Easter weekend brought two of the edgiest extreme haunts in the world together in a celebration of cerebral terror in an unassuming small town in central England. Adrian Marcato, the mastermind of the Los Angeles underground extreme horror event known as H E R E T I C, joined forces with Blake Ciccone, the developer of the United Kingdom’s psychological nightmare, Cracked Survival Experience. Three teams of victims would participate on separate nights, April 15-17.
Months of planning went into the Cracked vs H E R E T I C event and selection process. The “players” that were chosen to participate begin a social journey on a private forum. Players were asked to reveal intimate details about their lives to other strangers on the message boards, and in turn, learned about the people that were going to brave this incredible event with them. As this continued, certain players dropped out or were removed—adding to the fear of the unknown that started far before the event began.
Players not only drove in from all over England, but they flew in from all parts of the world to attend. Soon-to-be victims from United States, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland gathered the nerve to brave this experience alongside their United Kingdom counterparts.
The website describes this experience in the following manner: “This is a extreme horror endurance event where participants will be subjected to number of effects including; electrical effects; extreme eating; simulated torture; intense psychological situations; water effects; live insects and disturbing/physically demanding scenarios. This will include the use of physical restraints.”
This concept was titled H E R E T I C vs Cracked Survival Experience, with the players determining which of those powerhouses would be the master. In a single night, participants would endure both haunts. H E R E T I C ‘ S hardcore, ritualistic, horror simulation was produced and ran by Adrian and his team, who flew in from Los Angeles for the event. While Blake’s army put together a campaign of intense physical and psychological endurance, a true survival experience. 6 Hours – 2 Haunts – 1 Night!
This is my tale.
I left my family the morning of April 15 to fly to Manchester, where I then took an Uber nearly an hour away to the small town of Wakefield. I met with other players at a local pub for a late lunch. There were twelve of us in all. Among “Team 15”, titled based on the date we were competing, were two couples participating together. One of the players was a former cast member of Cracked. Another was there as part of a two-person film team and had elected to challenge himself the first night. One player had just returned from a trip to Thailand, where she prepped herself by eating Asian delicacies. Another was a CrossFit competitor and endurance runner.
After everyone exchanged pleasantries, questions quickly began flying. Has anyone done Heretic or Cracked before? What do you think we will have to eat? What are you most worried about? The game had begun.
After lunch, we briefly went our separate ways to try to prepare ourselves mentally for what was to come. We met outside the hotel about an hour later to walk to the pick-up point together, nearly a half-mile away. We looked like a bunch of misfit, adult Goonies in our ragged clothes, walking together along the sides of the road as if we were about to challenge a gang of soccer hooligans. We arrived at the pick-up point well before the scheduled 6:15 time and I could see the nervousness in most of the participants. We all kept looking down the roads from either side, peering off into the surrounding woods to see if anyone may already be watching or ready to accost us. Last minute cigarettes were being inhaled. People were pacing back-and-forth. Then a van arrived and came to a screeching halt.
A female who was dressed like she had stepped out of A Clockwork Orange charged at us and quickly put us all in our place. Waivers had to be signed and a safe word was given. We were also given a safe
signal in the event that we were unable to speak. Then we were marched into the van and the nightmare began to unfold.
Each player had to sign a confidentiality agreement to not share specific details about the event. As much as I would love to share those details, it does take away from those who faced the challenge and endured this together. It would be unfair to them and to the creators. I will, however, give you as much of a glimpse as I feel that I can without perverting the sanctity of what is by far the most memorable, grueling, extreme haunt of my life.
As we were being marched into the van, I could hear the thick British accent of the man called Sarge. You can only imagine what it must have been like squeezing twelve players and a staff of approximately six people into a vehicle. Sarge was there to direct us to our seats and you could already begin to hear whimpers as fear continued to build.
The ride was about thirty minutes long and ended at what appeared to be an abandoned farm and junk yard. The relief of getting out of the van was short lived when we exited and saw the sheer number of personnel that were there to welcome us. Each player was then given a shirt with their preassigned number. I was Number 9.
Within minutes of arriving, our group of twelve was quickly down to eleven. The complete bombardment of visual stimulation that transitioned into complete sensory deprivation made it impossible to account for other players. Even in moments that offered a slight respite from the terror, I heard people call the safe word. Even though I never saw it, I could hear the faint sound of defeat.
Most extreme haunts I have faced have focused on the individual. The adrenaline rush and fear of going through alone usually makes it more satisfying for me due to the personalized interactions. And although I have participated in “group” haunts, nothing I have previously experienced prepared me for this. It was a pure storm of guided and misguided chaos. While there was no clear narrative, the battle between these two powerhouse extreme haunts could be felt. It was a chess game between Adrian and Blake, with all of the players as sacrificial pawns. There was never a chance to rest as the slaughter was around you at all times. There was rarely a moment to prepare for what could be next. Getting your mental bearings was near impossible. As soon as you made the mistake of getting comfortable with your scenario, you could literally be lifted off of your feet and thrust into a new one.
“Get down Number 9! Faster Number 9! Get up Number 9! What are you doing Number 9?” I could hear variations of these statements and other numbers throughout the night. “Number 5 is trying to help. Number 2 isn’t cooperating. Number 7 needs to go in the….” (Mind you, these numbers don’t directly relate to what may have been said to them.) At no point do I remember being truly alone, even when I was getting individual attention. Other players seemed to always be on the game board with me, engulfed in their own entanglements. Sometimes we suffered the same pain together. Other times we were had our own demons to battle.
There were times when I saw people who were being so brutalized and challenged that I wanted to hear them say the safe word so that they could be released from their torment. It was mesmerizing watching people push through this. Even with screams coming from their mouth and tears rolling down their eyes, they remained strong. Watching the fear of the others was way worse than anything that was done to me, and I certainly left with my fair share of battle wounds to remind me of what I had been through. This was a true test of mental and physical endurance—but the moments of physical trying were matched with equal amounts of mental pushing. You needed stamina in both to survive. There was no sense of time. I had no idea how long I had been there, nor did I have any idea of when things might end.
I was moved into a room with three others, when I quickly realized we were the last four left. We were welcomed in for experimentation, treated as honored guests instead of victims. It reminded me of what I would think of a mad scientist conducting an interrogation, assuring us all that things would be okay if we just gave him what he wanted. One by one, each player failed. With each subsequent failure, came shaking and screaming. After witnessing the other three punished, I did not give them the pleasure of my pain. I pronounced the safe word and was escorted from the room.
I had assumed that maybe three, possibly four hours, had passed. When I left the room, I found out that I was approximately five hours in and that there was one final challenge left after that one. I had heard rumors of the final task and I wasn’t looking forward to that either.
I don’t regret calling the safe word for a moment. I went out on my terms and was proud of how far I went. Upon exiting the event, I met up with the previous players from that evening. I could see the grueling effects that they had endured, but most were as upbeat as one could be from such a ride. I didn’t hear one player complain that they didn’t enjoy the overall experience–which is not to be confused with them saying they didn’t suffer. What was mostly overheard was how disappointed in themselves they were and how they wanted an opportunity to compete in Cracked vs H E R E T I C again. That opportunity, unfortunately, will have to wait for another time. For those already waiting for next year, the game has already started once again.
While changing my clothes, I learned that one more person had left the game and that two players remained. And as quickly as everything started, all came to an end when two survivors from the night’s festivities appeared before us victorious.
Both Adrian and Blake are to be commended for the macabre feast they served that evening. I don’t know if anything quite like that will ever happen again. I am thankful that I was able to be a part of the experience. Was there an actual winner in this battle of gruesome goliaths? I don’t know. There wasn’t a survey at the end of the event, nor was there a secret ballot. There isn’t a metric for calculating fear.
In my opinion, Cracked’s strength was in the sheer psychological wonder of whether or not I could continue to physically keep going. Whereas H E R E T I C ‘ S strength was the physical aspect of just how much more I could bear witness to and the psychological hell of knowing that I was about to be brutalized next.
The extreme haunt community has been redefined with the collaboration between Cracked and H E R E T I C. There is something disturbing waiting for them in the dark. Proceed with caution!