heck of a night!).

The only detractions to the house were three main issues we had. The first was lack of sound proofing. In several rooms we could hear the group in front of us shouting and screaming which muffled actor’s performance and made it hard for us to hear what was being said. The second issue was that, before you enter the house you are asked if you wish to be touched by performers or not. If you opt for the more immersive experience (like the Princess and the Warlock did), then you are marked with a bloody “X” on the forehead to alert actors. However, there were a number of our group (about 6) who all decided against it. The problem was that despite this option, those in our group who were unmarked were still touched which made our friends feel rather uncomfortable and annoyed. The biggest offender of this was the actor portraying Anne of Bathory. The third issue was an isolated incident, but needs to be noted all the same; in the Jack the Ripper room, when we entered the majority of the group pressed to a wall and when a door in the wall slams open unexpectedly, two of our friends were hit with the door because there was no warning not to be near it. This resulted in a bruised arm and elbow of said friends. (On the good hand, the actor playing Jack the Ripper was very conscientious about actively checking the group for marked targets).

Overall, Nightmare is an intense journey into dark, psychological terrain. It was a disturbing, albeit, entertaining journey that got our hearts pumping and our minds spinning, but it is certainly not for everyone and if you have any issues related to claustrophobia or feel uncomfortable with people getting in close proximity to you, it’s best to sit this one out.

The Princess’s rating: 4 stars

The Warlock’s rating: 3 stars

Paranormal Activity 4

The day after our visit to the haunted house, the Princess and the Warlock spent the majority of their Saturday having a movie marathon at the local cinema. First up – Paranormal Activity 4.

We’ve watched all the previous movies in the series and as much as the “found footage” craze is growing a bit tired, we couldn’t help ourselves from checking out the next chapter to the story.

While the film certainly has its moments of scares, overall it was lackluster compared to the first two movies, though the Warlock found it better than the third and the Princess found it comparable to the third. And that third chapter is the one that we feel set the series on a downward slope. Without spoiling too much, the third movie sets up certain elements in the series’ internal mythology that pulls the action away from being a universal experience and makes it much more insular to the specific characters and lessens the scare factor by explaining the unexplainable, leading up to a disappointing climax. Unfortunately, the forth movie follows this mythology and whereas the previous movies had a delightfully slow build- up of tension which left you on the edge of your seat with anxiety, this one failed to pull off that same rise that made the first two movies a sensation. And when the main scares do show up at the end, they are meager as they are delivered not by a more tangible force rather than the unknown.

This being said, the use of the laptop cameras and Kinect were innovative and provided some rather creepy moments. Overall, it was okay but nothing special. If you are a fan of the series it’s worth checking out, otherwise hold off for a Netflix view on the comfort of your own couch.

The Princess’s rating: 3 stars

The Warlock’s rating: 3 stars


The premise of Sinister is that a down-on-his-luck true crime novelist played by Ethan Hawke moves his family into the home of a family that was recently murdered. A crime which he is investigating for his latest book.

After discovering a box full of troubling super 8 film, Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt finds himself deeper into the mystery than he expected and at the center of it, a supernatural entity known as Bughuul who lives in the images of himself.

The idea certainly isn’t original (see “The Ring”), but it provides memorable enough scares to make it unique and stand on its own. We don’t want to spoil too much, so we’ll just say this – Yes, it is scary. In fact, both the Princess and the Warlock were freaked out enough by this one that they needed to go see a third movie (Argo, we both give it 4 stars – but not theme relevant so we’re not reviewing it) just to get their mind off of the idea of Bughuul following us home. The great part about this film is that while it takes so many overused and seemingly unoriginal concepts (ie. creepy ghost children, the boogey monster) and reinvents the elements to transform it into a classic. It is hands down the best horror movie of 2012 to date and probably the best one we’ve seen since the Grudge.

The Princess’s rating: 4 stars

The Warlock’s rating: 4.5 stars

Boo at the Zoo

The Princess hasn’t been to the Bronx Zoo since she was a wee lass, so the Warlock had been promising her to take her for a while. Luckily, the Princess’s friend Dalin of Magic ala Mode decided to invite us to check out their Boo in the Zoo Halloween event.

Together with another friend, Nina, the four of us had a blast on the fine crisp, autumn day. The event is perfect for families looking for a fun day to spend with kids. Costumes are encourages for both children and adults alike. With Hayrides, free candy stations, a parade, face painting and of course lots of animals, it makes an ideal trip for locals looking for something a little less scary.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Princess's Garden:My Little Pony Project 2012

A collage of just a few of the featured ponies on display in the gallery

Having grown up in the 80's, My Little Pony was an obsession for me. I remember clipping my Pony Points from the cardboard toy cartons to scrounge and save up for the exclusive Ember. Every year for Christmas, my Wish List was filled with different ponies and their homes. You couldn't get across my room with getting a unicorn or pegasi underfoot. Though to be honest, not much has changed (you can ask the warlock) and while I am still a fan of the original series I grew up with, I am also a big fan of the new series as well.

So as you can imagine, when my dear friends Victoria and Dalin told me about the the My Little Pony Project, I jumped at the chance to join them.

The project is an art gallery featuring large pony sculptures which have been decorated by various artists. In addition to the gallery, there was an adorable salon where you could get your hair braided and decorated with sparkly clips and colorful extensions, as well as a pop-up shop where you could buy merchandise such as trading cards, posters and t-shirts. I ended up walking away with a Fluttershy hoodie since she's my favorite pony.

Me with my personal favorite, the Hime+You Pony

For the big day, my friends and I decided to go all out in fabulous fairy kei-lolita style. We went over the top with glitter, ribbons and frills. I even got to don my new unicorn horn which I recently purchased at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.It was a fun ride on the subway and I ended up with a fan section of a bunch of fellow Capricorns who I took pictures with. Hey, it's not every day a pink-haired unicorn girl rides the train with you, right? It was one of those memorable New York City moments, for sure.

Victoria, Dalin and I with the 6%DokiDoki Pony

When we finally arrived, I was blown away by how unique each artist had made their pony. There was so much color and imagination in each and every one. We were welcomed with open arms by the staff who all enjoyed our equally vibrant attire.A bunch of the kids and staff came over and got pictures with us and we even got to talk to a representative from Hasbro named Elizabeth who we chatted with about our love for the series and our desire to have it released on DVD (please, please, please!).

But the best part of the day for me was just being able to hang out with my friends and indulge in a sparkly day full of pure joy. Because after all, friendship is magic.

Down the Rabbit Hole: A Review of "Then She Fell"

As a gamer, theater nerd and writer, it’s safe to say that I have a healthy imagination.  I simply never outgrew playing pretend. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that a new wave of immersive experiences is taking the theater world by storm lately. My favorite among them? Third Rail Project’s Then She Fell, an immersive theatrical dance performance which thrusts its audience head first down the rabbit hole straight into Wonderland.

I’ve been following the company’s Steampunk Haunted House productions for the past three years, which was my first experience into this type of theater. They had me hooked from the start. Now, with Then She Fell, they’ve pushed the envelope.  

When you first arrive, you are given a ring of keys and encouraged to explore by opening the various locked boxes and chests you will find in rooms throughout the performance. However, you may not open any closed doors nor may you speak unless spoken to. The reason? It is a guided experience which has been carefully choreographed to provide a seamless, personalized journey for each of the audience members. The no talking rule is a staple of immersive theater and is in place for a good reason; eliminating your ability to speak allows you to observe more acutely rather than forcing yourself to make nervous chatter with other participants which can distract you from the heart of the experience. To really get the most out of this event, you must surrender to it. Do not resist, just embrace it. Give up control and just let it sweep you up in the story. Of you are able to do this, you will not be disappointed.

With only 15 audience members per each 2-hour performance, the show is designed to give participants a level of intimacy that many other, more popular immersive shows, lack. This means that audience members will frequently have one-on-one time alone with a number of Lewis Carroll characters such as the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, Alice, or even Lewis Carroll himself.

Throughout the show, you are guided through a series of vignettes where you watch the narrative unfold in a disjointed, dreamlike fashion. The order in which things occur and the things you witness changes from person to person as each participant has a different experience, making it fun to catch up with friends afterwards to discuss over coffee and compare journeys. For myself, I got to be a guest at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, I scribed for Lewis Carroll while he dictated a letter to Alice, I was tucked into bed by the White Queen and told a bedtime story, I got trapped behind a looking glass, imprisoned in a room full of roses by the Red Queen, had a conversation with Alice about love while I brushed her hair, followed the White Rabbit from room to room and ate and drank various elixirs and treats as they were given to me. As a Kickstarter backer for the production, I also had a personalized medical record hidden somewhere on the set which I managed to find. My diagnosis? Catalepsy resulting from delusions and an overactive imagination. It seems they know me well.

The show itself takes place at the formerly abandoned Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn which has been transformed into a performance art center. It is a site that was made for this show and adds another layer of depth into the narrative of the story, by adding a cast of nurses and a doctor shuffling throughout the environment occasionally coming to escort you onwards or force characters to take their meds, which leaves you to question if this is all just a shared hallucination of mentally ill patients after all. The story itself is a beautiful merge of the speculative relationship between historical, real-life figures of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell and Carroll’s beloved writings which have become a classic icon of literature for adults and children alike. But make no mistake, with its heavily sexual themes and connotations explored, this is performance is adults only and you must have a valid ID with you when you show up.

In addition to the relationship aspect of the story, The She Fell also delves into themes revolving around duality which can be found both subtly and overtly through the show. And as mentioned earlier, the presence of hospital staff and interior environment also adds a layer of subtext and thematics related to the idea of imagination vs reality and the thin line between. It may seem like a number of intense topics to present into one production, but Third Rail Projects’ cast and crew pull it off with an unparalleled level of brilliance and masterful integrity to their vision. The performers themselves wear the characters like a second skin and convey a heartbreakingly beautiful depth of emotions in their every movement and every glance.

With all their shows currently sold out, a lot of people are unfortunately going to miss out on this gem, but they occasionally have last minute cancellations and there is talk that the show might have an extended run in the future, but whether or not the production will stay housed at its current location or reinvent itself in a new location remains to be seen. If this sounds like something you want to experience, I highly recommend subscribing to the company’s mailing list and following them on Facebook. All in all, I cannot praise this transcendent piece of theater enough. If you get the chance, see it.

Then She Fell
Third Rail Projects
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