For Halloween, Please Enjoy This Story In Which NPH Freaks Out Ever So Gently

Oct 31, 2011
Originally published on October 31, 2011 5:51 pm

It's Halloween. Want to hear Neil Patrick Harris get freaked out?

Thought so. You'll want to click on that play button above, and check out Neda Ulaby's All Things Considered piece on an L.A. haunted house — more of an interactive play, really — called Delusion.

It's the brainchild of Hollywood stuntman Jon Braver, who rounded up some Tinseltown collaborators and rigged up a decrepit old mansion to look like an early-20th-century insane asylum. Madwomen creep across the ceilings (courtesy of wires installed by veteran special-effects pros), moaning "Mine, mine." Your doomed-doctor tour guide gets dragged away by invisible hands, leaving you to fend for yourself.

Then you get grabbed.

"It's actively scary," Neil Patrick Harris tells Neda.

The most frightening moment for him? Sitting at the table in a creepy Victorian dining room, then finding himself unable to stand.

"Hands were holding me down, and forcing me to stay seated," he says. "I think I reverted to my 8-year-old self."

Braver, the stuntman who created Delusions, tells Neda that one patron freaked out so thoroughly that she froze.

"The narrator had to go back and pull her into the next room," he says. "That's success. If you can get someone to freeze — or pee — then, success."

That's the highlights — but if like me you're into the sound of people having a full-on case of the willies, you really need to listen to the audio above.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And today, in honor of Halloween, you get to hear one of our reporters as you have never heard her before.


SIEGEL: That is NPR's Neda Ulaby at a haunted house in Los Angeles. Actually, it's more than just a haunted house. It is a scary play in a vacant old home, complete with the kind of special effects you could only find in the show business capital of the world.


NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The setting is a real decaying old, white mansion with broken windows and cracked columns near downtown. Quite a few horror films have been shot right here. The mansion's rotting interior was fitted out with wires by stuntman, Jon Braver, and he roped in friends who design stunts for movies like "Mission Impossible 4."

JON BRAVER: It was so perfect. I was like, oh, wait a minute. I have access to some of the best stunt people in the business. Why not bring them in and ask them to cut their rate and...

ULABY: Braver put his entire life savings into creating this interactive play called "Delusion." The house is supposed to be an insane asylum in the early 1900s. All the inmates are cursed with paranormal powers. Women with wild eyes and hanging hair crawl upside down on the ceiling, wailing.


ULABY: And the doomed doctor who was your guide gets dragged down a hallway by an invisible hand...

BRAVER: No, no, no.

ULABY: ...abandoning you halfway through the tour. But the scariest thing is when they reach out and grab you. It's so basic, but it works.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: It's actively scary.

ULABY: That's actor Neil Patrick Harris, about to go to the play for the second time. As a magician, he respects the show's elaborately rigged scares and stunts. But the most terrifying moment for him was low tech. It came when he was sitting at a creepy, Victorian dining room table and was then unable to stand.

HARRIS: The hands were holding me down and forcing me to stay seated. I couldn't get up. I think I reverted to, like, my eight-year-old self.



ULABY: "Delusion" was developed by stuntman Jon Braver after he became disillusioned with traditional haunted houses.

BRAVER: It's a maze. Let's get the next person in. Let's just make our money and jump out and scare, simple little scares and it's the same old thing, the same old tactics.

ULABY: Braver wanted deeper scares driven by psychology. He disdains guts and gore. "Delusion's" story is gothic and twisted, involving science gone badly awry.

What is happening? Oh, my God. What is that?

That is a creeping mutant doll girl headed for our ankles.


ULABY: The characters are not just freaks, but unstable heroes, evil doctors and helpful hosts who treacherously turn on the visitors, like when my group gets herded into a tiny wood-slatted space supposedly for our own safety.

Oh, she's locking the door. What's happening? Our host, I think, just got murdered and we're trapped in a cage.

Extreme reaction, says Braver, are part of the process.

BRAVER: We have one girl. She froze.



BRAVER: The narrator had to literally go back in the room and grab her and pull her into the next room. That's success, I think. If you can get somebody to freeze or pee, then success.

ULABY: "Delusion" found success in other ways. It sold more than 25,000 tickets in less than a week and those tickets run $40 a pop. Braver would love to tailor other haunted plays to spooky old buildings all over the world, maybe even start a haunted play franchise. For now, he hopes this is the start of a Halloween tradition.

BRAVER: I mean, every year, I'd like to just do Haunted Play presents "Delusion." Haunted Play presents "Castration." That would be a horrible play. I would not go to that play. I recommend you stay away from that.

ULABY: Remember, he's not really into gore. He likes psychological terror. So, Braver would have been pleased when one visitor, 29-year-old Andrea Haydel(ph), completely freaked out after leaving the mansion at the end and could not find her friend.

ANDREA HAYDEL: Oh, where's Lisa. Where's Lisa?


HAYDEL: Wait, they still have her.

ULABY: Lisa made it out this time.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.