(Note 2: I also apologize for the lack of pictures, as their security guys were very much against us taking pictures of the event. We snuck a few in, but could only get so many.)
June 8, 2013
Tonight we are taking part in The Great Horror Campout, a horror experience that promises to be like no other. By the time you, dear readers, see these words, the experience will already be over and done, but I just wanted to get this out of the way beforehand so I can give an honest introduction.
I first heard about The Great Horror Campout from a co-worker of mine about a month ago. He knows how Fiona and I basically live to make Halloween a year-round, fully immersive experience, and after catching an ad for this he knew this was right up our alley. After reading the description of it, I knew it was something we had to do. In short, The Great Horror Campout is supposed to be a live-action, fully immersive, 12 hour long horror movie. Situated in a park in Los Angeles, we will be camping overnight in tents while completely surrounded by actors dressed as monsters who will do everything to scare the ever-loving crap out of us. This is no ordinary Halloween-maze style experience, as these actors are allowed to grab, harass and kidnap us as they see fit (we are given a safe word, as screaming "I want my mommy" will automatically make them desist). They can break into our tents and cart us off, locking us in cages with bags over our heads. If this experience is even half as intense as they're advertising it, we're in for some good scares. Of course, if we want to we could just spend time in the safe zone, watching horror movies and roasting marshmallows, but where would the fun in that be?
On top of all this, however, the experience is one big game. The main event of the night is The Hell Hunt, a scavenger hunt with a prize of free golden passes to this October's LA Haunted Hayride. Hidden around a variety of staged, horror movie themed sections of the event, are grotesque items (called SCAG) that we have to suffer to properly collect. We might have to dig through roadkill, or bathe in blood, or be partially buried alive in a voodoo ritual. Collect enough items and we win. However, if we are captured by any number of the monsters lurking through these areas, these items may be bartered for our freedom.
Each tent is made to fit four people, and if you do not have a full group, more people can be assigned to you at random. Knowing this, I enlisted an old high school friend of mine, Ashley, and her fiancé, Patrick. They immediately signed on to join us in our tent, and I must say we make the perfect cast of horror movie archetypes, with Patrick as "The Jock", Ashley as "The Oddball", Fiona as "The Blonde" and myself as "The Nerd". We have printed up our provided dossiers of clues for the Hell Hunt, we are studying the (alleged) weaknesses of the monsters to hope to avoid capture, and we are wondering just how bloody we will be by the end of the night. I will try to take notes and pictures as time permits, but as of yet, I cannot guarantee our survival. If these notes are found, and I am not, please send a rescue party with torches, and pitchforks, and shotguns, and holy water, and...
Well, you get the idea.
8:00 pm - After entering the field where the event takes place, we are accosted by a few of this camp's "counselors", mutated freaks with poor southern accents. They offer to help us, but look more pleased with sneaking up on us and occasionally grabbing us promising fun times later. We are soon accosted by another unpleasant fact: our tent is missing. It appears that all of the assigned tents in our section have been misnumbered. This night is not off to a great start.
8:22 pm. - The tent situation has finally been sorted out, and the four of us find our new home for the night. It is cramped and barely able to hold four people, but we vow to manage on through for the night. Surely our closeness and numbers must keep us safe from the horrors outside, right? Our tent is close to the center of the tent area, near a tower with a loudspeaker and a cage at its base, blaring loud music that should make sleep difficult. Any illusion of safety in our position is immediately thrown out the window when our tent is attacked by a mutant, shaking the outside and unzipping the flap, partially coming in and warning us to watch out for the weirdoes. We do not take his warning lightly.
The more we wander, the more we see people wandering in the dark, methodically searching the ground with their flashlights and occasionally grabbing at pieces of trash. It reminds me of a crime scene, possibly a plane crash as investigators search for clues.
9:00 pm. - We are summoned to the bonfire area by the Headmaster, by far the most articulate of all the mutant counselors wandering around. He announces the rules of the night and the hunt, mostly involving not touching the monsters, not drinking or doing drugs, not touching the monsters... I am uncertain as to his motivations, as I analyze them. He seems to be interested in seeing our deaths, yet touching the monsters and drinking/drugs have always proven the fastest way of finding death in horror movies. I believe he is trying to throw us off our game, to make our imminent deaths more unexpected. He illustrates his point by tossing out a drunken fool who stands at the front of the audience yelling at him, though this drunken fool's resemblance to one of the mutants, sans facial peeling, leads me to believe this all a part of some clever ruse. Well played, Headmaster, well played. At this, he sets fire to the bonfire, and leaves us to our own devices.
9:20 pm. - As we wander the tents in search of more SCAG, someone runs by us screaming at the top of their lungs, a monster right behind them. I know now that only the strong will survive this night.
9:40 - Even the bathrooms offer no safety from the horrors. Those who go in the port-o-pottys have to contend with the Leech Girl, a ghostly young girl covered in leeches, hitting the sides of the port-o-pottys with her cleaver and shaking them as she sees fit. I believe there will be more than a few unintentional messes in this room by the end of the night. As we wait outside while everyone does their business, I can only watch as Ashley is grabbed by a counselor with a sledgehammer. Luckily, she is feisty, and fast, and is able to elude this beast for now.
While temporarily adjourning to our tent, we are met by a celebrity. Apparently Cthulhu has deemed this event worthy of his presence and is wandering the aisles! Now, given the budget of the event and his size being a little smaller than Lovecraft described, I am fairly certain this is a lesser Great Old One, possibly impersonating Cthulhu for freer access to our souls. Still, in the spirit of the night he is a rock star, and I must have my picture taken with him.
10:00 pm - We stand with great anticipation by the doors of the Hell Hunt, waiting for them to open. A mad rush ensues as nearly half the attendees file in at once. We are in the middle of the pack, clawing our way through, going to the event at the furthest end of the Hunt's field, The Ritual. A simulated voodoo ritual (though I have my doubts as to the accuracy of their portrayal of voodoo), we take part in rhythmic dancing and the ritualistic beratement of attendees, all in the hopes of winning the SCAG they have to offer, the coveted severed head. Several people are locked in coffins for extended periods of time, let out when their tormentors feel they have been scared enough, or if they offer up some of their SCAG. Try as I might to be one of these unfortunate few, I find myself free from a shallow grave for the night.
We next make our way to Bigfoot Country, though it has been invaded by a fair number of zombies and werewolves for some reason. Dead bodies litter the ground, and we have been instructed to reach into the gore in search of several coveted items of SCAG, namely broken ribs and some odd bits of gore. We all roll up our sleeves and dive in, but it appears the spoils of war here come on a first come, first serve basis, and we come out messy, but lacking any new SCAG of significance. This experience jades us as to our chances of winning.
10:45 pm - Ashley has been kidnapped! While wait in line for a maze, Patrick was pulled out of line by a monster and told that he was about to be head-bagged. He did not comply, so the monster took Ashley instead, putting her in a line of similarly bagged people and forced to march outside the Hell Hunt to be locked in a cage. We try to barter with her keepers for her release, offering them some SCAG. They do not want SCAG from us, only from Patrick, the one who defied them. This will take some arguing to secure her release. Ashley bids Fiona and me on our way while she tries to figure out an escape. I fear this may be the last time we see the two of them, as in typical horror movie fashion, our group has been split up.
Anyway, on to find more SCAG!
11:03 pm - The night brings us next to the territory of the Mothmen, a small forest clearing with several clothlike cocoons hiding dead bodies. Hiding among these cocoons, their wings masking them, are the Mothmen themselves, horrible human-insect hybrids. They are easily distracted by our flashlights, but delight in closing their wings around people who get to close to them. At first we are carefree as we fruitlessly search their territory for SCAG, but we soon notice that, though our flashlights freeze them in place, they are adept at surrounding us. It is only with the greatest luck that we escape their lair intact, though free of any SCAG.
We make our way to The Homestead, a maze of sorts simulating a junkyard overrun by various murderous characters of urban legend. It's a twisting, turning maze, often forcing people to crawl through junked vehicles and through truck tires. It appears physically demanding, but we are certain that we are in the prime of our lives enough to handle this. While waiting in line, a van makes slow circles around the area of The Hunt. It is unmarked, but has a sign on the side boasting FREE CANDY. Basic survival instincts tell us that staying away from this would be a good thing, but the hunt for SCAG removes such instincts. One of the pieces of SCAG is a piece of candy, and we are tempted to risk the horrors of this van to get that candy. One particularly athletic man from the line sprints after the van for a long time but is unable to catch up. God speed, good soldier, god speed...
We soon enter the maze and find through some difficulty that The Hunt within this maze creates considerable congestion as people navigate the twisting, narrow passages of The Homestead while looking for some of the most coveted pieces of SCAG, namely the Green Toenails and the Used Condoms (not that used, thankfully). Though we find numerous severed feat lying about, their toenails (and oftentimes, toes) have been picked clean. Thankfully, while investigating an abandoned RV, we find more than a few used condoms lying around and add them to our SCAG bags.
It is after we enter a simulated meth lab that the event I feared most happens: Fiona is kidnapped. A freak in a mask throws a sleeping bag over her head and escorts her from the maze, opening a fence and throwing her out, slamming the fence behind me. I am left to my own devices navigating the remainder of the maze, harassed by clowns and a man with a big metal hook for a hand. I steel my reserves of strength and push on. I can make it.
I find Fiona by the end of the maze, thankfully free of a head bag or a ransom. We find Ashley and Patrick not long after. I am feeling more hopeful by the moment that we will survive this night.
11:46 pm - As Ashley and Patrick have not visited The Homestead yet, and Fiona did not finish it, we get in line again. The Candy Van comes by, a trail of runners behind it hoping for their piece of candy. Losing our better judgment, Ashley and I follow them, sprinting alongside the window as we beg and plead for candy. A woman I have never met tries to offer me to the men in the van in exchange for candy, saying I look pretty enough for them. I make them the same offer with her. Though we both laugh, we both know that we will be enemies should we ever see each other again this night (we don't). When the van speeds off, Ashley has secured a piece of candy, though I am empty-handed.
We make our way through The Homestead again, and though we all have fun, this lack of SCAG is getting to all of our spirits. Victory is gradually inching out of sight. It is when we step out of the maze and see the candy van with its door open (and a line of people wearing head bags being filed out of the back) that I see it: SCAG! One of the pieces of SCAG to recover is a Missing Child Poster, and the interior of this van is covered in them! Seeing no one in sight, I dash inside the van, quickly grab a couple posters and thrust them into my SCAG bag, turn around to exit... AND THE VAN DOOR CLOSES IN MY FACE.
I am trapped. I cry out for help. I cry out to warn people away from this van of horrors. Then I hear him behind me. The Free Candy Man.
He tells me to sit down with my arms behind my back and pulls a bag over my head. He takes away my flashlight. I can do nothing but comply, hoping for a quick death. The van continues to drive, bouncing on the uneven ground as the man yells at me, slamming his fists into the wall and occasionally blinding me with my flashlight. At one point I can hear the door open and a woman is dragged inside, forced to sit behind me. I ask her name, but the man screams at us not to talk. This will not end well.
12:03 am - It ends better than I expected. Once the van stops, we are led out into one of the many prison cages that litter The Great Horror Campout. Fiona and my crew are not far behind, though it appears that Ashley has done something else to upset the event's keepers, as she soon joins me in the cage. We try to barter SCAG for our release, but our keepers are cruel and shrewd, not wanting any of our cheap, low-level SCAG. Another inmate with us suggests a break, and the next time the door opens to free a paroled prisoner, Ashley, myself and this stranger throw ourselves against the door. Our keeper is surprisingly strong, however, and keeps us in, and eventually we surrender SCAG to free ourselves.
It is time for a strategy session. We talk back at our tent, content now with the realization that we cannot all come out winners, especially given the scarcity of certain SCAG items. We collect one set of unique items and hide them in our tent, while we collect our extra and unnecessary items for bartering purposes. Ashley proves a shrewd negotiator and we are able to secure a couple of the more uncommon items, and our hope, however briefly, returns.
1:41 am - The Hunt winds to a close. We make our way to The Nest, an area infested with insect-human hybrid monsters. We are told that if we douse ourselves in blood and shove our arm into a hole in the base of The Queen's pulsating abdomen, we might be rewarded with a grub, one of the most coveted pieces of SCAG. However, after seeing a woman literally jump into a bath of blood and come away unrewarded, we are less than enthusiastic for this task. Fiona, Ashley and Patrick cover themselves in some blood, I do not. We all reach inside, some of us are grabbed, some of us (myself included) are not. We do not escape with a grub.
Then it is on to the Labyrinth, a maze of chain link fences inhabited by El Chupacabras. We are told that their vision is based on movement, and that if we are still they will not capture us. This is proven quite quickly as we see several cavalier people in front of us not heed the warnings, quickly being head-bagged and carted off by El Chupacabras. Though our group is split up at several points during this Labyrinth, we make slow progress forward, pausing and waiting for each El Chupacabra to pass. At one point, even though I have frozen, an El Chupacabra throws me against a wall, pins me to it and smells me for a long time. I dare not move. Its appraisal of me seems to take forever, but it must not have found anything appealing about me, as it soon moves on. I breathe a sigh of relief.
In the middle of the Labyrinth is a grim temple, guarded by two living statues. They let us through to the middle of the temple three at a time, where three Hell Lords mark us with blood with whatever our pleasure is. Early clues had led us to believe that if we tell them "Pain", we will receive some SCAG. We receive no SCAG, but we do wander around for the rest of the night with PAIN written on our foreheads in blood. After this grim ceremony, we are let into the bowels of this temple, which mostly just means walking through a narrow corridor with confining, inflatable walls. Abruptly soon after this long corridor, we are let out into the world, free and wondering just where the promised Labyrinth was.
We soon retire to our tent. Ashley and Patrick want to see some movies, Fiona and I, exhausted, lie down in the tent for a while. We have contented ourselves with the fact that we will not win, barring some miraculous bargaining. Though it feels good to lie down, the lantern in our tent attracts a lot of negative attention. This will be a long night.
3:00 am - Lights out time. The music stops, we are told we can get some sleep, but we all know that this is a lie. The true horror is soon to come, I am certain. Regardless, we attempt sleep.
6:00 am – What time passes here is blurry, at best. I’m not sure if I am awake or asleep most of it. There are attacks, I know, and there is a blast of music. I can hear screams. I can hear people being taken from our tents. We hold onto the zipper as they shake and attack, but we are fortunate to remain unbothered otherwise. The night passes on.
We wake up early. The breakfast included in the admission doesn’t call to us. Nor does waiting around to see who won the grand prize, because we know it will not be us. We decide to pack in early and go to our respective homes for some more quality sleep. We see the dawn. It is glorious. We have survived.
If I can take one point of pride away from this experience, it's that not once did any of us have to cry out, "I want my mommy!" Though we may not have won the Hunt or made it all the way through to the end, we can take this pride with us.
All exaggeration and storytelling aside, I gotta say that The Great Horror Campout was a fun, if seriously flawed event. I enjoyed most of the production values, the tasks were fun and varied and creepy and messy, and the actors had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. Knowing the monsters "weaknesses" and actually getting to put them into use was awesome. The company was great (thanks for joining us, Patrick & Ashley!) and this was an event best shared in a group. These factors added up to an event that was quite a bit of fun. The events flaws, on the other hand, occasionally threatened to overwhelm the good things it had to offer. Discouraging the taking of pictures was a little strange. Organization was a major issue, with events scattered and managed without much concern for the amount of people they were going to have. The uncertainty at how the Hell Hunt worked, combined with the fact that they did not restock most SCAG items throughout the night led to a lot of confusion and discouragement. I know not everyone can come out a winner, but the illusion that we all could win I think would have kept people's enthusiasm for the hunt up instead of just making us give up. As well, certain logistical issues really distracted from the fun, including inconsistent exchange rates in getting people out of the cages and bottlenecks in some of the mazes as people spent more time looking for SCAG than they did being scared of the maze. While this is fine, in principle, in a maze as narrow and circuitous as The Homestead, this created some pretty major backups as people searched for SCAG. The fact that the police spent a fair amount of time on the margins of this event, no doubt due to noise complaints from the blaring music going on until 3 in the morning, only adds to this clear lack of forethought. The fact that The Hell Hunt ended at 2 and had nothing really scheduled afterward further illustrated this problem, as people began filing out in droves instead of staying the night as intended.
I hope they continue doing these Great Horror Campouts, as it is clear they've got a lot of good ideas and enthusiasm, but for now I feel fairly safe to say that I will not likely attend another. I hope they redo it so it is not an overnight excursion, with a challenging but not discouraging Hell Hunt, and some better organization, as this could really become a premiere Halloween-esque event with just a little work.
Also, ditch the Leech Girl. She's creepy, but when you're using the bathroom and the toilet seat keeps falling down because she's hitting the port-o-potty's so hard, you're just asking for a mess.