The 17th Door in Fullerton is easy to miss; the only thing leading thrillseekers in the right direction is their GPS and a thin banner hanging on the side of a 99 Cent Store pointing in its direction.
Passing the front of the building on Orangethorpe Avenue and Brookhurst Street, I expected something cheesy. But after turning the corner to the back of the store, all I could think was, “We aren’t at the 99 Cent Store anymore.”
Guests are greeted by unhinged psychiatric patients and insidious doctors who walk around the outside of the maze. A watchtower hovers over participants as ghostly smoke fills the top of it and the ground around the entrance. A police bus is parked by the watchtower, completing the unsettling and unwelcoming atmosphere through the criminals, guards and patients who lurk the rooms of the 17th Door.
The 17th Door is an immersive Halloween horror walk-through in Fullerton that steps it up a notch from the typical Universal Studios haunt. Guests are taken through a series of rooms with each room playing a role in the storyline. Unlike many other haunts, participants never run into the group ahead of them.
“At times you’ll laugh, at times you’ll be scared and you’ll scream. Some people get upset about things too and they cry and they want to get out, which is great. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster. It heightens all your senses of what you’re doing,” said Kevin Monroe, the haunt’s cast coordinator.
The walkthrough is approximately 36 minutes, making it one of the longest haunts in California. Throughout the haunt, guests enter 17 different rooms and in each room groups of six to eight participants are locked inside for a specific time. Those who cannot take the intensity of the room may be escorted out to the next room with the safety word “mercy.”
Robbie Luther, co-creator of the 17th Door alongside his wife Heather, had the idea of guests being trapped in a room for around a minute, where they would be forced to engage with the actors and scenes. Robbie Luther calculated the time lengths between transitions and rooms, which ultimately led him to the decision that 17 doors would be the perfect number of rooms to bring his idea into reality, said Wyatt Barclay, media creator and scare actor for the haunt.
Starting in 2015, the haunt continues its storyline from where it left off years before. The haunt follows the story of Paula, a young girl attending Gluttire University who is trying to escape her tragic past of abuse. But some skeletons never truly vanish from the closet; Paula is eventually raped by her then boyfriend and is forced to have a baby she never wanted. Lincoln, her son, is then murdered.
The rest of the story picks up in this year’s maze, “Crybaby.” Paula is sent to Perpetuum Penitentiary where doctors try different therapy approaches to help her as she serves time for the death of her son.
Unlike some other haunts where the scare actors don’t necessarily talk, the 17th Door lets the actors make the character their own. Some actors are given a couple of lines or keywords to use during their scene, but for the most part it’s improvisation, letting the actors experiment with the audience and become enveloped in their characters, Monroe said.
“There’s always room to do your own thing, and that’s why we like switching up who plays (the characters) because certain people will bring stuff to that room that you never even envisioned, even when it was being conceived in the first place,” Barclay said.
The 17th Door is constantly changing, from the paint on its walls to the setup of new props. The haunt takes about four to five months to complete and is always being improved with the feedback of the cast, staff and guests, Barclay said.
“The attention to detail is so nuts and it’s constantly being plussed up. Any time that any guest mentions something about the room that maybe they thought didn’t work or something, within the next day that will be fixed,” he said.
The 17th Door isn’t like other haunts because it doesn’t just focus on scares, it builds on the thrill and anxiety that every horror fanatic loves.
These fearful feelings start before even entering the haunt, as participants are required to sign a waiver. But don’t let the waiver psyche you out; although you might get shocked, running away with your imagination might get you to chicken out before entering the haunt at all.
This walk-through is also unique because some rooms don’t have any frights or pop-ups and are used primarily for the purpose of continuing the story.
The 17th Door is unlike other haunts as participants are secluded with their groups, never worrying about the next room being spoiled because of previous groups’ reactions. It’s a creative approach because it makes all the situations more intense, and at any moment, you can be the scare actor’s next victim.
The haunt will continue through Halloween and is open to any teens or adults looking for another thrill for the season.