A loud bar, an unwelcomed stranger, and a sense of dread. He asks if I want a drink. I politely decline. He’s overly friendly, but that only serves to make me more uncomfortable. He invites me outside for a smoke and as I am lead to the back alley, the terrors that might await me dance through my head. This is the beginning to Catharsis Horror and their new show, “Human Trafficking.”
A van pulls up and I am ordered to get inside. In the first minute, the Catharsis team proves that there are no limits. My mental and physical capacities are tested. I asked for a personal show and personal is what I received. From the moment I entered the van, nothing was held back and everything was delivered.
Two figures are my tormentors. I kneel and strip as their physical and mental assaults continue. After taping my head, I am forced to the ground where my Heretic tattoo is crossed out. My physical appearance, my family and my best friend are used in a mental game to destabilize me. Hands grab at my stomach. My nose is forcibly closed. The actor’s poisonous words fill my head and all I feel is pain, increasing until every bone, every muscle, every nerve burns in agony.
And this is where my journey ends.
I called the safe word, ending my experience with Catharsis Horror less than five minutes in. I was not taught to be sexy, I was not sold to the highest bidder, I was not trafficked. But that’s what Catharsis is: a dark look at human trafficking through an extreme lens. Those that survive longer than I will be degraded, forced into simulated sexual acts, and to wear lingerie (yes, even the men). Each show is tailored to the given participant, and their taste for intensity is catered to.
As with all extreme haunts, safety is always an issue–and Catharsis Horror must work hard to prove itself. While I was not given a look behind the curtain, I can personally speak to my experience inside–and I felt safe. The team expertly handled me, and knew exactly where to push for me to reach my limit. While I don’t remember how I said the safeword, everything stopped immediately when it was said. one of the actors rushed over and assured me, “It’s okay; it’s over.”
As I was unable to experience the full show, the team at Haunting reached out to others who did complete it to see if they shared my sentiments on safety. Karen Milam concurred: “I felt like they went out of their way to make sure I felt safe, but push me.” She continues, explaining the correct expectations someone should have going in: “Expect to be taken out of our element and be treated in a way you’ve never been treated. This isn’t going to the haunted hotel for a nice little scare. They try to inflict fear of a different nature into you.” We also spoke to Crystal Marie Gropp about her experience. “It was safe; it was a good mixture of extreme haunt and immersive [theater].” This isn’t just torture—there is a narrative, and a darker theme at play.
Catharsis further differentiates itself from other extreme haunts by allowing audience interaction during the performance. This is accomplished by live-streaming guests going through for the Catharsis Community to watch, engage, and even provide direction for the actors. As guests are tortured, their friends and complete strangers can watch via this Facebook group. They will be cheering, pushing the tormentors to go harder. For some, this is akin to fans cheering you on as you compete in an athletic challenge, but to others this is an invasion of privacy (and thus, this event is probably not for you). The live-stream also presents a different challenge: the spoiler. Guests can watch the event to learn more, to participate virtually, or to see if its the right fit–but by doing so, the unknown is illuminated and what happens inside is, in essence, spoiled. While the event does shift and adapt for each guest, main themes are consistent across shows (but do change every four months)–so if you care about spoilers, keep your phone off the day of the show or stay out of the Facebook group entirely.
Catharsis Horror is a new venture into extreme terror. It offers guests the level of intensity they crave, while embracing a community eager to engage, interact, and push participants–all from the comfort of their own homes. While this show may not be for everyone, it is for some–and we hope all guests are aware of exactly what they are signing up for, and what they are truly asking for. I asked to be completely overwhelmed and destroyed, and that’s exactly what I got.