Is the much-anticipated Blumhouse of Horrors this Halloween's Delusion or this Halloween's Ghost Ship? To find out, come along with us...if you dare!
One of this season's most anticipated Halloween events in Los Angeles is the Blumhouse of Horrors 2012 debut - a brand new haunted house from the producer of the Paranormal Activity movies. Last night, the Blumhouse of Horrors invited the media to the Variety Arts Theatre in downtown Los Angeles for a special preview of the haunt, including interview opportunities with producer Jason Blum . Hollywood Gothique was actually in the first group of outsiders to pass through the haunted hallways, along with Blum himself, who wanted first-hand look at how the scenes played to the audience. Because the event was presented as a "rough" draft of the finished version, which will be tweaked considerably before opening to the public on Thursday, October 4, we will withhold final judgment here.
The Blumhouse of Horrors shares some elements with Delusion: Presented by Haunted Play. Set within a real location, the lengthy tour attempts to tell a story - in this case, of a magician whose final performance ended with his mysterious disappearance from the stage, along with another man's wife. The Blumhouse of Horrors is not as heavily scripted as Delusion: there are a few dramatic vignettes, but not all of them relate directly to the main story; the characters we see represent the souls of all who died within the premises, whether or not they have anything to do with the magician and his lover.
We traversed the haunted premises of the Variety Arts Theatre three times, fortunately. We say "fortunately" because the first time was a tremendous disappointment, but each subsequent venture represented a noticeable leap forward in quality. What made the difference?
We think three factors were at play: size, experience,and awareness.The first two are up to the cast and crew; the second is up to the viewer. Which played the most important part in improving the haunt experience is difficult to ascertain with certainty, but we will try to analyze the variables here:
1. SIZE. Apparently, the plan is to send Halloween Haunt-Goers through in groups of 15 at a time. Quite frankly, this grouping is too large, and the Blumhouse of Horrors needs to rethink its approach if they hope to satisfy their audience. The problem is the usual one: with that many people, you miss half the scares if you are not in front of the line. In the case of the Blumhouse of Horrors, the problem is exacerbated because there is an attempt to present not just jump-scares but dramatic vignettes; if the first few people in line decide to stop immediately upon entering a doorway, you could easily miss something.
Almost as bad as the front of the line problem was the back of the line problem: scenes and scares would simply run out of gas too soon; in a particularly egregious case, one of the creepy characters depleted his gamut of grunts and groans before everyone had exited a room; he was left with nothing to do but stand around silently waiting for us to get out.
And simply in practical terms, there are a couple of tight places (not one but two elevators - one real and one a gag) where the crowd can barely fit.
On our two subsequent trips (each time in a group of four), we saw much that we had missed the first time; the scares were more immediate and effective - even the ones we had noticed during our first walk-through.
2. EXPERIENCE. The timing of the cast seemed off on our first trip through the Blumhouse of Horrors. Climaxes were weak; it was difficult to be sure when scenes had ended and it was time to proceed. We missed some of the action because it was not clear that we were supposed to follow an actor or move to a particular place. Being a real location, the Variety Arts Theatre is filled with staircases and hallways, not all of them used for the haunt, and it would have been fairly easy to take a wrong turn.
By the time of our second trip, the actors seemed to be improving with experience. They were better at sustaining a scene instead of letting it peter out, and the supporting cast were mastering the art of appearing precisely when a scene was over, directing us to move on and indicating, when necessary, what path to take.
3. AWARENESS. Frankly, once we knew what to expect, we knew where to stand in order to experience each new thrill up close and personal. By the time of our third jaunt through the Blumhouse of Horrors, we were getting the full effect every time. Obviously, this is not going to help a newcomer, who pays for only a single trip through the Blumhouse of Horrors. Fortunately, there seemed to be signs that the actors were adjusting their routines so that newbies would know where to look to savor all the blood-curdling thrills.
To cite one example: a memorable scene plays out with two characters arguing back stage and disappearing into a dressing room, after which shots ring out. As the hallway has multiple exits, it is hard to know whether you are supposed to follow the actors to the room or simply move on in another direction.
Well, you are supposed to see what happens, so do not be afraid to walk to the door and take a look inside. On our second trip, we were right on top of the action, instead of waiting down the hall. On our third trip, the staging has been rearranged: the angry gunman now stood outside the door, arguing with the woman locked inside, giving the audience more time to move in close and observe the lethal outcome.
The members of the second group who went through the Blumhouse of Horrors with us agreed with our assessment that the second trip was an improvement over the first. Our third group consisted of Blumhouse virgins, all of whom screamed on cue - including Mrs. Hollywood Gothique, who opined that the Blumhouse of Horrors is better than the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Cities Hollywood.
If the Blumhouse of Horrors keeps improving before opening night, it could rank among the best Halloween events in Los Angeles. Currently, its greatest strength is the wonderful location - whose authentic atmosphere exceeds even that of Delusion 2012: The Blood Rite's crumbling Victorian Mansion. (In fact, during our first trip through the Variety Arts Theatre, we found ourselves thinking: Walking through this place alone, in the dark, would probably be much more frightening than anything the show can achieve.) However, the story-telling at Blumhouse of Horrors falls short of Delusion, and the ending (at least last night) remained strangely anti-climactic. Here's hoping the witch's brew is fully double-boiled, toiled and troubled by opening night.
The Blumhouse of Horrors is set in the Variety Arts Theatre, 940 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017. Performances dates are October 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, 29,31, November 1-3. Hours are 6pm to midnight. Tickets are available at the official website: $29 for general admission; $55 for VIP (front of the line).