The new horror movie “The Scary of Sixty-First” couldn’t have hit theaters at a more appropriate time. In this outrageous tale, two recent college grads are looking for a cheap Upper East Side apartment to rent. The gods answer in the form of a too-good-to-be-true duplex located on East 61st Street.
The apartment turns out to be owned by the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and the flick, with its low-budget vibe, is all about the bad juju that surrounds it. [For added surrealness: I saw the movie, directed by Dasha Nekrasova (a star on “Succession”) and written by Nekrasova and Madeline Quinn, the same day that Ghislaine Maxwell—Epstein’s gal pal and co-conspirator—was found guilty on nearly all charges.]
[Editor's note: When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, Brick Underground reality checks the NYC real estate depicted on screen.]
The movie is inspired by Nekrasova’s own experience hunting for an apartment and her shock of not being able to afford anything—combined with a personal obsession to find out the truth about Epstein’s suicide. “New York felt haunted by Epstein and New York real estate in general,” she tells Variety.
It starts out with a familiar scene: Noelle (played by Quinn) and Addie (played by Betsey Brown) meet with a New York City real estate agent. He shows them the sun-filled railroad duplex and explains that in this particular walkup there are actually two entrances, which is a perk because it means that one roommate doesn’t have to walk through the bedroom of the other to get anywhere in the apartment—if they don’t mind exiting the apartment, walking down the hall and entering through the second entrance. While non-New Yorkers might find this odd, I once had this exact type of apartment layout myself—a walkup in Yorkville. Weird things happened there as well, but thankfully not supernatural.
The girls initially balk at the messy state the apartment has been left in. Not only were the previous tenants’ 80’s-style furnishings left behind, but so is their garbage, including their half-eaten meals. They ask the agent if they sign a lease could the owner hire a cleaner? He rolls his eyes, asking, “Don’t you have a broom?”
That’s when it is revealed that apartment was owned by the late, infamous financier. The movie takes place after his suicide and focuses on the horror he perpetuated against so many girls and young women—including in this same apartment.
That’s utterly shocking, of course, but NYC apartments often have lots of unseemly history. You never know what you are getting into. That’s what sage is for, no? New York renters keen on getting a good deal will put up with a lot more than maggots on a kitchen table.
And the apartment does have some good features: It comes with a chandelier, functioning piano and even a Murphy bed and original wood floors.
The girls are both struggling entertainers, each eager to not have to provide income information and guarantors. Noelle has neither and Addie wants to appear self-sufficient to her rich parents. The agent hints he’ll look the other way if they will sign a lease on the spot. In a hot rental market that would never happen, unless the apartment was as problematic as this one.
The broker even does what a broker should: He discloses a bit about how Epstein had owned the place—one of many—and it may have been involved in his seedy activities. Turns out—it was.
Still, Noelle and Addie agree to take the apartment and commit to cleaning it up.
The movie turns dark when blood stains are found on the mattress. That’s definitely over-the-top when it comes to NYC rentals, but not unheard of. My friend Logan told me a tale of how a murder had been committed in his rent-stabilized UES unit and he was so eager to snatch up the affordable place he spent the night cleaning up blood splatter.
But like a lot of roommates, the young women find their relationship becoming strained—and here’s where the movie starts to veer off into the horror realm.
When Addie seems to become possessed by the spirit of one of Epstein’s young victims, Noelle is annoyed, but still wants to hold on to the place because a cheap rental deal is worth dealing with Satan for. The tarot cards she finds in the house issue a strict warning: “Leave your apartment. Your roommate is doomed.”
The message seems spot on: Addie finds herself compelled to walk to Epstein’s multi-million-dollar townhouse further east, in a state of arousal.
Soon another woman, unnamed and only referred to as “The Girl” shows up at their door and eventually explains she has been investigating the Epstein story, his death, and the high-profile rapists in his network. She relays that Epstein was rumored to have used this place for orgies and as a flophouse for underage girls. Things suddenly make more sense. But sadly, a bloody mattress is the least of their worries at this point.
Noelle and “The Girl” go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death (Google this at your own risk) and believe that because their home and Epstein’s mansion as well as other apartments he owned are five blocks away from each other, they form a pentagram, a satanic symbol.
Thankfully Addie gets out of their hair for a while by going to her boyfriend’s own studio apartment. It is small and has a bit of exposed brick and makes sense, considering he manages a shipping and packing-type store.
Up until this point, conspiracy theories aside, there’s not too much related to NYC real estate that seems unbelievable. Bad roommates, ghosts, murders, bad people, doing bad things—they all are par for the course with big city life.
It’s not till the end that the flick veers into completely unrealistic—and very bloody— territory. But even during the film’s most absurd scenes, the locations seem spot on. One of the final scenes takes place in the walkup’s basement. Scary, sure, but it genuinely looked like every creepy NYC walkup basement I’ve been in. There’s even a photography book that curated some of NYC’s weirdest.
Thankfully in NYC even if our living experiences seem horrific, they can still inspire art. The moral for most NYC real estate experiences: It will somehow be worth it if you end up getting a really great only-in-New-York-style story to share.
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