Last Saturday night, we went to Hollywood for the opening weekend of Hell Break LA. This new-style interactive event is more like a walk-through play than a traditional jump-scare maze. It is billed as a “post apocalyptic-esque, prison themed, haunted house experience, staged at the now abandoned “Sears building” in Hollywood, Ca.” Their website is flawless, with eerie ambient sounds and plenty of sick images of inmates, clowns, and guards.
Unfortunately, here’s where I have to make a note about false advertising… Throughout the night I heard people asking where the beautifully deranged characters from the website and Facebook pages were. Their Facebook profile pic is a demonic bunny “Roger Rabbit Gacy”, who was nowhere to be found at the event.
Locating the venue is tricky, so look for the “Sears” logo on the building and find parking at the back. We were told on the phone that parking is $5, but we were not charged. I’m unsure what the status is supposed to be, but this hinted at disorganization to come.
Online pricing for the main attraction “Haunted Prison” is $35. There is also a second attraction, the “Haunted Maze” which can be viewed with a “Double Attraction” ticket for $42. There is a note that door pricing adds $5, which would mean that the “Double Attraction” ticket should be $47 at the door. When we arrived, however, it was priced at $50. A small difference, but frustrating for people who did not buy online. We were given hand stamps for entry. Even at 9pm on a Saturday night, there were only 6 other people in line, so VIP was not necessary.
THE HAUNTED PRISON (FIRST ATTEMPT)
This is the main attraction and is supposed to be viewed first. We were counted off into groups of ten. While waiting, we could see a prison guard through the glass door. Despite taunting from people in line, he stayed in character, flexing and pacing in the room. After about a fifteen minute wait, our group was told there was trouble with the Haunted Prison reset and we should go to the Haunted Maze and then come back afterwards. Some people in our group had not paid for the maze, but were told they could go through anyway. This started to rankle some of the others, as did the fact that we had to fully exit the line and go through another line of barricades to the maze entrance which was literally next to the area we had just been standing in. When we arrived after walking basically in a circle, the staff seemed to have some sort of comic amnesia and couldn’t remember who we were.
THE HAUNTED MAZE
This is staged an abandoned Department store, so walking up a dirty stairwell with missing ceiling tiles and peeling paint was suitably chilling. One guy behind us shouted “watch out for the asbestos”, which made us all laugh and then breathe a little shallower. At the top of the musty smelling stairs we found black fabric walls with no guidance as to where to go next. The area was dark, but not pitch black, so we could see several options leading into the maze. Techno music was thumping, and there were a few dim lights flashing which didn’t support the “Haunted” theme.
Two zombies stumbled towards us groaning, with arms outstretched like Frankenstein. Wearing white made them instantly visible. One ran into me, which was more annoying than scary since he was a big sweaty guy and I was unprepared to be slammed into like that. Apparently, for the media preview night the maze had no scare actors, and they have recently added the zombies to try to improve it. Drunkenly staggering guys crashing into you is not scary in a good way, I can get that for free just walking down Hollywood Blvd.
This is a true maze with multiple paths, but we found our way out after only a few turns since most pathways lead to the exit. There’s a lot that can be done with a simple black maze, but it felt underdeveloped. At the end, you could hear people saying “THAT’S IT?” as we proceeded down a flight of stairs and outdoors. When we found ourselves on the street outside the walls of the event, we understood why this is intended to be viewed AFTER the Prison. We had to walk around the block to get back inside because over zealous security guards would not let us cut through the parking lot to get back to the Haunted Prison. Luckily, the event was as abandoned as the Sears and there were only three people already in line. If there had been more, I’m sure this shuffling around would have added to our irritation.
THE HAUNTED PRISON (SECOND ATTEMPT)
Finally entering the prison was the highlight of the night. The guard, was fantastic. Mixing humor with intimidation, he set the perfect tone. He referred to us as “CONVICTS” entering the prison and gave us the rules… no phones, no touching, etc. After a few minutes of tough talk and name-calling, he marched us into another room where we met The Warden. At this point, sadly, the theme already started to fall apart. Yes, we were still in a Prison, but he spoke to us as if we were CONVICTS and/or VISITORS. So what are we? Confused! The actor playing the part of The Warden was creepy and cool with his barely audible instructions that really made us lean in to listen. Standing in a tight pool of light, his performance was great.
I won’t give away all the rooms, but as we proceeded through a thoughtfully designed church, insane asylum, zombie warehouse, and finally on to an execution chamber… the theming and story dissolved like a body in a bathtub of acid.
In the final scene we are told by a guard to run for our lives, and so we do… still trying desperately to play along. We burst through a set of doors and end up outside on the street wondering again… “THAT’S IT?” I can’t deny I heard many people vowing to get immediately on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to warn their friends not to bother with this event. I think that’s sad. There is room for an event like this and the producers did a lot right. The sets, actors, and potential of this event are immense, but they have taken an amazing idea and failed to implement it.
Line organization and reset times are too long. Looking back, we realized that the same actor is in the third scene and the final scene which I’m sure makes a reset take longer than it should. Double casting this role could move things along. We were told that resets takes a minimum of 20 minutes for each group of ten to enter the Prison. With nothing to look at in line and no scare actors outside, that’s a tedious 80 minute wait with just four groups in front of you.
This is Hollywood and when you are charging prices similar to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, you really need to deliver. The creativity shown proves that this event shows signs of life, but doctor’s orders are to tighten up the script and bring in some of the freaks from those online photos! Interactive theater has tremendous potential to thrill, but when the storyline falls apart even great performances by scare actors can leave us feeling a little dead inside.