I’ve been going to haunts since I was a kid, so now at the ripe age of 33 I have a pretty good idea of what to expect when attending haunted attractions.  When you go to as many haunts as I do, you start to become desensitized and I could tell that this was beginning to happen to me.  At the urging of a friend, I was told to go to a new haunt that had just opened last year called, THE 17TH DOOR, located in Tustin, CA.  From the exterior, it’s quite clear that looks can be deceiving, you would never imagine the horrors awaiting inside as it’s located at the bustling Marketplace, a popular outdoor shopping plaza.

This haunt is not your average run-of-the-mill variety haunt that pops up during the Halloween season.  Oh no, this is so much more than that.  When you arrive you are asked to sign a waiver before entering the haunt.  There is a good reason for this as you will be touched, most likely physically separated from your group, and you may find yourself having to touch things that you never thought you’d ever have to touch.  This is not a pop-up haunt, this is a full scale production that the designers and creators of THE 17TH DOOR put on and they spare no expense – or gross out tactic.

This year’s theme is “Sophomore Year” and though I did not attend last year’s “Freshman Year” I was given a brief run-down of what happened before entering the haunt.  The story centers around Paula, a disturbed individual, who last year was last seen being committed into a psych ward. This year, her Sophomore year of college, we start off with the familiar psych ward, only this time we find out that Paula is pregnant, and it is not a pregnancy she wants.  Her stories and experiences come to life through each of the 17 doors we enter, and we see glimpses of her childhood meshed together with her present predicament.  It’s a sad, traumatizing, uncomfortable and disturbing story that punches you in the gut over and over again.  As we progress through each room we experience moments of abuse (sexual, mental, physical), attempted abortion, murder, school shootings and more.  We are never given a reprieve or a moment to take a breath.  It’s an intense experience and one that most people may have a difficult time experiencing.

It’s taken me some time to collect my thoughts in regards to my experience at THE 17TH DOOR.  In some aspects, I really enjoyed what the creators made.  I’ve been through a lot of haunts so far this year and this has only been the second one to get me to scream out loud in fright.  As far as the set designs were concerned, this has been one of, if not the best, design I’ve seen thus far.  It’s impeccable and rides the line of looking like a movie set.  Usually when haunts have transition rooms, meaning that area between each scene, it’s typically a black wall with little left to be desired, but THE 17TH DOOR made each and every hallway between the main spaces immersive and sometimes even interactive.  From a designer’s standpoint, I greatly appreciated all the hardwork that went into creating this experience, from the moment you stepped inside to the minute you left, it was clear that a massive amount of detail and work went into creating this.  I was impressed with not only the design of the sets, but also with the costumes and makeup used on the scare actors.  Whoever is responsible for that, bravo, you did a tremendous job.

Though I was properly scared and impressed with what I was experiencing design-wise, there were some issues I had with the haunt.  I believe in pushing the envelope, in most cases I think it’s good as it allows us to find out what our boundaries are; however, I’m not a fan of shock just for the plain purpose of shock.  There were some heavy topics throughout THE 17TH DOOR and it rode a fine line when dealing with things such as child abuse/school shootings/pedophilia/killing/etc.  Yes, these topics will get a rise out of people, and haunts are supposed to scare us and disturb us, but I feel like using some of these topics for the sake of shock could be seen as tasteless. I didn’t hate what THE 17TH DOOR was doing, but at times I felt myself wondering why they had to use every horrible thing imaginable for the experience. I would have rather seen them pick two or three topics and expand upon those so that we could have the chance to really get into the meat of Paula’s story.

Overall, I really did enjoy my time at THE 17TH DOOR.  It took me awhile to let my experience sink it because originally I wasn’t sure what I thought. Their haunt is effective in scaring those who may feel desensitized to what the big name haunts have to offer; however, it may be polarizing to many others.  If you are easily triggered by some of the topics I mentioned in this article, I suggest passing on this haunt.  It’s not for everyone and that’s okay, your mental health is what’s important.  If you are like me though, and you are looking for something more that will test your limits and what you can handle, then this is definitely the haunt for you.  I would like to thank THE 17TH DOOR for my experience as it was the only time I came close to using a safety word, and for a reason that you wouldn’t expect.  Also, the ball pit was probably one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. All in all, this haunt is one of the best production designs I’ve seen and one of the most unnerving experiences that I have had and a twisted part of me is looking forward to seeing Paula’s story continue on through the rest of her college years.

For more information on THE 17TH DOOR visit their website at www.the17thdoor.com.

Shannon McGrew
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