Ghost stories around the campfire are creepy, but they’ve got nothing on the Great Horror Campout.
Back for a third year, this 12-hour overnight experience — taking place June 5 and 6 at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park — will have folks scratching and clawing their way through about 20 acres of unique hair-raising challenges for the coveted title of Hellmaster.
Horror campers can expect to be entombed in a mass grave, face hordes of monsters and get soaked in a mixture of blood, mud and slime.
“It’s a pretty high-octane horror experience for the people who really love diving into the genre,” says Melissa Carbone, CEO of Ten Thirty One Productions, a company that creates and produces live horror attractions such as Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, Ghost Ship and outdoor horror movie screenings.
While the Great Horror Campout has traveled to eight other cities, this year’s event that’s expected to draw between 800 to 1,000 people per night only happens in Los Angeles.
Carbone walks us through it.
Q: I suppose the Great Horror Campout has already generated a cult following?
A: Yes, it’s like the most maniacal thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Especially the people who become Hellmasters, which is the ultimate goal for the people who are really coming to engage to the nth degree and play and survive the night and win the rewards of SCAG (prizes collected along the way) that make you qualify. Once they become a Hellmaster in one city or one year, they want to try to become a Hellmaster in another city or another year. Each time you win a Hellmaster award you get a patch to fill up your sash — think Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts.
Q: Do they come in uniform?
A: We get a lot of people who come in army fatigues with black ink under their eyes. We have people who will create their own Great Horror Campout T-shirts. We get a ton of that, by the way. This year we’re actually uniforming them ourselves because we saw there was such a desire for our campers to feel like they were on a team. So this year at camp you’ll see a sea of red T-shirts and green T-shirts and black T-shirts.
Q: Why do you suppose people are attracted to be scared out of their minds?
A: The human condition loves fear. Fear is literally a drug. If you look into the psychology of fear, an actual physical reaction occurs. There is a release of dopamine when you feel the adrenaline of fear. It’s exactly the feeling you get when you go down a giant roller coaster. You get the biggest adrenaline rush when it’s over and you’ve survived that. Same exact thing here. People love feeling like they’re in danger but with the idea that they’re in a safe environment.
That’s a hard realism to achieve because you have a fake world when you’re at Campout. It is a produced, fictional world. So to get people to immerse their minds so much that they’ve excluded the world outside of Campout, you’ve got to create your content to be super believable, super fun and really engaging in a cerebral way. That’s why people love Campout so much. It’s not just sitting around the campfire and telling ghost stories. You are there to play.
Q: So how does it work?
A: We made it to be a create-your-own adventure so if you’re a high-octane horror fan, you can engage to the fullest. If you’re the unlucky spouse of a horror fan being dragged along, you can engage in the safer yellow tent area we call the “Chicken Zone.”
Not many people actually book in the yellow area, but when you do, you’re off limits. Nothing can enter your tent and disturb you. There are other attractions like the ghost stories, arts and crafts and other very campy-type activities. You can learn to make a zombie in the arts and crafts tent, or you can sculpt a head out of silicone and there are horror movies running all night that you can partake in. Or you can turn the volume up from there depending on what you choose to engage in.
There are vignettes all over camp, and the majority of those vignettes are for the Hell Hunt.
Q: What’s the Hell Hunt?
A: It’s like “Hunger Games” meets “Survivor.” Campers are competing in a challenge for SCAG. As a camper, you’ll get a dossier 24 hours before you get to camp. It’s a four-page document with a map of camp that gives you all of the SCAG items with a picture of them so you’ll know what you’re looking for. There is also a menu of creatures you may encounter. And so, if you study this thing, you have a much better shot at an early lead during the Hell Hunt.
We have things this year as extreme as the Mass Burial, which jumps on that nerve for people who hate dark, claustrophobiac spaces. You literally get buried alive. It’s a time challenge to see who can sustain in that environment the longest with the reward of SCAG.
Q: How about an example of what SCAG might look like?
A: For sure. I’ll actually give you an example from last year just so nothing is revealed. So last year we had a voodoo ritual challenge. You entered a zone where there were bonfires and all these tribal characters and creatures drumming and dancing. All the campers would join the circle and dance with the tribal members. At the end, the head priest would sacrifice a body, lop off the head and bathe in its blood. After draining all the blood, he would bestow that head to the camper who was an exceptional student of the tribal dance.
That head was one of the best pieces of SCAG because it feels like skin. It’s very fleshy, and very real feeling because it’s made out of silicone.
Q: At any point, can a camper get disqualified?
A: People get disqualified all the time. In the Mass Burial, if you’re somebody who panics and you have to get out, you can say the safe phrase “I want my mommy” and we’ll pull you out, but you’re disqualified from that zone. You can get disqualified for using your cellphone. We’re trying to keep it a flashlight event so when people are on their phones, it ruins the experience for other campers.
Q: How much of Great Horror Campout is choreographed?
A: All of it. This is a one-of-a-kind event in the sense that we can actually touch campers, we can put a bag over their head, we can bind their wrists, we can put them in a cage. Because we’re engaging with people in that way, we have to make sure that we’ve trained this cast of characters and the event staff to the nth degree. For all practical purposes, the cast is the same cast we’ve been using now for 19 shows so they really know the game.
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