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Funhouses & Mazes

Evil Twin Studios: Ward 13 review

Ward 13 silhouetteWith Raymond Hill Mortuary, Evil Twin Studios won Hollywood Gothique’s Halloween Haunt Award for Best Professional Haunted House Walk-Through in 2014. Can they top it with Ward 13? Read on to find out…if you dare!

Are you craving ever greater and more intense Halloween horror excitement? Do you shiver with anticipation at the thought of hunting zombies with laser rifles?  Of exploring the haunted house atop the crimson peak? Of singing a Lullaby to Scary Mary? Of entering a fairy-tale world to seek revenge against the big bad wolf? Of taking an urban tour of terror and death? Of exploring Wicked Lit in a mausoleum? Are you still grieving over that funeral you attended at the Raymond Hill Mortuary last Halloween?

You sound sick – mentally ill, in fact. You need help. Fortunately, we have the cure for what ails you: a lengthy stay in Raymond Hill Sanitarium. Just remember to take all your meds and participate willingly in your therapy. Otherwise, the doctors may have to assign you to Ward 13 – whose very existence is denied by the sanitarium, because of the its evil reputation.

Your experience begins with none-too-comforting instructions from a guard, warning you to avoid eye contact with other inmates (the patients will interpret prying eyes as a sign of aggression). You and your fellow guests enter the asylum; however, there is an emergency ( staff are not clear on details), and in order to escape, you must pass through the infamous Ward 13.

Ward 13 Kids 2Your progress through the asylum brings you in contact with various patients, nurses, and doctors, each of whom engages or interacts with you in some way, providing the kind of personalized treatment that is impossible at the larger Halloween institutions in Los Angeles. You may need to follow orders, take a pill, find an exit, or escape through a crawl space, but you will never have to submit to simple shock therapy.

Well, almost never. There is an electric chair, a taser; some of the wiring in the building seems to be not up to code, judging from the electrical charge flowing through the walls. There is also a boldly innovative new therapeutic technique that will instill vertigo, but the inventor has not published in peer-reviewed journals yet, so journalistic ethics prevent us from revealing the details of this  method for treating madness.

To your distorted senses – which madness has sharpened, not dulled – Ward 13 may feel more like a demented fun house than a sanitarium, with its black tarp and plywood walls – but it’s hard to tell in the moody lighting – and after all, you are insane. The decor seems straight-forward, but there are bizarre exceptions, including a hallucinatory trip through the looking glass (well, technically, through a painting) after being exposed to a soporific “happy gas” – into a room whose walls were adorned with King Ghidorah, a giant Devil’s head, and a living torso.

Ward 13 nurseAlong the way, you will encounter many strange characters, who will have you wondering:  Monsters or Madmen? Because a few inmates do look and act more like zombies than lunatics. It’s hard to say amongst the shadows and insanity exactly what is real, or unreal.  Some staff seem to be wearing rubber masks – are they merely humans trying to fool you into thinking you’re crazy, or are your deluded senses simply refusing to see a reality too horrible to contemplate?

There are one or two incredible sights that can only be the result of supernatural powers or an insane distortion of perception – unless the staff have resorted to some sort of mechanical/electrical effects to further weaken your already tenuous grasp on reality. Or perhaps you are still reeling from the after-effects of that novel therapy we mentioned. Mum’s the word there, but we can say its effects are easily worth the $15 co-pay you will be charged for your visit. The remaining treatments you receive amount to the world’s greatest value-added extras.

Ward 13 bath tubWard 13 does not offer long-term therapy – insurance companies prefer fast patient turnaround these days – however, your stay will still be the longer that in any comparable Los Angeles asylum. And rest assured that your lengthy journey will not be largely a matter of walking down empty corridors, waiting for your next treatment. Instead, Ward 13 features transitions that move you quickly from one treatment room to the next, each filled with “helpful” doctors and nurses. That’s not to say there are no empty hallways, but you will spend most of your time interacting with staff, who stick to a proscribed treatment regimen, before sending your on your way to the next specialist.

In your addled state, you may sometimes be confused about when to move on. Should you wait until you are told? Should you take the initiative? Will that door open by itself, or do you need to open it? Is there even a door at all, or do you need to escape through some hidden passage – perhaps a crawl space? Don’t despair over your confusion. No one will blame you; after all, you are in an asylum that seems to be overrun. Who wouldn’t be confused?

In any case, trust us. We’re a doctor. We’ve already signed the papers, committing you to a stay in Raymond Hill Sanitarium. Come to think of it – you do look like you need to be in Ward 13. Don’t be afraid. It’s for your own good.

Ward 13 Review – Adendum

Ward 13 Nurse at deskWe in the psychiatric community are very disturbed to see the above recommendation for Raymond Hill Sanitarium. The place is to put it bluntly a madhouse. In fact, its therapeutic treatments are pure quackery – so much so that we suspect the institution is a deliberate hoax, a simulacrum created to bilk gullible customers out of their money, in exchange for a series of shocks, scares, and dramatic role-playing simulations that would all be well and good in a Halloween entertainment but are woefully inadequate for the treatment of mental illness.

Having inspected the Sanitarium twice, including the “forbidden” Ward 13, we cannot blame visitors for believing the various characters they encountered: e.g., an insane artist inviting visitors to view her work; a crazed surgeon cutting bad thoughts out of a patient; a mad “doctor” welcoming you to Ward 13. The performers were certainly convincing, even (perhaps especially) the children, but what they are doing is more likely to incite madness than to alleviate it.

Though there is no clear plot tying these vignettes together (except for the attempt to escape from the Ward), these individual encounters provide the kind of powerful psycho-drama that can inflict genuine harm on hysterics and other sensitive minds. This is no haunted house with a few masked actors popping out from around corners; it is an interactive experience that simulates reality. Patients already on the brink may be pushed over.

Ward 13 Ticket BoothWe are told that the owners of Raymond Hill Sanitarium and Ward 13 previously had a financial interest in the now-defunct Raymond Hill Mortuary, which went out of business under mysterious circumstances. We find this highly suspicious. We heard numerous accounts of mentally troubled people who emerged from that mortuary last year with tales of the dead coming back to life. We attributed these tales to mass hysteria, but now we begin to suspect that these episodes were deliberately induced.

If so, this could be the most pernicious con game in the history of mental illness: Using one business – the mortuary – to send vulnerable souls into the depths of insanity, then using another, equally shady business, to offer a “cure,”which only aggravates the disease, thus requiring repeat treatments – which the patients are all too willing to take – as if they actually enjoy the experience of being frightened to the edge of madness.

Ward 13 Electric ChairNot only is the therapy of dubious efficacy; we also encountered real problems with electrocution – and we don’t mean shock therapy on patients (though there is that, too). There is an unlit section where walls form narrow corridors, and if a patient comes in contact with those walls, he will experience a painful jolt – worse than those reported at Raymond Hill, which had similar problems last year. In a fun house, we might consider this a piece of harmless entertainment, but there should be a warning of some kind; otherwise, this seems like a bit of deliberate sadism directed at the patients. Evil Twin Studios should consider offering an alternate route for those who do not wish to participate (as they do for the claustrophobic crawl space – which has inspired more than a few breakdowns).

In the our final assessment, Ward 13 is not quite as intensely terrifying as the Raymond Hill Mortuary: the scares seem milder; the characters evince a sort of demented comedy instead of overtly instilling fright. Nevertheless, at nearly 20 minutes in length (depending on how fast patients can find their way out), this institution strains the limits of the mind’s endurance, with each successive hidden exit leading not to escape but to yet another confrontation with even more madmen and monsters. Even the legally sane could collapse under this assault; as for the less fortunate, the rate at which patients voluntarily commit for repeated stays speaks for itself. Ward 13 is highly addictive – which is what is was designed to be, rather than curative.

Evil Twins WARD 13 Poster 2015Strangely, there are apologists who claim that Ward 13 (like its predecessor, Raymond Hill Mortuary) is an amateur, fund-raising effort that delivers professional-quality thrills as entertainment – a mere Halloween attraction with an enjoyable haunted house sensibility, filled with actor-intensive scenes that push the attraction into the realm of living theatre (see attached flier). If this were true, Ward 13 would certainly be must-see entertainment worth every penny of its admission price. However, in our considered judgement, Ward 13 offers damaged minds a twisted tour through the depths of an asylum that is quite likely to drive them to insanity.

WARD 13 continues on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:00 to 11:00 PM: October 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, and 31. Tickets cost $15 online and $17 at the door. Proceeds benefit the South Pasadena Educational Foundation. The address is 1020 El Centro Street in South Pasadena, CA. Get more info at www.eviltwinstudios.com.

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Ward 13 Rating

Bottom LIne

Not quite as extensive as last year’s Raymond Hill Mortuary, Ward 13 nevertheless continues Evil Twin Studios’ winning combination of haunted house scares with actor-intensive vignettes, creating a more engaging dramatic scare experience than the competition. And at 20 minutes in length, it is the gift that keeps on giving, with each hidden exit leading not to safety but only to more madness and mayhem.

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.