I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of most haunted houses, and not because I don't like the idea, it's just that most are overwhelmingly cheesy with no story line, bad acting, half-assed sets and mediocre make up to boot. That's why I was so intrigued when I got an email asking me to attend the media preview of the Blumhouse Productions take on the horror event called The Purge: Fear Night.
The event was put together by Jason Blum, producer of some of the biggest horror flicks of the last decade including Sinister, Insidious, Paranormal Activity and The Purge. And, as the name implies, the house itself was based on the concept of The Purge. These facts alone peaked my interest, and I knew I had to go when I started to read more about the event, discovering that there were fewer bloody scenes with people jumping out at you and more of a cohesive story line that was actually interactive. Also, you go in a small group together and aren't sent in one after another like you are in most houses, so you don't see what happens to the person in front of you before you get to the supposed scary part. Oh, and did I mention that the house is spread out over six floors and 700,000 square feet?
After going through the event, I'm now hesitant to even call it a haunted house because there is no paranormal aspect to this story line. Regardless, or possibly because of that, I think it was was of the best "haunted houses" I've ever been to and I highly recommend that you visit The Purge: Fear Night if you get the chance. And don't worry if you've never seen The Purge, even Jason Blum himself promises, "it won't matter...The Purge is about a law that is in the United States that is 12 hours of the year all crime is legal and if you know just that little fact, you will enjoy it just as much as if you've seen the movie."
Now, I know that while we have a good number of Southern California readers, the rest of you probably won't be heading to LA to check out this attraction -especially before it closes November 2. That's why I'm going to include a walk through of some of the coolest parts to give you some idea of how fantastic this experience is. If you think there's any chance you might actually be able to make the event, do not read past the jump because there are all kinds of spoilers here and while some people might not mind spoilers in movies or TV shows, they really would make something like this less enjoyable.
When you enter the building, you're pretty much immediately thrown into the world of The Purge, where the totalitarian New Founding Fathers of the United States is in charge. You'll be asked to check in to get your "security clearance" which is really just you paying your money or picking up your reserved tickets. You then are directed to wait in a line to go through a security checkpoint. While you wait, you're shown a video that helps set up the premise...basically that once a year there is a twelve hour period where you can do whatever you want without any legal consequences and that this year's event has just started.
You then go through the security clearance which is so pitch black that you have to use your hands to guide you until someone jumps out at you, tells you you've passed the security check and you get hit with a shot of compressed air from a series of jets pressed against the wall. There's something about the jets that even after you know they're there, they still make you jump every time they hit you. Then you push your way through two inflated walls that are pressing together.
As you might expect, the "security clearance" is pretty disorienting, which makes the next part even more mind-melting. Suddenly, you're in a massive auditorium decked out in red, white and blue and filled with the roars of a cheering audience. Someone on stage is giving a speech, but you really only notice the person who greets you and guides you to your seat in the theater. Here you are put into your groups and you wait for your group's turn to head through the experience. The great thing though is that you don't feel like you're waiting because on stage, The President, The First Lady and their daughter give speeches that not only clear up more of the story line, but also help set the stage and get you in the spirit. The auditorium remains rather empty while you wait, but the roar of the pre-recorded audience and bright lighting make it feel even creepier.
Eventually, your row will be instructed to get up and follow a guide, who will take you behind the stage. She informs you that you will be meeting and taking a picture with a famous news anchor. She pumps you up for this big moment and even fixes your clothes so you look ready for your photograph before opening the TV studio door, revealing...the anchor in his boxers getting his makeup applied. He screams about the guests (you) arriving too early and puts on his pants while talking to you about the Constitutionalists protesting the government, though, he explains, as good New Americans, you already know all that.
Finally, he's ready to take a picture and his producer holds up the camera. The lights flash, but it's not the flash of a camera, but the flash of gun fire. Everyone but the anchorman and your group is laying on the ground dead and the man with the gun threatens you and kidnaps your group. You're marched down a hallway and told to get on your knees. Then you're forced in a room and told to get up against the wall all the while, you are ambushed and abused by these Constitutionalist rebels who threaten and yell at your group every chance they get.
It's worth noting that these guys are not only great actors, many of them are even great at improvising. For example, while cameras aren't normally allowed, our press group was allowed to take pictures. When I snapped one of one of our tormentors, he jumped at me and screamed "Did I say you could take a ***** picture of me?"
At one point, you're even headed into what feels like an outdoor area filled with rocks and dust. You're forced against a chain link fence and while your guards yell at you, you hear growling, barking dogs from each side as the fence behind you shakes as though they are jumping up on it to get to you. I'm not usually scared of dogs, but this part seriously freaked me out because it felt so real.
You're then loaded into the back of a truck. The door closes and you start to feel it move away when gunfire breaks out (you not only hear it, but also see lights flashing under the truck door. You also hear tons of banging on the side of the truck. One of the Constitutionalists opens the door, claiming their plan was compromised.
After getting out of the truck, you go through a few more winding hallways and are told to get in an elevator. The doors don't quite close right, but your kidnapper pushes them shut. The elevator starts to go up and then shakes. It goes up some more and then crashes down. While you knew the elevator was fake by this point, it still felt terrifying and everyone inside was screaming. Only when the door opened did we notice that one of the people from our group was missing.
A few winding hallways, guns, etc. later, we had a new party member (from the group before us, as every group loses one of their original members) and were moved into a real elevator. By this point your group has agreed to help the Constitutionalists take down the New Founding Fathers to bring back the real America. In order to do so, you need to get a key and a key card. To get the key, you have to enter the apartment of the man with the key and search it. I was really struck by how real the apartment is and how hands-on this experience was. You are actually expected to start picking stuff up and looking for the key.
When you hear a noise behind you, your escort asks you to open the door so he can have his gun ready for anyone behind it. I was chosen to open the door and it ended up being a closet. Then the door behind us flew open to reveal...an old man using the bathroom. He thinks your group is part of the Purge so he starts threatening everyone with a knife. Despite your guide and a member of your team selected by the guide trying to talk the old man down, he still ends up slicing his throat, but not before tossing the key. To give you an idea of how real this set is, our key ended up in the sink of dishes and the girl told to retrieve the key had to pull up the sopping wet string on the key and carry it with her the rest of the experience.
Some of the experiences seem like they were made more for the sake of creeping you out and just setting the scene for how dark this world is, but while they didn't fit in the story very well, they still worked. The most disturbing scene involved a woman giving birth in a dark room with one flickering light. The doctor has gone mad and two of your group members are told to go in and help her while the rest watch outside. Your escort eventually helps her give birth, but then the woman says something along the lines of "I don't want it to live" and before you know what's happening, the guide slams the baby against the glass, killing it. It was dark, creepy and totally terrifying to pretty much everyone in our group.
You're then guided to get the key card, which should be in the New Founding Father's Headquarters. The President has already been killed along with his assistants, so you enter the room and start searching a table with a dead body on it for the key card. The body ends up not being dead and your escort fights him and forces him to say where the key card is -the president has it. One person from your group is told to get the card from the president who is sitting in a chair, dead, with a bag over his head and the key card in his hand.
I was picked to get the card and while I pretty much knew the president would be alive, it still scared me out of my skin when he came at me. Your escort shoots him and I guess you're still supposed to get the card from him after he's laying dead on the ground, but I didn't realize that, nor did any of the other members of my group, so we progressed without a keycard.
On your way to destroy the central computers of the New Founders, you come across a terrible scene of havok from the Purge. A girl hung by hooks begs you to help her while three masked men surrounded by body parts stare at you menacingly. Your guard tells you that you can't get involved and there's no helping her, but even as you walk away, a man handcuffed to a sink asks, "how can you just walk away."
Finally, you reach the computer. Here you swipe your key card and turn the key and the computer blows up. Or at least, that's what I hear, since we didn't have the keycard so our escort just told us to "imagine an explosion."
Before you go into the next room, the escorts tell you to crouch down and yet again, we got a great sense of their improve skills as they started chiding us about being jabronis for not getting the key card. When I told them it was because the president attacked us, they replied, "see, that's exactly why we're overthrowing the government. You can't have a president attacking a civilian." It was a great moment and it made all of us crack up.
After you go through the next set of doors, you find yourself in a park and you're quickly surrounded by a group of mask-wearing, knife-wielding Purgers. Just as you're wondering what will happen, military men, some in mossy jungle camouflage come out of no where and shoot the girls dead. Suddenly, you're in the hands of New American soldiers who kidnap you and force you into their headquarters.
Inside, the soldiers make you get down on your knees and inform you that because you were spotted with a Constitutionalist, you'll need to pay. They say they'd normally kill all of you, but they've decided to be nice and just kill one of you as a sacrifice. Then they ask for a volunteer martyr. If no one volunteers, they pick someone from the group. They ask who wants to kill the martyr and again pick someone if no one volunteers. They strap in the victim to a device on the wall and then the killer flips the switch. Flashes go off and you're sprayed with blood as a revolving door takes the dead body away from you.
After you're escorted out of the room, you eventually meet up with your dead party member, who is even given a mask as a memento of their martyrdom. Then you're guided to the Founder's Bar where you can enjoy a drink and listen to a tune while waiting for the missing person from your group to return before you leave.
While the attraction wasn't perfect, it really was great overall and I look forward to seeing what the team does next year. Jason Blum told me that while nothing is in the works yet and there are no official plans, he really wants to do one based on Sinister, so that could happen next year. He also said that he'd eventually like this to be a year-round attraction, so maybe those of you who can't visit this year will eventually be able to check out a Blumhouse attraction when you visit LA in the future.
Whether you want to know more about the attraction or if you happen to work at a haunt and want some ideas of how to improve it, a few (of the many things) that make this experience really work include:
- A perfect location. Old buildings often have an immediately creepy charm that helps set the mood before people even enter the doors.
- Good actors. Most haunts just have people screaming, jumping and waving weapons at guests so acting isn't too important, but if you're going to have someone deliver lines, they better actually be able to act.
- Crowd spacing. There really is nothing worse in a haunted house than seeing someone get attacked as they turn the corner in front of you. These attractions are about surprise and by having small groups go through in well-spaced time gaps, everyone remains surprised.
- Not overdoing things. There were some strobe lights, some gore and some people jump out from corners at you, but none of these things were over done like they are at so many other haunts. You didn't feel like you needed to expect someone to jump at you every time you turned a corner and when you saw something horrificly bloody, it sank in because you weren't beat over the head with it.
- A solid story. Most haunted houses have you going from a room filled with strobe lighting to a room filled with body parts into a room with a chainsaw-weilding maniac. Even if there's a horrific scene inside, you don't have any sense that it's real, which makes it pretty unscary.
- Interactiveness. When you can actually poke around and participate in the action, you feel like it's real, which makes any frights infinately more scary.
- Quality detailing. I took a lot of images with a flash on inside. Most of them still looked good because they put so much detail into the settings. Even if you don't notice that something looks unfinished because it's dark and you move quickly, a part of you still notices, preventing you from believing what's happening is real.
- Great length. While the attraction can take a full two hours including your time in line, listening to the speeches at the begining and chilling at the bar afterwards, the actual time going through the experience was fairly substantial -about an hour total. I've been to many haunts that last about 15 minutes, making you wonder why you bothered paying and waiting in line in the first place.
- Humor. When you're laughing, you're disarmed because you aren't expecting to scream. Plus, having a little humor in the event makes it a more complete and complex experience overall.
- Listening to customers. If you look at the Yelp page for the event, the ratings are pretty dismal. That's because they originally had a totally different storyline and format (more of a choose your own adventure style) going on. Unfortunately, it didn't jive for a lot of people, many of whom just didn't get it. I talked to one group of people who went to the previous version and while they said they enjoyed it, they also said they had quite a bit of fun at this one as well. (You'll notice most of the reviews dated after the first weekend are way more positive because the revamp was a success).
- Great customer service. All of the customers who went to the original event were given full refunds and a free return ticket to check out the revamped attraction.
Well, that's pretty much my rundown of the event, if you have any questions or if any of you experienced it for yourself, feel free to discuss it further in the comments. And, if you ever get to go to a Blumhouse live event, by all means, do it.