Oh my god – an all ages version of Urban Death: Tour of Terror! What kind of horrible agenda is this? Luring tender young minds into the den of perversity known as Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in order to indoctrinate them like a pusher hooking them on a gateway drug that will lead to harder stuff later in life!
Just kidding! Fake outrage aside, the Urban Death All Ages show sounds like an oxymoron. The brand name’s core strategy is being provocative in disturbing ways, pushing buttons and transgressing boundaries. How could a family-friendly, kid-safe version be anything but watered down like whiskey and ice left too long in the sun?
The answer is that stripping away the nudity and perversity yields something weirdly interesting in its own way – superficially subdued but ghastly in a funny kind of way, rather like an Edward Gorey children’s book. You will not see “Basil assaulted by bears” (in fact, this version of Urban Death contains no death), but you will see a strange young girl with a bizarre method for extracting coin from the Tooth Fairy – using a self-applied hammer.
The most frightening aspect of this version of Urban Death: Tour of Terror All Ages Show is the tour of terror itself. As usual, guests, alone or in pairs, walk through a labyrinth of tarp, with only a tiny flashlight beam to illuminate the ghosts lurking within. The dimly seen inhabitants would not be out of place in a traditional haunted house walkthrough; though their scare tactics are not overly aggressive, at least one pre-adolescent chickened out on the night we attended. Even here, there is a sense of humor on display: the pulsing background music is eventually revealed to be the work of a muppet DJ.
Upon reaching the performance area, the audience is greeted by a laughing man who seems to be hiding something sinister in his coat (revealed in the main portion of the show). He appears and disappears through the two doors and the window behind the stage, keeping the crowd entertained while waiting for the last victims to find their way through the maze and take a seat (mostly on the floor – the house was packed when we attended). Kids in attendance seemed to have a good time guessing where he would appear next, and as he walked right up to the edge of the crowd, making direct eye contact, they got what was probably their first example of breaking the fourth wall between performer and audience.
In keeping with Urban Death’s established approach, the show itself consists of short, non-dialogue vignettes separated by blackouts, but this time the scenes last a little longer. The adult version of Urban Death usually strikes with lightening flashes of bizarre tableau, leaving the audience to figure out exactly what the hell they saw; the all ages show provides enough time for young viewers to understand what is happening, as when a zombie swatting flies suddenly becomes aware of her own body order and apologetically retreats from the stage.
The results elicit more laughter than screams. The famous lights-out, rat-scratching sequence went over well: “What’s that sound?” asked one voice in the dark, to which another – apparently mistaking the scurrying sound for rain – replied, “ASMR!” There is a great bit with a floating glow-in-the-dark face that multiplies from one to two, then two to four, and finally four to six. And the final flashing glimpse of a malevolent-looking pumpkin-headed scarecrow capped the show without any inducing any trauma.
Afterward, the trip back through the maze to exit the theatre was slightly more intense. One creature that had remained huddled on the way in extended to its full height, towering overhead, and one or two others inflicted mild jump scares instead of merely lurking creepily in the shadows.
Overall, the Urban Death All Ages Show lives up to its name. Though safe for pre-teens (depending on the child, obviously), it is entertaining for adults as well. Parents with children will have a great time, and even non-parents simply curious about what Urban Death can do within the constraints of a family-friendly show will be pleasantly surprised.
Family-friendly fun seems to be in this Halloween, with events like Haunt O’ Ween, Cemetery Lane, and Nights of the Jack. Descanso Gardens branded Carved as a “Fall Festival” rather than a Halloween event, as if to avoid scaring away timid customers, and even the new Shaqtoberfest made clear that children were welcome by day, and even after dark it was probably still ok. What’s nice about the all-ages Urban Death: Tour of Terror is that it manages to be be kid-safe while still delivering a satisfying dose of ghoulish Halloween fun.
Our Rating of Urban Death Tour of Terror All Ages
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Considering the provocative nature of Urban Death: Tour of Terror, an all-ages version of the show seems like a major miscalculation. Nevertheless, the result is ghoulishly entertaining Halloween fun for the whole family. It’s great for parents and children, and it should also appeal to adults turned-off by the unsavory aspects of the full Urban Death show.
Note: Though billed as an “all ages” version of Urban Death, the show is recommended for ages eight and over.
Urban Death Tour of Terror continues on Fridays and Saturdays in October, plus Halloween Night. The all-ages show runs at 7pm on October 22, 29-31. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre is located at 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. For more information visit urbandeath.com.