It is not for nothing that the Theatre 68 Haunted House made it onto our list of 2012 Halloween Recommendations: The Best Haunted House Events in Los Angeles. Although Theatre 68's interactive, theatrical approach to Halloween has been to some extent usurped by Delusion: Presented by Haunted Play, the 68 Cent Crew continue to delivery a marvelously entertaining scare-show every October.
With its limited space, it might seem that Theatre 68 should have maxed out a few years ago, but the annual haunted house has been expanded and revamped: the revised layout from 2011 is back, and for Halloween 2012, there is a whole new them: Dr. Death's Freakshow, which presents its monsters as the unhappy victims of the not-so-good doctor's surgical efforts to create his own freaks. With one or two exceptions, the creatures you encounter are new, and the scenario has been altered to accommodate them, offering new and unexpected scares within the familiar confines of the theatre.
The essential strategy from previous Halloween seasons has been retained: visitors enter in small groups; creepy characters address themselves to you personally; scares are triggered when you enter the room, as if staged specifically for your benefit). However, within this familiar framework, numerous new set-pieces occur. These scenes hit some of the same beats, but there were only one or two moments when we were able to predict an occurrence based on previous experience.
There is more darkness this Halloween, and more confusion – with corridors and mirrors positioned so that you would have a hard time deciding where to go next; more than once you will feel as if you have wandered into a dead end, and even if there is a visible path, your way may be blocked by Dr. Death’s unfortunate creations. (In one of the highlights, you will find yourself surrounded while one of the characters literally climbs the walls, a la Spider-Man.) As expected, Theatre 68’s is dense with surprises and shivers, delivered by an enthusiastic cast that knows how to milk a scene – and takes full advantage of the fact the labyrinthine walk-through frequently provides them with a literally captive audience.
There is a splendid bit featuring a roomful of doors, none of which seems to work (well, one does, but good luck finding it). Unfortunately, darkness somewhat obscures the gruesome gag on display: a black woman with no arms, who has apparently been pounding her face into the walls, in a futile effort to open a door. (The action is much clearer on the embedded video here - a rare time, when the video improves on the live event.)
There is also an increased in sexually suggestive violence - well, maybe not more of it, just more suggestive about it. In one bit, a maniac with a chainsaw goes after a voluptuous victim, as if recreating a scene from an old slasher film. A moment later, a woman seems to be pinned beneath some aggressive creature, half-ape and half-man, in a pose vaguely reminiscent of Fuseili's The Nightmare. We don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but there is definitely an extra little bit of disturbing kink on display this year - another sign that Theatre 68 is not resting on its laurels but actively re-imagining and improving its Halloween event each year.
Theatre 68's Haunted House runs through October 31, from 8pm to midnight on Saturday, till 11pm on weeknights. Admission is $14 ($1 off for bringing a canned food donation for the homeless). The address is 5219 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Their website is here.