Live Your Own Zombie Apocalypse
Picture this: A parasite has infected most of Honolulu and everyone around you succumbs to disturbing symptoms — including an insatiable appetite for human flesh. You’re among a group of survivors, but just when you think you’ve found a safe zone, you realize that the abandoned restaurant where you’re seeking shelter is also crawling with zombies.
It sounds like the lead-in to a horror movie, but starting next week, it could be your reality — well, at least for 45 minutes. That’s about how long it will take to make your way through The Outbreak Experience, an interactive zombie play that runs Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 26-31 at Ward Warehouse.
Created by horror masterminds Noa Laporga and Angelina Khan, who run Haunted Plantation, Outbreak is a multi-faceted attraction that combines elements of a traditional haunted house with live theater. Audience members aren’t just passive observers — they’re an active part of an elaborate story.
“Things are going to be happening all around … People go from one scene to another scene … and things start to unravel,” Laporga explains.
“We really wanted to do something that totally immerses our guests — something that will be much more than just a regular walk through a haunted house,” Khan adds.
That type of immersion is a growing trend in the haunted attraction industry. Within the past few years, haunted houses have come to incorporate theatrical and interactive elements as a way to allow audience members to become characters in a horror plot. And participants, it seems, are drawn to not just seeing scary things, but actually experiencing them — at least in the controlled environs of a haunted attraction. As The Verge writer Bryan Bishop explains in his ongoing series on new forms of haunted attractions The Future of Fear, the trend “is bringing new life to the genre with interactive, real-world experiences that let audiences step through the screen and into their own personal tales of horror.”
Laporga and Khan’s first foray into immersive haunts was two years ago, when they produced an interactive horror play called 1706. The pair had been putting on the wildly popular Haunted Plantation — which often is named among the country’s best haunts — for years (Laporga started it in 2006 and Khan joined a few years later). But they wanted to do something a little more extreme.
“I love doing haunted houses,” Laporga says, “but at the same time, you can only do so much. You can dress up your characters, and that is pretty much it; there is really no story.
“I like that, but I also like doing theatrical things where we can create stories and just have fun with it,” he adds.
While traditional haunted houses might be comprised of a series of jump scares and fake blood, Outbreak is indeed a full-blown theatrical production. Laporga and Khan have crafted an entire script with dialogue for their characters — many of whom are played by professional actors. There is even an original score, and Laporga has recruited Ben Ploughman (who has appeared on SyFy’s special-effects makeup contest show Face Off) to do movie-quality zombie makeup.
Outbreak also involves facets of escape-room games: Audience members are given missions throughout the event — retrieving certain things, uncovering information, and whatever else cast members may instruct them to do — all while trying to keep a safe distance away from the zombies.
“I think it is a way to feel like you’re in a movie — compared to just walking through and it’s like ‘boo’ and then you’re done,” Laporga says.
That inclination to live out your very own horror movie seems to be a pretty popular one.
According to the Haunted Attraction Association, interactivity is among top trends for the 2016 scare season. In the last few years, the number of interactive haunts has risen, with dozens sprouting up all over the country. There are interactive plays in the same vein as Outbreak. There are others that are akin to choose-your-own-adventure books where what you do determines the outcome. Then there also is a sub-genre of what are known as “extreme haunts” — places like Blackout in New York and McKamey Manor in San Diego that include staged abductions, waterboarding and stuffing people into coffins. This season, the creators of Blackout unveiled a new feature where they taunt you for days with cryptic emails, texts and phone calls, and maybe, they tease, in-person visits. Another new attraction this year, created by the year-round Heretic House in L.A., whisks guests away to a remote cabin — and then proceeds to torture them all night a la The Evil Dead or Friday the 13th.
It’s all, in some ways, simply the next step of progression in the industry. The modern concept of haunted attractions is generally traced back to the advent of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, and then grew legs through homemade charity-run events. Within the last decade, that growth has reached new heights — there are now thousands of haunted attractions throughout the country, and haunting has become a big-time industry with its own trade shows and millions of dollars of revenue.
Sociologist Margee Kerr, who specializes in the study of fear, explains that as the industry has grown, it’s attracted new talent. “Today, as it has expanded into this very lucrative industry, you are getting the theme park designers and the actors and the performers that are playing with varied content and doing it in new and different ways.”
And much like any other industry, once you’ve done something, it’s time to up the ante.
As Haunted House Association media rep Larry Kirchner explains, haunted attractions have become increasingly varied throughout the years.
“When I look at the haunted houses back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s and I compare them to the ones today, they’re just miles apart,” Kirchner says.
“When you think about a roller coaster, you look at the ones they made 20 years ago and you look at the ones they make today — every effort has been made to make them bigger and scarier,” he adds. “I think for every generation, there has to be a new level that you have to go to because they already have been desensitized by the level that already had been existing.”
Kerr, who formerly ran her own interactive haunted house in Pennsylvania called The Basement, echoes the sentiment, explaining that people, many of whom may go to a haunted house annually, “now want to experience something a little bit different.”
“That might be an attraction where touching is allowed, or maybe combining a haunted attraction with a puzzle room — I think it is just the desire for the new or the novel,” Kerr explains.
The space where The Outbreak Experience plays out already is inherently creepy: It’s a maze of various rooms in what used to be a steak house — and has been largely unoccupied since shutting down in 2007.
In the Outbreak world, it’s a fallen safe haven.
“The storyline is that you find the safe haven, but the catch is that it is no longer safe — it is totally vacant and zombie infested. You got there too late,” Khan says with a laugh.
“We’re trying to make the experience as realistic as possible,” Khan adds. “So when people step inside, we really want them to feel like there is an outbreak happening and they are actually in that situation.”
But why would people want to be in their own horror movie anyway?
That was one of the primary questions that Kerr set out to explore while researching her book, Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear Her conclusion involves the “natural high in the endorphins and all the feel-good chemicals that happen when we’re scared.”
Kerr likens the aftermath of experiencing a haunted house to running a race.
“It seems funny to say that you would get that same feeling going through a haunted house, but what we are seeing is that really is kind of what is happening — people are challenging themselves to do this scary thing and then they make it out and they feel like heck yeah, I just really did fight off a horde of zombies,” Kerr says. “The feeling of accomplishment is real, even though the experience wasn’t.”
For more information on The Outbreak Experience, call 783-8381 or visit theoutbreakexperience.com. Shows run every 45 minutes starting at 6:30 p.m. from Oct. 21-23 and 26-31. Tickets cost $25.
If you need more scary things this season, here are just a few other haunted attractions.
At Hawaii’s Plantation Village, Waipahu
Oct. 14-16, 21-23, 28-31
Often ranked among the country’s top haunted attractions, Haunted Plantation boasts this grim mantra: We don’t build haunted houses; our houses are already haunted.”
Scare Hawaii: Deranged Souls
At Windward Mall, Kaneohe
Oct. 14-16, 21-23, 28-31
This annual attraction teases this: “We build our haunt with your greatest fears in mind.” (We believe it — we’re scared just looking at the photo on their website.)
At 373 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu
Oct. 14-15, 21-22, 27-31
Started by a group of friends at a community college, this has grown into an annual haunted house with elaborate sets that’s attracted thousands of guests.
At 1795 Intrepid St., Kapolei
Nightly through Oct. 31
A festival with food, rides, games, craft vendors and more. Plus, there is the Haunted Forest, and a family-fun zone.