Urban Death returns for another Tour of Terror this Halloween. What new horrors await within the dark? Read on to find out...if you dare!
Urban Death: Tour of Terror Haunted Theatre exploded onto the Halloween scene in 2013; at least for those unfamiliar with Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, the experience was unfamiliar, strange, unsettling, and unique. But now that the novelty has worn off, the question is whether Urban Death: Tour of Terror can continue to amaze like no other Halloween attraction in Los Angeles.
There has definitely been a visible effort to alter, adjust, and amplify this incarnation of the show. Though the three-part template remains the same (a brief maze on the way in, a 20-minute stage show, a return through the maze on the way out), the individual characters and vignettes are different, or at least rearranged in unexpected juxtapositions. Some of the puzzle pieces seem familiar, but familiarity is hard to quantify when the rest of the puzzle has changed.The result is a strangely new experience that, paradoxically, feels also hauntingly familiar.
Tour of Terror
In particular, the maze portion of the experience - the Tour of Terror, so to speak - seems to push the envelope even more than before, with images both ghastly and disgusting emerging from the darkness to assault our unexpecting eyes. There were gruesome bits, such as a crazed man holding his own teeth, recently removed from his bloody mouth, but perhaps even more vile was the naked man struggling with a bowel movement on a rusty can.
As before, the maze is technically simple (dark pathways created with draperies, which you navigate with a dim flashlight that illuminates only a very tiny circle of space) but artistically effective, mentally challenging you to decide how long and how closely you want to look before fleeing around the corner - toward something possibly even more horrible.
Urban Death on Stage
After this, the stage show portion of the experience (the "Urban Death" of the title) seemed strangely sedate, focused more on the bizarre and the outre than on the repulsive. The core strategy is to provide a rapid-fire series of horrifying blackouts, without back story or dialogue, leaving the bewildered audience to supply their own explanations (if indeed anything can explain the strange sights and sounds). Of these, the only overtly adult vignettes were a brief castration scene (the lights cut out before the final cut is made) and what appeared to be a savage sexual encounter, complete with nudity, that turned out to be a childbirth, featuring an unpleasant simulacrum of a newly born infant and a hint of cannibalism.
The rest of the scenes featured sights that were strange but not necessarily transgressive: a face frozen in silent scream, pressed against a red sheet in a window; a doll-like character would could remain as perfectly still as a lifeless object; a voice singing a wordless vocal in darkness until hands from an unseen figure dragged her into the shadows; and a figure wrapped in bandages, who could have been an accident victim or a mummy (the closest the show comes to presenting a traditional Halloween "monster"). Most memorable of all, for us, was a trio of human "spiders," walking upside down, with arched torsos (not unlike Regan in the restored scene from The Exorcist).
It's in the nature of Urban Death: Tour of Terror that its brief, vivid blasts of non-contextual horror create subjective impressions that are difficult to assess, making objective analysis all but impossible. We can say that this unusual theatrical presentation remains sui generis - unlike any other Halloween haunt Los Angeles fright fans are likely to encounter this season.
For ourselves, we are beginning to feel as if we have developed a small measure of immunity to unnerving quality of the Urban Death Tour of Terror; it doesn't seem quite so abnormal - quite so far beyond our commonplace experience.
But contemplating that thought breeds its own sense of unease: What does it say about us if repeated exposure Urban Death has altered our perception of its intimate and uncanny terrors to the point where we regard them as "normal"?
Urban Death: Tour of Terror takes place at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays, through October 31, with performances at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm & midnight. Tickets are $13. Arrive fifteen minutes early for check-in; no late seating. No bathroom access. The address is4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Call 818-202-4120 for tickets or visit www.zombiejoes.com.