On Saturday night, I attended a bunny rabbit-themed haunted house at Brighton Asylum in Passaic, New Jersey, because sure, why not? I logged a solid eight years of Catholic school; I think I've earned it.
I took my mother with me, because Easter is about family. I don't think I could've picked a better companion: I've inherited both my mother's fondness for horror movies and her habit of fast-forwarding through them when they prove too disturbing, which is always.
Brighton Asylum is a 13,000-square-foot converted warehouse that hosts various haunted attractions throughout the year, including Santa's Slay in December and Dark Valentine in February. Rottentail Slaughterhouse takes place the night before Easter.
The terror started ahead of schedule on Saturday, when my mother and I arrived at what Google Maps told us was our destination. We could see a sign for the Brighton Asylum, but the building — located in an otherwise deserted industrial area behind a strip club and a grocery store — looked dark. After 10 jumpy minutes spent wondering if a) I had gotten the date wrong, b) this was an elaborate ploy to steal our kidneys, or c) a lunatic in a ragged bunny suit had quietly climbed into the back seat, we finally realized that we were 500 feet from the actual parking lot, which was packed. (Their website, unsurprisingly, clearly instructs you as to where you should pull up, but I am a moron and had forgotten all about this.)
Rottentail Slaughterhouse is one of the venue's "contact nights," for which patrons can choose to wear a (free) glow necklace, signifying to the actors that they're willing to be touched. In the days leading up to the event, my mother and I had promised each other, repeatedly, that we wouldn't agree to this. But at the box office, we caved to the necklaces after about 30 seconds of peer pressure, which is exactly why neither of us should ever be trusted with state secrets, thank you.
Visitors enter the attraction, which is entirely indoors, through an asylum façade. As you'd probably expect, the crowd was mostly older teenagers and younger twentysomethings. While we waited in line, we made conversation with the two young women behind us, one of whom had been there before.
"I came for Halloween, and a clown chased me out to my car," she told me.
I laughed. "Wow, the actors must be really committed."
"Oh, no," she said, "I don't think he worked here. He was just a scary clown in the parking lot."
My memories of the actual experience of Rottentail Slaughterhouse are blurry at best, which may have something to do with the fact that I continuously shriek-laughed from beginning to end. I can tell you this: We enjoyed the hell out of it.
There is no obvious narrative unfolding here, nor is there — at least that I saw — a single non-bunny reference to Easter. There are, however, bunnies galore. There are also multiple chainsaws.
That said, there's no denying that this is a haunted house for all seasons. There were a great deal of all-purpose scares, with plenty of generically frightening characters lunging at us with outstretched arms and no apparent relevance to Easter. We squeezed through a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel of airbags and dodged ersatz carcasses suspended from the ceiling. We passed by a pair of filthy toilets and narrowly evaded the animatronic jaws of what I am 90% sure was supposed to be a dinosaur.
In retrospect, we were both glad we decided to put on the glow necklaces. The physical contact was totally unobjectionable, and in some cases, oddly comforting. At one point, a mangy, blood-splattered bunny blocked our path, demanding a hug. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of liked hugging the evil bunny. It was nice. She was fluffy.
Most of the contact with performers was minimal, but early on, a shadowy figure reached around my waist and tried to pull me into the darkness. When I reread that sentence, it sounds like that should number among the most terrifying things to have ever happened to me, but the reality was much tamer. His (or her) touch was gentle and respectful, not unlike what you'd expect from a medical exam.
Brighton Asylum estimates that the typical experience within its walls lasts between 20 and 30 minutes, but I'd say we were in and out in 15 minutes. That's probably because our pace hovered somewhere between an easy jog and a frantic power walk, the real-life equivalent of fast-forwarding.
Scary bunnies are largely unexplored territory in pop culture, with the notable exceptions of Donnie Darko, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the children's book series Bunnicula. Despite the counterintuitively cuddly monster that serves as its premise, Rottentail Slaughterhouse works beautifully. Even when it doesn't, it's still a lot of fun.
Brighton Asylum is located at 2 Brighton Ave in Passaic, New Jersey. Standard admission is $25; "RIP" (get it?) fast-track tickets are $40. To visit on a contact night, you must be 18 years old or accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.