D.C.’s only haunted house pulls off scares but misses storyline

Haunted House from The GW Hatchet on Vimeo.

The end of October tends to conjure thoughts of Hollywood fright-fest clichés — the gang splitting up, mountain hermits with power-tool collections and bloodlust for scantily-clad campers.

These classic (and occasionally cheesy) cinematic scenarios are reminiscent of what can be found in Gravensteen Haunted Production’s The Curse of Frau Mueller, D.C.’s only haunted house.

The idea for The Curse of Frau Mueller finds its roots in an urban legend owner Jon Libbesmeier heard while stationed in Germany of a 16th century woman who was burned alive for witchcraft. In this re-imagining of Helga Mueller’s tale, the setting is changed to D.C. in the summer of 1913, and Frau Mueller is a German immigrant who entertained neighborhood children. When children begin to vanish, bodies are discovered and authorities soon find Frau Mueller to be the killer.

Gruesome murders and accidents continue to occur every 20 years on the spot of Frau Mueller’s old home – which, as it happens, is the site of Gravensteen Haunted Productions.

Or at least, so goes the story on Gravensteen’s website. After visiting the haunted house, however, it’s not entirely clear that the “Curse of Frau Mueller” was considered in the production design.

Far more apt would be “Warehouse of Jump Scares, Strobe Lights and Gauzy Mazes.” There are hidden actors around practically every bend, waiting in tangled, pig-tailed wigs and smeared clown makeup. It’s eerie, to be sure, when coupled with dark hallways and tinny, circus-like music.

But the entire idea of a haunted house hinges on drawing the audience into the illusion. At Gravensteen’s, visitors are never entirely sure why it is they’re wandering deeper and deeper into the various, disjointed sets. One area will hold swinging sheet-wrapped “carcasses,” reminiscent of a meat locker, while the next corridor empties into a chain link version of a hedge maze.

And none of these scenes hold any clear ties to the “Frau Mueller” legend. Had the original vision for the backstory of the house been more fully realized, it would certainly have made the thematic impact more powerful and compelling.

For the horror enthusiasts looking for a truly terrifying experience this Halloween, Gravensteen’s may not be the place to go. It’s fun and scary, but visitors won’t be losing any sleep after a night in this house of terrors.

That’s not to say, of course, that Gravensteen’s isn’t a well-produced, genuinely frightening attraction — it is. With three floors of a warehouse on Florida Ave devoted to scaring guests, you get your money’s worth (regular tickets are $30, student and veteran tickets are $25 and group tickets for ten people or more are $20).

And the philanthropic vision driving the haunted house is one worth investing in. A portion of all proceeds go to the charity The Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Operation Rebound, which provides funding and equipment, and organizes activities, for disabled veterans.

Located at 50 Florida Ave NE, a few blocks from the Noma-Gallaudet metro, The Curse of Frau Mueller will be open until Nov. 2.

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