You know it’s Halloween in North Hollywood when the sounds of wailing, screaming, and the carnal slapping of flesh fills the air along Lankershim Boulevard; it’s time once again for Urban Death Tour of Terror, presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre!
As with most of the seasonal reviews/stories here on Theme Park Adventure, we are not going to get into specifics of this year’s Tour of Terror production; to know what lurks in the dark – you must go to the show yourself.
What I will say, is that we had a tremendous time checking out this avant-garde group’s horrific show. The gang at Zombie Joe’s never ceases to amaze and deliver. Tour of Terror is the annual pinnacle of the team’s most F’ed-up visions that manifest to sold-out audiences throughout the year in their modest Los Angeles theater.
One major difference we noted this year was how diverse the audience was at Zombie Joe’s. Usually, when we attend productions such as Tour of Terror, it’s the “usual crowd” – folks we’ve seen for years coming to see the latest from Zombie Joe’s team, or at least people that look like they belong at such a dark and freakish gathering. This year, the sold-out audience that showed up looked like a core sample from something like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, or Knott’s Scary Farm – including a man that brought his family. Yes… his family, which included a very young boy.
We think this expansion of audience coming to Zombie Joe’s is due to the elevated level of coverage the group has had in recent years from horror/entertainment sites and blogs, as well as participation in events such as Midsummer Scream, where they brought a truncated version of Urban Death to the masses in Long Beach – most of whom had never even heard of ZJU before. That’s awesome, and we couldn’t be happier to have a hand in getting more and more people interested and intrigued enough to come to Los Angeles and support their shows, including Tour of Terror.
The basic footprint of Urban Death Tour of Terror remains the same each Halloween season – guests enter the building carrying small, very dim flashlights. They make their way through a dark, claustrophobic maze filled with unspeakable and unnatural creepers and creatures. I think I saw a female clown – and I think the female clown I thought I saw had her breasts out, which were also painted with clown paint. Or lipstick. Or blood. Come to think of it – I don’t know for sure what the hell I saw. And that’s the point of the maze element here – no one is really 100% sure of what happens to be groaning and grunting in the darkness just inches away.
After winding through the maze, guests find themselves in the main theater space, where they sit on the floor or stand along the walls. Once everyone is in place, the show begins – a 15-minute spectacle of odd, shocking, sexual, extremely violent vignettes, most of which last only a matter of minutes, if that; some last only seconds before the lighting fades to black.
The content of Urban Death Tour of Terror is not family-friendly. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre goes out of their way to let patrons know this really is created for an adult crowd, but if folks want to buy tickets for their minors, that’s their business ultimately. I don’t know that I agree with this – but at the end of the day, I don’t have to be the one answering the pee pee and boobie questions all the way home, or deal with explaining why the scary guy was humping the blue quiet girl before black stuff squirted out of her mouth. I can’t reiterate this enough – Tour of Terror ain’t a family show, folks! Your kids don’t belong and if you do bring them, every other adult in the crowd will be watching them and silently judging you the entire time. Find a sitter and come enjoy Tour of Terror as intended – with other adults expecting to be frightened, grossed-out, and thrilled by the theatrical experience.
For the 2016 iteration of Tour of Terror, Zombie Joe and his team really pushed boundaries, moving into territory that is loaded with hot buttons (I’m beginning to loathe the term “trigger” – it’s becoming the new “gluten-free” phrase of the haunt community and I refuse to partake) in society. The result is several moments/scenes that are pretty outrageous and uncomfortable subject-wise, eliciting groans and shocked laughter from the audience as the lights fade to black. Above and beyond the really “WTF” moments, Tour of Terror carries on with its usual rapid-fire assortment of bizarre creatures, gross reveals, and sometimes humorous bits that fans have come to expect and love from this theater group. Without spoiling anything, I will say that Tour of Terror delivered one of the most heart-stopping moments I’ve had – and likely will have for the remainder of Halloween 2016; that’s not an easy task, considering I rarely jump or am “frightened” by anything at these productions or haunted attractions. All hail “Rope Girl”!
Once the show production comes to a close, guests are again given flashlights and must make their way back through the maze – which has completely changed during the performance, restocked with new and grotesque characters that they must slip past in order to leave. Changing up the maze for the exit is fantastic; one of our favorite aspects of Tour of Terror, and a brilliant use of a very small footprint.
Those who escape Urban Death Tour of Terror receive a fun Halloween treat – candy – as they exit the building, stepping out into the cool night air. It’s a simple little touch that really frames the entire experience up nicely as a true Halloween event.
Tour of Terror is a shortened, altered version of the group’s very popular Urban Death show, which is featured a couple times each year, and runs closer to an hour as a straight-up theatrical production. What’s really cool about Tour of Terror (as well as the standard Urban Death production) is that the team has a virtual Rolodex of many vignettes they can pick and choose from when planning each show. During the run, these shows have the ability to change to meet the needs of the crew, who also do a lot of improvisation within each scene as the production evolves.
We left Urban Death Tour of Terror grinning and clapping. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre has become part of our annual Halloween rounds, and by the looks of things, its audience is becoming more robust and diversified each season, which is truly exciting.
I can’t say this enough – Tour of Terror is not for minors; it’s not for the prude; it’s not for people easily rattled by vivid sexual and/or violent imagery. Tour of Terror is for adventurous lovers of theater, haunted attractions, extremely avant-garde productions, and in-your-face (literally) entertainment that doesn’t bow to the pressure of political correctness.
Tour of Terror isn’t delivered in a neat box wrapped in kid gloves, concerned by what “the public” will think. The experience is raw, gritty, shocking and absurd; and audiences can’t get enough of it.
Urban Death Tour of Terror is the adult costume that Halloween wears when it goes trick-or-treating here in Los Angeles – and we love every last drop. Make 2016 the year you become familiar with the world of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre and get your tickets NOW for Urban Death Tour of Terror! When you check in, tell ’em TPA sent ya!
- Rick West