Opening on 28th September in an abandoned building in the woods near Brentwood, Essex, House of Horror calls itself an immersive 4D experience. But that doesn't quite go far enough. This is a freak-out that puts you right in the middle of a series of bonkers scenarios lifted from horror movies in a deliberate attempt to scare the liver out of you.
They let the press in for a dress rehearsal a few weeks before launching to the public, and I have to say it was more fun than I expected. And not quite as scary as I hoped. But then, I'm a jaded film critic who finds it difficult to blur the line between fact and fiction. Elements of the event were disorienting, creepy and downright revolting, but I never felt in danger. That said, I never got to enter the final, dreaded Room 13. But the effort that went into creating the previous 12 rooms was impressive.
Here's the scoop without any spoilers...
When you arrive, you're asked to sign a rather long waiver consenting to possible injury and death, then turn over everything you have in your pockets (the only thing you can carry into the house is the cloakroom ticket). There's street food and drinks while you wait your turn, then a shouting masked man verbally abuses you as he drags your group of 10 into the superbly dilapidated building.
Inside there's a brief orientation video after which a hood is placed over your head and you're led into the next room. A series of carefully staged experiences follow, as each room combines wit and nastiness to keep you as off-balance as possible. There are ghostly spirits, evil demons, mechanical mishaps and maniacal medical workers with knives and chainsaws. In one room, there's a challenge to complete that involves something truly disgusting. In another you're blinded by strobe lights and told to find a way out. There's also more pitch-black weirdness and some claustrophobic grisliness.
Finally you emerge, blinking into a large area where there's more food and drink, plus a chance to strike an appropriate pose in the photo booth (see below) and recover before signing another waiver and entering the ominous Room 13, if you dare. I wasn't able to go in there, sadly. But I had a lot of fun in the previous 12, and I didn't need to evoke the safe words.
The actors are all excellent, with a few stand-out stars along the way. Some are funny and others are creepy, but each is hugely engaging, staring you down and involving you in improvised dialog that's often hilariously aggressive. This is a thoroughly physical experience, throwing you right into scenarios that are skilfully designed and constructed. Surprises lurk around each corner. Some rooms are astonishing in their attention to detail, others are a little more rough and ready. There are elements in each room that are seriously inventive, and there's no doubt that it will get better (and scarier) as the cast push the limits of each scenario.
House of Horror runs from 28th September to 31st October. For tickets and detailed information, visit: www.houseofhorror.co.uk
Note that the location is a challenge for anyone without a car, as it's too far to walk from Brentwood station. Also, the experience is not accessible for anyone with limited mobility. And it's advised to wear comfortable shoes and clothing you don't mind getting (ahem!) blood on.