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Arts and Entertainment

Creep LA Brings The Monsters of 'Lore' To Life In Immersive Haunted House

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The woods, especially those that are deep and dark, have birthed many of our collective nightmares. Somehow, we intrinsically know that security ends where the tree line begins. We even use the phrase "out of the woods" to refer to a return to safety or stability. This Halloween, Creep LA: Lore leads us back into those woods via an hour-long immersive haunt where we must confront the monsters that dwell within and, in some cases, find they're more human than previously believed. Creep LA: Lore is a partnership between Just Fix It Production's annual Halloween attraction, Creep LA, and Amazon Prime's Lore. Set to debut October 13th, Lore is a six-episode series based on Aaron Mahnke's podcast of the same name. Since Halloween of 2015, Creep LA has been producing one of the most unsettlingly beautiful haunted houses in town. (You can read our review of their 2016 show here.) They're also the minds behind immersive show The Willows, in which 18 guests at a time are invited to dine with the eponymous family and unearth their twisted past. Since spring of 2015, Mahnke has been telling what could be considered scary stories, often dealing with creatures and sorcery, but without any of the silly embellishments of ghost hunter reality shows.

"All of the material is from documented stories or historical events," he once told The Guardian. "Some are ancient and some are modern, but they are all factual in the sense that people reported these things and believed they were true."

For instance, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing tells the former suitors of the late Lucy Westenra that she's not as dead as they had originally thought. The pernicious Dracula has turned Lucy into a vampire. They must drive a stake through her heart, remove her head, and stuff her mouth with garlic, he explains. If these steps are not followed, she will continue to rise and prey on locals at nightfall.Scholars believe that Stoker may have been inspired by the acts of Americans during The Great New England Vampire Panic of the 1800s, during which New Englanders were exhuming their loves ones and performing similar rituals to prevent them from coming back and draining the blood of their family members. It wasn't vampires picking off these families, but tuberculosis. Still, humans have often clung to superstition even in the face of fact. In 1990, archaeologist Nick Bellantoni excavated a Connecticut gravesite that contained a skeleton that had been "rearranged" in such a fashion.

Mahnke discusses Vampire Panic, a predecessor to the Salem Witch Trials and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and '90s, in the first of his 70 episodes, "They Made a Tonic." Through his research, we see that most of our monsters are rooted in some kind of truth. They're the framework for how we try to explain to ourselves that which cannot be explained, or the cautionary tales where we lay out rules for avoiding death and despair.

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Creep LA is the next extension of this storytelling, placing us face-to-face with our monsters and their origins.

"Honestly, I felt like we had the easiest job," Creep LA's Justin Fix said. "If we focus on what 'lore' means, the passing of stories via worth of mouth, then what better way to do that than in a live space with live performers where we can truly honor the essence of that work?"

The show is held at The Reef in downtown Los Angeles. Upon arrival, it seems quite obvious you're in a convention center masquerading as a haunted house. Groups of eight guests at a time wait in a line at a loading dock, chattering away about their day. How foreboding could the venue that hosts conventions dedicated to cats, brunch, and self-described coffee snobs be? Yet soon after being told to follow a man dragging a shovel down a dark hall, other senses begin to confuse. The scent of fresh soil and pine fills the air. Real trees scratch at your arms if you stray too far from the path. The deeper you go, the harder it is to remember the way out, and soon the idea of a convention center fades away. Fix said he designed each room to feel like an art installation, a quality apparent in the attention to the details they could control: the lighting, the smells, the illusion of being in a smaller or larger space than you are.

Though at times labyrinthian, this is no "haunted" maze. Instead of being guided along in a single-file line by impatient staff, guests become a part of a series of vignettes. In a cramped hovel, a woman is accused of being a changeling because she no longer loves the man to whom she's engaged. She's had a taste of something better in the woods, she says. Elsewhere, a mother tells us there's something wrong with her son's new doll. At least, she gossips, she hasn't encountered the beast that's been stalking the forest. Its crimes are so vicious, they couldn't possibly be the work of an ordinary man. At times, scenes are a bit sexy; after all, there's no greater fuel for a Victorian cautionary tale than the pitfalls of coming to terms with one's libido. Yet despite the grim subject matter, this is a very artfully done haunt, with no gore. While visitors to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights this year will see man being severed in two by a sharpened pendulum in the JIGSAW maze, Creep prefers to impart its dread with subtlety—the way the first act of a horror movie can set the tone with just a flicker of a figure that shouldn't be there. No one's popping out to shout, 'boo!' There is no elevator full of blood.

"Jump scares are fun, don't get me wrong," Fix said. "I grew up in the business of haunted houses, and we incorporate a lot of haunt techniques. But, I think there's a completely different way to build suspense and fear without throwing a chainsaw on the table."

I don't want to provide too many spoilers, but I'll tell you my favorite part. There are 28 actors in the show, and no one guest interacts with all of them. Some seem to exist only to pull you into private scenes, separated from all your friends. At one moment, I was alone in a very small room, passing notes back and forth with a ghost. Fix said this is a nod to one of the episodes, "Passing Notes." It talks about an infamous paranormal case in which the alleged ghosts were said to leave letters for the family they haunted. The letters the guests receive may tell other stories not highlighted in the series.

Each hour-long walkthrough concludes with a half hour decompression in a lounge, where a cash bar will offer beer, wine and cocktails. Cocktails include the Nightly Medicine, the Wolf of the Woods, and Mercy's Tonic. Remember the title of Mahnke's vampire episode, "We Made a Tonic"? Mercy Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island was the deceased woman who may have inspired Bram Stoker. To try to save her brother, the townsfolk exhumed Mercy's body, removed her heart and liver, and burned both organs on a rock. The ashes were mixed into a tonic which Edwin drank. A good effort, perhaps, but the tonic did not save him from his fate. There are no ashes in this particular cocktail.

Creep LA runs now through November 12th at The Reef, located at 1933 S Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $65.