“Only the dawning sun… will save you.” Those are the final words campers heard this past weekend in Los Angeles as the third annual Great Horror Campout got underway in the old zoo section of Griffith Park.
About one thousand guests – campers – gathered around a stage to hear their instructions for the night, as dictated by the sharp-tongued master of ceremonies, known as the Headmaster. Once camp orientation was complete, the excited campers made their way into the chilled night to participate in various challenges, and the signature attraction of the event – the Hell Hunt, a several-hour period that combines odd and sometimes gross group participation events with a physical scavenger hunt of sorts. The prizes are S.C.A.G. (Shit Campers All Get), and in the morning, when the event comes to a close, folks with the most S.C.A.G. points (items vary in point value) win the title of Hellmaster, which carries perks down the line with other events held by Ten Thirty One Productions.
2015 marked the third time Theme Park Adventure has witnessed the Great Horror Campout, and its evolution here in Los Angeles. Ten Thirty One Productions is also the group that owns/develops the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, which we have covered for years now here in Southern California. They are a tremendously fun, creative team that always strives to come up with something spooky, crazy, and fun for its guests. While they sometimes fall a bit short in execution, most of the time, they deliver and guests flock to their events by the thousands.
When we cover Great Horror Campout, we do not participate, nor do we spend the entire evening there. Generally, we show up for the opening of the Campout and stay for several hours – long enough to see what’s taking place, get pictures, sometimes video, and in the case of this year’s event, broadcast a lot live on Periscope. We enjoy watching the madness that ensues at Great Horror Campout; participating in something like it – is not really our cup of tea, er blood.
The Great Horror Campout is a strange and unique beast. When it comes down to it, GHC is a high-intensity, physical scavenger hunt that requires a lot of willingness to get filthy, sometimes partially naked, and to leave all of your inhibitions at the door. When it comes to game time, people are nuts at this event – down to get absolutely covered with dirt, soaked with various liquids (I’ll just leave that right here), and completely lose themselves in the moment. If you come to Campout looking for a straight-up haunted attraction experience, you’re going to be disappointed, because it’s not that. At least, it hasn’t been for the past 3 years now. In all fairness, Ten Thirty One Productions does promote it as a horror/terror experience – when it reality, it is mostly dark humor and lots of gross, very physical, outrageous challenges. People who are upset or surprised by this likely didn’t bother taking 5 minutes to research the event online – it’s well and heavily documented not just on this site, but many others and by mainstream media as well. Anyone who does their homework should have a very good idea going in what to expect from Great Horror Campout. Those who do understand what it is, love the event and return year after year – sometimes multiple nights – to have fun being crazed and wild under the stars.
This year’s Great Horror Campout seemed to be much more polished than in years past, however we did not see as many roaming monsters and random scareactors as we have in the past; it’s possible that there were less – or that they were simply distributed more evenly among the challenges and various zones of the property. Those we did encounter all night long were great, always in character, and guests really seemed to enjoy the creepy interaction with them – again, more dark humor and taunting than “scary” or like you would find in a typical “scare zone” situation.
There were several specific areas this year of Great Horror Campout, each with their own challenge(s) and S.C.A.G. rewards. This is a departure from earlier versions of GHC, where campers would simply spend hours searching with flashlights for S.C.A.G. items like a massive Easter egg hunt. I like the idea of more structured challenges leading to S.C.A.G. rewards being handed out as a result; I also really get the appeal of having to search through scare zones and terrifying locations filled with roaming monsters, too, as we have seen in the past at GHC.
For those campers not wanting to participate in all of the physcial challenges of the Hell Hunt, there are other alternatives throughout the night, including horror movies being played on a big screen, and a late-night food truck for snacks. One thing everyone should know about Ten Thirty One Productions, is that Melissa Carbone, the head of the company, is vegan and contracts well-known vegan caterers/trucks to provide food at their events, be it Campout or Hayride. Guests are welcome to bring whatever they want to eat throughout the night, but you will only find vegan food options offered at these events. This is something we have differing opinions on; we think there should be a wide variety of food options made available for everyone at large-scale events such as this. However, it is Melissa’s decision, and we respect that. If you do not want vegan food, simply don’t buy it and eat before you come/bring your own rations to last you through the night.
This is a massive operation; it has been every year. Being a scareactor at an event for a few hours is exhausting beyond belief – I cannot imagine how these men and women do it all night – for two consecutive nights! Huge, huge props to all of them – they’re probably still sleeping it off!
The guests we observed throughout the night were having a fun time – we saw some pretty crazy stuff going on – and in the end, the entire thing seemed to run very smoothly. Definitely there are some issues with challenge capacity; there are long lines and long waits to participate in most of the camp events in the various sections of the campground. Certainly, folks don’t want to wait in long lines – especially when they are wet, covered in muck from head to toe, and tired. I get that.
Each challenge varies from year to year, and the gross-out level seems to ratchet up a few notches each season. This year’s Campout included a team challenge called “Vomit Toss”, and in a secluded area of the property, an alien creature instructed guests in performing a brutal anal probing of a camper (prop) in total silence. The abduction van that slowly prowls through the darkness was even super-sized into a U-Haul truck this year; more bodies to ride off with at once! Great Horror Campout is most definitely an adult event, and those with sensitive ears or unstable stomachs should perhaps take up a new interest. Once the games begin, what goes on in the darkness of Griffith Park is no joke.
To me, the biggest question that looms, is what’s next? What’s the next iteration of the Great Horror Campout going to be if it returns to Los Angeles again? With the third year in the books, it seems to me that it may be time to perhaps ditch the whole S.C.A.G. component of the event and simply create several zones – could be scare zones, could be haunt-like attractions such as the Hayride’s In-Between Dark Maze. In listening to what horror fans want from the Great Horror Campout via social media and elsewhere, it’s clear that they want a very frightening event (we’ll call it an extreme horror experience, since GHC is not a “haunt”) a la a Friday the 13th film. Perhaps the way to address that is to start from the ground level and re-imagine the event as several zones that have their own personalities and experiences, very similar to a large “horror theme park”, if you will. Maybe the answer is to not offer challenges that create long queues, or make people frustrated if they don’t complete everything in the allotted time. It’s quite possible that the Great Horror Campout could re-invent itself into something much darker, much more organic versus structured, and offer serious haunt-like terror through the night.
Or, Ten Thirty One Productions can keep on keepin’ on, and the event will continue to evolve for as long as they want it to; there certainly is a demand for it here in Southern California, and there are lots of eager haunt fans ready to keep buying tickets. It will be very interesting to see what comes next, as the company continues to grow and expand its operations each year.
We thank Melissa and her team at Ten Thirty One for having TPA out to play – as usual, we had a great time seeing folks experiencing the Great Horror Campout! It’s definitely a tease for things to come this Halloween season, our favorite time of year! Props to the whole team, and to all of the campers that came out to play – you’re all crazy, and we love it!
– Rick West