In 2014, a new ‘extreme’ haunted house opened its doors in Orange County. Called The 17th Door, its big claim of interest was that audiences would have to go through ’17 doors’ and be unable to leave the current room until the light to the next room turned green, the universal sign for “get the **** out of here before the chainsaw rips you apart.”

I went through that maze on its first year and found it to be on the whole a good time. There was a story about a woman named Paula and her tribulations through high school, but other than giving us a consistent school theme in the rooms, the story didn’t linger in any real way for me. There were some quite clever rooms, however, including a room where balls begin to fill the space until they were suddenly over our seated heads (more frightening than I expected by a long shot). And I recall a long sequence in a locker at the end, so long that I nearly forgot what I was doing there.

I went the next year and almost instantly got shocked so badly in one of the rooms that my arm was numb for the entire rest of the maze. Needless to say, that wasn’t one of my better experiences. So last year I passed on The 17th Door, uncertain if I wanted to chance such an experience again.

This year, I returned. And boy, the difference between the first year and this one cannot be praised more highly. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience this year—even when faced with the very thing that had bothered me so much previously.

Welcome to The 17th Door, 2018. Time for you to head to Fullerton right now.

The Story: This year’s backstory continues Paula’s experience. For those (like me) who are unaware, Paula eventually got sent to prison for killing people in high school. There may or may not have been a demon involved. In Perpetuum Penitentiary (the location of both last year and this year’s maze), Paula’s life took an even darker turn as she had a baby and killed it.

This year, her therapist has turned to Art Therapy and an unbelievably creepy little therapy puppet whose name, Lincoln, is exactly the same as Paula’s dead child.

A lovely little story, right?

I was incredibly pleased to discover that this year, the story was woven into and through the entirety of the maze. Traversing the rooms led us on a continual story through Paula’s experience in dark and disturbing ways, and that journey made an impressive difference in how emotional the experience became for me. Even as I was screaming or cringing at various things happening around me (and to me, in some cases), I found myself desperately trying to root for Paula to find some solace and peace in the creepy…so creepy…doll.

This being a horror maze, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to suggest that positive endings are unlikely.

The 17th Door

The Experience: I truly enjoyed this maze. Because it goes through different rooms, it’s almost like having 17 mini-haunts in a row. Each room is a new surprise with new rules and new characters, placing you in a constant state of uncertainty as to what it happening and going to happen. That’s been their strategy for four years now and they have really perfected it.

In fact, having had a chance this year to see some of the actual design and effort put behind the scenes, I am deeply impressed by the dedication and effort they are putting into making this as effective a haunt maze as they possibly can. It shows as the level of quality has improved dramatically from the first year I came here.

The specific rooms are also rather genius, each a perfect little snapshot of the events and story happening in front of us. I don’t want to spoil any of them at all, because I think a good portion of the fun for this particular haunt comes from not knowing what is coming. But do expect to be terrified, slapped around a little, perhaps put in a tight situation—and don’t wear anything that you might be worried about stains with. That’s not a joke.

Unlike the previous years I have been to The 17th Door, this year they offered me the chance to have what they call a ‘mercy pendant’. This is a simple glow-stick that you can pull out if a room gets too anything for you and you can then move on to the next room. While no one else in our group grabbed one, I sure did—because I wasn’t at all certain that I could put up with another round of numb arm from electricity. To The 17th Door’s credit, that pendant worked perfectly and I avoided any electricity within the maze itself. But that doesn’t mean I avoided it completely.

Because this year, I faced that electrical fear head on in their special additional bonus—a nightmare VR scenario.

The 17th Door

Vixi Ward—A VR Experience: Perhaps the greatest moment of the entire event for me was an additional experience that you can buy here called the “Vixi Ward”. The story here is that some audience members will get dragged away from the Penitentiary for a special psychological experiment that’s as dangerous, deadly and disturbing as anything else in this prison.

And what an experiment it turned out to be. Not only are there VR glasses and headphones—there are also additional components that make you really feel the experience in all its glory. Once again, I won’t spoil them here but let’s just say it all starts when you realize you’re going to be strapped into the chair at your wrists.

I was incredibly hesitant to try this VR because friends who went in 2017 told me that the VR that year electrified people far worse than what I’d experienced. But thanks to a little peer pressure from other haunt people (you know who you are), I faced the fear and got strapped in like the rest of them.

All I will say is that I made it out the other end with no numb arm, exhilarated, impressed, grinning from ear to ear and so pleased that The 17th Door had created one thing in this experience that it immediately became my favorite haunt of 2018 so far.

Bravo, 17th Door. Your efforts and improvement are fantastic and everyone should immediately grab their tickets now and come see what has once again become an experience I hope to endure every year.

PS: I do, however, have two scars from that VR. Or are they burn marks?

Whatever. They’ll heal eventually.

I can’t quite say the same about my mental state.

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