There is only one way to get out of the 17th Door haunted house in California. You have to say “mercy.” Two weekends into its opening night, 350 people have given in.
The 17th Door is the brain-child of Orange County, California, husband and wife team Robbie and Heather Luther, who aren’t horror aficionados but whose qualifications are simply a heavy dose of creativity and a very dark sense of humor.
“My original plan was to do a haunted house so extreme and awesome that it would get protested by all these groups and then I would get shut down,” Robbie told the Los Angeles Times. “Some of my original ideas were pretty far out.”
Wedged between a mattress outlet and party supply shop in a shopping mall, the 17th Door is located in a former furniture warehouse. It’s an interactive haunt experience with 17 rooms, described by the Times as rivaling movie sets in their attention to detail. Eight people at a time are locked inside each room for 90 seconds. The experience is so intense that everyone who visits has to sign a waiver.
Heather said that’s part of the fun.
“There’s a lot going on, where it’s very interactive and immersive and kind of invades your space. You will get touched and you might get wet.”
The haunted house is rooted in story, about a young woman named Paula who has headed off to Gluttire University to study medicine. But Paula has personal demons — drug abuse, eating disorders, is bullied, and has suicidal thoughts, the Orange County Register explained.
Those demons are expressed in the 17 experience rooms at the 17th Door, each of them set at her university. Classroom, dorms, a cafeteria, library, and locker room are transformed into scenes of unimaginable horror, with Paula suffering in the room beside you or participants viewing the scene through her eyes. There are disgusting smells, extreme temperatures, detailed sets, creepy sounds, a couple taste tests, and an opportunity to be licked with a monster tongue and washed with rancid toilet water.
There’s the “Buried Alive” room, which leaves participants feeling like they’re drowning. “Paula’s Head,” which lets you see what it feels like to have a drug overdose. Door No. 3, featuring Paula’s bully. The “Tunnel Room,” with pitch-black hallways. The “Hospital Morgue,” which smells horrible and crawls with live and dead bugs. In the “Meat Locker,” pig carcasses — real ones, not dummies — hang from the ceiling in the 40-degree room.
And behind the 17th Door? People are locked inside three times longer than in the others, and whatever happened there elicited the “loudest and most sustained screams of the night,” according to the Times reporter who visited.
“We want them to cry mercy because we want them to be scared,” Heather noted. “But we still want it to be a fun experience.”
At the center of this horror show is Robbie. He manages the 17th Door behind a folding table, on which sits a control panel that triggers each door to open and close. Luther controls who goes into the rooms, how many, and how long they stay.
Even the actors the Luthers painstakingly auditioned and hired to terrify visitors were scared of the 17th Door. Some were veterans of the haunt business, some newcomers. Monique Martin, who spoke to ABC7 about her experience in the haunted house, is a veteran.
“It’s super intense. I’ve actually worked in haunted houses as an actor myself and this is very, very intense, very scary.”
The Luthers, who have three young sons — he runs a home-flipping business, she has a background in business — have been dreaming of building their own haunted house for a decade. They came up with the idea during a date night — both wanted to “terrify, disturb, and occasionally offend people,” and created a haunted house that was more aggressive than your average attraction.
“You’ve gotta go over the top,” Robbie declared.
The 350 people who couldn’t handle the 17th Door would probably disagree. But the Luthers have already done so well, they’re already planning to open next Halloween.
The 17th Door is open until Nov. 1; tickets cost $21 to $35.
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]