Downtown Los Angeles, CA
It's always interesting to see a new haunt enter the scene in Southern California. With an ever -growing line-up of haunted attractions and events, Halloween fans have plenty of options in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura, San Diego, the Inland Empire, and even beyond. So any new spooky offering faces a decent amount of competition, which has driven many recent debuts to try to distinguish themselves in some manner.
This year, one of the new kids in town is Gorlesque, a "haunted burlesque" that made its public debut in an abbreviated form as part of the Hall of Shadows at Midsummer Scream this past summer. The success of that sneak peak served as great advertising for their formal autumn full haunted attraction, which finally opened to the public on Wednesday. Officially titled "Gorlesque Presents: Paradise" and with a tagline of "Frights, Frills, Frolic" (which I might also now augment with "Boo's, Boobs, and Bondage"), this intriguing haunt billed itself as a more adult alternative to the classic haunted house genre, promising a bit of titillating fun to complement the customary scares. So on its opening night, Westcoaster paid a visit to investigate one of the 2016 Halloween season's most fascinating additions.
(This would also be a good time to mention that this update contains images that may be considered on the more adult side of PG-13, so while our haunted attraction reviews are typically NSFW because of inevitable photos of simulated gore and other similar fake violent content, this one has the added attribute of being a little more risque as well.)
Located in an old loft building in the heart of the Fashion District of Downtown Los Angeles (on the south side of 11th, between Santee and Los Angeles Streets), Gorlesque doesn't have much of a public facade presence. But it's pretty straightforward to find, and after parking on the street (which should be free on weekends and after 6pm on the weekdays), visitors can take an elevator up to the fifth floor to begin their visit. Those with a Fitbit and/or needing extra steps can climb the stairs instead up to the fifth floor elevator and stair lobby. Once there, guests find a non-descript doorway to the offices of the Weltschmerz Society, and a gentleman welcoming them on their impending journey to "Paradise."
As the backstory of Gorlesque goes, the Weltschmerz Society is the brainchild of one Dr. Heinrich Weltschmerz, who created the group in the first half of the 1900s in hopes of seeking "perfection." Of course, his standards for "perfection" might have differed a bit from conventional society's views. It turns out Dr. Weltschmerz was fond of kidnapping lonesome frauleins for the purposes of conducting sadistic cosmetic experiments, physically altering them to create "perfekt" specimen. He built up a following worldwide, and despite his passing decades ago, the members of the Weltschmerz Society continue to carry out his teachings, convinced that only through these attempts toward perfection can they go through the portal that Dr. Weltschmerz designed and reach "Paradise." Of course, by now, readers have probably figured out that the Weltschmerz Society is nothing more than a cult, and the irony between its view of "perfection" and what its inner circle is actually like is a common theme that runs throughout the attraction.
For guests who didn't know this plot going in, there's a great little video at the beginning of the attraction that lays out the storyline for incoming candidates of the Society. But what haunt enthusiasts should know prior to visiting, though, is that Gorlesque is not a haunt for everyone. Firstly, this is literally true--due to sexual content and themes of violence, Gorlesque is for guests 18 years or older. Secondly, the attraction is not the typical "high scare/high startle" type that is loaded with pop-out frights and high intensity blood and gore. Instead, the shock and horror lies in the fantastic interaction between the various actors within this maze and the guests, with edgy scenarios created to generate discomfort and open displays of certain scenes of sexual nature. There's a certain playful sardonic feel to it all, and Gorlesque certainly does not take itself too seriously. But still, there are definitely moments that may cause leave some guests agape with unease because of how they present topics of traditional taboo.
The attraction begins with an introduction to the Weltschmerz Society by two lovely members who have already been indoctrinated. Don't be fooled by their beautiful and angelic appearances. These ladies can quickly become belligerent and critical, lambasting guests for their lack of perfection. And though the intensity of the scolding may not suggest it, guests are actually encouraged to interact and converse back with the actors, who are allowed certain amounts of improvisation within the overall arc of their scripts. The more back and forth, the more interesting and sometimes outlandish the experience becomes.
The training is designed to lead into access of the portal into Paradise, but as guests soon find out, the device is just not quite ready. The group joins a panicked and bumbling scientist in the next room, where the first signs of the false facade of perfection begin to erode. Some risque surprises first present themselves here, and eventually, the scientist is able to get the portal functioning. The initiates thus "enter Paradise."
I won't go into the details of the rest of the attraction, though the photos that follow will provide some amount of spoilers. Suffice to say, though, visitors quickly find out that "Paradise" is anything but. Instead, it's a twisted, depraved haven filled with victimized frauleins, mad doctors, and twisted characters who have a vested in interest in making the guests "perfekt." Which is to say they're keen on mutilating the new arrivals to Paradise. There are certainly additional scenes of adult nature--some rather tame by today's standards, but others which are sexually provocative no matter how liberal one may be. At the request of Gorlesque's producers (and also in the interest of keeping the most tantalizing moments unspoiled), we've omitted parts of the maze from our pictorial coverage. The finale in particular provides a surprising twist on just what the Weltschmerz Society considers to be "perfection" and leaves many visitors exiting with nervous laughter and a sense of disbelief over what they just witnessed.
With Gorlesque, photos don't really spoil that much. As alluded to earlier, the beauty of the event lies in the interactions. The cast of Gorlesque is absolutely fantastic. Whether they play victims, tormentors, oddballs, or recruiters, each member imbues an intense and sometimes disturbing performance into his or her role. Some of the characters are not afraid to get uneasily close to an unfortunate guest or command them to perform actions that are way outside of one's public comfort zone. (For those concerned about extreme haunt elements, fear not--the aforementioned actions don't involve anything physically painful or viscerally gross like more extreme haunts may offer.) Instead, the experience is geared more toward psychological discomfort, and to that end the actors execute their goals quite well. And fortunately, though the subject matter can certainly venture off the path toward awkwardness because of how explicitly it presents certain sexual situations, it never feels too brazen. At the end of the day, there's still that element of fun and irony interlaced throughout the whole experience. And the interactive element allows for moments of improvisation by the cast that enables each trip to be unique for the group that goes through.
The cohesive backstory also functions well to tie everything together clearly and interestingly. The Weltschmerz Society conjures connotations of Scientology and Nazi human experimentation, reinforcing the creepy cult characterization and infusing a sinister aspect to add to the horror. This is done respectfully--the PC Police need not worry about any senseless throwing around of Hitleresque imagery. But the background of having a German scientist (named Heinrich, no less) with an interest in altering humans naturally conjures up an association.
At the end of the day, Gorlesque is not the most terrifying haunt, nor is it the most immersively and elaborately themed haunt. Its strength lies in its talent, and Gorlesque has an absolutely excellent and committed cast of it (and a pretty good looking one too, which doesn't hurt).
As far as critiques go, I'd love to see the storyline and experience expanded and enhanced next year. Additional layers of theming, perhaps a soundtrack to increase the theater aspect of maze, and further and more graphic exploration into the horrors of the Weltschmerz Society would make for an even more developed experience. But the absence or lightness of these elements did not detract from our experience in any way. Our group still had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the characters and haunts and even the few spread out startle moments that were incorporated into the experience.
Gorlesque runs now through Sunday, October 23, and again next Wednesday, October 26 through Sunday, October 30. Tickets can be purchased through Gorlesque's web site and Eventbrite store. And as a special treat, Gorlesque is offering readers of Westcoaster a discount of $5 per ticket for those who buy tickets online. Just use the code "WESTCOASTER" when completing the order on Eventbrite.
Although it's definitely different from the other haunts we've visited, there is a lot to like about Gorlesque. It's fun, it's sexy, and it's cauldron of entertainment both scripted and unscripted, and also occasionally shocking. Go check out Gorlesque this season, while the Weltschmerz Society is still taking reservations to "Paradise!" Never did a promise land so bad also feel so good.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.