This weekend marks the opening of Orange County’s newest – and most anticipated – haunted attraction, The 17th Door. Located in the Tustin Marketplace, just about 10 minutes south of Disneyland off the 5 Freeway in Tustin, this new haunt has been the topic of much discussion – and speculation – among fans for the past several months.
The amount of enthusiasm and curiosity within and outside of the Southern California haunt community has been unprecedented in the past months, as word spread of a husband and wife team who aren’t established haunters, creating a stunning, high-quality attraction in Orange County, unlike any other. When we first learned about Robbie and Heather Luther, we were equally intrigued as everyone else; the couple went to TransWorld Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis earlier in the year and walked the floor, visited local haunted houses, and discussed the business with professional haunters. Back here on the West Coast, rumors were flying that this mystery couple was preparing to launch themselves head-first into the SoCal haunt community and make a resounding impact with their first endeavor, The 17th Door.
In July, we paid a visit to a massive warehouse in Orange County owned by the Luthers, and met them face-to-face for the first time. That first meeting resulted in a story here on Theme Park Adventure about who this couple is, and what exactly they have in mind for visitors coming to The 17th Door. To say their ambitions were impressive, is an understatement; what these people had dreamed up for their first attempt at a haunted attraction left our heads spinning, simply by the pure scale of the project alone.
More recently, Robbie and Heather have hired and consulted with many extremely well-respected veteran haunters here in Southern California, growing their team into a large, impressive force that promises something very special for terrified fans this Halloween season.
Walking us through the attraction, Heather explained how most of the rooms will work (she didn’t tell us everything – that would spoil all the fun), and let us examine their team’s handiwork, from top to bottom (and behind the oh-so-real walls). From a design point of view, The 17th Door is pure evil genius, with the highest-quality props and thematic elements, to the tech behind the scenes. Operationally, it’s just as (if not more so) elaborate as any maze you’d find at Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights; a central control room has been built from scratch where Robbie and his team can monitor every aspect of the haunt through cameras and sensors connected to each door throughout the experience. Watching Robbie in the nerve center of this haunt as he explained the technical side of the production, it was extremely difficult to remember that he’s never done anything like this before; it’s as if he woke up one day and decided to put his other projects and career on hold and create a world-class haunted house. Actually, that’s exactly what he and Heather did. The result is nothing short of mind-bending.
Just what that “something” is, has been a closely-guarded secret. Some fans have speculated that The 17th Door is an “extreme” haunt, such as Blackout, or even the infamous McKamey Manor. Others have studied the group’s preview video, and have surmised that The 17th Door is, in fact, a “Hell house” – a type of haunted attraction created by extreme fundamentalist Christian groups each Halloween that depict scenes of graphic violence and horrific scenarios brought on by sins such as drinking, abusing drugs, or premarital sexual promiscuity. At the end of the typical Hell house experience, guests are pressured to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and be “born again” before exiting the attraction and beginning their new life. Another supposition is that The 17th Door is a spin off of Sinister Pointe, which used to have highly-interactive, terrifying haunted houses in Orange County, as well as Trapped, an “extreme” type of up-charge maze experience that was offered for several years recently at Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park.
The fact is, The 17th Door is none of these things. It isn’t a copy of Trapped. And it certainly isn’t anything like McKamey Manor. And the Luthers are far from being whacked-out religious nuts. What The 17th Door is, is an in-your-face haunted house that incorporates show beats in each of its 17 rooms, walking visitors through the attraction for an experience that lasts just over 30 minutes. Guests are pulsed in small groups through each of the haunt’s 17 rooms approximately every 90 seconds, each scene becoming more intense as the journey progresses. Once guests pass beyond the 17th door, all bets are off – and what follows, is terror in its purest form.
For guests unable to progress through each of the 17 doors, a “safe word” is provided. I imagine it will be used fairly often; the Luthers are playing for keeps, after all! This isn’t an entry-level haunted house, by any stretch of the imagination.
Each of the haunt’s 17 rooms (as well as ticketing lobby) are amazingly well-detailed; we’re talking theme park/movie set quality. The deeper you journey into this twisted tale, the harder it is to remind yourself that it’s merely an attraction in the middle of idealistic, family-oriented Tustin/Irvine. Outside, the world is squeaky-clean and almost too perfect to be real; inside The 17th Door, lies the gritty underbelly of Halloween – brutal, terrifying, and almost too perfect not to be real.
Robbie has insisted on an incredibly strong back story for their haunt since the beginning. While he doesn’t work in the themed entertainment industry, Robbie certainly preaches the emphasis on convincing storytelling like a pro; when listening to him rattle off the importance of story as the genesis for all they do in the haunt, it’s weird knowing that he’s not been a life-long haunter. Not only have Robbie and Heather cultivated that vision – they have recruited some of the best talent in Southern California to help share in their dream of creating the perfect nightmare, set within the halls of an all-American university.
Take a deep breath. Tell yourself it’s not real.
Class is now in session.
– Rick West
Tickets for The 17th Door are now on sale. This haunted attraction is now open select nights through November 1, 2015.