REVIEW: The Purge: Fear the Night 2013

ConventionOne of the most anticipated “haunted attractions” this season in Southern California was The Purge: Fear The Night, located in downtown Los Angeles. Produced in part by Jason Blum, The Purge: Fear The Night was the second haunted attraction endeavor by the team, following last year’s ambitious Blumhouse of Horrors, which received praise from fans and media alike. However, following a very rocky start, the fate of The Purge: Fear The Night became one of the biggest stories of Halloween 2013; would the group behind it salvage the attraction for the remainder of the season, or would it go down as a major failure?

Theme Park Adventure was set to attend The Purge; Fear The Night’s media debut, but following incredibly harsh reviews on Yelp by customers, Jason Blum and his team went into serious rewrite mode in order to save the event from certain disaster. The media event was pushed back a week, as the group worked ungodly hours to change most aspects of the experience from a free-roaming model a la Sleep No More into a more traditional guided, scare experience. TPA was actually invited to spend some time with the crew as they re-designed the event from the ground up to offer our own thoughts and insight, which we did; that article is on TPA, offering a more detailed account of this unique behind the scenes happening.

HospitalAfter days of feverish re-design, The Purge: Fear The Night re-opened and everyone held their breath. Those who had publicly criticized the event online were invited back to experience the attraction again, and anyone unhappy received a full refund, no questions asked. I have to give huge props to the team, especially their PR guru, John Singh, for really stepping up and admitting there was a major problem, rather than blowing people off and ignoring the situation. Theme Park Adventure was very aware of the complaints and monitored how this group handled each one; their actions were impressive, commendable and absolutely the right way to handle such a crisis. Many other companies out there could take some serious lessons from this team on how to handle their customers and fans. Major kudos to John, Jason and the rest of the team for stepping up and owning the situation so honorably.

As the first guests experienced the “new” version of Purge: Fear The Night, the reviews began to trickle in online. And they were all instantly much better than those from the opening weekend. After 24 hours, of new reviews being posted, it appeared that perhaps the Purge team had actually turned the event around and made a hot mess into a smash success. We continued to monitor the situation and encouraged John and the team on throughout the month. On Thursday, October 17th, TPA returned to downtown Los Angeles to experience The Purge: Fear The Night for ourselves. We should note that due to the odd turn of events surrounding the changes and our own window for returning to see this haunt, Theme Park Adventure was unable to shoot video or our own quality stills of The Purge; there simply was no way or time, unfortunately. Thanks to the team for the images in this article, which were provided to TPA by John and the rest of the team.

In the ParkIn short, we liked The Purge: Fear The Night, although as is the case with several “haunts” this season, I am not sure that this really qualified as a “haunted attraction” really. Based on the film’s general idea in which a 12-hour period once a year is known as “the Purge”, all crime is legal throughout the nation and families as well as government officials are locked away behind fortified doors as unspeakable happenings take place outside. While the theme could certainly lend itself to some terrifying and horrifying scenes and moments, the creators of The Purge: Fear The Night really didn’t tap into that. Instead, guests were thrust into a governmental “safe house” that becomes the target of a rebel coup. Everything naturally goes horribly wrong, and for approximately 30 minutes, guests were screamed at, shoved and rushed from room to room at a frantic pace.

Storytelling was The Purge’s major issue that we had a problem with. The fact is, there was simply too much for guests to comprehend and understand. Most of the time, when you are dealing with an attraction – be it haunted attraction or theme park attraction – the more straightforward your storytelling is, the better. Adding layer upon layer of complicated factions and people you have to encounter and visit in order to get a key to shut this and that down – it gets really bogged down really quickly, and that is what happened much of the time in The Purge. The best way I think to handle this particular theme would be to say you’re in a safe house, it’s been infiltrated and now you are going to follow this guide to safety; there will be peril and violence along the way, and if you don’t stay close, you will be taken out by the dangers lurking around every corner. Done. It sets up the theme, the story and gets you going with minimal mental baggage to carry with you. The makers of The Purge: Fear The Night are filmmakers, and so, they understandably lent that craft to both Blumhouse of Horrors last season and The Purge this year. Filmmaking and haunted attractions are not one in the same, and shouldn’t be approached as such; I think this is where the team stumbled a bit. In both 2012 and 2013, the Blumhouse haunts have been bogged down by unnecessary story line and characters that only confused people along the way. Throughout The Purge, guests were screamed at with guns pointed at them, as talent demanded to know what faction they were with. Most of the time, the response was a confused, “Uhhhh, whatever side you’re on!” followed by laughter from the group. That signals to me that like us, most guests had no idea who was screaming at them or why. That’s an instant disconnect for me, personally. You can make a situation frantic and chaotic without it being confusing to the experience, and that is what Blumhouse really needs to understand and focus on if they return in 2014.

Patient in HallwayConvoluted storyline aside, we do want to say that the talent in The Purge: Fear The Night was really on the mark and very good; some of the best acting we saw throughout the 2013 Halloween season. Having great talent is absolutely critical for any haunt or attraction where the characters do anything more than snort or growl at guests. Blumhouse pays their talent and they are all professional actors, which is something we really appreciate and applaud. Far too often, we hear of great haunts being brought to their knees due to volunteer staff not showing up. Haunts are a business, and like in any business, you get what you pay for. In our opinion, haunt talent should be paid and they should sign a contract with the management team; even if the pay isn’t much – something along with perks such as food and drinks each night goes a long way toward ensuring your team will actually show up from night to night. If you have guests paying in some cases $65 or so per ticket, there is no excuse that is acceptable to deliver a sub-par experience talent-wise. Ever. We’re pleased that The Purge also understood this and had a great team that showed up each night and worked their butts off. Huge props to each of them for their efforts! As with many extreme haunts, there was quite a bit of adult language used throughout The Purge. Normally, this type of thing feels forced and “just because we can” at most haunts. While the F bombs were flying constantly during The Purge, never once did it feel scripted or out of place; again, kudos to the actors for pulling dialogue and interaction off flawlessly; not easy to do, but they did it effortlessly and it worked.

One thing that was also a bit off-putting to me was the fact that on at least two occasions, guests were made to kneel on hard concrete floors. I have bad knees, so it was a very uncomfortable few moments each time; we did it once during re-rehearsals and once with a group once the new show was up and running. In my notes to the team, I suggested that guests not be made to kneel on concrete – or at very least, put padding down so they’d be comfortable and that didn’t happen, which was disappointing. This is a problem for folks with knee/leg problems or perhaps older guests when haunts force them to do this kind of thing in the name of experience. I am all for realism and show quality – but when you operate a haunt, you do have to ultimately remember that it’s an attraction that people are paying for and you generally don’t want them physically uncomfortable during your production.

PresidentThe sets and scenes in The Purge: Fear The Night were really well done for the most part. Jason Blum uses the same people to create his haunts as he does to dress his films, so naturally, they know what they’re doing. Many rooms (and a full apartment, for that matter) were completely created and trashed or otherwise decorated to look like they were part of the actual building, and we found ourselves very impressed by the level of craftsmanship and detail put into the design of this attraction. Regardless of whether or not each scene really worked story-wise, almost every one worked visually, which is a huge plus.

A smart move on behalf of the creative team was to set up a bar at the end of the experience so that patrons wouldn’t simply leave, but rather, stay and hang out while enjoying themed drinks. The pricing was not bad at all, and throughout the month, guests were staying for long amounts of time after their experience had ended, which is excellent news for The Purge. Originally, the bar was incorporated into the show – that changed when the production was rewritten and became an added bonus to this attraction.

The Purge was located in the Variety Arts Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, just a block from L.A. Live. It’s a great location – but one that I think Blum should retire if they do a new haunt in 2014. When you have a haunt in a specific location that isn’t easily changed such as the Variety Arts Theater, the layout becomes familiar and the “wow” factor absolutely is lost on returning guests no matter how good your production is. As we went through The Purge, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, here is where we saw this and that last last year in the Blumhouse of Horrors…” and that isn’t a great distraction. Haunts need to be kept fresh and exciting. Even if you have oodles of new guests, you still absolutely need the support of your returning fans, and so, everything needs to stay fresh. You can’t do that very easily in a building with walls that can’t be blown out or features that can’t be altered. Our recommendation to Blumhouse: If you do a haunt in 2014, it’s time to move on to another pasture.

StaircaseThe ticket price point for The Purge: Fear The Night was hefty at first, and became more doable later in the season. I believe some guests paid more than $60 for the experience when it opened. In fact, there are several haunts now each season in the Los Angeles area that are more than $50 or $60 a pop. This brings up a whole new discussion that I plan to touch on in detail in a future editorial about the business end of haunted attractions. Is a single haunted attraction worth $60 for a 30-minute experience, when you can pay roughly the same amount at a large-scale event such as Knott’s Scary Farm or the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor and have a whole night of shows and mazes to experience? That’s a really, really tough call, especially when most people are struggling or tight financially these days in California. A lot of people ask us if these stand-alone experiences are worth their hard-earned dollars; it’s a really tough question that I squirm at, trying to come up with a fair answer to. There are a lot of factors that go into the answer; it’s not a one size fits all “yes” or “no”. It depends on what each person is expecting or wanting, as well as what their income or disposable income/fun money situation is. In the end, I was very pleased to see The Purge come down out of the extreme price range and hit about $40 or even less with coupons, etc. toward middle and end of its run. I believe that everyone should be able to attend these things, and when a haunt starts pricing itself like a night at the theater – it becomes more and more iffy to me as a fan or someone suggesting the event to others looking for some solid Halloween fun.

Coming full circle in my thought process as I reflect on The Purge, I return to the question of whether or not this was a haunted attraction or not in the first place. I’m going to say no, it wasn’t. Unlike Blumhouse of Horrors last year, The Purge did not deal with monsters, ghosts or supernatural spooky themes. Everyone was “real”, the only monsters were those carrying weapons, and the film The Purge isn’t even considered to be a “horror film” by most people. So then what the hell was this thing? An intense, thrilling and I suppose, frightening for some live theatrical immersive environment experience. Wow – talk about loading a description up with buzzwords! But, that’s what it was. It was theater. Intense theater with live actors. You kept moving through it, so it was a fully immersive environment. There was violence – some of it extreme, coupled with loud effects such as gunshots and explosions; this is “scary” but not in a “haunted house” sense of the term. People did come out of The Purge shaken, excited and terrified – however, I still don’t consider it to have been a “haunted attraction” if I have to put my thumb firmly on it. Regardless of how you market it, and regardless of the fact that it is open during the Halloween season, doesn’t necessarily qualify something as a haunt or haunted attraction.

Taken HostageThe Purge: Fear The Night was not a haunted attraction, although because it’s such a complicated attraction to define, we have no choice but to slot it here on TPA with the other haunted attractions and Halloween events that we covered this season. That said, what it was, was a very successful venture by Jason Blum and his team, as well as a timely tie-in with the release of The Purge to consumers, which was certainly no happy accident. The most impressive thing to us is that the team took a train wreck and mobilized, stepping up and changing it to suit their customers’ expectations and wants – and in doing so, really saved the event from utter disaster. That in itself is amazing, and we remain awed by the effort and heartfelt desire to really put on a great show for people by this group. Most everyone who attended The Purge after it was changed up seemed to be very happy with the experience, including many TPAers. I’d say that the team was ultimately very successful, and they should definitely be proud of themselves.

Theme Park Adventure would love to see Blumhouse return in a new location with a Halloween-appropriate theme next year. Jason knows how to scare the hell out of people; he does it for a living and is really successful at it. If Blumhouse were to throw some money and effort into a balls-out haunted attraction, it absolutely could and would be a must-see in 2014. Kudos to all involved with The Purge: Fear The Night on not just a job well done, but an effort of epic proportions and really, the most dramatic comeback story of the Halloween season here in Southern California.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on The Purge. What did you like or not like about the event? Share your thoughts with other TPAers below in our Comments section!

– Rick West

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