‘Tis the season. Sickly sweet traditions, pretty lights, all the warmth and love you can endure. But, not for us, not on this day. We find ourselves in front of the Haxenghast manor, the eve of the Midwinter Solstice in 1847. The cold is biting at our fingertips, and when the front door opens, we hurry inside. A festive scene, with a sparkling christmas tree next to the fireplace, a big pile of presents underneath. On the table, another present, wrapped in red velvet, begging to be opened. Emily, the youngest of the Haxenghast family, usually such a well-behaved and obedient girl, has snuck out of her bed, to open just the one gift. Surely, with only a couple hours to midnight, it shouldn’t matter? But sometimes, just one misstep leads to an avalanche of trouble, and Emily’s premature opening of the present ushers in the presence of evil elves, malicious snowmen, ice demons, and Jack Frost himself.
Through the eerie hallways and rooms of the mansion, we encountered them all, strung together by a rhyme-laden narrative, mostly recited in impressive monologues by the different characters. English not being my native tongue, the poetic vocabulary and the denseness of the rhymes made it somewhat challenging to take in every single detail from the story – but this didn’t detract from the experience. It was a wonderful theatrical walkthrough through beautifully themed chambers and corridors with some fun jumps and really cool effects, and I truly enjoyed it. Also, at one point, sweet whispers from a dark nook reminded me that Snuffhouse is never far away…
Literally so, in this case. Emerging from the Haxenghast mansion, the path leads straight to those metal doors I know all too well. I had actually been pretty nervous about it during the day – you know how it is with christmas dinners, they can easily take a nasty turn. It didn’t take long before the tormentors noticed me. Shouting from behind the gate, fists hitting metal. And then it went quiet. Mr. Black’s eyes locked onto me through the latch. An uncomfortably long stare, eyes full of ill intent. One deep breath, and then, I crawled in.
A huge Santa hat is pulled over my head, and I’m dragged away violently. As I had suspected, this Christmas dinner would be far from traditional. The next fifteen minutes or so were pure frantic chaos, subjected to the tormentor’s dark games, pushed and pulled from scene to scene without a chance to take a breath. Fitting the theme, it was maybe a smidgen less intense and full force than the October experience, but still an absolute assault on the senses without a dull moment, with up to three tormentors dragging at my limbs at a time. Between all the aggressive insanity, they managed to sneak a bit of humour into the experience, and I caught myself bursting into laughter at a couple of the scenes. The result of that, obviously, was me being smacked into a wall and told off for laughing – except for one particular moment where the absence of punishment made me suspect that the tormentors were close to losing it themselves – the scene really was delightfully absurd. I ended up giftwrapped on the floor of the bar, amused and surprised onlookers all around. Mr Black standing over me, shouting “MERRY CHRISTMAS DICKHEAD”, after which he retreated into the dark. I staggered up, took in my surroundings, only to be grabbed again for a final treat. Having worked through that, I had time to inspect the damage. Soaking wet again, covered in all kinds of gunk, shaking from the adrenaline and the cold. And once again, a huge smile, cemented on my face. Snuffhouse brought their A game, delivering the thrills I have come to expect, with enough changes to fit the christmas theme, and to stand on its own next to the October version. I loved it.
It’s interesting – back in August, at the very end of Snuffhouse After Dark, the tormentors yelled that this was not the end, when they left us alone on our knees. At the time, I didn’t see it the way I do now. But indeed, it wasn’t the end, far from it. I seem to be dragged back to the scene of my torment, again and again. Cursed to end up in their clutches, enduring an endless loop of violence and abuse. The pointlessness of it all has a poetic side to it. Sisyphus rolling a huge boulder up a mountainside. I know I’ll be back. I will be gazing at the expressionless, anonymous faces of the tormentors again, rather sooner than later. Doomed to repeat the cycle.