Even though theme park Halloween events are intense and oft gory, they've still got a limit for how "extreme" they're going to go because they cater to a fairly broad audience that usually contains a fair number of kids despite many a sign suggesting otherwise.
Individual haunts, on the other hand, don't usually have those restrictions. Often having age limits of 18+ and requiring liability waivers, individual haunts are free to be a bit more experimental when maximum capacity isn't as much of an issue. Boundaries are pushed quite regularly, with greater theatrical elements, deeply involved stories and more "extreme" scares becoming the norm. More and more in the few years we've been doing this we've seen houses try and be more intense and gimmicky in an effort to compete with every other house on the market. A lot of these gimmicks work, and a lot don't, but all the same we enjoy finding out for ourselves just what limits a lot of these houses are willing to go to.
Which brings us to our third stop on The Long Halloween, The 17th Door.
The 17th Door wasn't initially on my radar when we started planning The Long Halloween, mostly because it's a new event, and we tend to be wary of events that don't have an established history after having been burned by a few subpar ones in the past. The fact that it's in Tustin (more than an hour away from where we live), made ignoring this one seem like an easier option. However, after looking into it a bit more, I began to reconsider. I'd read preview articles on a few websites I trust (namely the fine people at Theme Park Adventure and HorrorBuzz) about the high quality of work that was going into the show, and after reading on their website about how this was going to be a house that takes about half an hour to get through (impressive considering most independent haunts only last about 10 minutes, give or take), with 17 rooms of increasing intensity and a safe word available if you want to opt out, I was intrigued.
A little wary, but intrigued. You see, in line with what I was talking about how people are pushing boundaries with haunts, there are a lot of houses out there that are considered "extreme", like Blackout or McKamey Manor. These are houses that will, well, from what I've read have you sign yourself away to be tortured for a short while. While I'm all for pushing boundaries and people doing what they consider fun, that's just not for Fi and me. We love being scared, but we still like having fun in our own way.
Long Halloween Tip # 8: Know your limitations. Research all events in advance and see what kinds of warnings they've got, then use your judgment from there on whether or not it's for you. There's nothing worse than paying for an event and then arriving only to realize it's something you cannot or will not do. A lot of events will require you to sign waivers these days; don't let that be an immediate turnoff as this is a) pretty standard text for liability purposes and b) often a sign of a fairly fun event.
That said, while the warnings for The 17th Door did sound like they bordered on extreme, they didn't sound too bad for us, so we made the long drive out to Tustin to see just what The 17th Door had in store.
This shock over, we are led into a hall and told that we will be going through 17 rooms, one at a time, and, well...
Well this is the point where I'm going to be quiet to avoid spoilers, but I'll share some teases of this exquisite haunt because I think it's one that everyone should know about.
The journey through Paula's psyche is a twisted and bizarre one, but unlike a lot of similar haunts that just usher you from creepy scene to creepy scene, this one actually had a story progression that was at once both welcome and sad. Paula's made into a fairly sympathetic character to understand and follow as she descends into greater depths of madness, leading to what's a surprisingly sad ending for a haunt. Coupled with the stellar makeup work and the unbelievable sets (seriously, a lot of these feel like film quality sets, I had a hard time believing I wasn't in a school much of the time), and this was a professional event from top to bottom that would've been worth remembering.
But how extreme was it? Well, the quick answer I have for that is, moderately. There wasn't anything I couldn't do, anything I didn't want to do, but it got pretty close at times. In between standard haunt jump scares, there were moments where we were shown footage of real surgeries, endured mild electric shocks (a trend in haunts I still don't approve of), forced to walk through a floor covered in real dead cockroaches, walking through a room at near-freezing temperatures, and were forced into a small room with the 8 people in our group, had the lights turned out, and were buried in... things. Between rooms we often got to watch video footage of our responses to the previous room, and, well, I'm not entirely sure they didn't use our reactions to customize experiences the way they antagonized certain members of our group.
In the course of the event I was forced to eat a piece of bacon by a disgusting pig man, and had a tongue depressor shoved into my mouth by a large monster doctor. The ending sequence, where we were put in individual, small and pitch black isolation rooms in a mock mental institute and were assaulted on all sides by random, loud noises, sprays of water and foam, and the occasional invader, were disturbing and enough to make me wonder if I might just be going mad at points.
Long Halloween Tip # 9: In the event that you go to an event where you might have to eat something, even something not that bad, bring gum as a just in case for afterward.
Long Halloween Tip # 10: For any haunt, bring comfortable clothes, but as an addendum to my earlier rule, wear comfortable clothes that you don't mind getting messy. I'm not saying you'll be covered in blood (though that's always a possibility), but wear and tear and crawling around aren't impossible.
With the way we started this year for The Long Halloween, it's feeling like what we've done so far will be hard to top. Prove us wrong, October! Prove us wrong!
Thank you for joining me this Halloween season, and as always, please drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter! I'm big into liking/following back!
-- Matt Carter
(We know there's a lot of Matt Carter's online you could spend your time with, so thanks for hanging around this one!)