Review: Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House

The Jack The Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House (currently at the Mountasia Family Fun Center in Santa Clarita) invites participants to enter a decrepit wax museum in search of clues to the identity of history's most infamous serial killer. The sinister VR experience is peppered with occasional scares, but the emphasis is on mystery more than mayhem, as investigators examine diaries, eyewitness descriptions, and other hints related to the deaths of the Ripper's five known victims. The result is an atmosphere-drenched quest that tests your wits as much as your courage, creepy enough to keep you wary but not enough to distract you from your goal.

Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House Review: The Investigation

Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House ReviewVisitors enter in groups of four. Before the virtual world, the Jack The Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House begins with a walk down a short brick corridor, where displays fill in the back story. The voice of a Scotland Yard detective (recorded on an old-fashioned cylinder, a la John Seward's diary in Dracula) provides a summary; then, one by one, a few pictures on the wall come to life, revealing more details. After a brief scare, you move on to the virtual reality room. Here, you don visors and backpacks. Small push-button devices are given to all the team, used to grab objects in the first world; each member gets a special tool, such as a lamp, a stopwatch, or a crystal ball, which will prove useful for finding clues.

The investigation begins with a trip up an elevator, after which you explore the floor, walking down shadowy corridors and searching darkened rooms. It is possible to open drawers and pick up clues hidden inside. Mostly these take the form of pages torn from a diary, listing eyewitness descriptions of suspects seen in the vicinity of the various victims.

Each level is timed by the stopwatch. When time runs out, you are coaxed to return to the elevator to move to the next floor, where the investigation continues. It takes approximately thirty minutes to explore all 3,000 square feet of "virtual space." At the end, there are a couple of puzzles or challenges, lining up diary pages to match with the appropriate victims and flipping switches to pick the suspect you think is guilty.

Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House Review: Game Play

Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House ReviewWithin the virtual world, your fellow investigators resemble masked torso floating in air; it may take a minute or two to gauge actual physical distance in order to avoid collisions, but after that you should be able to navigate the haunted corridors fairly easily.

The virtual simulation of reality is very impressive, not just the production design but the interactivity between investigators and objects. Opening drawers and picking up objects is easy; you don't need to be extremely precise in your movements. If you drop a hat or a piece of paper after examining it, each falls in a characteristic way. Just for the fun of it, we dropped one clue down a well, just to see what would happen, and it fell into the darkness, disappearing from sight. (Keep in mind: you only need to examine clues, not collect them; there is no inventory bag, and your virtual grabber will hold only one item at a time.)

Some clues are easy to find; others are hidden. The lamp will illuminate hard-to-decipher writing; even more important, the crystal ball will reveal some otherwise invisible clues. If this sounds too complicated, you could just walk through the rooms admiring the wax displays, but examining the evidence will help you make your determination at the end. The solution is tricky but not impossible to divine.

Note: Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House is an upgraded version of Wax House: The Legend of Jack the Ripper, which was created to be downloaded for use with home VR visors. The main difference in game play is that the arcade version is "free-roaming," allowing participants to walk from room to room; the home version was more limited, requiring participants to "teleport" from one location to another.

Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House Review: Conclusion
Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House Review
Photo Op near entrance

More sinister than shocking, the Jack the Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House is actually a challenging mystery game. Initially, we were so enthralled by the surroundings that we found it hard to concentrate on the investigation, and we frequently ran out the clock on each floor, perusing the displays when we should have been analyzing evidence. Also, it took a while for us to realize that we were not hampering our hunt by dropping clues instead of holding onto them. (The proprietors promise to explain this more carefully to  future players.) This confusion aside, we felt totally immersed in the wax museum for the duration of the investigation.

The VR experience lives up to the old-fashioned sense of the phrase "haunted house," implying creepy atmosphere with a hint of spirits lurking in shadows. Since the investigation takes place in a wax museum, most of what you see are static tableau, but two or three moving characters show up at various points (such as John Merrick). Of course, Saucy Jack himself makes a climactic cameo, providing one of the best scares.

Ultimately, Jack The Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House seems perfectly calibrated for being situated in a "family fun center," featuring arcades, miniature golf, and go-carts. The VR experience an entertaining activity for a small group, with a layer of spooky atmosphere, but nothing that will traumatize any but the most timid participants.

Jack The Ripper Virtual Reality Haunted House runs on Wednesday through Sunday from through October 31. Hours are 4:00pm - 8:30pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4:00pm - 10:00pm on Fridays; 11am - 9:45pm on Saturdays; and 11am - 8:15pm on Sundays. It is possible to book all four tickets for a private tour with your and your friends only; otherwise, booking is shared with other guests. Advance tickets are recommended; check in 20 minutes before scheduled time. Guests must be 13 and over. Purchase tickets at hollowzone.com.

Mountasia Family Fun Center is located at 21516 Golden Triangle Road in Santa Clarita, 91350. Get more information at mountasiafuncenter.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.