Audience members are recruited into a spiritual cult gone terribly wrong in The Initiation, a new interactive horror experience at the San Francisco Mint through Oct. 31. Photos by Jose A. Guzman Colon
Claustrophobes be warned: The Initiation, the new immersive horror experience at the San Francisco Mint, is going to put you through some very tight experiences. You (and your date) will be locked into a dark cabinet and subjected to flashing lights, bursts of cold air and pounding noises. You will be asked to crawl through an air vent to reach a secret location to spy on evil-doers. And you will be expected to push your way through a dark, completely enveloping fabric tube that has the feel of making your way through and out of a very large intestine.
For some, those descriptions might inspire utter horror and repulsion. For others, they inspire utter horror and a desire to experience every shudder-inducing moment. Welcome to the world of site-specific, interactive theater mashed up with the creepy carnival-like house of horrors. Halloween season has officially begun.
From the producing team known as Into the Dark – local drag legend Peaches Christ, David Flower Productions and Non Plus Ultra – The Initiation is a full-blown Halloween experience, from the show itself to the ’80s/New Wave vampire-themed bar in the basement (Fang Bang) to the Instagram-ready photo op room. This is the sixth iteration of this dark holiday experience, and it’s exactly as fun – and as scary – as you want it to be.
There’s a 1970s low-budget horror movie feel to The Initiation, and that is in no way a criticism. In fact, it’s a groovy, grungy vibe captured perfectly by the set, costume and lighting designers to tell the story of a spiritual cult called INsight in which the leader, Father Isaac, has gone mad with power. Taking a cue from the Disney/Star Wars ride “Rise of the Resistance,” the plot revolves around a group of new recruits (you and your group of up to 10 people who are ushered through the experience every 15 minutes or so) who are being put through the initiation process in the form of training modules. The rebel alliance, sorry, I mean the cult members who are trying to fight back, shanghai the first module and tell us to act like we’re there to become new members, but really we’re going to help them find the leader’s imprisoned and imperiled wife.
There are lots of stairs, lots of dark, twisting hallways and byways and a pace that never slows for very long. Every transition means another opportunity for secret panels to slam open with someone jumping out or screaming at you (the jump scares are the scariest scares, after all). When you get to the new location, another actor (or two or three) will attempt to further the plot and demonstrate something shocking or pressing or just plain gross. There are some nifty effects involving removal of eyeballs and the frying of a naked man, leaving nothing but a twitching, mysteriously still breathing skeleton.
My favorite areas were the “outdoor” sequences with fog and trees and winding pathways. The action eventually leads to Father Isaac’s home on the institute grounds, and those interiors, from the drawing room and library to the dining room, are beautifully detailed environments. Once the rescue mission is going full bore and we end up in the basement, the show ends up feeling like a laser tag playground without the lasers. The action gets a little confusing, and the ending comes rather abruptly. But you do end up right next to the bar, so a horror-themed cocktail seems like the best option.
An event like this is quite an operation with seemingly hundreds of people working hard to rattle your cage, and the more you give in, the more fun it is. The actors range from those who seem to savor every interaction with the visitors to those who feel like they’re barely getting their dialogue out before the group moves on. But keeping in mind that they have to repeat their scenes ever 15 minutes, it’s a wonder they make any connection at all.
There’s a VIP package that offers more intimate interaction with the actors, so if you opt in, you get a glowing necklace and you get touched a lot more and pulled into the action more directly. We had one VIP in our group, and he had to throw a switch to kill someone and was caressed or mauled at every opportunity. He seemed quite happy about it.
I was content to experience my initiation and the subsequent rebellion as part of the pack and admired the way the cast maintained a sense of mounting tension and kept things moving right along. There’s gore and goofiness and a sense that a horror movie come to life is fun – but not for the uninitiated.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Into the Dark’s The Initiation continues through Oct. 31 at the San Francisco Mint, 88 5th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $55-$85 (plus $40 for the VIP experience). Run time: about an hour. Tickets and info at terrorvalut.com.