The Purge: Fear the Night Addresses Rough Start

photoOne of the most talked about haunts of 2012 was the Blumhouse of Horrors in Los Angeles, California. When producer Jason Blum elaborated on The Purge: Fear The Night to a standing-room only crowd during ScareLA this summer, fans went nuts over the news. However, a less than stellar start to the new venture last week brought operations to a halt and put the production team into a stunning damage control/reconfiguration process that is nothing short of incredible. Theme Park Adventure was asked to visit and access the newly-reworked production on the night of October 3rd and has come away with some very clear knowledge, information and observations that we want to share with our readers.

By Saturday morning, September 28, the first of the reviews for The Purge: Fear The Night were coming in on Yelp. And they weren’t pretty. One by one, as the weekend progressed, we read incredibly harsh reviews regarding guests’ experiences at the new haunt in downtown Los Angeles. Despite two decent reviews, over 20 “one-star” reviews brought the image of The Purge: Fear The Night to its knees and into a devastating downward spiral of fans urging others to spend their money elsewhere, etc. We have only seen this happen twice in the past decade or so – once with Ghost Ship in Newport Beach (never returned) and last year, with Haunted Hollywood Sports in Bellflower, although that haunt is back and much, much improved this season.

photo 1The major issue seemed to be that guests expected (rightfully so) a “haunted house”, especially after last year’s Blumhouse of Horrors production and the frightening elements/aspects of the film The Purge. Instead, while there were some haunted house elements in Fear The Night, it was supposed to be an immersive experience, borrowing heavily on the style of Sleep No More in New York.

A common thread in even the most negative of the reviews was that it “started out very well” and then fell apart once guests were left to explore and mingle with the characters themselves. So obviously something was being done correctly; the issue seemed to be with the free-roaming aspect of the attraction. I’m not going to make excuses; the talent probably wasn’t as polished or prepared as they should have been and the operational aspect of pulling off a haunt version of a “Sleep No More experience” was probably really underestimated by the Purge team. The general public went in expecting a terrifying haunt experience, and instead, likely found a weak non-scary theatrical attempt. And it failed. Miserably.

This is where I took great personal interest. I contacted the team and opened a line of communication about it. They were very honest and open about it, and had immediately started engaging upset guests who felt they’d wasted their money and time. Individually, each guest was contacted and issued a sincere apology.

photojBut that was just the beginning. The team, including Jason Blum, went into full re-group mode, and they all hit the drawing boards right away, having frank discussion about what was working and what had failed. And then, rather than talking, they went to work. In less than one week, most of The Purge: Fear The Night has been re-worked, re-staged, built from scratch and completely changed from last weekend. This haunt’s team has spent sleepless nights and a ton of cash re-doing the attraction in order to make it all right in the eyes of their fans and the public who have yet to experience it this month.

Johanna and I were invited to come see for ourselves (we did not see the original version) and observe the hard work, technical and dress rehearsals and to offer our input as individuals obviously tapped in to the haunted attraction industry, but as themed entertainment professionals outside of TPA, which is honestly, just our “serious hobby” outside of our careers. We accepted and spent hours with the Fear The Night crew last night, watching, learning and commenting on the incredible effort they have undertaken to save the attraction from certain doom.

And I’m not being dramatic. Word of mouth even in a place like Los Angeles can make or destroy a haunted attraction. The Purge: Fear The Night was heading for early extinction, and the reputation of Blumhouse was also in play as fans expressed their outrage at such a bad product, saying they were even questioning seeing any of the company’s future films. The stakes were high, and everyone knew it.

photo 4Hell, they’re still high. The Purge: Fear The Night is far from out of the woods. If this weekend doesn’t go much better for them, the production is in serious trouble. They know this and have worked their butts off as a team. New sets. New story. 80% new cast hired this week. You name it, they have done it in a staggering amount of time. They get it and understand what happened. They engaged even the most enraged customers. They offered them not only admission to the newly re-imagined version of the haunt, but told them if they still weren’t satisfied or didn’t want to come back at all, they’d refund their money. It doesn’t get more real or honest than that, folks.

The Purge is held within the Variety Arts Theater, which was built in 1924. Inside the theater itself, a large team meeting was held by Jason Blum and the rest of The Purge’s production team. Within this surreal environment, we sat and listened carefully to Blum and the rest of the producers engage the team and explain what was going on, and that they have full confidence in them and the work that has taken place this week. In realizing that many of the actors (they are all paid actors) didn’t even receive their scripts until last night, we were floored by the level of enthusiasm and laser-focused determination throughout the group.

photo 3Somewhere around 11:00 P.M., we did a full walk-through rehearsal with Jason and the rest of the team’s management. It was an abbreviated run-through, with many of the elements not playing out or effects completed yet. And this is not a review. What it is, is a very interesting case study. One in which TPA took part in to fully grasp the sincerity and heft of the task before this team of professionals. What we saw, we were very impressed by. The acting is great, the pace is intense, the sets amazing and the overall feeling of the attraction even not at all done when we went through, was much stronger of an experience than the completed Blumhouse of Horrors last year.

Theme Park Adventure is blown away by the dedication and extremely hard work demonstrated by the entire Purge: Fear The Night team. What they have accomplished in just a few days is mind-blowing. Everyone has to be exhausted; and it’s show time – not even an opportunity to rest for the remainder of the weekend, really.

photo 2Do we recommend The Purge: Fear The Night? Yes. What we saw was intense and a very well done immersive experience. More than that, we applaud each and every one on this team, from Jason Blum down to the folks constructing the sets. They rallied from the gaping jaws of certain failure and have come back swinging with a badass attraction as well as some of the best customer support and service I have ever seen in this industry. Huge kudos to them; I can only begin to imagine how utterly exhausted they all must be.

They messed up. They listened to the criticism. They reached out to each and every guest that was disappointed by last weekend. They hired a ton of more people. They built entirely new sets and props. The story was re-written. It doesn’t get more sincere than this, folks. It just doesn’t.

TPA will return to The Purge: Fear The Night in a couple weeks to experience the show in its entirety. And we have no doubt that it will be nothing short of powerful, engaging and completely thrilling. We will be watching the reviews on Yelp this weekend with great interest; already, a number of them have been edited, praising the efforts and sincerity of the team. We love that, because we don’t want to see any haunt fail, ever.

Our thanks and appreciation to Jason Blum and The Purge: Fear The Night for being 100% transparent with us and truly embracing our feedback and assistance. We cannot wait for our next visit, when it’s our turn to fear the night!

– Rick West

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