Like a horror version of the MCU’s Avengers, Nocturnes & Nightmares assembles characters from previous installments to bring Delusion Phase One to a conclusion.
The king of immersive of horror in Los Angeles, Jon Braver’s Delusion Interactive Theatre is back for its third and final year at the Phillips Mansion in Pomona, with a new show entitled Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares. Billed as an anthology, this latest descent into delirium not only wraps up events of the past two seasons; it also stretches back into previous installments, resurrecting characters and plot threads going all the way back to the show’s 2011 debut. You will encounter vampires from Delusion: His Crimson Queen, the evil Alchemist from Delusion Lies Within, and Stanfeld, the mysterious agent from Delusion: The Blue Blade, along with many others.
Also, there are several changes to the presentation surrounding Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares. For the first time, all floors on the front mansion of the property are open to general admission ticket holders. The ground floor provides spectral ambiance, merchandise, and a chance to recuperate between adventures. The second floor offers a bar haunted by a familiar character, plus a burlesque dance show. And up in the attic, attendees can climb a narrow staircase for a chance to summon a spirit to learn a few secrets from beyond the grave.
Meanwhile, the exclusive VIP experience, formerly held on the second floor of the main building, is now set in a wing of the back mansion, where the play takes place. Here, guests can sip cocktails while chatting with costumed actors and enjoying a behind-the-scenes peak at the show: first, by watching video monitors of attendees moving through the mansion’s haunted hallways; and second, by donning a costume to make a brief appearance in the play itself.
Finally, visitors no longer roam the front grounds of the property. Instead, the back door of the main mansion leads out to a Garden Bar, where drinks and food are served.
To understand the strategy behind these alterations and embellishments, Hollywood Gothique sat down for an interview with Delusion‘s creator, Jon Braver, who graciously answered all of our questions, even while occasionally chiding us for our somewhat pedantic reviews of past Delusion plays.
Delusion Nocturnes & Nightmares: Jon Braver Interview
This interview was recorded via zoom shortly before Delusion: Nightmares & Nocturnes opened. The video interview is embedded at top. Below is a transcript that has been slightly condensed edited for clarity.
JON BRAVER: This is a very special show. I’ve actually been speaking to my team about this recently, and I can’t remember being this excited about a show in a while, because we did this whole sound and lighting walk through, and I was like, “Oh my God, the sound design is pretty amazing for this one.” Basically, it’s our final year in Pomona at the Phillips Mansion, and we’re going to be wrapping up the Esther Phillip story in a very odd and exciting way when it comes to the idea of an author that has penned all of the previous Delusion stories, this being one of them, last year’s being one of them, all of them being parts of her Anthology – and how that is translated into our world and us as guests, as Delusionals.
I’ve been hearing some whispers around the internet about this being sort of a meta approach, and it definitely is. It stems from my frustrations with writing these shows, to be honest. It was like the insanity of writing this kind of show has driven the author insane, but there’s definitely a metaphorical significance going on here. But this one is like previous Delusion stories, bringing in some hits from previous years but in a different setting, with a different sequences, and all the stories have an underlying narrative that culminates in a very cool finale.
It’s definitely all the things I love about Delusion and all the things people have come to love from it, but this one in particular has a lot of a lot of heart to it. It’s more of a nightmare for me – a heartfelt nightmare.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: You mentioned the continuity and one of the things I like about Delusion is that there is some continuity or Easter Eggs that carry over but the show is also very welcoming to newcomers. Nobody’s going to come to Delusions: Nocturnes & Nightmares and say “I don’t know what’s going on because I haven’t seen the past two years.” Can you talk a little bit about how you pulled that off?
JON BRAVER: That’s a good question. I say the only thing is it’s going to intrigue you to learn more about the Delusion. So as I’m writing it, it’s definitely in my mind [that] I can’t write this for Steve only, or else this wouldn’t work. Sorry, Steve, but you’ve been there since the beginning so you get all the intricacies and the details of the story, but when you go through a Delusion show there’s so much happening that it’s sometimes difficult – even in the most simplistic kind of way – to lay out the story, because you’re in the world: you’re really in a cellar; you’re really climbing up this 140 year old mansion. So you will no doubt be swept into the fantasy of it and the captivating characters that we’re bringing back. Even if you don’t remember them from previous shows or you’ve never seen them, they’re going to be wildly interesting in a new setting. So it’s just going to inspire people to maybe ask questions of people in the group who’ve been to previous shows: “You went to that show – what did you see?”
That goes back to the mission statement of Delusion, which is to bring people together and to tell stories to each other and to engage with each other, so that’s what I’m hoping for in the end. Then people who’ve been for multiple years will be like “Oh I remember that one, and that that creature is is coming after me, and I don’t really have much time to think about this but I need to get out of here!”
It was difficult for sure. It’s gone through multiple iterations, but I’m hoping that people won’t feel too lost, though I will say in every Delusion people feel a little lost – in a good in a good way. Unless you’re Steve going through being like “That does not relate to this!” So I’m going to say this right now: There are plot holes.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I believe Alfred Hitchcock called them “refrigerator moments.” You see the movie and it seems fine; then you go home, and you’re opening the refrigerator get a beer, and you go, “Wait a minute – how did she get from there to there?”
JON BRAVER: Refrigerator moments! Yeah, there’ll be a few of those, but it’ll be fun.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: You talk about it in terms of the Easter Eggs, but you’re relying on word of mouth. You haven’t put an FAQ on the website saying “Here’s the biographies of all the characters you’re going to be seeing in Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares.” It’s kind of more a participatory thing for people to hang out after the show, because that that’s one of the great things now: you’ve got that area around the house where people can talk about what they have experienced. Do you ever listen in on conversations?
JON BRAVER: Oh yeah, for sure I love hearing that stuff. I love like joining in and then seeing what people come up with, because I’m like, “Oh I didn’t even think about it like that!” How cool is that! So the story sort of further unfolds with the audience.
But this whole mansion is open now to the entire general public for what we’re calling a Spectral Soirée, so there’s going to be characters roaming around within our Garden Bar in the back of the mansion. This year we’re not doing the side lawn; we’re trying to keep people a little more contained in the back. And the second floor is open to everybody. There’s a Dark Arts Theater up there that’s going to have characters that this author has created and written, like a burlesque dancer, a magician, a witch, and there’s going to be performances up there where you can go with your drink and hang out and watch, and then you can go to Marion’s Chamber Bar – Marion, the character from Delusion Lies Within, The Puppet Master – and then go to merch and go to the Garden Bar, and then there’s something the attic this year that is one of the things I’ve been trying to do for multiple years, and we finally did it this year, so that’s going to be an even more intimate moment up there.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: With more than a decade doing this you obviously know what works for Delusion, but I’m curious facing the challenge of coming up with a new iteration every year. What’s your starting point? Do you have a story idea or is it an image, an effect you want to do, something you wanted to do a previous year and couldn’t quite pull off? What’s the germ for each new year?
JON BRAVER: I don’t think it’s any one thing. It starts with the venue. We’ve never been at a venue for three seasons in a row, but we were not going to be back here this year, and were going someplace else, so I wrote something for a different venue and had to make a pivot at the last minute. But I think it has to do with what have I not been able to do before and how can I sort of achieve that. In this year for example the idea was I’m not just going to do a trilogy of the Esther Phillips story. I want it to be more than just that, and I want people who’ve been here for the last two seasons to feel as if it’s a new face as well, so therefore I’m thinking about the flow. I have ideas plenty of ideas [I keep] in this little book, and so I take some of them, and then I think about the flow through the mansion. What are areas we didn’t do for the last two years and how does it flow so that people come back and say, “Oh my god, I’ve been here before, but I don’t remember that.” So I came up with a with a design for the logistical concept of how they’re going to move [through the building] so that there’s no backtracking – that’s something you don’t want when you’re doing a linear path – so I got that down. And once the flow gets locked down, then the story gets laid into that. It’s very much site specific. His Crimson Queen from 2016 – when I saw that place I was like “I haven’t tackled vampires yet. I want to tackle a vampire story.” That’s how that germ started.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: You were the first out of the gate in Los Angeles at least as far as these immersive Halloween Horror experiences, and the stuff that’s come your wake I find easy to peg in terms of “This one is all about story; this one is all about the interaction, and this one has cool creatures.” But I don’t think I can really peg Delusion in that way, because you’ve got it all, so to speak. So I’m wondering is that the way you feel about it – that it’s not defined by one aspect – or is there some spine that you see that is the foundation on which Delusion is built?
JON BRAVER: One of the better questions I’ve had in a while. It’s funny because in the beginning you recall I would always insist that this was not a haunted house – it wasn’t a haunted house – no, no, no, no, no – and I kept pushing that. Now I sort of let the baby grow up a little bit and not have so much control over it and just say “Okay, you know, it is what you want it to be.” If people say it’s a haunted house, then great. But you’re right: it has elements of everything. For me personally, it’s specifically living inside a psychologically disturbing movie. It’s an interactive play; at its core it’s theater. We get really talented actors. Delusion has always been known as having good quality actors and good quality stunts and sound design and music – all that stuff. It’s become this living breathing world, and it’s a moving play. So that’s kind of always how it’s been, but with that comes those challenges of continuing this kind of thing. When you do a linear play in this kind of format we’ve been stuck in since 2011 – stuck is such a negative word, but for an audience member that’s what I would want forever: get just 10 people going through [at a time]. This is very hard to sustain [financially]. The numbers have to work out, and we’re Sony Classics to the Sony of 13th Floor Entertainment Group. They do big haunted houses with thousands of people a night, so this is their special project that I hope to continue.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the wild card: audience participation. Obviously a lot of planning goes into your show, because you have stunts and effects that have to be timed carefully, but you also have audience members who can be a little bit unpredictable. Last year there was a scene where one of the audience members had a backpack, and he was asked to surrender it to one of the characters, but the guy didn’t want to do it. He kept saying no. Finally the rest of us in the audience said, “Give him the backpack” so we could move on. Afterwards I found the guy and said “You’re in the wrong show.” There may be other kinds of immersive shows where it’s like “Here’s what happens if he gives him the backpack – we go this way – and here’s what happens if you don’t – it goes the other way. That’s not really how Delusion works, so I imagine over the years you’ve worked out ways to deal with these things, and do you have any specific funny stories about that?
JON BRAVER: There’s plenty of those – that’s for sure. You’re right. It’s on the surface partly “Choose Your Own Adventure kind of thing, but it’s not. We do have contingencies for everything but there are situations where if you don’t do this, then this happens; if you don’t do this, then this happens. When it comes to key props like the backpack, that happened a few times. Most of the time the vast majority of people will hand it over, but I think a lot of it has to do with the language and the lead-up: you know, “do as you’re told kind.” And sure, you could say that ad nauseam, and then somebody’s just going to hold on to that backpack and never give it up, so I guess that’s the rolling of the dice of this kind of really intense live theater. That’s going to happen, and sometimes there would be a mechanism to keep moving, but it’s such a key element that they have to find a way to get [the backpack], so they’ll delay a little bit and try to get it.
I think in the early years we learned a lot about this…like don’t give audience members weapons. That’s probably a good one! You had to collect this dagger for I think it was The Blood Rite in 2012 – collect this dagger for the ceremony at the end, and we had a situation where one of the actors in her dialogue that I wrote was like “Don’t trust my brother.” She yelled out “Kill him!” – and that wasn’t in the script. So somebody had this really dull knife – you couldn’t do anything with it – but they just went up to the actor and poked him in the stomach – just a little poke – and then we had to stop the show and remove the guest and say, “This is not appropriate.” But I’ll take responsibility for that: she said “kill him,” and they had a knife. We don’t want to give that impression that this is a dangerous show, because it’s not, but stuff like that can happen, so I’ve learn to be like very specific about what does the audience get, what do they need to do to keep the story moving forward? It’s a continuing learning process.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: One thing I like about the level of interaction in Delusion is that it doesn’t interfere with the narrative. The audience is in there, and they can do this or do that, but ultimately it’s still a play – unlike some of the other immersive shows where the story may be an excuse to get the audience together with the characters so they can chitchat and interact, which is interesting but can kill the narrative. You mentioned this soirée, and this sounds like you’re going to have that kind of extended face-to-face interaction in a somewhat separated event as opposed to putting more of that into Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares and having the narrative stop for five minutes while the cast improvs with questions from the audience.
JON BRAVER: Right. To me it was a a matter of let’s enjoy this one character I spoke about earlier, Marion the Puppet Master. In previous shows you’d have him for a brief period – an amazing, exhilarating moment – but now [you can] hang out with him and talk to him even though he doesn’t speak – he says everything with his eyes and his and his physicality – but you’ll be able to really engage with him and feel that character a little more in the front mansion. We have Manny Manners, who’s this small possessed doll that people carried around in 2021 in a smaller part in 2022, and he’s got more of a role this year, so we’re having a Manny in this front mansion in this soirée so people are going to be able to pick up this doll who has many secrets and you can carry him around. Maybe he wants you to go get a drink with him in the Garden Bar. Somebody else passes by and he says, “Hey, Steve, pick me up let’s go.” I think it’s the best of both worlds.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I didn’t fully realize it at the time but that happened your first year at Phillips Mansion. There was the bonus experience where you spent all that time with the Mr Phillips. You were in the room with the guy for five minutes or however long that scene took, and that that was really cool, but you wouldn’t want to stick that in the middle of the main show.
JON BRAVER: We have something like that up in the up in the attic. You’re going to be able to summon the dead and speak with them and interact with this special character. This is a thing I’ve wanted to do for multiple years, and we’re finally doing it, but that’s going to be smaller – like six people at a time will work their way up to the attic for a short experience and then come back down. That’s why we’re telling people this year – especially because it’s the last year – “Come early; stay late.”
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I was going to end by asking you for any final thoughts about Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares, but I think what you just said is the closer. But if you have anything I haven’t asked about that you want to say…
JON BRAVER: I think specifically for you, I’m always very thankful to you for being a big supporter over the years and a wonderfully tough critic. There a couple plot holes in here, so when you write your review, you’re always as honest as you could be, and I know I know I’ll get ripped for some of those – and I welcome it!
Oh yeah, I will say this, and this is something that comes up every year. This guy’s says, “My wife doesn’t want to go; she’s too scared. I keep telling her this is great. It’s not like anything else.” That happens every year, multiple times, and I always urge people to just take that leap of faith. Understand that you’re going to be safe and that you’re gonna have this small chapter in your life that you’ll be able to go back to and say, “I’m so glad I did that.” My mom was terrified of these shows for years. She missed the first four shows, and when we finally got her to go, she was so remorseful about the shows that she missed. She’s like “it wasn’t all about fear.” It’s not. This isn’t a haunted house; we’re not trying to jump-scare you all the time. She got absorbed in the story and the world and was very thankful that she did that, so I think that’s the word to spread: don’t let fear stop you from coming.
Update: Writing Delusional Reviews: The Art of Fine Distinctions briefly addresses Jon Braver’s comments regarding our sometimes nitpicky criticisms.
Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares
Rating Scale Spectral Soirée
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Note About Ratings: We rate separate aspects of a show when they require an additional ticket or surcharge. Unfortunately, this can lead to a misleading average score. In this particular case, a General Admission ticket includes both Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares and the Spectral Soirée, which we rate as 4: Highly Recommended; a more expensive VIP ticket adds the Behind the Veil Experience, which we rate as 3: Recommended. Averaging those two numbers yields 3.5, which makes it seem as if Behind the Veil is lowering the overall quality of the show when it is in fact providing an entertaining bonus feature, just not one we are confident every visitor will think is worth the extra fee. Hence, we have added a “Bonus Point” rating to bring the average score in line with what we really feel about this year’s Delusion.
Delusion Nocturnes & Nightmares Review: The Play
The newest installment of Delusion is certainly ambitious, even by the interactive play’s own high standards. It promises to be not merely another entry in the franchise but a climactic culmination wrapping up the saga so far. This kind of grandiose undertaking can raise expectations to the point where disappointment feels almost inevitable; nevertheless, Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares manages to clear the high bar.
The premise sounds like fan service. Presented as an anthology resurrecting dramatis personae from past installments, the story seems designed for long-time attendees to geek out as they recognize familiar faces; fortunately, foreknowledge is not required, and the returning characters justify their presence based not on nostalgic affection but by the present actions.
Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares achieves this by weaving established threads into a sort of metaverse, taking audiences on a dizzying tour in which past overlaps with present. To this end, the narrative is perhaps even more episodic than in previous Delusion episodes. Each section incorporates a character from a past story, and these characters are not allowed to cross over into other stories; they can only guide us to the next chapter, occasionally telling us what we need to do in order to proceed.
The plot thread tying these episodes together is our quest to find the mysterious, maniacal author of the Delusion saga, which has taken on a life of its own. Ascending through her dilapidated, decrepit mansion, we meet her characters one by one. Aware of their status as fictional creations, they seem to be struggling with a reality that is warping as the author rewrites her own narrative in a desperate attempt to resurrect her daughter, who died by fire years ago. The only way to stop the madness may be to shut the book, literally and/or figuratively, bringing Delusion to a close.
Weaving these story threads together may leave a few “plot holes” (which Braver references more than once in our interview), but that is actually part of the fabric of the tale. We suspect that some readers are tired of our pretentious literary references in reviews of Halloween horror shows, but here we go again: In Borges’ short story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a character complains that a novel he read makes no sense: the protagonist died in one chapter but was alive again in the next. A more perceptive reader notes that this was part of the author’s plan to illustrate the myriad paths the story could have taken. In a somewhat similar fashion, the self-reflexive nature of Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares – a story about the author of Delusion rewriting old Delusion stories to reach a new conclusion – creates a morphing reality in which continuity lapses are simply a matter of rewrites creating forking paths that lead in new directions. Problem solved!
The real fun of the show, as always, is its interactive nature, which puts you in the action. As usual, there are numerous close encounters with creepy characters and amazing monsters, and your experience varies to a large extent on how eager you are to engage with them. Highlights include a giant arachnid and Manny Manners, the homicidal talking doll, who may or may not be on your side.
Of course it would not be Delusion without some impressive effects and stunts. For us, the most amazing visual was almost entirely a matter of an actor’s performance. A character from the time-traveling tale Delusion: The Blue Blade actually seems to move backwards in time, his bodily motions reversed to a completely convincing degree even when he is rising from the floor in a reverse fall. Stunning stuff.
So, does Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares provides a dramatic conclusion to the franchise so far? In plot terms, yes. As to whether the ending is spectacular enough to register as a viscerally satisfying climax to one of L.A.’s most original and beloved Halloween entertainments – well, that is a lot to live up to, and each Delusional will have to decide for him/herself. For us, the concept was perfect, but we would not have minded a slightly more explosive to jolt our senses.
Delusion Nocturnes & Nightmares Review: Spectral Soirée
This year Delusion offers a Spectral Soirée in the front mansion. Instead of wandering the grounds around the house, every ticket holder has access to all three floors of the building and the Garden Bar out back (in the past, the second floor was reserved for VIP ticket holders, and the attic was not used). The first two floors and the Garden Bar are free-roaming, but there is a wait list for the attic experience. You can enjoy the options in whatever order you choose, but we recommend arriving early and putting your name on the list, because the wait for the attic can run to thirty minutes. Use that time to visit Marion’s bar upstairs and enjoy the burlesque dance show. You can also go out back to the Garden Bar, but at this point we recommend soaking up the atmosphere inside the mansion and saving the Garden Bar until you return from the play.
When your appointed time arrives, your group of six climbs the steep, rickety staircase to the attic, a cramped, dark room where you read out an incantation from a book, which summons a ghost who will converse with you. The special effect of the transparent specter is nicely done, but if you simply stand and stare, you’re missing the point; this scene really relies on audience engagement, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Mostly, the answers tease elements you will encounter in the play, which is why it best to hear these comments up front: the tantalizing hints provide a good appetizer for the main course served by the play, but they make for a poor desert, leaving you feeling “been there, done that.”
The Garden Bar provides beguiling beverages and fine food, including many tasty vegetarian options (veggie spring rolls, mac and cheese, etc). This is another area where you can socialize with friends and strangers, and the outdoor location, behind the front mansion, is ideally situated for post-play conversation, since exiting the play in the back mansion brings you directly to the bar.
Overall, the Spectral Soirée is a solid value-added experience, especially for general admission ticket holders who do not have access to the VIP experience. The ground floor was sparsely populated on the night we attended, but it provided nice ambiance while we waited for our turn to ascend to the attic. Marion’s bar on the second floor serves excellent cocktails, including The Crimson Queen (recommended), and the dance routine in the room next door provides a little extra entertainment while you finish your drinks. The attic provides an intimate séance experience with a spooky vibe, but do not expect jump scares; it’s all about communing with the spirit.
Delusion Nocturnes & Nightmares Review: Behind the Veil VIP Experience
With the front mansion now open to all ticket holders, this year’s exclusive VIP Experience is located in a wing of the back mansion. Behind the Veil is a sort of backstage lounge, offering signature cocktails and a chance to peak behind the scenes. Costumed actors break character to discuss their experiences, and there is a monitor on which you can watch others moving through four different sections of the play.
The highlight of the Behind the Veil VIP Experience is an opportunity to don costumes and “play your part” in a way never before possible – by acting as bodies that return to life. There is a legit scare-actor who guides you through the process, providing instructions on how to act like a zombie and avoid altercations with the audience; he takes the lead and makes sure you react on cue, creating the maximum impact upon your “victims.” As in real-life acting, there is a lot of waiting, followed by a brief moment to strut and fret your time upon the stage, but it is a great chance to view Delusion from a completely different perspective.
The Behind the Veil lounge provides something new and different, but with two other bars on site, options for drinking and socializing are available elsewhere without a VIP ticket. Yes, the signature cocktails are great, but the main selling point is the chance to make a zombie cameo and learn a little bit about what goes into making Delusion. We enjoyed our few seconds rising from the dead to menace the audience, but if you are not interested in playing the living dead, it may not be worth the extra expense.
Delusion Nocturnes & Nightmares Review: Conclusion
The anthology nature of Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares provides an impressive variety of situations and scares. Your mileage will of course vary based on how eager your are to take a hands on approach to the horror – quite literally in the case of creepy talking doll Manny Manners, whom you may get a chance to carry around – but we expect longtime fans will enjoy the flashbacks to past shows while newcomers are simply swept along by the action.
Personally, we rejoice for Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmare‘s return to a more fantasy-based world, combining supernatural horror with a meta-approach to storytelling. This is a far better fit with the Delusion brand than the religious cult of last year’s Valley of Hollows. This year metaphorically closes the book on Delusion, but we suspect – and hope – there is another draft, lurking in some cobwebbed attic, that will be dusted off in time for next Halloween.
And just for the record, Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares is the coolest title ever. Not only would it work for an actual published anthology of Delusion stories; it would be absolutely perfect if there is ever a soundtrack album.
Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares continues at Phillips Mansion on select nights through November
12 (update: schedule extended) 19. Tickets start at $94.99 with higher prices on peak nights and an additional charge for the Behind the Veil: VIP Experience. The address is 2640 Pomona Boulevard in Pomona. For more information, visit enterdelusion.com.