I got an email not too long ago about something called Cinema Phantasmagoria. An old venue downtown was set up as a haunted theater (unclear whether it’s generally considered haunted or if that was specific to the event) and would be playing horror movies all month. The staff would all be dressed as ghouls and goblins and ghosties. There’d be a tour of the place (for an extra fee), and it would ultimately be the most atmospheric way to watch a scary movie. I scanned the list of films they were offering. There were some cutesy scary movies (like Hocus Pocus or Beetlejuice) but I wasn’t interested in that. If I was gonna be watching something in this environment, I was gonna pick something that truly messes with me. Saw.

The venue was next to Grand Central Market, so we were encouraged to stop there for food and bring it in to the theater. I’d peeped the offerings there the day before and had like five different places I couldn’t decide between. It took me a while to get to the entrance to the parking garage that was attached to the market. So by the time I made it in there and found a spot (sidebar: if I go up to the higher levels and see that every single space is marked as compact, my giant ass truck is just gonna take one of those, don’t make it impossible for me). The garage felt dark and unfamiliar (this will be relevant later) and I didn’t know how much it was gonna cost me, but I had less than 45 minutes until show time.

I made a beeline for the seafood place. I tend to be skeptical of shellfish nowadays, but fried oysters is one of my favorite foods that i don’t get too many opportunities for. Cashier dude is super slow, but finally gets to me and no oysters. I opt for the fish and shrimp with chips instead. As I’m waiting, I see the vegan ramen place right behind me and I’m already lamenting my choice. I grab my food and run next door.

As soon as I walk in, I’m confronted by a ghostly character who looks kinda like a 1920s Freddie Mercury. He greets me and starts small talk, asking me which of his roles is my favorite “You know, there’s just so many terrific ones to choose from” He names something about a twisty mustache and I agree with him. He walks away and I’m on a mission to find the bathroom. I find a sign which sends me outside which sends me to port a potties outside Grand Central Market. Umm okay curious. I make a lap back to the theater and check out the concession stand. I spot the men’s room behind me, so even though I don’t need it anymore, I’m determined to find a women’s room inside. Apparently it was upstairs.

So it’s now 15 minutes to showtime. I haven’t really had a chance to explore or enjoy the atmosphere, but it’s not really looking like there’s a whole lot going on. I’d expected slightly more immersion. I walk into the suprisingly empty auditorium. There’s a demonic candy girl (demonic modifying girl not candy) at the door, and a dude that looks like an undead bellhop making corny jokes on the stage. I sit down about 10 minutes before the film start time and I’m surprised as the lights dim. They start with trailers for the next few films in the run. I try to figure out how I’m gonna eat my fish and shrimp and chips and eventually get it all balanced on my lap. As fate would have it, I did choose poorly. That stuff just was not good, but I’m stuck at this point. Soon after I give up on the seafood and move on to the See’s Bordeux Bar in my purse, the film starts.

Say what you will about this franchise as a whole (I did!), there’s no denying that this first film is a damn good horror movie. I’ve seen this before a couple times, but it still gave me a 90 minute anxiety attack. The thing is, I don’t consider this “scary”. I’m not afraid that Jigsaw is gonna come and get me. But the mind games mess with my head. I spiral down a rabbit hole of figuring out the games and trying to see the ways out that the characters didn’t.

Although what was scary was when I remembered that parking garage I was returning to, dark and unfamiliar. Granted, it was gonna be about 9 PM when I returned and I saw so many security guards around the market nad theater, I knew I’d be okay, but I was still dreading that return. The fact that some scenes in the film take place in a dark and unfamiliar parking garage did not help at all.

I walked out of there shaking, just like the first time I watched the film, back in my college dorm. There were a few more characters around, but I didn’t walked right past them. I didn’t wanna pay for the tour, so I figured I was done. Besides, I still wanted to get to the parking garage before it was too late. As I made my way back to my truck in the dark, all I could think about was how much I wanted to dive back into the full series. My watch queue is pretty backed up tho, so we’ll see if it happens. Even if the immerse experience didn’t feel as fun and immersive, watching this film on the big screen was definitely a win.