What is a haunt? Over the past few years, that question has become increasingly complex.
Since 2013, there has been one independent production in the Los Angeles area aggressively exploring experimental formats with an intensity unmatched by any other show. That event is called HERETIC. For those lucky enough to have experienced any of it, this has been an odd journey of watching these shows search for a tone and identity. They’ve changed location, they have changed format, they have experimented with content ranging from extremely realistic to extremely surreal and it has all been done through the course of very intimate shows, performed for a small group of patrons, sometimes as a group and sometimes as individuals. Each patron is part of a very unique, intimate, intense world when they step inside this universe. That is one of HERETIC’s greatest strengths so far.
As of their recent entry entitled RITUALS, it seems that HERETIC has found its most solid footing so far. Even as an uneven production where the parts proved greater than the total outcome, this is exciting exploration.
Russell: Having been asked about HERETIC events I attended in the past I am usually drawn to the phrase “role-play.” RITUALS was the tail end of a story arc that has been evolving over several shows. The conceit of this entry was that you, the ticket buying patron, were actually being recruited to be part of a documentary film crew. As the show grew closer I was informed that the documentary I would be helping to create was focused on some very dark and sinister people. I also learned that the camera crew I was going to be “helping” may not be a very nice group of individuals, either. That deceivingly simple concept, in itself, is a thrilling beginning. You tell me I am going to be playing an active role in a show that promises dark and creepy things? Let’s play!
Mike: HERETIC – RITUALS is the 6th and final installment in the “HERETIC” series of simulations. Hearing about the plot and story definitely got me excited for this. The cryptic emails leading up to this got me more excited. We were told we’d be taken to a wooded area and we’d have to film and hide from this cult that is in the woods. When there’s no walls around you, there is a whole other level of fear that creeps into your mind. Things that can’t be controlled can actually attack and harm you. So we now have to worry about the monsters from the haunt AND wild animals that actually live there. Fun fact – after the show, we were leaving the location and saw 2 deer! Who knows what else was out there watching….and lurking about.
Russell: A major congratulations are in order to the cast and crew and creator Adrian Marcato. They escorted me into a unique world filled with dread, confusion, violence, awkwardness and excitement. From the moment the show began, which involved meeting a couple of other patrons and being escorted to a location to learn about our film crew “duties,” I truly began to feel like I was a performer in this tale, along with the crew. The show was unlike any other immersive theater piece I’ve ever experienced.
Boy, did things escalate quickly. I spent time wearing a claustrophobic latex mask, I was hazed by the film crew in an extremely intense physical encounter where certain “rules” were made quite clear to me. Obviously, if I was here to play a role, it was going to prove to be challenging.
Throughout the show, I was constantly being aggressively handled and moved from position to position. I found myself startled numerous times by the force of the physicality present. There was a level of physicality to this show many people would probably find too violent and too invasive. Personally, I found the physicality enhanced the reality-vibe of my experience, even though it bordered on abusive at times.
My encounter with numerous characters ranging from realistic film crew members to frightening, violent entities that seemed, somehow, not of this world, provided an evening of thrills and scares that I feel very lucky to have experienced. The journey seemed to fly by and take place in slow-motion simultaneously. I witnessed a string of ever-increasingly bizarre scenes woven together – tenuously – by the supposed investigation of a cult.
I do not want to disclose any details about the show. I have been through numerous Heretic events of the past year and how his team has managed to create some spectacular shows on shoestring budget, is just amazing. The ambition is spellbinding.
Mike: You can tell that the cast and crew have worked together a few times. Things within the shows are starting to flow a lot better. It’s hard to recognize people due to make up, masks, etc, but there are certain faces and attributes that can identify them. I know as I was getting….handled….I thought “I remember you! You did “this” to me at SUFFER” (a previous HERETIC show). It’s not supposed to be welcoming, but at the same time, having someone that has interacted with you in the past can help put your mind at ease a little.
Russell and I went on the same night, but in different groups. Based on what we discussed, the show seemed to be pretty much the same. We had the same meeting place, same drive, same mask, same “initiation”, same aggressive handling. We both survived it…and loved it!
It’s funny what a simple comment can do to your way of thinking. When I did SUFFER last month, Adrian said that RITUALS would not be as aggressive as SUFFER was and that it was more of a visual thing. I had a few weeks of letting that sink in and when the day came, I was fine. I was thinking it would be cake. If this was cake, it was 4 month old, rock hard cake that had been left out on the counter. In my opinion, this was WAY more aggressive than SUFFER. Or….maybe it wasn’t, but I thought it was since I wasn’t expecting anything physical. This isn’t a complaint, just something to think about. If you think you know, you don’t. Sorry Adrian, I’m never believing your word on your events again! Haha
The only complaint I have is that I feel we didn’t fully get what we were led to believe. Again, this is just a small thing and there are probably reasons, but I want to put it out there. In the emails, we were told we’d be in the woods investigating this cult with some of us filming. In my mind, I was picturing us hiking through the woods and randomly seeing a cult ritual taking place that we had to document and not get caught. If we got caught, that’s where the “fun” begins. Some of the experience did happen in a wooded area, but the majority happened inside. I’m sure this had to do with finding a location and insurance purposes. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but I think it should be made clear where you’ll be. I spoke to others in my group about this and they thought the same thing. Again, a small gripe. I still loved the show.
Russell: This was HERETIC’s most impressive outing to date, with their ambition reaching some soaring heights. I have never experienced an event with such wildly diversified locations from scene to scene. Indoor and outdoor sequences were staged with equal enthusiasm. On the other hand, story-wise, things were not clear. Afterwards, I discussed the story with several other patrons and no one could coherently sum up what we had just been through. In advance, we were told about a specific character we would encounter – the patrons I spoke with afterwards could not even agree on which person we interacted with WAS that character. The story was, at best, muddled and confusing. The issue with that is if a patron is being physically intimidated and handled roughly, bordering on the point of abuse, it needs to be justified or it descends into pointless abuse and borderline torture. This show skirted that fine line constantly, and sometimes failed. When it fails, the physical aggression simply becomes annoying and almost boring. This is an area HERETIC needs to pay close attention to moving forward, that is clear.
Logistically, there were many bumpy moments. Some of the scene staging allowed certain patrons to see what was coming their way well in advance, which deluded the effectiveness of several scenes. The story was fascinating but convoluted. I know some people will find that type of show extremely frustrating. Personally, I still found the show fascinating, but I also found it frustrating since the story was almost indecipherable as it was unfolding. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed and was thrilled to witness several of the sequences. Several visuals were enchanting and beautiful and shockingly terrifying. One particular transition into a fog-filled room with several characters focused on your intrusion was haunting on a deeply emotional level. That was immediately followed by a rather pointless scene of violence filled with nudity and sexual content. Shock value? I am not sure because the story being told was so unclear at that point in the show that I was not sure why I was witnessing that scene.
Walking away from the show, I found myself troubled by much of what I had gone through and witnessed and participated in. I intend that as a supreme compliment.
Mike: I agree with Russell on the level of ambition here. Everything about this was impressive and super ambitious to pull off, and he did it! The way you entered to the story, to the different rooms. Adrian and crew pulled it off. As someone who has not produced his own event, I can only imagine what a nightmare it must have been. The story was a bit confusing based on what we were led to believe via the emails, but at the same time, I could follow along. I took it upon myself to fill in the gaps of the email vs what was happening in my mind with my own story and that helped me.
I agree on the staging aspect. I had the same issues in my group. We had 6 people in my group, which meant that you had to wait for each person in the group to get the scene before moving on. Some parts were annoying, but other scenes worked REALLY well. There was one scene where I was waiting against a wall. I was the 2nd person in the room, so I had to wait for 4 more people to get the previous scene and then come in. What was happening in the background made me think “something” was going to happen based on what I was hearing and THAT scared me more than anything. Your mind is working against you at that point. Thankfully, nothing major happened in that room, but what COULD have happened, scared the living crap out of me. I disagree with Russell on that nude/sexual content scene being pointless. To me, that was part of the ritual that you stumbled across and then became a part of. If the show wasn’t called RITUALS and didn’t have the back story, then yes, I agree that it might be pointless, but knowing where you are…made total sense and almost a necessity to include. I mean, what rituals don’t have weird sex acts involved?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when the show ended, we were probably at the 90 minute mark. It FLEW by. When I realized it was the end, I thought to myself “that’s it??” and then realized what time it was. Wow!
Russell: HERETIC is considered an “extreme” haunt. It should not be surprising to anyone curious about their material that there were moments of physical abuse and pain in this show. The sexual content did not offend me, but definitely disturbed some of the patrons I was near. One character’s brutal interaction with patrons left several people disturbed and feeling that a line of respect had been crossed and things had definitely gone “too far.” This is NOT a show for the faint of heart or someone looking for a traditional haunt thrill. This is dangerous territory, emotionally, and physically. This show succeeded on making threats of brutality real – and at times it delivered on those threats. For any show dealing with this type of physical interaction, SAFETY IS KEY. For the most part, this show was safe. However. there were some clumsy moments by cast and crew that could have led to bad results. Personally, the show I experienced had a couples of moments where safety was an issue… a clumsily placed blow to my head, for example. I have heard other patrons had more difficulty than I did during the evening I can only speak for myself. I am walking around with several major bruises. This is not a deal breaker for me, but for other, it could easily be an issue.
This type of immersive role-play scenario, is NOT for everyone. Indeed, I think the average haunt goer may find this type of experience far too personal and far too intense – but remember this is an extreme event. If you have doubts about your ability to handle such intensity, I would suggest you steer clear.
If you’re looking for a thrilling, intense immersive experience, this might be your cup of tea.
HERETIC is something to keep an eye on. They are truly that area on ancient world maps where the adventurer wants to go, needs to go… simply because it says “There May Be Demons Here.”
Best of luck to the brave, consider me a fan and I will be returning.
Mike: With any haunt – from home to extreme, you have to have your patrons in mind. You want to give them the scares they want, but in a safe way. You want to have controlled chaos. My experience seemed to have been almost perfect safety wise. Actually, before we entered, when we signed the waiver, they asked if we had any injuries. I recently had dental work done and have a temporary crown put on. I told them this and they had me mark that with blue tape, just in case. Another person in my group had a shoulder injury and they marked his shoulder. I found out that in his experience, they actually grabbed his hurt shoulder on accident and when that happened a staff member yelled out that it was the wrong shoulder and the person instantly let go of it.
I mentioned that I felt my experience was almost perfect safety wise. What I mean is, it’s not a few days later and it hurts when I swallow and my throat is sore in a spot. Was the person that did “something” in that area too rough? Possibly. To me, this is not a big deal, but if you’re reading this, curious, and want to try to attend an event, I feel like it should be said. Not a deal breaker for me.
I do have to echo what Russell said. This is an extreme haunt. This type of event is NOT for everyone. With that being said, if you’ve done traditional haunts and get bored of them, you might want to look into attending a HERETIC event. No matter what your skill level, they will get your heart racing and give you the (real) scares you want.
I’m really excited to see what else Adrian has up his sleeve. His head seems to be exploding from all the ideas he has. Whatever they are, I’m in!
Both of us here at My Haunt Life are fans of HERETIC and Adrian. We will definitely be returning, happily, to whatever events he comes up with!
For more information on HERETIC, check out the site at http://www.heretichorrorhouse.com/ and sign up for the mailing list.