The Freakling Brothers Horror Shows in Las Vegas has created an extreme haunt event that leaves a deep emotional mark on patrons.
Before jumping into this, I suggest reading Mike’s take on his Victim Experience this year. Much of what he wrote expresses my opinion on how to approach this event if you are considering attempting it yourself, and his article captures the essence of being there as a participant and how you interact with the staff of The Victim Experience.
I feel I should give a quick history of my past encounters with The Victim Experience. I was the second person to ever do The Victim Experience when it opened in 2013 for the first time. A good friend of mine, Omar Hanson, was the first person to ever attempt it. It was a tough, grueling experience but we both succeeded in making it all the way through.
Later in that season, I came back out of curiosity to see how I would handle a second time through. It was, to put it mildly, psychological hell. Returning to this event, knowing what I was going to physically and emotionally experience inside was much more difficult than my first time when I had no idea what I was getting into – other than the stern warning I had read online. But, that is why I embrace extreme haunt events and dark immersive experiences, I enjoy learning about myself as I face my fears. Some people go snowboarding, this is what I do.
That first year, I was successful both times through. And, for two years I’ve been the only person, apparently, who ever tried multiple times and successfully did it each time. Others tried but have failed on one of their attempts. I can now proudly say my record has been tied by, Mike, the other half of My Haunt Life, who now stands as the second person to ever go through this event successfully twice. My congratulations to him!!!
My willingness to play in this arena emotionally, psychologically and physically led to an invitation to participate in an Extreme Haunt Survivors panel at the ScareLA convention in Los Angeles earlier this year. If you would like to take a look at that panel discussion, which covers a variety of events and topics in the area of extreme haunts, here is a link. It is approximately 50 minutes long.
From that panel and my public comments on the Freakling Brothers Horror Shows social media sites (as well as comments on the Blackout social media sites), two people recognized me the night I showed up to attempt The Victim Experience for a third round this year. It should not have added more pressure on me to succeed in getting through the event, but I must admit that it did.
The one thing I do not feel is covered well in that panel discussion, is the fact that there is a very dark side to this type of emotional and psychological play.
This year, I ran head first into the dark side.
First off, I admit I compromised my own chances of success. I attempted The Victim Experience this year after only getting three hours of sleep and driving, alone, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. I started out exhausted – not a good idea. A few hours before the event, nerves had me in a bathroom – vomiting. During the orientation, I began to feel physically sick, to the point where I almost passed out while waiting in line in front of the event. It did not help that a character named Pope Satanus made a loud proclamation to onlookers that I was about to fail. That didn’t help my mindset, at all. Maybe I should have bowed out? I was game to try, and the pressure I was putting on myself to make this third time a successful adventure would not allow me to step away. I went for it.
Here I am before…
We all have things that are personal triggers for fear. More than likely, The Victim Experience will find some personal button of yours and will push it heavily. For me, one scene was constructed completely around a personal trigger of mine. As a horror fan, one thing that gets to me is a basic “wrong place, wrong time” story. Those are the horror movies where someone who is completely innocent of wrong doing finds themselves in a horrifying situation simply because of where they were at a certain moment. It is something that gets under my skin. It doesn’t really affect my everyday life, I don’t live in fear, but those stories affect me heavily.
This year, The Victim Experience contained such a scene. It is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever experienced in a haunt situation. I truly felt under attack and what I was threatened with was so unexpected that it shook me to my core. I have seen similar scenarios in horror movies, but this felt REAL. The staging of this scene, the props… sounds… smells and the entire environment around me were utilized to make it feel 100% authentic. The scene was amazingly effective, and is now absolutely the most favorite scene I have ever encountered in a haunt. Again, part of the reason it hit me so hard is because it played on a personal fear trigger. The cast was so effective that scene has shown up in nightmares ever since I went through it. I spent that night in a hotel room with a friend. He stated that I was making sounds of fear as I slept. Trust me, characters I met in that scene are going to be with me a very long time. Congratulations to the Freakling Brothers, well done!
Going in, I knew that several things had changed since my last trip to The Victim Experience two years ago. I heard many things about one particular new scene where many people called safety last year. I heard snippets, I heard a couple of details, but overall I heard so many wildly varying opinions about that scene – I had no idea what to expect. When it was made clear what I was about to endure, I was stunned. Trust me, the scene is terrifying and will test the limits of anyone brave enough to attempt it. That sequence is what most concerned me as I headed into this attempt. I am very proud of myself that I made it through this sequence. I must admit, I struggled and fought as it began, not that I was resisting the cast, but physically I fought to maintain some control over my body as the cast took away that control. I stress, it was terrifying, and I am proud of myself for having made it through that sequence.
As that scene ended, I had an interesting physical reaction. I lost all balance and the cast had to stabilize me so I did not fall over. Also, I had the very odd reaction that suddenly my vision seemed to be altered – I felt like I was looking at the world through a “fisheye” lens, everything seemed very distorted and unreal. It took a few seconds for that to go away. The reason I am specifically pointing to my physical reactions will become clear shortly, it is a factor in how my experience ended. This is a visceral experience. It affects you on many levels as it unfolds, which is part of its brilliance.
In addition to those two intense scenes, I went through a series of encounters featuring physical aggression, intimidation and a bit of a hazing vibe. One particularly creepy scene happens in complete darkness and you don’t ever see the person performing the scene. Personally, I am very good at messing with my own emotions and one of my favorite things inside any haunt is complete darkness where you feel you are not alone – but do not know what might be sharing that darkness with you. This little sequence in the dark could have lasted longer, for my taste. It would have raised my level of anxiety even more. Not that they really needed to make me any more anxious…
I was having a mix of fun and adventure as well as being absolutely frightened. But, as I successfully maneuvered each of these scenes, I found myself more and more physically drained.
There is a quiet moment inside The Victim Experience. I believe, it is intended to give the patron a bit of a break. For me, the three times I have experienced that moment, it has been extremely intense. Mentally? You know if something quiet is going on, then something very bad must be just around the next corner.
And, it is.
As the next sequence began to unfold, I was already at a point of physical exhaustion and sensory overload. I was led to the area of the scene where several cast members were present. I can only reveal that you are placed in a physical position that is key to getting through the scene successfully. Unfortunately, I found myself in a very twisted position and my body was not quite where it was supposed to be – and the effect was that this scene escalated much faster then it would have if I had gotten into the correct physical position. This is NOT a criticism of the cast and crew of The Victim Experience in any way, it’s just that when I got out and was being asked about my experience, we all realized that I had gotten myself into an awkward position which made the scene worse much faster than was intended.
As the scene escalated, it became sensory overload to me, panic set in and I shouted the safe word.
There is something that I want to point out about that moment. I have never called safety in an extreme haunt event before. I did not consider calling safety during this scene. It never crossed my mind that I should call safety. However, the cast asked me a question. When I answered, I heard the word “purgatory” spoken. In my head, I realized if anyone had said that word – it was me. I have no recollection of saying the word. It was a complete physical reflex action. Undoubtedly, it was a self-preservation step taken by my body and brain. I have only come close to this point once before during a haunt. (Specifically, in the off-season Blackout show in 2014)
This is why I play in this arena. It is fascinating to me that I reached a moment of panic with such intensity that the reflex kicked in. I’m really happy that I have that reflex! It’s nice to know that my body and brain are looking out for my well-being! 🙂
I have such respect, admiration and affection for the entire Freakling Brothers Horror Shows staff, cast and crew. The moment I called safety, I was immediately being taken care of and checked on. Their aftercare was amazing.
Earlier, I said that I ran into the dark side with this trip to Las Vegas to do The Victim Experience my third time. For me, the emotional impact of this was devastating and educational. In some odd way, I felt as if I had let the Freakling Brothers group down by failing. Of course, this is not the case, it is all in my head. But, I had placed so much pressure on myself to succeed this time, it hurt my chances of succeeding. I know that when I got into that panic mode, I could not calm down, I could not control my emotions. Fascinating, to me, because rarely in my life has such a primal level of realization happened.
The aftermath of that night is still unfolding. It took days before I could even consider writing these thoughts down. For the week following, I was emotionally raw. I was overcome with feelings of loneliness even when I was among friends. I know that I had support, I had a friend waiting on me when I came out of the experience, and I sincerely appreciate my friend, Tal, being there. However, I felt alone. I felt alone for days. The next morning I spoke with Mike on the phone, I barely remember that phone call because I was still in such an emotional state of shock. There were tears. He was there for me, yet I did not feel a connection. Over several days, that loneliness shifted to a weird space where I was taking everything as a personal attack. Again, it wasn’t real, but my brain was interpreting things that way. I was very fragile. Then, that emotion shifted into dark feelings of abandonment, then huge feelings of gratitude and appreciation. I started expressing to my closest friends how much they mean to me, how much love I felt for them. (Okay, to be honest, that might have come off a little creepy to a few of my buddies! Ha ha!)
The Victim Experience will affect everyone differently. For me, it had a deep emotional impact, both positive and negative.
Afterwards… with the creators behind the Freakling Brothers Horror Shows, Duke and JT Molner
I think the emotional toll is visible on my face.
For any reader who has never encountered any sort of “extreme haunt,” there may be a reaction of, “Uhm… what’s the big deal, it’s just a haunt, right?” It needs to be clear that what happens inside, at times, feels 100% real. That’s the strength of it, and I believe it is why so many people come out speaking of some sort of emotional shift in their thinking. It’s also the dangerous part. Depending on how you react to such input, this may bring up some very dark emotional stuff.
When people ask me about The Victim Experience I usually use the phrase, ”Know yourself before going in.” Even so, it will reveal things you might find surprising. For me, I have a strength in me I did not truly understand before attempting this event two years ago. That realization was a gift.
Obviously, I am revealing some very personal emotional moments here, and I do not do that lightly. I do it as a cautionary tale. This stuff can mess with your head. However, if you take it as an adventure and self exploration, the rewards can be huge. I am confident the Freakling Brothers realize this fact. They clearly want you to succeed at this if you attempt it.
I thank them for the opportunity and support they have given me ever since meeting them.
So, I have already been asked the question by one friend – I have now called safety during The Victim Experience, will I go back? For me, it is too soon to tell. The Experience is harrowing, but the emotional rewards are great. I will certainly consider it as a possibility in my future, but not a certainty.
Adventure is personal. Extreme haunts of this level may not be for you, they are not for the majority of haunt goers, probably. However, if you have read this far I will encourage you in this way – find your own adventure, whatever it may be, and learn from it.