Fast-forward to Halloween in the 21st century. The living are still making a scene. And Tino Pascuzzi and his wife, Cathleen, are ratcheting that scene up several notches. The Sanctuary, 530 S. Broadway, is the newest haunt in town.
The Pascuzzis have redefined the haunted house for locals. The first of its kind to Oklahoma, The Sanctuary is plot-driven and focuses on psychological fears rather than the usual sudden scare tactics.
“There are so many different layers and levels of fear,” said Tino Pascuzzi. “The fact is, we’re not just having one guy around the corner when you walk by. But we’re already in your head, before you get into the building. ... That is the whole premise behind it.”
The plot is set in an old, four-story warehouse just south of downtown Oklahoma City. Each floor is uniquely staged to tell the story, written by Tino Pascuzzi.
“There really is a method to the madness,” he said. “It’s not everything and the kitchen sink, like many haunts that bombard you with chain saws and actor scares, but it takes you on a journey. There is so much thought behind the placement of each set.”
Be afraid ...
As the story goes, Charles Labrie built The Sanctuary in 1913 for the socially discarded and mentally ill. The facility was known for its forward-thinking and cutting-edge neurological treatment.
In 1946, Labrie invited renowned surgeon Ryan Hammond to join the team of doctors at The Sanctuary. At first, Dr. Hammond made remarkable progress with patients. But, over time, Labrie noticed that many had regressed. He discovered too late that Hammond suffered from a rare from of tissue degeneration and had been experimenting on patients in an attempt to discover a cure.
On first entering the spooky space, guests hear Hammond welcome them eerily: “This is now your home,” the voice says, repeating the phrase like an insidious mantra.
Visitors then tour the building, witnessing the inner workings of The Sanctuary from different points of view: first as an outsider, then as a patient and, finally, as Dr. Hammond.
Since he was 5, Pascuzzi has been fascinated with Halloween. He has traveled nationwide to research famous haunts and observe what makes for a quality haunted house.
The Pascuzzis know something about make-believe. Originally from Los Angeles, they met over a decade ago when both happened to be auditioning for an episode of Melrose Place.
“It has always been my dream to create a haunted house. I cannot believe it is finally coming true,” said Tino Pascuzzi. “I wanted to do it right, and I know we have.”
Be very afraid ...
Visitors to The Sanctuary will spend about 40 minutes walking through the haunt and discover the fleshy horror that lurks within. As Dr. Hammond says, “Your mind is meat!” Tate Steinsiek, a Tulsa native and special-effects makeup artist, helped design many of the uncanny props.
“It’s a very cohesive set, and it’s as close as we could come to involving people in a horror film,” Steinsiek said. “We’re truly staying authentic to a story and working hard for that story to tell itself without narration.”
If The Sanctuary’s experience rattles your nerves a little, take the edge off with a stout drink. There is a full-service bar and nightclub in the basement below.
“We wanted to create a festival-type atmosphere and make sure people feel comfortable to linger and soak up this unique experience,” said Pascuzzi.
On Saturday evenings, Sick Boyz Suspension performs hook-in-skin suspension acts and fire-breathing tricks. During the first weekend of November, The Sanctuary will hold its “lights out” weekend, where glow sticks will be given to guests who dare to walk the institution in the dark.
For those who come hungry, food and nonalcoholic beverages are available for purchase outside the facility.
Tickets are $25 for general admission and $50 for VIP admission (no waiting in line). Either way, Dr. Hammond is surely waiting to welcome you to “your new home.”