Southern California is home to the most diverse assortment of haunted attractions in the world, from major theme park events to stunning home haunts and stand-alone experiences. When The 17th Door made its debut in 2015, it took the haunt community by storm, immediately garnering media attention and huge social buzz due to its extreme and brutal content.
Created by husband and wife team Heather and Robbie Luther, The 17th Door followed the exploits of an ill-fated young adult – Paula Barclay – as she attended college at Gluttire University, where she battled real-life demons and horrific situations ranging from bulimia nervosa (binge eating and purging) and drug/alcohol abuse, to mental anguish and even rape. In short, The 17th Door showcased real-life horrors, rather than zombies, vampires, or iconic serial killers. We have often described The 17th Door as a “Hell House” type of experience, without the religious hammering at the end, in an effort to save your soul from the evils of this world and eternal damnation. Truly, this particular haunt is unlike anything we have ever experienced.
For its first two years, The 17th Door was housed in a massive retail space within The Market Place in Tustin, just minutes south of the Disneyland Resort in Orange County. The Luthers took up residence there, with the understanding that sooner or later, a permanent retailer would come in and they would have to move The 17th Door elsewhere. That time came, and the Luthers began an exhausting search for their next location – something fairly challenging when you own a haunt that is so physically large that you need a really big space to put it in. After months of searching, the Luthers found their new home – ironically in the same spot in Fullerton that another haunted attraction, Sinister Pointe, took up residence in for the 2016 Halloween and Christmas seasons.
With a new home, comes a new theme; that was the right thing to do, according to Robbie, who is the storyteller and creative mind behind The 17th Door. At the end of last year’s experience, Paula suffocated her newborn baby boy, as horrified guests stood just inches away from the disturbing scene. In Robbie’s mind, the path was clear – Paula was convicted of her most heinous crime, and sentenced to Perpetuum Penitentiary, which guests will experience this Halloween at The 17th Door: Locked Up.
This past weekend, The 17th Door opened to its first guests of the season who were, for lack of a better term, were the Luthers’ guinea pigs. After hours of careful observation, Robbie and his team went right back to work, tweaking and adjusting the haunt in preparation for the bigger crowds expected to come in the weeks ahead.
Theme Park Adventure visited Heather and Robbie for a behind-the-scenes tour of Perpetuum Penitentiary this past weekend. We strolled through the darkened halls and felt the cold steel of the prison cells as the Luthers explained the horrors that await guests this season. That tour culminated with a very rare on-screen interview with Heather and Robbie – they are elusive when it comes to cameras, and definitely prefer to be out of the spotlight.
Despite an extremely challenging schedule of creating an all-new haunt and installing it in the new space, Robbie took on one more task – creating a virtual reality component that would complement this year’s 17th Door terror trip. For a small upcharge fee, guests can be strapped in and immersed in an unnerving 7-minute VR experience that will push them to their mental and physical limits. As we were shown the rooms containing the VR goggles, I asked Robbie who he’d hired to handle the VR portion of his production; that was met with rolled eyes and a shaking of the head. You’d think I’d know better by now – of course Robbie created the entire VR experience from scratch, just like they do with every aspect of The 17th Door.
Let that sink in for a moment. Not only does The 17th Door feature and all-new theme in a brand new location this year – Robbie also created a 7-minute VR experience for it without knowing much of anything about the medium before he jumped in, head-first.
We did strap on the goggles and experience The 17th Door VR, which was just as horrifying as you might imagine. After being strapped into our seats with our VR goggles and headphones firmly in place, Johanna and I were plunged into the world of The 17th Door, and subjected to all of the horrors that have given this haunt its infamous reputation for the past couple of years. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. The two of us sat there helplessly screaming and kicking – and in the end, Johanna actually cried out for mercy – the haunt’s safety word. That’s right… Johanna cried out the safety word! I made it all the way through – just barely.
In all honesty, this is the best VR experience I have ever had. Upgrading your ticket to The 17th Door to include the entire VR component is a mere $12 – the cost of a cocktail. Believe me – it’s worth it, and if you manage to make it all the way without screaming for mercy, you’ll be needing a cocktail or two to calm your nerves afterward! By all means, DO the VR experience – it’s horrifying in every way! Once guests finish the VR portion of the experience, they are sent directly into the maze – nerves will be frayed by this one-two punch, for sure.
The rest of The 17th Door: Locked Up is extremely polished as well. It’s hard to believe this team literally came out of nowhere just a couple years ago. The production value of this haunt is through the roof, and this year, the Luthers have created what I honestly think is their strongest experience ever. Just being in Perpetuum is daunting – wait until you see what goes on when the lights go out. It’s sheer terror through the night.
Our full review of The 17th Door: Locked Up will be coming in the weeks ahead. For now, we invite you to take a look at some of our lights-on photos, and check out the interview I did with Heather and Robbie; they are a fun, fascinating duo hell-bent on making each and every one of you beg for mercy this Halloween. Are you up for the challenge?
Enter Perpetuum Penitentiary and say goodbye to whatever sanity you might have still had.
- Rick West
Be sure to bookmark and reference our 2017 SoCal Haunt Directory for all your Halloween haunt planning!
The 17th Door Behind-the-Scenes Tour Images: