Legendary Soap Factory jumps into your nightmares

Hear that? It could be the ghost of an animal slaughtered in this industrial building.

Becky Lang

Alfred Hitchcock once advised that those in the horror industry should “always make the audience suffer as long as possible.” But there comes a time when movies aren’t enough. Watching “Saw” may tickle your terror bone, but sitting on the couch with your dog on your lap doesn’t get your nervous system jolted quite like being in, say, the basement of a deserted factory.

Haunted House

What: Soap Factory Haunted House
WHEN: Oct. 19 through Oct. 31
WHERE: The Soap Factory, Second Street S.E., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $10, 18+

The Soap Factory, which used to perform the delicate process of extracting animal lard for soap use, transformed into a haunted house that captures the rare element of setting. Forget the State Fair’s rickety white house lined with kids holding balloons and eating ice cream; the Soap Factory is stuck in an industrial cove of Minneapolis, where empty garages are mysteriously lit and sections of the street are strung with caution tape.

The basement setting of the haunted maze recalls “Seven Deadly Sins,” a film where many a holy lawbreaker is subjected to unusually cruel punishment, often involving an abandoned basement and sharp objects.

But this basement’s innards deliver a selection of sensations that ignite a variety of phobias. Scared of clowns? Hold your breath. Scared of complete darkness? Well, at least they give you a rope to hang on to. Those are just samples; the moments that coil into the most archetypal images of horror are better left as surprises.

Of course, any avant-garde gallery would give its haunted house an artistic flourish, so the flashlight they provide you with should be used generously. Turn it away and you might miss the dead witch’s ruby slippers, or netting over a child’s bed surrounded by beheaded dolls.

The journey is also populated by actors dressed up as everything from tortured children to undead brides to all-out masked murderers. Shouts of “I’m going to kill you!” and “Help me!” follow you as you shuffle through, and the occasional two-by-four might get thrown where you just stepped.

The ghoulish actors are mostly volunteers, and about 13 artists contributed to the setup. The process of creating the haunted house involved a lot more than smoke machines.

Last year, the fire department nixed the show at the last minute, so this year many inspectors, one after the other, had to trudge through the setting of crates, ropes and torn-up baby dolls before the show was declared fit to go.

Aaron Wojak, co-creator of the haunted house, said the tradition went back to his college days, when he and fellow creator Chris Pennington used their big basement to throw costume parties. They even considered naming their projects “Basement Productions.”

Other than housing laundry machines and the occasional keg, basements do have the ability to place a chilling finger on our psyches. When the lights go out and strange footsteps approach, they can easily create the dread of last resorts, being at the end of the chase with nowhere to go but in endless, insanity-inducing circles. Something as mundane and everyday as a furnace can be transformed into a torture chamber once the dark eye of the subconscious opens up.

But in the case of the Soap Factory basement, the creators offer only one bit of advice: that visitors dare not venture downstairs alone.