The Return Of Halloween Haunts
'Delusion' offers immersive haunt experience in Pomona
Looks like Halloween will be happening this year. Spirit Halloween stores are coming back. So too is the Haunted Trail. But I am most excited about an immersive haunt experience called "Delusion" returning to L.A. County.
Not your typical haunted house
Anyone can jump out of the dark and make you scream, but not anyone can make your jaw drop down in awe. Jon Braver is interested in the latter.
"There's a place for jump scares, for sure, at haunted houses," Braver said. "But 'Delusion' has always been about a story that will linger in your mind for years. If there are scares in there, they're purposeful."
Braver has been terrifying and dazzling audiences for years. Braver is the director of Immersive Entertainment at 13th Floor Entertainment Group and the writer-director of "Delusion Interactive Theater."
"'Delusion' is, if I try to strip it down to its easiest form, is a moving play," Braver explained at Midsummer Scream convention on Saturday. "It is interactive theater. So you are a character inside of a story, inside of an old mansion, an old church and an old theater, and you're playing a part in this story. So as I'm writing the script, I'm thinking about you as one of the protagonists. So you have to perform certain actions to move the story forward. It's very story-driven. You can also think of it kind of like some elements of a 'Choose Your Own Adventure,' if you remember the old books where you kind of branch off the narrative a bit. So you might be captured, taken away somewhere in a branching narrative. And then you come back to the main storyline along with your friends."
The experience can take up to five hours, depending on how deep you want to go.
When I attended "Delusion," I just was awestruck by the immense creativity and design of the production. At one point, the logs in a fireplace unfolded into a creature and at another, we were asked to push a wall and suddenly, the 10-by-20-foot wall moved and a whole other room was revealed.
Those are the kinds of moments that take your breath away.
This year’s venue is in Pomona and the show is called "Delusion: Reaper’s Remorse."
"This woman named Esther Phillips, she is this very mysterious figure that names this house lives in this house surrounded by artifacts that house the souls of the dead," Braver said.
"Delusion" has been on hold not just because of the pandemic but also because of the challenges of finding the right venues to do these site-specific, immersive events. For this year's show, Braver was thrilled to find a suitable spot out in Pomona where there is plenty of parking and no nearby homes or businesses that might complain about the noise or screaming patrons.
The last time I spoke with Braver was back in 2014 and I distinctly remember him being distracted by someone running screaming out of the "Delusion" house. He had such a look of satisfaction and delight. A feeling that many haunters experienced. That kind of joy fuels my own passion for doing home haunts.
Braver noted that putting on "Delusion" has become a mission for him.
"It's more of a mission than just a piece of entertainment," he said. "I love people, and I love being together, and I felt like over the pandemic that we were losing touch with each other, that our social fabric is tearing. So this has become a mission to bring people together. It's like we need social connection and these types of experiences I wouldn't go so far as to say they are an essential service but this is to me, it is because it's that psychological effect of being together with others going on a traumatic, horrifically, hauntingly, beautiful experience. But you're going on this adventure together. You will survive. Nobody's gonna get killed. But at the end of the day, it's a lot of fun, but you're able to connect with yourself and with other strangers, too."
Midsummer Scream and the return of Halloween
That sense of connection was clearly evident at Midsummer Scream, where Halloween and horror fans joined together after more than a year apart. Braver was at a panel where fans were thrilled at the prospect of haunts returning to action this year. Some haunts managed to stage drive-thru or outdoor haunt experiences, but many more were forced to shut down last year.
David Markland, executive director of Midsummer Scream and Awaken the Spirits, said the convention drew about 5,000 people, which is perhaps a little more than a quarter of the size of the pre-pandemic numbers.
"We limited our capacity a bit to really try to make sure we weren't jam-packed like Sardines to make sure people felt as comfortable as possible while still having an event," Markland said. "Some vendors honestly were very pensive and not everybody was ready to come back, which is totally understandable. Others are just eager to go out and start doing it again. This is what they live for and it's their lifestyle. So they're ready to jump back right back in as soon as we announced we were doing this event."
Like those who attended the convention, Markland loves Halloween and horror, so he is excited to see pandemic restrictions lifting to allow things to get a little more back to normal. He is most looking forward to the haunts returning.
"I mean, the drive-thru haunts last year, it was great to see how creative people were being, but it's not the same thing," Markland said. "So just to be able to return to Halloween Horror Nights [at Universal Studios] and smell that fog and then some of the smaller, independent haunts just to get that scare in-person with other people."
Markland's Midsummer Scream will be presenting Season's Screamings (Dec. 17-19, Pasadena Convention Center) and then the convention proper returns next year to the larger Long Beach Convention Center next July.
"Delusion" runs through November, with tickets selling out quickly. If the show sounds a bit too scary, Braver assured me that all attendees would survive. So get out of your comfort zone and savor the horrific beauty of Delusion. But do remember to wear good shoes. It is a physical show.