If ever there was a holiday gathering to warm Jack Skellington's heart, it was the one that took place on Friday night in the darkened lower level of a former department store in Rosedale Center.
A group of enthusiastic visitors greeted one another warmly, sporting seasonal looks ranging from a vintage Haunted Basement T-shirt to a pizza rat Christmas sweater to a classic black-on-black suspenders ensemble. Standing among macabre mannequins, all were excited to be among the first victims to enter The Workshop.
The Workshop is the first-ever "holiday haunt" from the Haunted Basement, the perennially popular Halloween attraction that recently wrapped up a successful season in "Herberger's corpse." Friday was the opening of a limited yuletide run that extends through Saturday, December 14, and if the goal was to test a concept, it worked: This is some scary seasonal shit. Literally so, judging by the smell that permeates the room where you meet Santa.
If it's been too long since you've reconnected with your inner Randy Parker, the little brother from A Christmas Story who was absolutely terrified by the man with all the toys, the Haunted Basement is here for you. This Claus, manacled and menacing, will never leave The Workshop...God willing. You will, however, still have to tell him what you want for Christmas.
Although it's just as scary as the October incarnation, this Haunted Basement relies less on darkness and disorientation. Once you get used to the idea that fiendish elves might scuttle out of the holiday haze at any moment, you can admire the strange beauty of sets like an eerie winter wood stalked by unclassifiable creatures, or a subterranean snowstorm where you're reminded that "the Donner party" isn't just a North Pole happy hour.
Several of the spaces are recognizable as reconfigured versions of the Halloween haunting chambers, but The Workshop has an energy all its own with experiences inspired by the most, er, wonderful time of the year. Prepare to help make some toys, though you may be the one getting wrapped up for a special delivery. (Thankfully, Hermey's dentist tools don't come into play.)
There's a twisted Christmas dinner and a visit with some "relatives" who ask highly inappropriate questions, but save your reindeer sweater for the real relations: You'll sign a waiver warning that anything could happen, and at least one of Friday's inaugural revelers got a splash of something unsavory full in the face. This Santa must have little Linda Blair on his Christmas list, and not necessarily in the naughty column.
"Christmas is not only getting too commercial," said Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "it's getting too dangerous!" He could have been talking about The Workshop, although a corporate satire seemingly meant to capitalize on the retail location doesn't quite connect. If you prefer to do your holiday shopping from racks that don't have any sunken-eyed ghouls hiding behind them, stay safely in Rosedale's merry and bright upper levels.
If, however, you dare to descend, you won't be disappointed. "We have to come back next weekend!" said one gleeful patron to his companion as they crossed the bloody tiles. "It's going to be Friday the 13th!"