Originally published June 8, 2013 at The Los Angeles Beat
I have to admit that I do love a good haunted house. In fact, every October you can find me geeking it up, gathering friends and attending as many fright events as I have time for. So when The Great Horror Campout was announced several months ago my first thought was, “Sign me up!” That was until I looked at their website where the event goer was promised 12 overnight hours of highly immersive terror, including the possibility of being chained, locked in cages, kidnapped by a strange white van, forced into the trunk of a car, being dragged out of a sleeping tent by monsters and being soaked by blood, water and other sticky substances. No thank you, I thought. It’s a cool idea, but I think I’ll sit this one out.
That was until my friend Karin texted a week before the event. How would I like a free ticket? Someone in her party of four was crossed off of the list. Hmmmm… I texted back. Even with a $149 free ticket I was hesitant. Dragged out of my tent in the middle of the night by monsters and put in a cage…? Yes!!! I impulsively replied, regretting my decision less than ten minutes later. And for a week I brooded over it. I hate the cold, I like my sleep… locked in cages?
So it was Friday night, around 9pm that I arrived with Karin, Megan, Diane and solo tent sleeper, Mike, to Los Angeles Historic Park, near Chinatown in downtown L.A. After checking in, finding our assigned tents and hearing a general announcement of the rules, which included: Monsters can touch you, but you cannot touch the monsters and the rules can, and will, be changed at any time, we headed for the dinner buffet. Within ten minutes of arrival the monsters began harassing us, chasing us, taunting us. The special effects make-up done on these creatures was beyond spectacular. Hillbillies with chainsaws, packs of evil clowns, odd blob entities that covered you with slime… The casting of this project was also phenomenal. Each of the eighty or so roving actors fit their part and stayed true to theme. I never saw an actor break character once. To my pleasant surprise the dinner buffet, included with the ticket, was 100% vegan. Vegan sausages, mac ‘n cheese and salad is good, high energy food before a night of adrenalin.
So after gulfing down our tasty, yet healthy, food, the five of us made our way to the entrance of the Hell Hunt where all 250 or so campers (a very rough estimate) were waiting to start the scavenger hunt part of the evening. A dossier had been issued to each camper in advance listing about twenty-two items to be searched for and collected, including a human head, rib bones torn from a bloody latex carcass and less offensive items such as Mardi Gras beads. Hell Hunt was partitioned into fenced in sections, several maze-like in detail, each reigned by a certain type of nightmarish creature of the night. As we shone our flashlights on the ground and into piles of mulch to look for objects, Hey! I found a key!!! it was imperative to keep an eye out for lurking monsters. They often carried bags that they would stealthily slip over an attendee’s head to imprison him and transport him to be locked in one of several cages. Diane and Mike were caught and imprisoned by the quick moving and tricky Chupacabras. As the rest us figured out how to possibly free them we risked imprisonment ourselves. So it was Run! Run! Watch out! Heart pumping excitement. And I was worried about being cold? So much for all of those winter layers I had waiting in the tent. And so it was on to the next section. The Mothman costumes in one region were particularly impressive. Closed up like giant cocoons they opened their ten-foot tall wings and chased with a surprisingly agility and quick speed. I was briefly caught by a Mothman and enclosed in his cocoon. Help!!!
One area, designated as a maze, was straight out of a hillbilly nightmare. Campers crawled and tightly squeezed through metal pipes, broken down cars, poor white trash trailers, a realistic meth lab and a broken down bus with rotting children. The maze was challenging and required climbing, athleticism and more character dodging. Very nearly caught by a hillbilly girl who was shutting people into the trunk of a rusted car, I luckily stumbled upon the maze’s exit and quickly burst through to freedom. In other regions we encountered a Voodoo dance ceremony, where one fiendish reveler chased Karin around and around in circles. The Bigfoot area was full of bloody body parts which could be searched for scavenger items. And a part-human spider slimed participants as they reached their arms into his gooey body.
Upon leaving Hell Hunt, Mike was seized again and put into a different cage. As I approached the cage to barter his release with scavenger items I was chased in big circles by yet another hillbilly, who briefly put a bag on my head and brought me to my knees before I sprinted away with a celebratory YES!!! The Hell Hunt closed at 2am and it was over to another area of the Campout that had horror movies playing all night and marshmallows to roast over open fire pits. Karin, Mike and I decided to grab our sleeping bags and stay the night in the open air in front of the movies, while Megan and Diane retreated to our tent.
The next morning, a loudspeaker announcement at 6am woke all of the campers who had somehow managed a restless sleep. Upon meeting up with Megan and Diane, they informed us that they had been dragged out of their tent at least five times during the night. They would hear the high pitched sound of the tent’s zipper and say, I want my Mommy, the designated “safe” phrase that meant immediate pardon. As we sat in dawn’s light by the central fire pit, eating our breakfast of delicious vegan muffins, coffee with coconut milk and bagels, we realized that not only had we gotten through the night, but we were the first batch of guinea pigs to participate in this immersive event. We marveled that it went so smoothly, was so entertaining and was so completely professional. I’m not sure if this will be an annual event, but I can’t think of much room for improvement if it is. Tonight is the second and final night of this year’s Great Horror Campout. Don’t be a ‘fraidy cat, like I nearly was. If you get a chance to take part in this event my advice is to go for it…