Delusion: Lies Within 2014 Review

Delusion_PosterRetail_19X27Without a doubt, one of the most popular heavyweight champions of Southern California’s Halloween season is Delusion. Whether you consider it a haunted attraction or simply a spooky play that you star in that happens to take place during the haunt season, there are no two ways about it – Delusion has become a national and international sensation that a very broad range of fans are drawn to each year here in Los Angeles, and coming off of an amazingly successful 2014 run, there are no signs whatsoever that Delusion is slowing down in momentum; on the contrary – this might just be an experience that could survive here year-round in Southern California.

Delusion’s creator, Jon Braver, does not readily embrace the idea that his Haunted Play concept is a haunted attraction or Halloween-specific event. This is something that he and I have discussed and debated for years, ever since Delusion debuted in 2011 right here in Los Angeles, taking the haunt season by storm. Part interactive play, part haunted house, Delusion places guests in the story and immerses them in a lengthy, completely satisfying production that leaves your head spinning. Dazzling special effects, a very detailed story line, and top-notch actors are the hallmarks of what makes Jon Braver’s Delusion experience so different than anything we’ve ever covered.

If anything, my main concern over the years has been that the majority of guests simply don’t let themselves take in the depth of the story that Jon’s written for any given year. People show up, they want to get the crap scared out of them, and along they way they may pick up on some of the story details that have been so lovingly and professionally crafted into a terrifying live production. In fact, I’ve said many times to Jon that I don’t think his stories need to be quite so deep or convoluted; most people won’t get it anyway. That said, Jon is a perfectionist to the utmost degree – even obsessive at times – and we cannot fault him for that at all; he has invested all that he is into Delusion each year, and its success is undisputed.

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Location is always critical when it comes to Delusion any given year. The story that Jon weaves plays directly to the environment of the production, whether it be a foreboding mansion or an abandoned church, as we’ve seen over the years. In fact, the physical surroundings play so heavily into the Delusion story each season, that Jon cannot use many “plug and play” story elements from year to year; each tale that his characters play out is specific and absolutely intertwined with the given environment. This is reason enough for Jon to move Delusion’s location most years; while the attraction can – and has – stayed in one location for more than one season, most fans want to see something new, something they are not already familiar with. And I think creatively, Jon also get a restless itch to move to the next challenge – to conquer new locations and craft new horrific tales.

fitzgerald house pic current2014’s production was called Delusion: Lies Within. Lies Within placed guests in the story as die-hard fans of novelist Elena Fitzgerald; die-hard to the point of breaking into her formidable mansion. The reason for breaking into Fitzgerald’s home wasn’t based in ill will; on the contrary – the story went that the reclusive author had gone missing, along with her daughter, Mary. In this story, we were fans bent on attempting to find a clue that might shed some light on the famous writer’s troublesome disappearance and her whereabouts. What ensued after guests let themselves into a lower-level room of the sprawling manor were 55+ minutes of sheer interactive goodness, plunging everyone into a terrifying story of madmen, monsters, and mystery. In what was my favorite story presented for Delusion to date, guests encountered the very characters and creatures throughout the production that Fitzgerald wrote about in her novels and was famous for; I absolutely loved that! Huge kudos to Jon as well as Peter Cameron, the co-writer of Delusion: Lies Within! Very often, the storytellers in the themed entertainment business are overlooked – so it should be noted when possible. Without the written word, nothing else falls into place. Peter should be very proud of this project, truly.

With a cycle time of 55 minutes, Lies Within was Delusion’s longest production to date, and easily the most ambitious that Braver has taken on thus far. Anyone that works on live productions and/or haunted attractions will tell you, creating an immersive experience that lasts just minutes shy of an hour is a herculean task that is both daunting and extremely challenging on all levels. I am going to refer to Delusion here as a haunted attraction, whether it ultimately is or is not, (Jon and I have agreed to disagree) for the sake of simplicity in discussing it as easily as possible. Most haunted attractions that are walk-through experiences last anywhere from approximately 7 to 25 minutes, tops. In that period of time, you can cover a lot of ground and make it through many scenes and scenarios packed with props and lurking monsters. Take that up to 55 minutes, and you suddenly have one hell of a production on your hands – one that is just as elaborate behind the scenes as what’s visible to guests.

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With a strong professional background in film and television, Jon understands what needs to happen on both sides of the production curtain. Executing Delusion each night for more than a month each year is a demanding, highly-orchestrated task that when witnessed from all sides, is one hell of an impressive machine in motion. This past year, Delusion: Lies Within ran from September 24th through November 16th. Each night, between 20 and 25 groups of 10 guests experienced the terror of Delusion – the mansion was so large that at any given time, 4 or 5 groups were being moved through the building, each unaware of the others’ presence – which is very impressive from a production standpoint. Each group is monitored via infrared cameras that allow the Delusion production team to know exactly where everyone is at any given time, and allows on-the-fly changes to be implemented if necessary, such as pacing in any given scene. Witnessing Jon watch his creation real-time, his face illuminated by the glow of the camera monitors in the makeshift control room deep within the mansion was one of our favorite moments of the season – it was seriously akin to catching a glimpse of the great and powerful Oz behind the curtain.

delusion-Elenas_deskOn the front end, each Delusion production is designed room-by-room, as the interiors of each location are almost always completely gutted; all furniture and props are carefully designed into each set, and in some cases, major architectural components are also created to fit the story – and the physical space – of each place. Lies Within included lavish bedroom sets, faux walls, and a narrow passageway under the foundation of the house that one lucky (or unlucky) guest was chosen to explore in each group. The most impressive “gag” of Lies Within for us, was a room that contained a riddle that the group had to solve collectively by shifting heavy furniture around in, and ultimately, pushing a wall together – a wall that slid on a track, creating a large, elongated space – a total mind-blower moment that had us cheering out of sheer nerdy glee when it happened! Each and every room within Delusion presented a “wow” moment – whether it was a surprise faux wall, seamless special effect, or unnerving interaction with a character. From start to finish, Delusion: Lies Within was a roller coaster ride that never let up until it was absolutely done with you.

The backbone of Delusion is its cast. A production’s sets, story, soundtrack and environment are only brought to life by the strength of its actors. We’ve seen plenty of haunts that are ridiculously ornate and extremely elaborate – but lacking greatly in the talent department, which ultimately drags everything down to being a mediocre experience. On the other hand, we have seen haunted attractions with so-so production value be taken to dizzying heights by the strength of their talent, making ho-hum haunts into must-see bucket list items for fans. Delusion has it all – professional-grade sets and production, combined with incredible actors that love what they’re doing. The result is an extraordinary attraction that we – along with many others – have absolutely fallen in love with and get excited about each Halloween season.

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Jon pays his team – something that we’ve always said makes the difference most of the time between okay teams and superb ones. Everyone in Delusion is an actor, and they all audition for their specific roles each year, regardless of their tenure with Haunted Play. Paid gigs such as this versus haunted attractions that rely on volunteer staff are typically on a different level when it comes to the caliber and dependability of their teams. All too often, we hear haunt owners apologizing for a lack of staff for this reason or that; the bottom line is, if you pay your people, they have a responsibility to show up. Monetary motivation on top of the satisfaction they get out of scaring guests each night is absolutely key in securing the best experience possible for your guests. Jon takes care of his people financially – because Delusion is a business – and it makes all the difference in the world; we know that regardless of what night we visit, regardless of how busy it was the night before, the Delusion talent will be there and will deliver in amazing form from the first group of the night, to the very last. We understand that this model doesn’t work for every haunt out there, and that many choose to rely on volunteers for various reasons. In the case of Delusion, it’s a decision that Jon has made, and it makes a very real, extremely strong and positive difference year after year in the quality of the production. Huge respect and kudos to Jon and his talented actors – they were all brilliant in their own way and we loved every minute of the experience because of it!

Delusion isn’t for everyone. No one under 17 is admitted to Delusion, nor are the productions wheelchair-friendly. Each season, Delusion is set within existing buildings that have narrow spaces, lots of stairs, and extremely dark areas that are impossible for anyone not able-bodied to maneuver. While not considered an “extreme” type of haunt, Delusion features intense moments of character interaction, violence, startling live stunts, loud sounds, and some sexual content. This isn’t your typical haunted house experience; leave the kids at home and be prepared for a somewhat physically demanding journey into the unknown.

delusion-GlendaMany “mature” haunts these days are pushing the boundaries of sexual content. Delusion has walked this line a few times in the past years; in Lies Within, guests were exposed (pun intended) to a fairly graphic sexual moment in the story that involved a selected guest being separated from the party to help a woman bathe while other members of the group watched. It was uncomfortable and unsettling. However, it was wildly entertaining and did play into the story line and characters of Lies Within. There’s no need to go into explicit detail here, but we will say that Delusion has crossed into territory that is shared by other attractions such as Blackout and Zombie Joe’s Urban Death Tour of Terror. There’s no saying how far this type of content will go in Delusion’s 2015 show – or if the production will even have any sexual content; Jon’s scenes are completely story-driven, so it depends on the tale he chooses to tell. One thing that Delusion guests can be certain of – even if the show goes there again – it’s always in fun, and always with the experience of the guests and actors in mind. Nothing is done “just to do it” or simply for “shock value”, and it never feels forced into the experience for the sake of being “extreme”.

Delusion: Lies Within was tremendous on all fronts, and one of the best attractions we visited during the Halloween 2014 season. It’s become something we look forward to each year, and we’re not alone. In 2014, the initial round of tickets for Delusion were sold out almost immediately. Throughout the run, as more dates and tickets were released, fans snapped them up faster than they could be announced via social media. Delusion has become a somewhat highbrow Halloween happening for serious fans looking for a very special night of spooky fun here in Los Angeles.

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Haunted attraction, horror-based immersive theater, or whatever you choose to consider it, Delusion is a one-of-a-kind production that has positioned itself as a recognized brand, which has been part of Jon Braver’s long-term plan all along. With its dedicated fan base, Delusion can open anywhere in Southern California at any given time of the year, and it will be successful, simply because we know, love, and trust the name. That’s huge – and speaks volumes about the hard work that everyone involve has put into this production.

Huge respect and love to everyone on the Delusion: Lies Within team. If you had the opportunity to experience it, you know it was something very special. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of attending Delusion yourself, it’s time to make a dark promise to yourself…

Delusion 2015 is already in the works.

– Rick West

Photos by: Will Shivers, Jon Braver, Bren Coombs and Ian Momii

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