The 17th Door: 2019 Review

The 17th Door, Fullerton, CA

It’s a Manic Monday, in that today, we’re taking a look at Manic Mind Production’s 2019 iteration of its infamous “extreme” haunt, The 17th Door. For the past five years, The 17th Door has thrilled, disgusted, terrified, and shocked (both literally and metaphorically) thousands upon thousands of guests, forcing many of them to “Mercy” out of its rooms and even the entire maze. This haunted attraction has elicited polarizing opinions and is certainly not the experience for everyone. More intense, more tactile, and more psychological than most, The 17th Door is an exercise in sadistic creativity, a study of real life horrors, and an exploration into the depravity of the human condition. But it’s also one of the most phenomenal haunts around.

This year continues the tragic story of Paula Barclay, as she continues her sentence at Perpetuum Penitentiary for the murder of her infant son narrated in season two. For those who may be new to the story, The 17th Door first told of Paula’s tale at Gluttire University over two seasons at their Tustin location, tracing Paula’s attempt at a fresh start in college after an abuse-ridden childhood, only to find that her demons—covering topics like drug, emotional, and sexual abuse, violence, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders—had followed her. At the end of season two, Paula’s shocking murder of her son—borne out of rape by a fraternity member—resulted in her being sentenced to Perpetuum Penitentiary, paralleling The 17th Door’s move to their current Fullerton location.

Since her incarceration, however, Paula’s life has only grown worse, as the terrors of prison, the cruelty of the warden and the guards, and the insidious experiments of the secretive Vixi Labs has driven her to the edge of sanity. This season, however, seems to offer hope and a renewed commitment to overcoming her obstacles, as the following trailer suggests…

And so, guests entering The 17th Door this year can expect more scares, new and extremely creative rooms, a few returning favorites from last year, and the same immersive and visceral terror and trepidation that has become a calling card of this notorious haunt.

Bring your nerves. You’ll need them at The 17th Door!  (Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

Bring your nerves. You’ll need them at The 17th Door!

(Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

The 17th Door: Fearless brings a renewed push back to Paula’s storyline, after the past two seasons have skirted around plot progression. Guests follow Paula as she works to better herself and apply for parole. Her apparent contrition marks a turning point from past years’ character, where Paula was slowly spiraling out of control and into greater tragedy. But the abusive forces who conspire to keep her entrapped at Perpetuum still loom over her.

And yet, as guests follow Paula through this year’s story, they bear witness to a theme of empowerment that has taken over our anti-heroine. Paula may have committed unconscionable sins in the past, but she is far from the most horrific character at Perpetuum Penitentiary, and there are figures much more despicable than her who deserve comeuppance. By the end of the maze, guests will find the story headed towards a backstretch that will conclude next year—the final chapter of the saga of Paula Barclay.

Paula has been getting stronger the past year at Perpetuum Penitentiary.  (Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

Paula has been getting stronger the past year at Perpetuum Penitentiary.

(Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

Of course, that’s just a hint into the story. What The 17th Door is really known for is its boundary-pushing scares and stunts that probe the edge of human comfort and fear. Over the years, The 17th Door has acquired a label as being a “gross-out” maze that relies on gags (sometimes literally) to facilitate its scares, but this is not exactly accurate.

Certainly, in the past, guests have had to endure electrical shocks, water effects (sometimes drenching), touching (nothing inappropriate, just unnerving), exposure to cockroaches and actual pig bodies, pulling out real pig fetuses, confined spaces, projectile impacts, and other moments that mainstream haunts like Knott’s and Universal would never dare implement due to liability concerns.

But the maze has evolved over time, and those sensationalist tactics are not the sole methods used. The 17th Door still and has always retained a mix of traditional scares to balance out the more news-grabbing ones. Pop-out scares, hidden compartments, and misdirection startle scares occur as well. And everything is set within detailed and immersive sets that retain high professional quality. As a haunted attraction production, The 17th Door is definitely up there among the best.

The 17th Door once again brings back a plethora of squeamish scares, from old and infamous tricks to new gags that will shock and astound.  (Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

The 17th Door once again brings back a plethora of squeamish scares, from old and infamous tricks to new gags that will shock and astound.

(Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

But The 17th Door is constantly tinkering with its set-up year after year and adjusting its sequencing to cater to what works and refine what does not work. Last year was the haunt’s most popular to date, and as such, this year retains a mix of returning favorite moments and new and incredible scares that will definitely leave guests shaken.

Scenes like the firing squad, the gas chamber (i.e. the ball pit), the prison cell, and the escape tunnels return this year. Like them or not, they made quite an impact on guests and were highly memorable. The cockroaches also do make a return, but I won’t say where—only that the reveal is not immediately obvious and rather cinematic. New additions this year include a new street alley scene, a “tumble room,” and group shock therapy room, and (most unnerving for me) a specific sensory deprivation moment that has probably come the closest to ever making me “Mercy” out.

The result is a 17th Door experience that is the most physically demanding and intense year in the event’s history. This is reflected in this year’s waiver, which eschews the sarcastic (but still legally binding) language of prior years and actually contains serious, lawyer-constructed terminology and detail. In addition, guests can always say the safe word, “Mercy,” to leave any individual room, or the entire haunt itself. The 17th Door also sells Mercy Pendants that allow guests to bypass the worst rooms (to my knowledge, this year, that entails the two rooms where electrical shocks happen, as well as the cockroach room).

This year’s technological sophistication at The 17th Door is unparalleled in the event’s history.  (Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

This year’s technological sophistication at The 17th Door is unparalleled in the event’s history.

(Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

Again, The 17th Door is not designed for those who do not like elements listed above. But for those who do have a hankering for more envelope-pushing scares (that are all still safe, keep in mind), The 17th Door is stronger and more jaw-dropping than ever. The team has built some technologically incredible sets of Hollywood studio precision and quality. Even in rooms where the scare is apparent and clearly choreographed, the startles are typically still impactful. There’s a play of psychological manipulation especially between veteran guests and each room to figure out just what exactly is going to happen. I personally find that very creative and fun—in a twisted way.

This year’s 17th Door has moments that are breath-taking (literaly in one instance) in their execution, and I was left in awe seeing how the team was able to bring these machinations to life. Given that the entire maze can only operate when every single room is running, and any delay in one room—no matter how technologically and mechanically complex it is—means a delay in the whole experience, and it’s honestly incredible to behold what the Luthers and their team have been able to produce. The 17th Door is part haunted house walk-through and park amusement park ride experience, and the way everything has come together this year is commendably outstanding.

Guests join along in Paula’s quest for redemption this year.  (Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

Guests join along in Paula’s quest for redemption this year.

(Photo courtesy of The 17th Door.)

The one portion of The 17th Door that we weren’t able to experience was the VR component. The video for this year and its associated programming is running late, so they are currently replaying last year’s VR component. Guests who do not like being shocked should NOT try this. Those who don’t mind… go right ahead. It’s honestly very entertaining, with some dark humor elements, and the dread of the VR’s tactile effects is definitely part of the adrenaline rush and the thrill.

Ultimately, The 17th Door once again delivers edgy content, an ruthless continuation of its jarring story, new and spectacular effects and scares, and an overall experience that is the most comprehensive and advanced in its history. The entire team has certainly outdone itself in terms of pushing the haunt higher and higher in intricacy and fright. Fans of The 17th Door will love what it brings this year. Just read all the trigger warnings (both physical and psychological) and be prepared for a provocatively jolting time!

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.