Rich Fox's unsettling documentary/horror hybrid "The Blackout Experiments" concerns a form of entertainment so twisted that it immediately raises two questions. Who'd want to experience this? And who'd want to design it?
Fox doesn't really answer the second question because of circumstances mostly beyond his control. "The Blackout Experiments" is about an "extreme haunted house" company that stages scenarios to psychologically torture their customers. The guys behind the company, Blackout, let Fox film some of the prep and a lot of the performance, but they prefer not to talk about it.
Instead, the movie lingers among the regulars, who use Blackout to work through their personal issues, and sometimes gather in "survivor" groups to talk through why they feel compelled to return again and again.
The emphasis on Blackout's therapeutic qualities gets overly repetitive and banal — a little like listening to strangers analyze their dreams.
But like Blackout itself, "The Blackout Experiments" is often chilling and hard to shake. Some of the situations that the company creates — like forcing participants to simulate shooting a nude, weeping woman — go beyond mere fright-flick fantasies and reach into the realm of the depraved.
Because of that, the documentary should captivate horror fans. Whatever the motivations of the creators or the users, there's something viscerally disturbing about watching someone knock nervously on a door, knowing that there's a nightmare awaiting them on the other side.
'The Blackout Experiments'
Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood