One of Hollywood Gothique's most delightful new experiences during Halloween 2015 (well, strictly speaking, the day after Halloween) took place when we left Los Angeles behind and ventured beyond the Orange Curtain to visit a quartet of haunted house attractions in Yorba Linda, Anaheim, and Laguna Hills - including Motel 6 Feet Under, in the Anaheim Business Expo Center, not far from Disney's Magic Kingdom. This is a non-profit effort (it provides training in set construction and theatre arts for court-ordered volunteers, including adults with criminal records); however, the execution was surprisingly professional, with atmospheric scenery, mechanical effects, enthusiastic performers, and some clever surprises hidden in the shadows. You won't get much sleep at this hotel, but you will get more than a few nightmares.
As you can guess from the name, Motel 6 Feet Under simulates a haunted lodging, with a convincing sign above the Expo Center parking lot. After purchasing tickets and waiting in line outside, guests enter the dimly lit reception area, where they wait even longer; fortunately, the wait is worthwhile. Lights flicker ominously; a chair rocks as if by an unseen hand; and a television screen stretches as if pressed from inside by a ghostly face.
When a receptionist eventually opens the door for you to enter a hallway into the motel, the reason for the slow pace of the line soon becomes apparent: the first section of Motel 6 Feet Under is a genuine maze, from which you must find a way out - and it is not easy. In fact, it is impossible. All the corridors lead to dead ends, and your efforts are impeded by a mocking monster who appears around every corner, informing you that your quest is hopeless. The search goes on at your own pace, gradually intensifying as the prowling shrouded figure's appearances increase in frequency, until eventually you discover an exit; actually, after your tormentor bores of the pursuit, a previously hidden passage opens when you're not looking.
From there, you move through several environments: a simulated parking lot, more rooms and corridors, a wedding chapel, and a precarious "under construction" area that seems ready to topple onto your head - and very nearly does, when a barrel comes rolling down a ramp almost into your face. Even here, there is a maze-like quality: at one point, a ghoul slowly herds you down a corridor, blocking any retreat, until you reach a door that will not open - though something on the other side rattles the knob menacingly. You have no choice but to obey an eerie, unseen voice in darkness, whispering that you must go back the way you came. Hopefully, the ghoul will no longer be blocking your way...
Set construction is on the level of a good fun house: you will not fully believe you're in a motel, but the look and atmosphere are right. The shaky construction area gag seems like a deliberate inside joke, as if the motel managers decided, "We cannot build a real motel, so let's build a motel that's under construction, and scare people with the thought that it might collapse on top of them."
The scares are a mix of actors and mechanics. The former were dressed mostly in pullover masks, but their appearance was very effective enough in the moody lighting; two or three actors displayed more elaborate countenances that were truly ghastly. The performances were enthusiastic; most impressive was a ghoulish girl, apparently immobile, who suddenly dropped to the floor and began crawling in pursuit while trying to trip us with a cane. Though the cast was not huge, there were few dead spots inside the motel, except when we were deliberately left on our own to wander into a blind corridors, wondering whether we were going the wrong way.
The gaps between actors were filled with mechanical scares and special effects, including a giant spider and a ghostly bride, who in the darkness resembled a disembodied gown with two glowing eyes in the empty space where her head should have been. Our favorite bit included a childlike figure who appeared at a distance down a corridor, delivering a spooky chill; this subtle touch was topped when a brief darkness allowed a second mannequin to suddenly appear much closer - for an in-your-face jump-scare, enhanced by flashing lights and a gurgling roar.
Motel 6 Feet Under benefits from its imaginary setting, which helps tie its disparate elements together: the challenge of the maze, the subtle shivers of wandering dark corridors pursued by silent ghouls, the shocks supplied by mechanical monsters, etc. Not all of the elements fit (I'm still not sure why there were clowns in this motel, though they were undeniably effective); however, what could have been a disconnected string of scares instead feels like a journey through - and an attempt to escape from - a location haunted by myriad ghosts. Even if some of the monster masks seemed a bit familiar, the setting created a distinctly memorable experience. Hopefully, future installments will exploit the motel theme even more, with "helpful" bellhops and maids who want to extend your stay forever, an ice machine with a little something extra inside, maybe a few scenes based on urban legends about motels (e.g., the body in the mattress), and a final check-out scene from hell.
For what was essentially a debut (there had been a smaller version the previous Halloween), Motel 6 Feet Under offered an impressive Halloween haunt experience in 2015. Apparently, word was out that this haunt delivered the screams; crowds were waiting to get in when we arrived on Sunday, November 1 - traditionally a slow night for a haunted attraction. Though our stay was too late in the season to recommend Motel 6 Feet Under last year, we suggest you make a reservation to check in next October. Just don't bother bringing any luggage - it is unlikely you will have the courage to spend the night.
More in this series:
Motel 6 Feet Under - 2015
A solid mix of scare techniques is unified by a clever “haunted motel” theme, creating a distinctly memorable Halloween experience.