Theatre Review: Delusion’s “Reaper’s Remorse” sets the standard for Halloween 2021

The immersive theatrical production’s return to form reaps a harvest of horror guaranteed to make you fear the Reaper.

Fall 2021 sees Halloween as we know it returning to Los Angeles. More importantly, it see Delusion Interactive Theatre returning to its roots with its latest production, Reaper’s Remorse. Believe it or not, it has been five years since Delusion offered a a full-length Halloween horror show with Delusion: His Crimson Queen in 2016. Since then, there was the brief off-brand offshoot Horror Rewind in 2017, the science-fiction-adventure Delusion: The Blue Blade in 2018, and the short spinoff Alt Delete in 2019, then a year off because of the 2020 pandemic.

There was even some concern about the long-term financial viability of Delusion’s format (an hour-long interactive play staged in a real venue, which limits audience size and hence ticket sales). That concern was hopefully addressed when Delusion joined forces with 13th Floor Entertainment (the company that bought the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride a couple years ago); however, the union raised its own question: would the personal care and craftsmanship that creator Jon Braver brought to his independent production be diluted by collaboration with corporate giant?

Fortunately, there was no sign of dilution during Delusion’s opening weekend. Ensconced in a great, new location, Reaper’s Remorse offers an outstanding return to form, expanded to combine its interactive play with a new, immersive open world experience that audiences are invited to explore at their leisure before or after the play. It is everything fans expect…and more.

Delusion Reaper’s Remorse Review: Overview

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Reaper’s Remorse is set in the Phillips Mansion, in an industrial area of Pomona. Bathed in eerie light, the structure is old enough to look suitably haunted – the perfect setting for a delusional experience.

This year’s presentation can be divided into roughly three aspects: the “open world,” which includes the first floor of the mansion and the yard outside; the exclusive VIP experience on the second floor; and the haunted play itself. Cocktails are available inside; outside a food shack offers enough choices to create a decent mini-meal for those who skipped dinner (the veggie tacos are great).

Combined, these three elements are enough to fill the better part of an evening, so set aside a few hours to enjoy the full experience, especially if you have paid for the exclusive upstairs section of the open world. Even without a VIP pass, the downstairs rooms and the front yard provide seating for all audience members, who can lounge around waiting their turn to enter or discuss their experiences afterward.

While waiting, you may encounter mysterious characters, including a groundskeeper, storm lamp in hand, wandering the grounds. Around the side of the building, you may notice an ominous entrance to the basement, but if you dare descend into its dark depths, you will not understand the significance of what you discover…at least not yet.

This is because the explanation for the basement’s terrible secret is revealed in Her Private Collection, part of the exclusive VIP Experience, which provides details about the backstory. These different elements intersect in a non-linear fashion as you encounter them, creating a gruesome gestalt that is more than the sum of its proverbial parts by making sense out of certain aspects that might otherwise seem arbitrary or unconnected.

As a participant, you cannot truly affect the outcome of Reaper’s Remorse; however, your choices will shape your experience: will a clue explain something you have already seen or foretell something you will see later?


Delusion Reaper’s Remorse Review: Open World

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After checking in at the front door, guests give their phone number to the receptionist, who will send a text when entrance time arrives. Meanwhile, you can explore the immersive world on the first floor, which offers ample opportunity for socializing. There is a bar downstairs (the first of two), along with seating and a card game or two to keep you occupied while not only imbibing spirits of the liquid variety but also absorbing the ambiance of the mansion, whose decor sets the stage for what is to come with a clever use of props.

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The main component of the open world is a series of artifacts placed in the rooms: a typewriter, a crossbow, a doll, etc. There are written notes beside them, explaining some aspect the mansion’s haunted history. From time to time, the artifacts will spring to life: the typewriter will clack; the doll will speak; and whispered voices of the dead will tell their tales, providing information that may color your experience of the play.

You can explore the open world before or after the play, but we recommend doing it first – not because the information is necessary to understand the plot but because these brief paranormal encounters set the mood like an appetizer before the main course, enhancing your enjoyment regardless of whether or not you recall specific details.

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Those who paid for the VIP Experience of Reaper’s Remorse can access the exclusive upstairs area, where a magician lurks around the second bar offering to perform tricks. There are one or two more artifacts on view in the rooms, but the key feature of the VIP Experience is Her Private Collection.

This is in a special section behind a door with a sign (like one above an elevator) telling guests when to enter. At approximately ten minute intervals, guests can embark on a brief journey, exploring more of the Phillips Mansion’s haunted history. It begins with a ghostly recording emanating from a turntable spinning with no record in place. This is followed by a crawlspace to tiny room with dolls and then a closet with a hidden exit.

The tour culminates with an interactive encounter with Louis Phillips, owner of the mansion and husband of Esther, who plays a key role in the play. Philips pontificates on the subject of time running out on our lives like grains of sand in an hour glass and offers cryptic warnings about soul transference afflicting those who have confronted the spirits inside the house. Most particularly, he drops a hint about forgiving his wife for something she did to him, a hint which leads to the basement we told you to avoid earlier….

Like the rest of the immersive experience, Her Private Collection can be explored before or after the play, but we think it makes a great epilogue to the show, bringing the audience full circle by sending them back outside to discover the secret lurking in the cellar.


Delusion Reaper’s Remorse Review: Interactive Play
Delusion: Reaper's Remorse Review 2021
In the interactive play, Esther Phillips sends her guests on a quest to capture lost souls.

So much for all the accoutrements. What about the main event?

Reaper’s Remorse ranks among Delusion’s best efforts. The familiar elements are in place, but the structure makes the storyline easy to follow even in the frantic rush of fear that tends to cloud one’s mind while being pursued by angry spirits inside a haunted house.

The setup is not that different from that of a videogame – essentially a quest completed room by room, with each threat being defeated before moving on to the next. Esther Phillips enlists a group of “volunteers” to exorcise Phillips Mansion. There is an Escape From New York-type plot device insuring their cooperation, and there is an artifact that, when used at the right moment, will absorb the tortured souls haunting the premises.

The result is neatly episodic – a quest with a clear goal, achieved scene by scene with each segment working mostly on its own – so that there is little worry about losing track of the plot. Encounter a ghost; apply the artifact; then move on to the next ghost.

Along the way, you will encounter a talking, mobile (!) doll and guides both morose and manic. The screws are tightened on frayed nerves when participants are separated to hide while the weird inhabitants seek them out for special, personalized scares, and there are several clever illusions – such as a gunshot that sends one character flying backwards and a character whose sudden disappearance is accomplished so smoothly that inattentive guests may miss the obvious implication when a corpse falls from a noose a moment later.

It all wraps up with a pretty satisfying conclusion, though not quite as spectacular as some past Delusion productions have offered. The plot could perhaps use a more cathartic denouement (shouldn’t there be a boss to defeat at the end?); on the other hand, it may be in the nature of Reaper’s Remorse that the story should not fully close the door but rather leave questions that can be explored in the open world surrounding the play.


Delusion Reaper’s Remorse Review: Conclusion

Delusion 2021: Reaper's Remorse ReviewLike Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, Delusion Interactive Theatre is so sui generis that the only sensible standard by which to judge a new production is how well it compares to older ones: Is Reaper’s Remorse a match for Delusion Lies Within, Delusion: The Blood Rite, or the original Delusion?

The answer is yes. Although Delusion: His Crimson Queen (our personal fav) still has a stronger story, the addition of the open world has turned Reaper’s Remorse into a bigger event with an almost mesmeric grip on our soul – which is a fancy way of saying we did not want to leave.

With its combination of interactive theatre and immersive experience, played out on three levels in and around a mansion, Reaper’s Remorse feels somewhat like House of Spirits, another Halloween event that affords an opportunity to wander through a haunted house at one’s own pace. Ultimately, the two events are quite distinct from each other, but both offer an intricate, involving immersion within a haunted world for an extended period, without the debilitating conga-line experience of herding through a traditional Halloween walk-through maze like mindless cattle prodded by frequent jump-scares.

“Sooner or later you dance with the Reaper,” Death sang to us in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. After five years on hiatus or dabbling in science fiction, Delusion’s return to horror definitely feels later rather than sooner, but dedicated haunt-seekers will definitely want Reaper’s Remorse at the top of their dance cards. It is the yardstick by which other attractions are measured and found wanting.

Delusion: Reaper's Remorse Ratings
5

Bottom Line

This Reaper has no reason for remorse – Delusion’s latest production is the yardstick by which this season’s Halloween events should be measured.

Reaper’s Remorse continues at the Phillips Mansion on select nights through November 21. Tickets start at $89.99 with the upcharge for the VIP Experience starting at $30. The address is 2640 Pomona Boulevard
Pomona, CA 91768. There is no dedicated parking lot, and street parking can be limited, so arrive fifteen minutes before your appointed entry time. Masks are required inside; fully vaccinated guests need not wear masks outside .For more information, visit www.enterdelusion.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.