Last year, producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) and his crew took over downtown's Variety Arts Center for a spectacular, multi-level haunted house event that lasted through the Halloween season. This year, Blumhouse of Horrors is back, but the scenario is a little different. Called The Purge: Fear the Night, this year's event will use all six floors of the stately building — that's about 70,000 square feet — for an event based on Blum's recent flick, The Purge. But you don't need to see the movie, which works under the premise that crime is legal once a year for 12 hours, to understand the haunted house.
“We went about it very similarly to how we develop sequels to our movies,” says Blum. “Whenever we have a sequel, we have to have it make sense if you've seen the previous movie and make sense if you haven't.”
With Blumhouse of Horrors events, the story is as important as the frights. That's where the biggest change is this year. Last time around, the concept revolved around a haunted theater, something that tied together the venue's history as a performance space with creepy Halloween tales. The 2013 event departs drastically from that premise.
“We didn't want to compete in the world of monsters and zombies and the traditional boo-scares that exist in haunted houses,” says Josh Simon, who is producing the event with Blum. “Last year, the surroundings kind of dictated the story a little bit. This year, the story ends up dictating the experience.”
The Purge: Fear the Night delves deep into the world of the New Founders of America. That's the group of people in this fictional U.S. future who decided it was a great idea to legalize crime and suspend emergency services for 12 hours once a year. Once you step inside the Variety Arts Center, you are a guest at their headquarters on the night of the Purge. You can expect to spend somewhere between an hour-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours inside the event. You can also expect the story you witness to be a little different from the ones your companions see.
“Everyone sort of starts off at the same place, but then it turns into a free-roaming experience,” says Simon. “The idea is that you and your friends can create your own journey with this story.”
The team, which includes people who have worked on Blum's various films, has been developing this idea since last year. According to Simon, the idea was to create an event that was scary, but didn't necessarily scream Halloween. Theater, particularly interactive forms of the art, was a big inspiration. With that in mind, they brought in directors Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor. Randall and Thor have been working together for about a decade, typically with Randall as producer and Thor as director. During that time, they did a lot of what Randall calls “experiential, immersive theater,” even when dealing with material from Shakespeare and Chekhov. They also created Blackout Haunted House, an event that takes place in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
In The Purge: Fear the Night, your experience has less to do with imagined creatures and spirits and more to do with imagined scenarios that maybe seem plausible. “It's inspired by a lot of aspects of our contemporary government, but it is an imagined future,” says Thor.
“This specific show is more about governmental control and power and how that radiates down,” Randall explains. Voyeurism is also part of the big picture here. Adds Thor, “We find voyeurism pretty scary.”
The approach is similar to how Blum's movies work. “All of our movies are low budget, so we don't have very many effects, if any effects, in our movies,” says Blum. “We rely on practical scares.”
But, what are those things that can make people scream without grotesque make-up and massive explosions? “I also think the scariest things are things that are relatable,” says Blum. “What happens when you sleep? That's Paranormal Activity.”
But there's more to it than introducing a scene that doesn't stretch far from our perception of reality. It's the investment that the audience has made while watching the story. “What I find scary is when you're very attached to watching a story unfold. You're on the edge of your seat, not tense, but very involved,” says Blum.
Inside The Purge: Fear the Night, that investment is huge. You'll actually be walking through the fictional world. There's no fourth wall to break. “Those things that typically scare people are infinitely scarier if you're really involved in following a narrative,” Blum adds. “That's what we bring to our movies and what we brought to this, I hope.”
Blumhouse of Horrors Presents The Purge: Fear The Night opens on September 27 and continues through November 3 at 949 S. Figueroa Street, downtown. Tickets are $65 and are available through purgelive.com.