A series of candles, all aglow. A Ouija board is placed on the bathroom sink, hanging over the edge. The room is filthy. Not just dirty—but the kind of grime that makes you want to take a shower just by standing in the room, even if you don’t touch anything. I know I haven’t touched anything; not yet at least. But there’s this letter, well a few letters, stuck to the bathroom mirror, shoved under the candles, even pinned to the bathroom wall. They all say the same thing. Find the planchette and then repeat, “Ghosts aren’t real, Clowns Are.” I know clowns are real—and they are far more frightening than any ghost; tonight will only reinforce that. There’s no escaping the clowns at The Clown Academy.
As the fourth immersive offering from Intruder Escape (co-owned by Chase Fritz and Cameron Cooper), The Clown Academy showcases what Intruder does best: immersive horror experiences that allow for audience engagement. While their previous offerings have leant more towards the escape room side, this experience feels much more like a combination of a haunted house with heavy engagement and interaction. The experience falls on the shorter side, but at twenty-or-so minutes, it does leave you wanting more—which is a clear sign that this experience is achieving its goals.
Obviously, the theme of this experience is clowns—but not just clowns, but rather, an academy in which you must prove yourself worth to become a clown, or die trying. How might you prove yourself, I hear you asking? Well, it’s through children’s games. Like the ever so popular Squid Game on Netflix, The Clown Academy asks you to play games such as Simon Says, Bloody Mary/Ouija, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Operation, and many more to progress. These games are fun, but never too involved. They are just a taste of what could be a much longer experience in Intruder Escape’s future (we hope at least). Prove yourself at these games, and you may earn the honor to hold a diploma at the end.
The Clown Academy is structured more like an immersive horror experience than a haunted house. There are no conga-lines or walk-through elements here; rather, you enter in small groups of between two and four and are forced to participate. Once you have completed the room, and earned the approval to move on, the path forward will be illuminated. As such, there is plenty of opportunity for player engagement, jokes, and memorable moments. These range from a pop-quiz in a classroom to axe throwing to helping a clown make his lunch. All wholesome sounding, right? Oh, just you wait.
Completed by the team at Intruder Escape, the sets are breathtaking. Rivaling that of the best set designers out there (I’m looking at you, E3W Productions), the rooms truly feel like no detail was overlooked. Everything is aged to perfection, looking downright filthy, and covered in cobwebs. Numerous pictures of historic clowns can be seen littered throughout, with each room being more of a surprise. Sure, they could have gotten away with just having a tarp separate two rooms, but instead, they installed a massive door with a series of three different locks, that are all unlocked by a clown to build dread. Further, another room is filled with bells hanging from the ceiling in the Don’t Wake Daddy game to help build tension as you move across the room. It’s details like these that prove Intruder Escape’s love of immersive horror.
Oh, I haven’t even mentioned the clowns yet. Each feels unique in their personality, perfectly suited to their setting. The Harley Quinn-esque Symon (Adlih Torres) is chaotic, energetic, and completely mischievous. The Ghost Clown (Christine Twyman) may be a bit more reserved and a lot creepier—she’s not a clown I’d want to encounter in the woods alone at night. Pepper’s (Yasser Maisari) appetite is contagious and putting together his lunch may just inspire me to eat a little heathier myself. The silent (but deadly) Mime (Bruno Herrera) is excellent at building dread, fear, and letting us act out—easily one of my favorite rooms. Mr. Bubbles (Matt Coulson) is stern, strict, and I’d hate to see who his other heroes are. Finally, Nurse (Niki Borger)’s frenetic energy is the perfect end to the experience, offering catharsis in the face of horror.
While the line can get long for The Clown Academy, they have constructed a queue worthy of your time. Master magician Mike Martinez is situated near the front of the line, ready to amaze and mystify you by not just his card tricks, but by so much more. Our personal favorites were his “x” trick and his Instagram trick—ask for both and tell him Haunting sent you! If magic isn’t your thing, then they have games out to play and a clips of famous clown movies projected on the wall. Watching Killer Clowns from Outer Space and experiencing magic sounds like a perfect way to spend some more time listening to the chaotic laughter of the clowns inside.
As mentioned above, our main criticism comes in the form of length–this is not a criticism in content, but rather a desire for more, to play in this world, and see more content come under this theme. The Clown Academy is a wonderful snack this Halloween season, and while I loved every bite of it, I left wanting more. The games are quick and sometimes even just teased. This results in some of the games feeling as subtle hint instead of a challenge earned. I personally would love to see this expanded; with more space, a large-scale Hide and Seek challenge of horror fans and monsters hiding the darkness would be a blast. Or even Don’t Wake Daddy expanded into a larger game, where our lives are on the line. This may just be the start of something larger coming though, or maybe I’ve just been watching too much Squid Game.
Intruder Escape has created something magical. The Clown Academy is a gorgeous exploration of what it means to be a horror clown. Taking inspiration from some of the greats, they take you into a classroom to learn, a carnival to play, a bathroom to think, a kitchen to get hungry, and many more locations. They infuse it with so much love and care that the details deserve a lights on experience just to appreciate everything. We are proud to call ourselves clowns here at Haunting; and we know that ghosts aren’t real, clowns are.
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The Clown Academy is an immersive horror haunt created by Intruder Escape.