The 17th Door, Tustin, CA
One of the big debut hits last Halloween season was The 17th Door, an immersive, incredibly themed, and shockingly detailed haunt by first time haunters Robbie and Heather Luther. And that is the subject of today's #FlashbackFrightday. A timed attraction across a dozen and a half rooms, with intricately choreographed scenes lasting 30 - 60 seconds each, this haunted attraction told the story of young Paula, a tragic teen figure with a dark past, starting her freshman year at Gluttire University. Although she hopes to leave her demons behind her, they simply will not go away, and through the course of the 30 minute attraction, they manifest in the form of literal monsters.
The 17th Door had gotten a lot of attention earlier in the year when it was announced. The professional haunter industry was intrigued by what this couple, who, again, had never done any sort of haunted attraction before, would put out. The production values in the marketing were quite high, and though the attraction was shrouded in mystery, what was revealed seemed to surprisingly rival the quality of big name haunts like Knott's Scary Farm and Universal Studios.
Once this haunted house opened, any question over whether the buzz was all hype was quickly washed away. The 17th Door was twisted, shocking, disgusting, traumatizing, and surprisingly cerebral. In addition to utilizing tried and true haunt methods, Robbie and Heather also unveiled elements I had never experienced before in a haunt, including a suffocating burial by ball pit, tunnels with shock pads, and the infamous cockroach room. This followed the impressive technology used to control guest flow and maintain a relatively constantly moving maze despite multiple simultaneous scenes. Guests in each room were technically locked in as each usually 30 second scene progressed. Between each room was a queuing area for the preceding and next group, also barred from entering through the door until the light turned green. This rhythmic timing had the added benefit of getting actors into a groove, so that they could hit their scares with precision regularity.
The storyline also wasn't afraid to incorporate brutally dark and mature themes, touching upon topics like bulimia, rape, drug use, gun violence, and suicide. Under the surface of an edgy haunted attraction was a intricately woven and substantively tragic storyline. Paula was subjected to real life terrors that many people face, especially during vulnerable formative young adult years. The cruelty of classmates, the trauma of sexual assault, and the spiral of drug addiction were just some of the themes explored. What ultimately proved most horrifying wasn't the horrific creatures and supernatural scares--it was the everyday terrors that could legitimately strike any one of us.
Westcoaster was able to attend media day for the 17th Door last year, where several of the rooms were available for tour and photography. The regular event strictly forbade this, so we weren't able to document most of the haunt, but that's okay. The following gallery gives you a nice glimpse into some of the twisted terror that wound up one of my absolute top haunts of 2015 and, really, all time.
The Locker Room
One of the first spaces guests encountered was a dark, dingy, disgusting looking locker room with a lone janitor. Guests were lined up along a locker bench, and made to listen to the complaining custodian mutter about his unenviable lot. Along the way, secret scare spots and a rather stomach churning dig through a toilet added some interaction to the scene. Those with keen eyes also might have noticed humorous messages and random jokes and callbacks scribbled onto the stalls, demonstrating a bit of skewed humor from the designers.
The Boiler Room
The Boiler Room was home to a twisted, mutated creature racked with paranoia and schizophrenia. Here, guests were made to play a game of chance, and the loser suffered a jarring and wet surprise.
The Dorm Room
One of the rooms that really delved into Paula's backstory, this recreation of a college dorm highlights Paula's obsession with staying thin. We learn that Paula had been the opposite in high school and had turned to bulimia to lose weight. Her demons manifest in physical form as demonic pigs, symbolizing both her secret gluttony and her shame.
The climactic Asylum featured manufactured chaos. Here, several frightful clowns and creatures shoved guests into claustrophobic lockers, leaving them to their imaginations and trepidation over what might happen at any time. For some, there ambush scares or random brushes. For others, simply the suspense was enough. All the while, the lamenting and apologetic voice of Paula played overhead, highlighting her regret over her failures in life and outlining the despondence that drives her to attempt suicide.
My group got to this room last, although it was actually first in the experience. The star here as the professor who explained the rules in character and provided a chilling and unnerving jumpstart to the whole experience. From here, guests would divide into two groups that would progress through the rest of the maze. But this room in and of itself featured plenty of disturbing props, not to mention a character plant whose surprise blurred the lines between reality and storyline.
The 17th Door will be returning for 2016 and promises to delve further into Paula's tragic history--not to mention a longer maze, more scares, more gross-out's, and even a min-escape room. Robbie mentioned having several ideas he wasn't able to properly implement last year, so it will be intriguing to see what he and The 17th Door team conjures up this year!
Speaking of which... the 17th Door will actually be at Midsummer Scream this Saturday to discuss what helped them toward success and what they have in store this weekend. The two-day Halloween Convention is basically kicking off Halloween season, and if you're the type of person who doesn't care that fall's spookiest time is starting in the summer, go grab some tickets and check out the event!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.