George Ma had no idea what he was really in for when he went out with his friends last Saturday night to begin their annual Halloween celebrations.
The Santa Clarita resident ended up getting hit with electric shocks, shot at by a firing squad, put in some sort of gas chamber and even had live roaches put inside his shirt.
At one point, he thought he was going to die.
And he loved every second of it.
“My friends just said we’re going to a haunted maze and I thought it was going to be just a haunted maze, not as scary as this was. At some points, I actually thought I was dying,” said Ma, who was noticeably out of breath and soaking wet as he stumbled out of The 17th Door, a haunted attraction based in Fullerton.
“But yeah, this was fun,” he said with a slight laugh, vowing that he would return again next year. “It’s thrilling … you may think you’re going to die, but you know you won’t.”
A haunting tale
The 17th Door, which is now open and runs select evenings through Oct. 31, has been recognized by horror fans as one of the most intense haunted attractions in the country.
How extreme is it?
You can’t even set foot inside the door without signing a waiver releasing The 17th Door from any liability once you enter the haunt, because the actors can — and most likely will — touch you and yell at you. There are also points where you’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees, hold your breath, be submerged in water and be trapped in a room that flips you from wall to wall.
“It’s intense, it’s scary, it’s over the top and extreme, but it’s also designed to be really fun,” said Heather Luther, who co-founded The 17th Door with her husband, Robbie Luther, in 2015. “We want to give the general public this extreme, immersive, fun experience.”
“But people also leave feeling really accomplished and amped up,” she added.
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The main attraction is based on the fictional tale of Paula, a young girl with a traumatic past who enrolls into Gluttire University. But her demons follow her to college and now into Perpetuum Penitentiary, a prison where she has been locked up.
Inside the prison, there’s a cast of 160 actors dressed as all sorts of monsters, mad clowns, and zombie-like prisoners like Cochino Carlos.
“I’ve seen people pee their pants, throw up, all sorts of things here,” said the longtime cast member, who was wearing contact lenses that made his eyes appear to be all white, while sporting a sleeveless orange jumpsuit over this large, six-foot-plus frame.
“I feel extremely happy when that happens,” he said with a loud laugh while taking a break from the haunt.
Nightmares come true
Luther and her husband, who actually met at a haunted house, started The 17th Door after throwing the idea of opening their own haunt around for a few years. They decided that if they were going to do something, it would have to be next level, Luther said.
“The ideas were extreme, these crazy things we wanted to do with almost having the goal be shutdown,” she said with a laugh. “We wanted to do something very different than what was already available in the industry.”
The original 17th Door, which is named after the 17 rooms guests must get through in the approximately 30-minute experience, took place at the Tustin Market Place in 2015 and it definitely stood out to local horror fans as a unique Halloween event.
“People had to sign the waiver, and that’s a big thing because it allows the actors to touch the guests,” Luther said, adding that the psychological effect of signing the waiver has also helped boost its reputation. It became the tagline for the event, which sold out in its first season.
“It’s so scary you had to sign a waiver. It’s scary, it’s an intimidating piece,” Luther said. “We’ve also always incorporated electric shocks, which was one of the big things and we’ve always had live roaches from day one.”
She also added that her husband is terrified of the roaches.
The haunt, which relocated to a 16,000 square-foot warehouse inside a Fullerton shopping center in 2017, includes rooms like the Tumbler, which spins while people are inside of it. There’s also the Cockroach Room, where a masked person plays with live roaches and then puts them on guests. Then there’s a room where people are locked in electric chairs and forced to shock each other.
In the firing squad room, guests are lined up with their faces against the wall as other guests shoot them with small pellets. The shooting victims are then moved to a different space where they get to shoot at the next group. There’s also a room where patrons are submerged in water and a gas chamber room that fills up with gas before a trap door suddenly opens and they’re dropped into a claustrophobic ball pit.
Elevating the experience
For a second year, The 17th Door’s Field Trip takes those who pay extra to an off-site location in a van for a combo drive-thru and walk-thru experience that takes its captors through a rave, a place filled with clowns and there are other spots where they’re tormented by a variety of characters before, hopefully, being returned safely to the prison.
All of the behind-the-scenes work at The 17th Door was captured in the 14-episode reality TV series, “Spook Show 17,” which is now streaming on YouTube. The cameras captured all of the drama and the pay off that comes with months of planning and constructing such an immersive and scary seasonal attraction.
“The thing that’s really cool is that for people who may be too afraid to go through the haunt, they can watch the show and decide if they want to come,” Luther said of the series.
On a busy Saturday night, with the attraction in full swing, diehard horror fans continued to brave what was waiting for them inside. Some even came from out of state to test their courage.
“The last door had water, I was submerged in water and that’s the one I didn’t do well in,” said 25-year-old Megan Pruett, a Phoenix, Ariz. resident who had just gone through the attraction.
“We were there for five seconds and I thought I was going to suffocate,” she added with a laugh. “It was fun and totally worth it. I like haunted houses and I’ve never been to one where they can touch you and it’s more realistic. But yeah, I would do this again.”
The 17th Door
When: Various times and select evenings through Oct. 31
Where: The 17th Door, 1851 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton
Tickets: Staring at $32 at the17thdoor.com