Photo Credit: Jose A Guzman Colon

I’m no stranger to spooky happenings at the Mint — they’ve been host to smattering of haunted-house fare over the last few years. None of them have been quite like Into The Dark’s Terror Vault, though. I attended its inaugural opening in 2018, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it even more than I did last year. A unique maze of intersecting horror tales and monsters, Terror Vault has proven itself to be skilled in carefully curating an immersive event from start to finish. 

In case you didn’t know, Terror Vault is set in San Francisco’s historic Mint. You can’t help but feel a little uneasy when you walk up those giant stairs. I mean, this place has to be legit haunted, right?

Terror Vault’s prep requests are exceedingly simple: Arrive 30 minutes early so you can check your valuables at the door, grab a beverage, and get in the mood. I was eager to get there early since I so thoroughly enjoyed the bar set up from last year, complete with spooky drinks, food, and moodlighting. I was not disappointed in the least:

Like with every fancy cocktail bar in SF, expect to shell out a little more money than you normally would, but do at least grab one drink for the fun of it if you can. 

Once our time was called, we were led to a security tent where we were given the choice to wear a neon necklace that opts any wearer into touching, side quests, and (possibly) being fed … well … who can be sure? Only a handful of us raised our hands at the beginning, but by the time we embarked everyone was wearing one thanks to peer pressure. (Don’t worry: the necklace is removable and you can take it off any time you’re feeling like the experience is too much. No one on our tour ended up taking theirs off.)

Photo Credit: Jon Bauer

For the next forty-five minutes we were led through the Old Mint at a fairly brisk pace — for some reason the experience felt longer this year, but I’m not exactly sure why. (And I’m not complaining!) The sets were phenomenal. I remember being very impressed by them last year, but the crew really outdid themselves this year. Each story-line seemed to have a handful of rooms, which was really amazing and added to the experience. I don’t want to give too much away about the storylines or the scares, but I will say they did a great job with pacing and plot. Not every single thing was a jump scare — some parts just made you feel creeped out or icky, and there was even one part that really didn’t have much *scary* per say, but it was very fantastical and highly entertaining. The theatre is alive and well in this haunt. 

Terror Vault is an enjoyable night for sure, but the show is not without its problems. Some of the mazes seemed to abruptly dead-end and we weren’t sure where we were supposed to be heading — which some may say adds to the level of confusion and terror, but the theatre person in me knows these productions must run on a tight schedule. Those are inevitable issues that go hand in hand with live productions and non-actor participants, so normally they wouldn’t bother me, but it did seem to happen more than I would have anticipated. 

Photo Credit: Jose A Guzman Colon

Finally, I will say that I was extremely happy to see they downplayed the whole *Nazi prison guard* storyline from last year’s production. (To be very clear: They’re not actual Nazi’s, but heavily coded as such right down to the uniforms and German accents.) That theme felt ever-present in the first year’s run, though I could be mistaken about that. I do remember it sticking out to me and staying with me longer than most of the rest of the haunt did, especially considering the fact that literal Nazi’s are back on the rise. 

For an immersive show that’s designed by queer people, with queer people in its cast, to be attended by queer and marginalized people, it feels almost masochistic to immerse them in Nazi-esque storylines — no matter how watered down it may be. The rest of the event felt like horror one wouldn’t otherwise experience — otherworldly witches, cannibal families — only to get slammed down into something that’s way more ingrained in reality than the others. (I mean, they have us line up in a row to meet the head prison guard.) The actress playing the head guard puts on a phenomenal performance — everyone in the production does a great job, for that matter — but I wonder about what the intentions behind that section of the maze are in comparison to the rest of the storylines. I recognize that I haven’t had the opportunity to chat with anyone on the production side, and want to be clear that I am genuinely curious about the thought-process behind this section of the maze.

Photo Credit: Jon Bauer

Overall, Terror Vault is an extremely fun time — my friend and I made pretty fast comrades with the rest of the people in our group, but for a maximum good time I’d say go with a pack of people you know. I’d also recommend leaning into the full experience with the glow-necklace if you’re feeling brave — or even if you’re not, know you can always opt out mid-tour. 

Into The Dark’s Terror Vault runs in San Francisco’s Historic Old Mint from October 10 – November 10. You can learn more and grab tickets here:

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