The ominous music, spooky lighting, eerie haze and black and white House of Terror film trailer that opens House of Ghostly Haunts will delight any classic horror film buff. When the house goes black, it’s BLACK. Our audience smiles with anticipation. In front of me three girls giggle and poke one another.
Cardone is unexpected. A wiry man with 1950s ducktail hair and sideburns wearing a brocade buccaneer jacket is not exactly gothic. Though later invocation of the spirit of Elvis Presley explains the bad Halloween costume, it also serves to make his seriocomic show both accessible and surprising. This is a skilled and eclectically knowledgeable performer who will puzzle, enlighten, unnerve and perhaps scare you in the best possible way. His enthusiasm is infectious. Ghostly Haunts is filled with new takes on classic affects.
In a period when spiritualists were being regularly debunked, but before the time theatrical secrets were so readily revealed, spook shows became popular entertainments performed by traveling magicians. Among those who attended in hopes of being frightened were others who actually suspended disbelief. The mixture kept these shows well received for years. Cardone has been dreaming about creating an evening of this nature almost since receiving the book Spooky Magic by Larry Kettlecamp at the age of five when his granddad was regaling him with stories about monsters and the movie greats who played them. “I always had a fascination with the dark side of theater. That fascination lead me to magic and illusion that has a flare for the macabre.” Also a ventriloquist, escape artist, and puppet maker, the magician spikes his offering with humor and variety.
We begin with the swallowing of five Wilkinson Sword razor blades proved before us to be exceedingly sharp. Ouch. A length of thread is ingested. Blades are then pulled from the thespian’s mouth sequentially tied onto the thread. Double ouch. The Time Machine of Death is introduced as exemplary of the progress of science. Patter straddles real and sci-fi. An audience volunteer’s head is shown to disintegrate to a skull and then reappear slowly, layer by layer, back to his currently healthy, fleshy self. Sound effects are consistently terrific. This apparatus gurgles and sizzles.
An historical allusion to spirit guides who waited at the entrance to cemeteries for whomever wished to commune with a loved one, inspires the artist to attempt communication through capture in a common 99 cent jar. The jar talks back in desultory manner finally responding with information it shouldn’t have. There’s a floating table, a fascinating and illuminating escape, and the use of a guillotine whose blade comes down with such force, it causes the level-wielding volunteer to turn away at the pivotal moment
With “Oh my God, I can’t look!”
Highpoints include—wait for it—intermission! During which we troop out to the lobby and are regaled with descriptions of items displayed in Cardone’s Cabinet of Curiosities (covered by a black cloth when we enter the theater). These are dark fun and available for closer inspection after explanations. No, I’m not going to tell you. Yes, there’s time to use a restroom.
And the finale, before which it’s suggested anyone with a weak heart might want to exit. This is the real spook show during which ghosts, ghouls and even “his Infernal Majesty” show up on stage, in the aisle and over our heads flying through the deepest dark. Lighting and sounds are creepy. Creatures come quite close. It’s terrific.
Go. Take the kids—no one under a sophisticated eight please. It’s the season for supernatural visitation. This is a hoot.
Photos by Jim Baldasarre