We’ve entered the church’s orphanage room in search of Eleanor, a young girl alleged to have a piece of an ancient artifact that will help end the madness. Our guide, Charles, urges us to be quiet as we zig-zag through the beds of this dimly-lit room, telling us not to wake any of the sleeping girls lest we unleash their terrible powers. We find Eleanor on the far side of the room, sleepwalking, walking into a wall while talking to herself. Charles urges two people from our group, two frightful-looking young women, to guide her to a room we had seen earlier to see if she could give us answers. These girls lead Eleanor on her way, and for a moment at least, it seems we are finally on the right track.
Then there is a pounding on the door. One of the Plague Doctors, Charles tells us. He yells for us all to hide beneath the beds. There are maybe a dozen left in our group after those two women left. We all rush, splitting up and hiding beneath different large beds in this room. My wife, Fiona, and I, and our friends Patrick and Ashley, share one bed. The quarters are cramped, and I pull a muscle in my shoulder trying to shift around so I can peer out from beneath the bed, but I must see what is going on. No sooner have we all concealed ourselves than the Plague Doctor enters the room. Dressed in black leather with a flowing cloak, a white, beaked mask and a wide black hat, he casually strolls through the room, checking on the sleeping girls, at one point levitating a bed three feet from the ground (thankfully he does not find the people huddled beneath it) to show his power. Our hearts beat heavily as his feet approach our bed. His boots are mere inches from my face. I am certain we will be discovered.
Then he walks away.
The room is silent, save for one small girl roused by this Doctor’s stroll. She playfully starts skipping through the room, bouncing on a couple beds, singing to herself. When she gets to our bed, she kneels down and looks at us. We have been seen! She calls for the Doctor. Not too late, Charles bursts out of hiding and renders the girl unconscious. He calls for us to get out from under the beds and run after him down a dimly-lit hallway. We can hear little girls rousing in pursuit of us, and the urge to scream is high.
We feel like we’re living through a horror movie, but I think that’s the goal for the people behind Delusion.
Delusion: Masque of Mortality is, without a doubt, the coolest and classiest haunted house experience that I have ever attended. Instead of relying on the tried and true jump scares that most of these events have to offer, with concealed actors jumping out at odd intervals and scaring you by virtue of popping up unexpectedly, perhaps while making a loud noise, Delusion styles itself as a living horror movie where the scares are more cerebral and built up slowly throughout the experience. With the help of several guide characters, our small group of fifteen or so people is taken through the surprisingly deep narrative that’s been set up in this abandoned Los Angeles church. Full of well-staged set pieces, and some of the coolest special effects and stuntwork you’re bound to find in any haunted house this time of year (the wire work, though fairly obvious in some places, was very, very cool), from a production standpoint this show is outstanding.
However, what separates Delusion further from the rest is that this isn’t merely another show haunted house. This isn’t the kind of place where you’re just brought from one scene to the next, observing, screaming and moving on. No, this event revels in its fully interactive design, forcing every member of your group at one time or another to participate in the narrative. We’re not just observers, we are actual characters in the story, helping things move forward. Throughout the night the group will be broken up for brief, and sometimes quite long, periods of time, making it so that no two people will have the exact same experience in the same show, and making it so that bringing a group of people with you is of the utmost importance, so that after the fact you can all share the story (and the really cool parts that happened along the way that others missed).
Having done Delusion: The Blood Rite (last year’s show), Fiona and I had a bit of an edge going in. We knew in advance to get the full experience that we should be near the front as much as possible, and to volunteer whenever the opportunity came up. Fortune favors the bold when it comes to Delusion, and with some proper placement you’ll get yourself a hell of a show, though blind luck plays as much a part in determining just what kind of experience you’ll get. Fiona and Ashley were taken from our group early on for interrogation by a guard, where they were locked up and instructed by another prisoner in how to escape by performing the old “sick prisoner” trick (Ashley got to be the sick one, Fiona got to call for the warden). When entering the main hall of the church to rescue a couple of our kidnapped group members from execution, half of our group were instructed to don Plague Doctor outfits to barter for their release. We were asked who was the best improviser, and sensing an opportunity I stepped forward. So, I went from random group member to lead doctor, threatening the executioner and demanding the release of the prisoners. It didn’t work, but I did my damnedest either way. And, toward the end of the night, when we needed to infiltrate the church’s morgue (I didn’t know churches even had morgues; you learn something new every day!), I volunteered to play a corpse and hide on a gurney while the butcher was away. By happenstance, our guide at the time chose Ashley to hide on the gurney beneath me, playing another corpse. When the butcher came back, we played dead, and were given a guided tour of hell as he wheeled us through the church’s stinking basement, coming to in a butchery filled with blood and body parts.
These few scenes are a small fraction of the experience; an experience I will not fully divulge because this is best seen in person, and even better if you go in completely unspoiled. Tickets are difficult to come by, but if you are in the Southern California area this month and you have the time and the money, for the love of everything, treat yourself to an evening at Delusion. It is an intense, unique, and sublimely fun experience, that has found a few attendees for life in Fiona and me (and a couple probable converts in Ashley and Patrick). Check out their sites below for more information.
(LOGISTICAL NOTES: They only let in a limited number of people a night (about 200 or so), so tickets go fast! If you're considering attending, don't wait for the last minute, buy now while you still can! Admittedly, this event isn’t for everyone. It’s fairly intense and is only open for people over the age of 17. There is a lot of running, crouching and up and down stairs fleeing involved. It’s dark and cramped and easy to run into things. What I’m saying is that it’s fairly likely you’ll wind up a bit dinged up by the end of the night. Instead of getting angry at them, take it as part of the experience and wear any and all of your dings as a badge of honor. My shoulder’s still sore from diving beneath that bed, and I don’t care. Also, wear comfortable shoes. Can’t stress that enough.)