Brutality Horror Simulation, based in Basel, Switzerland, and LA underground horror veterans Heretic Haunted House join forces again to unleash The Invitation: VIVISEKTION. A handful of guests were invited to an exquisite dinner that quickly went off the rails, landing them in a seven-hour-long psychotropic nightmare.
I remember train tracks and overpasses, graffiti clad walls and construction sites. Headlights, smiling faces greeting us as old friends, warm hugs and generous welcomes. I remember mouthing the words to Les Champs-Elysées, gently swaying my head along to the tune. I remember champagne, hors d’oeuvres, Italian wine, casual conversation, holiday plans, stories about the kids. I also remember a slight unease in the air. The discourse being slightly forced. Lingering silences. The smiles, maybe, being a bit too friendly. I remember the music warping, the atmosphere changing. I remember it all going black.
The Invitation: Vivisektion was the second collaboration between the Switzerland based Brutality and LA masters of underground horror, Heretic. Their previous show, VERBØTEN, had left a strong impression on me, and I honestly was dreading this night. Throughout the months leading up to Vivisektion, I had pangs of anxiety, flashbacks to our previous encounter. Did I really want to subject myself to their whims for over seven hours?
It all started when ten people received an invitation for an exquisite dinner. A yearly tradition, excellent food and even better wines among friends, like minded spirits, with a taste for the good things in life. The names of the hosts didn’t ring any bells, but they seemed to know me, and for some reason, I cast aside my lingering doubts and gratefully accepted the invitation. A few months passed, and there we were, dressed elegantly for the occasion. It had been a beautiful, sunny day, spent walking alongside the river and taking in the sights, sampling local delicacies at a quaint little market. But now the sun had set and dinner was nearing, for some reason, we all had lost our appetites.
I open my eyes, and we’re in a smoke filled room. Bombastic, orchestral music is blasting all around us, vague silhouettes marching around, a girl, in a cage, reaching out. I am chained to a fence, fragments of a story are being read to me but I missed the beginning and I can’t make out the words over a constant mechanical drone. Kicked down again. On the other side of the fence, a girl is being choked. Blood pours over her face. My face against the metal bars, forced to watch. I desperately try to get a rag out of my mouth. My dinner is making its way up. Why did I even eat the food? I’m gagging, trying to keep my stomach contents down, as forceful hands lock over my mouth and nose, as fingers dig into my ribs. A dead girl lies next to me as my stomach is being sliced open. I feel myself sinking, sliding away in a delirium as the corpse locks eyes with me and smiles mockingly. A man with a hammer, cutting away pieces of the faces of people lying next to me, sucking air through a sticky, bloody mess. Faces bashed to a pulp, the light reflecting off a mask made of the pieces of broken mirrors, hands on fire moving on intricate paths through a colourful haze. A familiar face, now a guide, then a victim, leading me through nightmares, audience members with grotesque masks staring at the unfolding action where a man contorts and throws himself through a fog obscured space. Your evening entertainment has arrived.
Ultimately, I regain consciousness to a reality that is more grim, and at the same time more absurd than the warped, writhing hallucination we had been trapped in for hours. In a way, it feels even more dreamlike than everything that happened before. The only thing I am quite sure of – dinner didn’t end well for most involved.
The fact that this show happened is a monument to the dedication of the Brutality team to the genre. A single night for only a handful of participants, lasting for more than seven hours, on multiple locations, with a huge cast, the effort they put into realizing this vision is frankly gargantuan. Visually, the scenes were brilliant, bathing in eerie light, thick layers of smoke obscuring the precise details, semi transparent layers of plastic sheeting betraying hints of what fellow victims were going through. The audio impressed me even more, always fitting the moment and elevating the scenes, from French chançons over industrial metal to droney soundscapes. Their true tour de force however might have been general planning. This was the only time they got to perform this show, and the whole went off without a hitch. There were scenes where every participant was present, solo scenes, small group scenes, and everyone got all of these in a different order. Of course, every now and then there was a bit of downtime, or moments where you realized you were in a waiting area, but it’s amazing how much they were able to keep the whole flowing for everyone, with no messing up or running early or late whatsoever.
Heretic, on their end, delivered some of my absolute favourite scenes to date. Elevated and high concept, intimate, stunning and absolutely mesmerizing. Eerie movements, a hunched over, terrifying creature, our eyes meeting as smoke billowed in through a huge, metal tube. A hammer, dragging over the wooden floor. A girl, pleading for death, interlocking her fingers with mine as her eyes told of immense sadness and betrayal. Breathing in mysterious gasses and struggling for air, syrupy liquids dripping down my face, an extended moment of modern dance that genuinely left me slack jawed. This was everything I love about Heretic, a complete picture of artistry and horror, a visual feast, intense confrontations that felt like they were designed just for me. I absolutely loved my time with them.
The downside to this, unfortunately, was somewhat of a fracture between scenes by the two houses, exactly because Heretic went so high concept. The majority of Brutality’s scenes felt more simple, versions of familiar horror tropes, either with militaristic enforcers shouting orders, or with an injection of humour that might or might not have been intentional – and neither of those felt completely at home in the overall story or atmosphere of the show (or at least, the story I made up around what happened to me). The fact that you could clearly feel a difference in vibe and acting experience made the whole feel a little disjointed at times. There was a single scene where both Brutality and Heretic actors were present, and them collaborating on the spot immediately made that scene stand out. Then again, it’s easy to forget this is only Brutality’s second outing, so it is a bit of an unfair comparison. Next to that, talking to fellow guests afterwards revealed that some of them really enjoyed the changes in pace and tone. It’ll be very interesting to see how Brutality will develop in the future, as they start doing shows that are one hundred percent their own creation. They teased about a series of micro shows, and I think this might be where they will be able to test out ideas and hone their craft even further.
As a whole, I loved Vivisektion. The beginning was by far the weirdest opening to a horror event I’ve ever experienced – landing me in a situation where I really didn’t know what to expect, and that’s hard to come by. A great mix of comfort and discomfort, although I wish there had been just a few more interactions or small private scenes written into that section. The scenes in the main part were a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from masterpieces to slightly mediocre, but every single one of them had a visual and auditory polish to them, and the combination of all of them made for a fascinating, albeit somewhat incoherent picture. Finally, I absolutely loved the conclusion. It was so bizarre and dreamlike, and a wonderful way to end the show. I might be wrong, I have the feeling that it wasn’t necessarily exactly what they had originally planned – but the result was so original and unique that it turned into one of my favourite moments of the show.
To conclude, if you prefer your horror underground, Brutality is where you want to keep your eye on. They have a certain rawness to them, without feeling completely out of control or unsafe, and that’s the gray area I like to play in. Producing a show as long as Vivisektion was a bold move, and it resulted into a truly unique night. I am immensely looking forward to what will be next for them. Heretic, on the other hand, was on top of their game. This was as theatrical and artistic as I’ve seen them since THEEND, the visual splendor and the full contact elements merging perfectly into a beautiful, enthralling chaos. I never wanted to wake up from the fever dream they so deeply immersed me in. As for the combination, these two houses of horror have a punk attitude in common, a shared mindset, and you can definitely feel there’s a chemistry between them. Fingers crossed this wasn’t the last time they joined forces, but if not, I couldn’t be more happy I went along for the ride.
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