The Great Horror Campout
An overnight interactive horror experience featuring a scavenger hunt, several different theme zones and small horror mazes, dinner and breakfast, tent hopping monsters, and frequent kidnappings.
The actors were enthusiastic and professional, there were some intricate sets, and the costumes were fantastic. The whole concept of an overnight horror camping experience is unexplored territory, and the competitive angle of the scavenger hunt and the constant presence of the monsters in every part of the event make for a very different psychological experience from the typical Halloween haunt. And, of course, being in June, it caters to Halloween-all-year types like Matt and me and avoids a lot of potential weather problems.
There were some great moments that had the feel of a living videogame. One maze required sneaking past a pack of Chupacabras by freezing whenever they turned to look (I was seen once, bagged, and dropped in another part of the maze for my group to find). Matt jumped into a windowless van that was roaming the campsite promising free candy, had the door slammed behind him, and escaped a few laps of the tents later with a Werther’s Original and a missing child poster, two prizes that really, really should have had a higher point value. While trying to rescue him, I avoided being thrown in the trunk of a car by a clown for the sole reason that the trunk was full at the time. Those were some very notable highlights, as well as some sentences one never expects to type.
The planning level of the event and the newness of the concept allowed for some pretty major logistical issues. The idea of combining a scavenger hunt with Halloween mazes sounds awesome in principle, but in practice, having large groups of people scouring every set and crawlspace of a maze instead of running from the monsters only causes massive congestion and a pervasive feeling of paranoid boredom, appropriate for standing in line for a maze, not for being inside one.
For every game moment that worked well, there were several that didn’t. The scavenger hunt items were rarely restocked, and it would have been impossible to be among the first to reach everything with all the traffic flow problems, so it became clear very early, even to those with excessive competitive spirit, like Matt and me, that the game was effectively unwinnable, taking a lot of the fun out of the levels. There’s a lot less satisfaction in reaching into the goopy chest of a fresh Bigfoot kill knowing that all the precious ribs will already gone.
One area required guests to smear their skin with blood to mask their scent in order to get close enough to a bug’s nest to reach in to find a grub. The more blood, the better the chance of a find, we were told. The woman in line in front of us jumped in the blood vat and soaked herself, to no avail. Zombie dancers in another area asked for volunteers to be locked in coffins, one of the scariest-looking challenges, but in spite of what the clue promised, there was nothing to be gained or solved or accomplished. People just ended up having to buy their way back out with items they’d already found.
There were some random announcements where people got pulled out of mazes (without any interesting theatrical fanfare) for pointless wristband color changes. The event really ran out of steam at 2, when the hunt ended, and the task of surviving until morning through the monster visits (which also sounded awesome on paper) became more of an obligation than a challenge, with nothing left to look forwa.
Then there were the more mundane issues like the tents being quite small for four people (and misnumbered at the beginning of the night), and the authentic special appearance by the LAPD at around 3am due to the easily anticipated noise complaints from the houses across the street from the very urban campground location.
It was a fun, memorable time overall, and I’m glad to have gone and proud to support innovative horror thinking, but without some major refinements, I probably wouldn’t pay another $150 a head to go again.