In 2015, The 17th Door took no prisoners as Southern California’s hottest Halloween ticket. After literally coming out of nowhere to create this massive haunted attraction, husband and wife team Robbie and Heather Luther assembled a master cast and crew, and created their hellish October home – the fictitious Gluttire University – in an up-scale outdoor shopping complex in Tustin, just minutes south of the Disneyland Resort in Orange County.
Almost immediately after opening, social media lit up with accounts of the extreme haunt featuring live cockroaches, real animal carcasses, characters shocking guests with hand-held devices and more; the effect it all had was amazing – people flocked to The 17th Door in droves, curious and excited to experience the attraction for themselves.
Unlike most haunts that use “traditional” story lines of ghosts, werewolves, serial killers, clowns, and zombies, The 17th Door instead focuses on real-life horrors – drug addition, alcoholism, rape, and domestic violence as their delivery vehicle to tell the tale of Paula, a train wreck of a college freshman at Gluttire University who’s really gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd. In addition to her poor college social choices, Paula has struggled her entire life with bulimia. Stress triggers eating sprees for Paula – which she then corrects via purging. Her own demons manifest themselves as pigs – which is a common thread throughout The 17th Door as far as character design and props are concerned. The short-hand description of The 17th Door could easily be, “A Hell House Without the Fanatical Religious Aspect Attached to It”, although there’s more to it than that, really; there is a story line here – not simply graphic scenes that set the stage for guests to be preached to.
Following the unprecedented success of its first Halloween season in Orange County, The 17th Door fell silent, only the echoes of 3,000+ people screaming the “safe word” still hanging heavy in the air as fall became winter, and winter became spring. Fans of the haunt – and there are a lot of them – had just one question: What next?
Able to maintain the lease of their 15,000-square-foot space within The Market Place throughout the year, the Luthers and their team have used the off months to re-imagine more than 65% of Gluttire University into an all-new experience of nasty “real world” horrors, building brand-new rooms, traps, and some would say… torture devices for the 2016 season.
This year, The 17th Door is a sequel; it continues in Paula’s Sophomore year at Gluttire. Her lifestyle choices haven’t improved. In fact, she’s a freaking disaster. And you’re going down that rabbit hole with her.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
As usual, Theme Park Adventure isn’t here to give you a blow-by-blow description of this haunted attraction. In the paragraphs and images to follow however, there will be aspects of the attraction discussed that are definitely spoilers. If you want to go into the attraction this Halloween season without any advance knowledge of its contents, you should bookmark this story now and return to it after you’ve experienced The 17th Door.
For everyone else – read on…
Like last year, The 17th Door opts for real-life horrors in its 2016 season. Like last year, The 17th Door pulls no punches, either. In fact, I would say that with a more focused story this time around, the ugliness and grit that accompany each scene is more intense than it’s ever been.
Paula, now in her Sophomore year at Gluttire University, has moved on past the evils of drugs and booze – although there’s still plenty of that to go around on campus. The stakes are higher now – she’s become extremely promiscuous (that’s the nice way of saying “slutty”), has hooked up with the wrong guy again, and is now pregnant. The stage is set for a total disaster, and The 17th Door delivers.
During the 30+ minute experience, guests are pulsed through a series of rooms (there are more than 17 this time around including a pre-show of sorts) where they come face-to-face with a wide range of really ugly, gritty moments – including a super-creepy dude with a sound-proofed “naughty room”, a return to Paula’s dorm room (something much worse than vomiting awaits this year), and a completely unorthodox church sanctuary. That’s just scratching the surface.
One of the most infamous moments from last year’s attraction, was a room filled with real (and a lot of dead) cockroaches; it was literally, the single-worst moment I have ever endured in a haunt. Leading up to this year, the Luthers assured everyone the roaches wouldn’t return. Well, they lied. And while not as gnarly as last year, what accompanies the roaches this year is one big-ass bowl of NOPE! The safe word was teetering on my lips; it almost happened again! Granted, while it isn’t as gross as last year per se… for me, it was in a way much more dreadful. When the time came for one of us to be put into a Plexiglass-like upright box, I didn’t hesitate for one moment – to offer Johanna Atilano (Co-Owner of TPA and my significant other) up instead. A horrible thing, I know. I agree. There was no way however, that I was getting in that box; not in that room. Not with those things. I could give TPAers a break and tell you what room number to be wary of… but where’s the fun in that?
Also returning to Gluttire this year (albeit in a different form) is a moment when guests experience electrical shock. I’ll preface this by saying that when TPA went through, Heather Luther actually joined us to see our reactions to everything. In doing so, she was there the moment we all were given an electrical jolt – and let me tell you… it was harsh. So much so in fact, that she herself was horrified, and when she finally stopped laughing at my urethra being soldered shut, she said it wasn’t supposed to be that strong and that they’d adjust it immediately. So all of you coming after us… you got off light!
I’m not a fan of insects or electrical shocks. That said, I suppose if I have to encounter these unpleasant components, I would rather them be in The 17th Door where I expect heinous shit like that as opposed to some random haunt completely blindsiding me with it, you know?
Beside all the unpleasant surprises, The 17th Door once again, features some absolutely fantastic “Wow!” moments, including a simulated ride in a bus. And in true 17th Door fashion, when Heather and Robbie need a bus, what do they do? They bought a damn bus. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having the financial means to do stuff the way the Luthers do when it comes to creating their attraction; it’s simply worth mentioning because in the world of haunters, it’s a rare occurrence. While most folks would have fabricated a bus somehow and then hidden the rough details with dim show lighting or a ton of fog, The 17th Door has a full-on legit bus smack in the middle of their attraction that is well-lit and is absolutely the real deal; amazing. What’s even better, is the motion simulation that guests experience while in this bus is absolutely theme park quality, if not better. I knew the moment was coming. I knew what the gag was going to be. Yet when I experienced the bus ride, I was simply blown away by how good it is. Huge kudos to the crew for working it out so flawlessly; it’s one of the highlight moments of Halloween 2016 for me.
The talent at The 17th Door completely gets it, and delivers night after night. Each character is really well-acted, making it very easy to suspend disbelief during the experience. A huge shout-out to Chris Foglesong, the Cast Director at The 17th Door; it’s his task to interview, audition, train, monitor and manage the 130 individuals that populate the attraction and call Gluttire University “home” for the season. It is apparent that Chris’ veteran haunt experience has paid off; the characters that are encountered throughout the attraction have embraced their roles and don’t hold back, creating an atmosphere of unease, dark humor, and raw dread the entire time.
We were a bit concerned after Halloween last year that The 17th Door would struggle with its identity and forward momentum; by all counts, it could very well have been a one-trick pony. I’m very pleased to report that is not the case. While those still shell-shocked from last year may feel as though 2016’s iteration isn’t as crazy or extreme, I would say that this year’s more focused story line makes The 17th Door even more upsetting and ultimately, successful than ever.
Naturally, The 17th Door isn’t for everyone. Its depiction of real-world horrors can be a very definite turn-off for some, and downright mentally and emotionally jarring to others, and with good reason. I get it, and would caution anyone who has been the victim of rape or sexual abuse to perhaps give Gluttire a pass this year. No one – including the Luthers – wants to see anyone truly upset by deep memories or emotional scars that may agitated by the attraction. That said, if you’re looking for one of the most edgy haunts this Halloween season in California, there’s still time to enroll at Gluttire University.
The science department is always in need of more piggies…
- Rick West
The 17th Door 2016 Photo Gallery: