Literally, a Haunted House 2014 Review

For 30 years, the Culbertson Mansion has hosted this classic spook house in New Albany, and over the years has become as much of a Halloween tradition in the area as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”!

Last night, as I drove down the rain slicked streets of Main Street in the quaint little town of New Albany, past the old Schmitt Furniture building and the row of turn of the century stately homes and manors, I could feel a tangible sense of history. The past, like a ghost that never leaves its earthly home, lives forever in that place.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the gates of the haunted Culbertson Mansion. As you peer up into its third story windows, you may see shadows of the long past looking back at you with curious eyes. Follow the walkway past the 1867 Second Empire-style mansion to the Carriage House in the back and you’ll discover another artifact of Halloweens long past.

Literally, a Haunted House at 914 E Main Street in New Albany, IN is celebrating its 30th year as a non-profit haunt in that creaky abode in the looming shadow of the Culbertson Mansion. While the world in general, and the haunt biz in particular, has changed radically over that time, Culbertson’s haunted house has remained rooted in tradition. I don’t mean to say that Literally, a Haunted House is “old school” in the same way I’ve alluded to the 7th Street Haunt across the bridge in Louisville. No, Culbertson’s haunt isn’t trying to recreate a forgotten feeling from the haunts of yesteryear. It simply is a living, theatrical piece of Halloween history.

In its tight and twisting hallways and up and down its creaking stairwells, there is a kind of magic that conjures the vibe of Midnight Spook Shows of the 1940’s through the 1960’s and tantalizing Spook Houses from long forgotten carnival Midways.

This season, Literally, a Haunted House is celebrating its 30 year haunt history by constructing a maze filled with the best remembered scenes and characters from the past, but it is also dipping its toes into the modern horror business in unexpected ways. For the first time, Culbertson is embracing the idea of “touching” and has amped up the physical intensity level a bit. Last year, the haunt was themed to Classic Monsters and pretty much avoided both touching and gore altogether, so this year they’ve decided to mix things up a bit and get a bit gorier.

It’s still in the spirit of fun, however, and nowhere on the level of grabby intensity and gore soaked depravity of the Haunted Hotel in Louisville. This would still make a great “first haunt” for a curious 8 to 10 year old with proper parental supervision (AKA, a brave human shield!), but there is a slightly darker undertone this season.

You’ll begin your tour with a walk through the Culbertson graveyard where you’ll encounter a coven of robed devil cult creeps conducting a ceremony that will unleash an evil force into the world. Then you’ll climb the steps and enter the Carriage House to meet a cackling hag that promises to end the evil spell if you’ll help her read an arcane text from an ancient book.

This scene ended up being my favorite opening scene of any haunt in the region this year. The great, atmospheric set, complete with all-seeing busts just like the ones in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, a smoldering fireplace and a fantastic “Boo!” finale, really kicks off the whole experience with style. You’ll also see some of the best haunt acting in town in this scene, and throughout the haunt, along with some of the best interactive performances around.

After you pass through the secret entrance into the bowels of the haunt, you’ll see ancient crypts, rooms infested with snakes, spiders & cockroaches, haunted nurseries and forgotten dungeons with moving walls. You’ll meet demented dentists, evil ghost children and chainsaw wielding maniacs. I have to give special props to the fanged, spider-like creature in all black who is truly worthy of nightmares.

On the down side, this is one of the shorter haunts in town, with a total experience time in the 10 or 12 to 15 minute range. The opening jaunt through the graveyard helps extend the experience a bit, but the Carriage House hasn’t gotten any bigger in 30 years. The Culbertson crew makes use of every nook and cranny to the best of their ability.

Also, due to the tight spaces and small rooms inside the Carriage House, the smaller the group you can go through with, the better. A group of three or, ideally, four will likely have a better experience than a group of six or more.

Literally, a Haunted House is open tonight and every Friday and Saturday through November 1st from 7 PM until 11 PM. Tickets are $14. Experience a living piece of local Halloween history this season at the historic—and very haunted—Culbertson Mansion!

The Phantom of The Ville

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