Experiencing The Great Horror Campout

The Great Horror Campout If the folks at Ten Thirty One Productions can be given credit where it’s due, it must be said that they have dominated the Southern California pro haunt market in recent years when it comes to new and innovative attractions that go beyond the bounds of traditional haunted attractions. The Great Horror Campout is the latest notch in their belt, which made its debut this month on June 7th and 8th near downtown Los Angeles.

Record needle scratch. Near downtown Los Angeles; say what? As strange as it certainly seemed at first (a horror campout with tents and wooded scare zones typically conjures images of the wilderness and secluded sites far from any metropolis), let me just say that despite the inevitable glimpses of the outside world encompassing the sprawling park where this event took place, reality faded with the sunset and once the event got underway, suspension of disbelief took over and the Great Horror Campout succeeded in becoming an immersive, fun, scary environment for its guests.

I want to make it very clear that the Great Horror Campout was not a “haunted attraction” although it’s obviously related, due to Ten Thirty One Productions’ main event each year, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride in Griffith Park, which is a major player in the industry. Instead, the Great Horror Campout was an immersive horror experience, themed as a massive overnight camping trip in an area rampant with monsters and bad, bad things.

Theme Park Adventure was on hand Saturday, June 8th to witness a large portion of the Great Horror Campout, from the fantastic make-up and costuming process of the 150+ monsters working the event to the four hour-long Hell Hunt, which I’ll explain a bit more in a moment. In the almost 10 hours that we spent with the Great Horror Campout team, we witnessed amazing interaction, innovative guest experiences and truly groundbreaking stuff that was very impressive on multiple levels.

The Great Horror Campout

While TPA worked with Ten Thirty One Productions in documenting the debut of the Great Horror Campout, we weren’t instructed where to go or what to see; we simply jumped in with the guests and documented the event as best we could via live Twitter feed and with high-quality photographs. There was no video shot of the event, and most of our images were taken without flash, so as to not interfere with the guest experience taking place around us. In the almost 19 years that I have run Theme Park Adventure, this was definitely one of the most challenging events we have ever shot and documented, simply because of the environment and our desire to blend in and disappear for the most part for the night so that we could truly witness and capture what was taking place.

Purposely, I am not going into great detail regarding the story lines or even specifics of the event (other media may have – we opt not to, so as to preserve some of the mystique of this production) for good reason; no… for a great reason:

The Great Horror Campout will be returning to Southern California in 2014, bigger and bloodier!

There ya go; you heard it here first on Theme Park Adventure! Ten Thirty One Productions has confirmed that due to the event’s success, it will return for another bloody run in 2014!

The Great Horror CampoutThe “main event” of the Great Horror Campout was a large-scale scavenger hunt called the Hell Hunt. Guests had four hours to find as many items as they could that were listed in their Campout dossiers; everything from Mardi Gras necklaces to severed fingers! These items weren’t necessarily easy to come by, either; they were hidden/strewn across a massive area separated into multiple themed scare zones teeming with monsters of all types! And when I say hidden, I mean it. Guests were on their knees, plunging their arms elbow-deep into mutilated human bodies, digging around in the dirt and bushes, and performing Voodoo rituals with tribal natives to gain these trinkets and items known as SCAG (Shit Campers All Get), which varying in point value, were tallied in the middle of the night while other unspeakable horrors took place in and around camp.

SCAG items weren’t just used for points at the end of Hell Hunt; they were used as bartering pieces with other players and monsters. If you got yourself into a nasty situation, say perhaps getting bound and gagged and tossed into a locked metal cage in a remote area of the campground in the dark, you could barter with SCAG items. Of course, sometimes monsters weren’t interested in bartering and simply took people screaming and kicking into the dark, set on tormenting and degrading them publicly; pretty heinous stuff!

A large portion of the campground was a rigorous obstacle course packed with menacing inbreds called The Homestead. Campers venturing in to this section of the event had no choice but to crawl through horribly tight spaces and over sticky, slimy corpses covered in blood and other bodily fluids; to even think you’d come out of this area unscathed and clean was utterly pointless. I went less than 20 feet into The Homestead during a daylight media tour, and walked out with gooey crap all over my pants, and I barely did anything! So yeah… total filthy mess status!

The Great Horror CampoutBesides The Homestead and Hell Zone (where the bulk of the Hell Hunt took place), monsters also roamed the open area that the tents were set up in, as well as Base Camp, where the Mess Hall and a large outdoor movie screen were set up. Basically, monsters lurked in just about every part of the grounds all night long; even guests trying to eat near the Mess Hall were attacked! We saw one person drop his plate of food and a monster scooped it off the ground and smeared it all over its own face and body – now that is dedication! Even campers trying to go to the bathroom weren’t safe; woe be to the poor bastard that walked past a monster and into a Porta Potty… I’ve never seen those things rocked so hard in my life! I think I would have held my bladder all night. Just sayin’.

The Hell Hunt went from 10:00 P.M. until 2:00 A.M. and was by far, the main meat on the bone in this event. After the Hell Hunt concluded, campers had the opportunity to turn in their SCAG for official counting as other activities took place, including a horror trivia game and all-night scary movies being played on the outdoor screen in Base Camp. As sleepy campers began to retreat to their tents, the event became much more terrifying on a personal experience level. Without warning, tents were ripped open and sleepy/sleeping guests pulled out into the night by horrifying creatures and tormented endlessly. It was random terror and something that I think struck fear in the hearts of guests the most. Letting your guard down for some rest, knowing that aggressive monsters are lurking quietly outside your tent… that’s a pretty crazy proposition and difficult decision to make in the wee hours of the night! This was also the transition point where the Great Horror Campout became so personalized and intimate between monsters and guests, that Theme Park Adventure opted to bow out. We didn’t feel that we could adequately blend in or not get in the way at that point; the last thing we wanted to do was ruin a scare or get in the way, so we called it a night at 2:00 A.M.

Was the event perfect? No; I don’t know that we’ve ever been to any kind of event that is. Will there be tweaks and adjustments made for the next Great Horror Campout? Of course. What we found was a huge undertaking by Melissa Carbone and her team at Ten Thirty One Productions, who set out to create a brand new horror experience in Los Angeles and did just that. And that’s what I really admire about this group of creative people; when they say they are going to do something, they just do it. It may not always be perfect, but you know what? I have tremendous respect and admiration for this team from a fan and professional point of view.

The Great Horror CampoutThe scope of the Great Horror Campout was huge. Over 150 monsters, a crew and somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 guests per night to handle, along with the planning and execution of all the work going into the event – it’s crazy. A huge bonus for Melissa and her crew is that by this not being an October-based attraction, talent from all over Southern California from many established haunts were able to participate on the Campout team. The result was a fantastic cast of monsters that really knew how to work it; a veteran scare force for this brand new event is something that really helped to make a huge impact on its success. The talent working Great Horror Campout was paid, and I say it each year – 95% of the time, paid talent is much more dedicated and better than volunteer crews. So kudos to Ten Thirty One Productions for paying its large team of talent; while many of those folks likely would have worked their asses off for free, it’s fantastic to see an attraction producer invest in them financially in return. We applaud and really respect that.

By dawn’s light, both guests and monsters were exhausted and covered in goo and blood. It was one huge mess of dirty, drained people gathered at Base Camp. In the end, Hellmasters were crowned as the best of the best contestants and received a Golden Ticket pass to this year’s LA Haunted Hayride in October!

Theme Park Adventure was so proud to be part of this groundbreaking event! Ten Thirty One Productions is definitely on to something huge, and we cannot wait to see them take it to the next level when the Great Horror Campout returns again in 2014!

– Rick West

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