Tortured Souls is the name of the latest horror-filled production that we have experienced at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood. As the name implies, this particular engagement is all about discomfort; anyone familiar with ZJU knows that most things this avant-garde group does is not for the squeamish.
While not really what I would call a “haunt” or even haunt experience, there definitely are some frightening visuals and creepy characters throughout Tortured Souls that lend themselves very nicely to that type of attraction. Guests are escorted through the doorway to Zombie Joe’s small NoHo theater and into the afterlife – a strange, dark place that makes no real sense, and is packed full of nightmarish vignettes of people in purgatory, I suppose, forever stuck in the vicious life cycle that landed them there in the first place. Drugs. Sex. Whatever.
Leave the kids home (I think that should be a slogan for ZJU, actually – I’d buy that shirt), because this production doesn’t shy away from lewd sexual content both verbally spoken and simulated – in an abstract sort of way. As is the case with many Zombie Joe productions, there are lots-o-body parts on display throughout the experience. If exposed genitals and other body parts within close proximity are bothersome to you – this may serve as a warning to put you in the proper mental state of readiness. If you do enjoy that type of thing in the context of horror theater, well, you’ll be a very happy camper as you terror trip through the hellish realm of Tortured Souls.
The experience (again, it’s not a haunt or a straight-up sit-down production) is a strange tour – you pass through the physical space that is Zombie Joe’s theater here in Los Angeles. Most of the lights are out, and you are surrounded by actors. The first half of the journey is more sensual, focused on sexuality and perhaps the pleasure found in carnal acts with men and women. Moving through the building, guests find themselves outside – in the theater’s rear parking lot, for a transition period (inside, things are being prepped for guests’ return pass through the space and the “second act” of Tortured Souls. We attended the opening weekend of Tortured Souls, so the “transition” piece was a little awkward (although probably more awkward for the poor bastards in the apartments across the street looking out wondering what the the blue hell is going on), but entertaining and odd, nonetheless. Once back inside the theater space, the second act becomes much more oppressive and aggressive; it’s definitely the dark side of the show.
During that final portion of Tortured Souls, the group as a whole is broken up and the experience becomes very intimate and personal (not in a sexual way – I mean interaction with characters from the production). It was unexpected and is very, very moving and beautiful. And then it becomes really interesting – which of course, I’m going to be frustratingly vague about here, because you need to go see Tortured Souls for yourself!
As I stated before, this is definitely not a “haunted attraction”. It is an intense horror-ish experience that takes guests on a surreal trip through an anguished plane of existence, somewhere between living and death – wrapped up in a dark ball of sexuality, humor, and pain. It’s definitely a very emotional and moving production that defies definition; it simply exists, and is. Whatever it is… is pure Zombie Joe in its most raw form. It’s the old saying – I don’t know what it is, but I like it! And that’s the case here with Tortured Souls. If you go with an open mind, and a willingness to simply be led through the dark, you’re going to have an interesting time, to say the least. That is what art is all about, anyway.
We appreciate ZJU and the group for giving us yet another captivating production to ponder and enjoy. As usual, we love this team and what they do. They’re quirky, bold, uninhibited, and absolutely rough around the edges. I wouldn’t want Zombie Joe’s any other way!
Tortured Souls runs each Friday and Saturday night now until March 25, 2017. The experience occurs twice nightly, at 11pm and 11:45pm (it’s a late one). Tickets are now available online or at the door. More information about Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre can be found online at their official website.
- Rick West