Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the pleasure of attending THE 17TH DOOR: LOCKED UP this year and figured I would offer up a few thoughts on the event for my fellow haunt enthusiasts. Just so everyone knows where I am coming from, I have never attended this event in the past, though I am well aware that it is a semi-continuous story. I also was able to participate in their VR experience too so I will be putting up some thoughts on that to boot.
A funny thing happened on my trip to Perpetuum Penitentiary.
I was electrocuted (do not worry, I survived).
I had a woman try to eat my shirt (my shirt also survived)
I was thrown off a building (once again, I am still here).
Yes, all this seemingly disparate things and more occurred on my recent journey into THE 17TH DOOR's latest production LOCKED UP.
To start things off, we had their virtual reality experience, which was pretty cool. I will admit, those who do not like electrocution should give this a pass, but for those who are okay with it this is a must see. For me, it helped that these moments of shock were weaved into the story instead of just happening for the sake of happening. Apart form the actual electrocution parts, they added some nifty little surprises that had people in my group screaming. This also does a little work to set up us being brought into the penitentiary, which was a cool idea.
Now, onto the actual show!
To try to avoid spoilers, I am not going to go through a scene by scene breakdown, but just offer up some overall impressions. Right off the bat it should be known that, I found this attraction massively entertaining. Those looking for something a step above the average haunt, but not as extreme as some other ones out there would do well to check this out.
As we enter we are quickly brought up to date on the story of Paula since the event's last iteration. Being completely new, this was welcome information that helped set the stage for some of what was about to happen. Once the rundown was provided and all the warnings were given, we entered into the prison proper.
There was a clear progression of events as the outset that not only drew us into the penitentiary, but also the story of Paula and how she is handling incarceration. It was a fantastic idea treating guests as new inmates as it allowed us to feel part of the story while also facilitating our run ins with the woman of the hour. All told we ran into Paula about three times during our stay in Perpetuum Penitentiary with each encounter showing a different aspect of her character. The rest of our time we spent among the inmates and staff of the prison, completely at their whims.
As much as I liked the setup from a narrative standpoint, the second half of the experience lost the thread. After our final encounter with Paula (or at least the last time I remember seeing her) we still have quite a few more rooms to go through so I did not really feel as if I saw any form of resolution to our protagonist’s tale. An extra encounter near the end would have wrapped things up a bit more for me as well as allowed them to set up something for next year.
To an extent, I also understand why the story does not feel complete as the plot stops advancing not long after we start to hit some of the more physical aspects of the experience. The crawling, feeling around in the dark, riding an elevator, and rooftop scenes were highlights of the experience from an adrenaline rush standpoint, but do not stand up to narrative scrutiny. It is a tough thing to critique as while many of these moments are going to be the most memorable part of the audience’s evening, I feel there should have been more reasoning behind these vignettes to round out the story.
The cast, oh the cast, is what absolutely sells this experience. Whether it be the uncomfortable growlers or the more verbose roles, each interaction with the scare actors was solid. They also helped to sell the idea that we were in fact in a prison populated by a staff that is just as psychotic as the prisoners. Any room where the actor was somehow involved in the gimmick was a sheer delight as we got to see them really let loose as things around us went haywire.
Speaking of the various rooms, I think I should move onto the set design. The scenic work they have done in this house is absolutely top notch. While they could have easily just stuck to simple prison rooms with not much distinction between them, each new corridor we walked down had a different look or feature that made it stand out. Speaking of corridors, the long hallway (those who go through will know which one I mean) was probably my favorite from a design standpoint and from an experience perspective too as they utilized that space in a unique way with a very cinematic scene.
I do feel it necessary to comment on how impressed I was with this event from an operational standpoint. There were only two points in the evening where we saw any group other than our own leading to a very intimate feeling experience. The group I went through with was made up of eight people (which I felt was about two too many), but they still managed to create an atmosphere of isolation. Even the moments where we saw another group did not take away from this feeling as it served to show other inmates, similar to us, also locked up within the confines of Perpetuum Penitentiary.
All in all, those looking to dip their toes into a haunt that is a bit more extreme than your average theme park event would do well to start with this event. While I took some issues with the narrative, the great actors, set design, and effects were enough to make this an easy recommendation. Honestly, the scene in the long hallway alone is enough to make me plan a return visit.
THE 17TH DOOR: LOCKED UP is running now until October 31st.
The Creeping Craig