Halloween Review: Urban Death Tour of Terror Haunted Theatre

Urban Death is back for another tour of terror, bringing your Halloween nightmares to life.
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Photos by Jana Wimer

When an artistic work's appeal is based on its ability to deliver the unforeseen and the unusual, familiarity can be deadly. Anticipating the fourth Halloween season of Urban Death: Tour of Terror Haunted Theatre, we worried that we now knew what to anticipate: the same old nightmares - still eye-opening and strange, but no longer unexpected. Fortunately, Urban Death: Tour of Terror 2016 turns out to be as outré as ever, delivering a show substantially better than last year and ranking among their best ever.

The thirty minute theatrical experience, part dark maze and part avant-garde stage show, includes only few recognizable bits from past seasons. The remaining vignettes are entirely new, including several startling, disturbing, and amazing visions that earned spontaneous applause from the astounded audience: a writhing snake woman with a kabuki face; a trio of women slavering over a man (a la Dracula's avaricious brides embracing Jonathan Harker); a red-eyed maniac gazing longingly from an upper window while the sounds of innocent children at play waft from in from the unseen distance; a hypnotic danse macabre between a man and a female corpse, ending in a bloody kiss that sends a shudder of frisson through the crowd.

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One of Urban Death's WTF? visions. Photos by Jana Wimer.

As usual (if anything can be "usual" about Urban Death), some visions flash by just long enough to register as memories on the retina, leaving bewildered viewers to wonder, "WTF was that?" The unanswered question lingers long after the sight itself, provoking individual free associations like a demented Rorschach ink blot - though in this case the ink may be blood-red.

The evening is not without more overt shocks and screams, some delivered under cover of complete darkness, others in sudden flashes of light. There's even something very like a jump-scare, when a crazed character careens toward the audience like a bat out of hell - until a noose suddenly arrests her momentum. There is also an axe or two and, near the end, a scary rendition of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that delivers on the dreadful sense of anticipation felt by the audience who, primed by all they have seen so far, wonder, "Now what are they going to unleash on us?"

As before, Urban Death: Tour of Terror begins and ends with a brief walk to and from the stage area, through a pitch black maze, illuminated only by tiny flashlights handed to the audience on the way in. The phantoms encountered therein are perhaps a little less grotesque than in years past; strange and sometimes silent, they are wandering enigmas, their impact depending on their inexplicable nature - though one provides a traditional shock appearance, with a startling appearance through what appears to be a locked door. We managed to navigate safe passage through the terrors with less trepidation than we recall from past experiences,  but that's because we're seasoned haunt-seekers. Less hardy folk may not be so fortunate.

There are many Halloween events in Los Angeles that deliver various levels of shock, shivers, disgust, and revulsion. Urban Death: Tour of Terror proves is the only one that brings nightmares to waking life.

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.