The Fear Experiment - Bedtime Stories 2023 - Extreme Haunt - Immersive Horror

The Fear Experiment’s Bedtime Stories 2023 – What Did I Just See?

This is a recollection of The Fear Experiment’s Bedtime Stories 2023 based on one experience by one person, one guest out of four, attending one show on one night, writing from an imperfect memory. The broad strokes are good, but incorrect ordering of details reflects that lack of perfect recall.

Tickets to The Fear Experiment’s Bedtime Stories were offered for three time slots on six different nights in October. Do the math, carry the one and so on… If the show sold out, it was attended by 72 people, all of whom almost certainly came away with highly individual perspectives on the event. I don’t think the show actually sold out, which only adds a level of uncertainty regarding the nature of the others in any group of four.  The ticketing website stated “Each immersive experience is crafted for groups of four.” What happened if a slot had less than four attendees? I didn’t ask, but I suspect a spare actor would have stood in for a guest to preserve the storyline.

Four guests arrive at the meeting point within the specified two minute window. As our emailed instructions had promised, the man in the bowler hat (None of the non-guest characters had names, so I’ll call him Bowler) arrives, sticks name tags and a safeword count to each of us, reminds us of the rules, collects our car keys and whatever belongings we can not do without, and seats us in his car. The cloth bags on the seats are to go over our heads. An audio recording, which Bowler describes as his favorite radio show, plays Bedtime Stories during the short drive.


The Fear Experiment – Bedtime Stories 2023 – Extreme Haunt


The first of the Bedtime Stories is a horrific tale of a girl eaten by a monster that invades her bedroom one especially dark and shadowy night. She remains impossibly alive during the grisly process, and when her head or eyes are finally consumed, she is deposited fully conscious inside the monster for an eternity of suffering. The car turns right, Bowler tells us the lights are on, meaning the Gory (Gorie, Gorre, Gorrie, Gorey, Ghauri, I don’t know) family is home and will receive us.

Exiting the car, we are lined up, still hooded, against a wall outside. A second of the Bedtime Stories is presented. The Gory children disobeyed their parents one frosty winter’s day, going into the haunted forest to play and explore. Day turned to night and the children became lost, soon turning desperate to find shelter in the growing cold and dark. They stumbled upon a cabin, lit from within, smoke curling up from the chimney. Knocking repeatedly, then frantically pounding on the door, the children cried, “Let me in!” They were found the next morning, lifeless and frozen. The cabin was not inhabited. Instead, a trick of the light, shadows, and falling snow had made it seem occupied.

The recitation comes with a dizzying performance by what would soon be revealed as shadowy actors dressed in black, every bit of their bodies and faces concealed. With bright lights behind them, their hands, heads, and bodies cast gyrating shadows on the cloth covering our faces. Harsh, frequent whispers of “Let me in!” accompany the wild dance.


The Fear Experiment - Bedtime Stories 2023 - Extreme Haunt - Immerisve Horror


Forewarned about monsters and children, we are ushered into the house. The Shadows follow, one per guest, hands on shoulders to guide the way into a line in the kitchen. The Shadows would be ever present for the duration of the production, acting in various capacities: physical guide, tormentor, watcher, and pestilence. A woman, Mother, tends to her baking cookies. A man, Father, waits close by. The guests become the Children, lined up in order: Timmy, Mary, Suzie, and Billy.

Father announces to Mother that the Children have arrived. She turns, cookie sheet in kitchen mitted hands, looking at the line of Children in obvious distress. The cookie sheet clatters to the floor. She says something like, “Those aren’t my children.” That line would be repeated several times in various forms during the show.

Mother cleans up the cookies, withdraws a revolver from a countertop appliance, collapses to the floor, puts the muzzle in her mouth, and pulls the trigger.

Click. Click. Click.

Father produces three cartridges from his pocket, and places them on the counter while saying something like “Looking for these?” He takes the gun from Mother and she exits to recover. The Children are escorted into the living room, omnipresent Shadows ‘helping’ them to their places.

In the living room, the guests are introduced to their roles. Mother and Father take seats in armchairs and the Children sit on the floor. Mother has a glass of wine. Father disapproves, challenging, “You know how you get,” or similar words. Mother deflects, “Just one glass.” Her tone is soft, but not pleading, as though Father’s acquiescence is assumed.

The Children are asked about their day. Father prompts each Child in turn, converting their uncertain, stumbling answers into part of the narrative. Billy is the golden child of the brood: smart, athletic, and just perfect. Suzie is a close second, if I remember, talented and pretty. Mary is a troublemaker, harried into confessing that she is lying about her day and was actually quite disobedient. Timmy is singled out as the whipping boy of the strained family. Mother has decorated the house for Halloween, and Timmy was to contribute some art to her efforts. His redeeming quality is artistic talent, but he is hectored as though he is also somewhat dim. He forgot the promised art and is punished for his failure.

Since Timmy forgot his art, the Children are moved to a table in the TV room to draw replacement pictures using the provided paper and bucket of crayons. One or more Shadows whisper, and some or all of the Children receive a word of direction for their drawing. When complete, the pictures are reviewed by Mother. When she reaches Timmy, she grabs the drawing, shredding and crumpling it, exclaiming, “These are not your memories!” Father tries to restore calm and is instead insulted by Mother who accuses him of not being a man, or not being enough of a man. She blames him for the deaths of her children.


The Fear Experiment – Bedtime Stories 2023 – Extreme Haunt


The Gory Children are dead? Who does that make us? Is Mother deranged? Is Father running a psy-op on her? Are we dead, spirits called back for Halloween? Who knows? Maybe any of these suppositions are the right answer, depending on the audience. If the true nature of the role of the Children was in the narrative, I missed it badly.

Mother and Father are in a bit of a clinch. He’s furious at her cutting remark, so he takes her into the living room and rapes her, his brutality barely concealed from the listening and observing Children. He returns to the TV room, cheerily apologetic for the small disruption in the evening’s festivities. Time to play some games, starting with bobbing for apples. Two at a time, the Children attempt to capture a floating apple in the time honored fall tradition.

I think Mother came back during that time. We return to the living room and the next game is a treasure hunt. The Children are separated and subjected to more abuse. Since we didn’t confer following our return to our vehicles, it is unknown what happened to everyone. When reassembled in the living room, one of the Children lacks the treasure that was to be discovered and is chastised by Father. Was it scripted or did the guest just misplace the pumpkin, index card, and pen?

The next game has Father chuckling. We must each write our deepest, darkest secret on the card and put the card in a caldron. Father will draw them out randomly, read them out loud, and try to match card to child. He reads two. Of course we don’t know whether he is actually reading a card and ad libbing or if he’s reciting lines to move the narrative along. The third card is not read to the waiting audience. Instead, Father reads it silently before showing it to Mother while proclaiming it vile and demanding to know who wrote it.

We sit dumbly, probably because of Rule 3:
“3. There is no speaking inside unless you are instructed to do so.” –

Absent a clear instruction to speak, no one said a peep. In movies and books and such, the rules are meant to be broken by a main character at some pivotal point in the story. The characters in those cases have the author or scriptwriter to direct them, while the guests of any production with such a rule only have the promise of ejection for breaking it. Reticence to speak about anything appeared to guide all the Children during the show.

The awkward silence ended with Father proclaiming we would all be punished since no one was willing to confess to the still unknown horrible thing. A jar is brought out by Bowler and we draw painted tongue depressors that indicate what fate we will suffer.

As opposed to the earlier torment, this at least had some obvious place in the plot.


The Fear Experiment - Bedtime Stories 2023 - Extreme Haunt - Immerisve Horror


Punishment complete, we return to the living room. Apparently our vile behavior is now forgotten, because Mother and Father once again project strained cheer. I may have the exact order of these next actions wrong. Mother apparently now accepts us as the Children and troops us to the kitchen to wash up. Toothbrushes are distributed, regrettably without rinse water. A basin of water is carried in by Bowler, sopping washcloths are doled out. A rubber duckie floats in the basin. A duck has oddly appeared at other times during the show. Later I discover it’s a running gag between two or more of the cast or crew. Somewhere in all this activity, the Children each receive a hug and praise from Mother.

After we brush our teeth, there are some uncomfortable moments as Mother instructs us to wash our faces, behind our ears, our pits, and bottoms. Pantomiming washing of pits and bottoms is not allowed. I am surprised by how fast at least one guest skinned out of their shirt to access their underarms. The rest of us make do with reaching under our clothes and wiping our lower backs to satisfy the requirements which are mercifully not pushed further. Some odd items rest on the kitchen counter, razor blades and syringes with colored liquid. I don’t know what role they played: setting, unused props, or props from someone’s individual abuse?

Now clean, the Children return to the living room for a bedtime prayer. The familiar four lines of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep take a creepy turn as we repeat after Father an extended version that I now don’t recall, except for the phrase ‘shadows flit’ which seemed appropriate for our Shadows.

There is a new addition to our tableau. A feral looking young man is now behind us, crouched down or on all fours, wild haired and jingling. As he is behind us, it’s hard to get a look. I wish I had just stood up and turned to observe the scene. Instead, he remains on the periphery, unexplained until later.

Father reads some Bedtime Stories, Mother sitting in the adjacent armchair. The first story of Arturo the artist comes with a moral. It also comes with a lot of motion of Feral. Mother backs him down repeatedly with a warning finger. When Father asks what the moral is, we are silent. When  prompted, the resulting several wrong answers are cause for some mild punishment. Finally, a satisfactory answer is offered and accepted.

The next of the Bedtime Stories is another version of the death of the Gory children, a barely concealed accusation. A mother, bored, lonely, addicted to ‘potions’ to help ease the tedium, is drawn to a man who is not her husband. She leaves her children in the care of her eldest child, who sounds a little simple, while she pursues her tryst. The eldest falls asleep along with the rest of children. The shadow (of or from the forest?) enters the house and wreaks havoc on it, and kills all but the eldest child, who remains blissfully asleep. Mother returns to find this tragic scene and blames the eldest child, but the child claims it was the monster in the closet.


The Fear Experiment – Bedtime Stories 2023 – Extreme Haunt


Now Feral is possibly identified, but we Children are not.

At the conclusion of the Bedtime Stories, Mother looks in horror at Father, who simply states, “I always knew,” revealing at least one source of the terrible chasm that lies between them. Mother walks into the kitchen, noisily searching for the revolver. Father produces it from his pocket, sweeping the entire room with the muzzle in the process, and mocks Mother for being denied the opportunity to ‘blow her head off’ every time she is distraught. She returns, lovingly caresses him, saying something like “You’re always right.”

As Father starts another of the Bedtime Stories about two birds, she steps to the sideboard, retrieving a cord, and strangles Father with it. She gets the bottle of wine from the kitchen and slugs some down over his corpse. Then she moves to Feral and fastens his leash or chain to something on the door or wall. He tries to explain about the monster in the closet, but she says something like, “I’m sick of that stupid story,” and “I’m leaving you here to rot” and more about a corpse and getting to hell, where he’ll see Father again.

In a weirdly ecstatic state, she bundles the Children and their Shadows off to bed. The Children receive ‘medicine’ in tiny tea cups. Is she poisoning the Children? Again, there’s no explanation. She shuts the door and the Shadows begin their frenzied “Let Me In” dance as they had when first encountered outside. When the Monster in the Closet makes itself known, they retreat from the room. The Monster continues to growl and shudder within the closet for a short time.

The Monster stops. A loud bang sounds from beyond the closed bedroom door, presumably a gunshot.

Bowler throws open the door and announces, “There has been a terrible tragedy.” The Children are hustled out of the bedroom, past the corpse of Mother, and outside into the cooling night. Hooded once again, we ride away in Bowler’s car. There’s another audio recording followed by a soliloquy by Bowler that is more about us as the Children than whatever we just experienced.

In the gravel lot where we had parked, our keys and personal items in his care are returned. We receive a memento of our visit and some further exposition about our relationship with the characters we were assigned tonight: Timmy, Mary, Suzie, and Billy.

We don’t exactly race to our cars and leave in a hail of dust and gravel, but we leave without conversing, one after another.

No longer one of the Children, and back in the real world, I am left somewhat dazed, confused, humiliated, angry, and vaguely sick. Windows down, I start my drive home, letting the rush of air blast over me, trying in vain to understand the misery I had just witnessed and experienced.


The Fear Experiment - Bedtime Stories 2023 - Extreme Haunt - Immerisve Horror


Later Reflection on Bedtime Stories

I know nothing about theater, so for me to comment on the acting or the setting, or other aspects of the production from a technical perspective is stupid. From my limited knowledge base, I thought the show was well done. The performances were disturbing and effective at conveying the presence of the terrible, destructive secrets of the Gory family. The little house worked well for the domestic aspect of the performance, furnished, slightly retro, decorated for Halloween and with enough props and setting to make the house feel homey, but not so many that a guest would be constantly distracted.

Some of the abuse dished out felt like it had a place in the storyline, some of it felt gratuitous. There were times when I was genuinely scared, disgusted, angry, or feeling some other strong emotion. If that’s what immersive horror is meant to do, then Bedtime Stories succeeded with me. Based entirely on appearances, I’d say it worked with the other guests as well.

I was confused. If guests were meant to understand the story and their role in it, I failed completely. Shadows, monsters, and dead children were presented on three occasions. My first inclination is to thread them together into a single tragic tale, or a recurring tragic tale like history repeating itself. Instead, I’m left with questions. Were lingering questions the goal of the production?

Who was Bowler? Aside from being our connection between the normal world of central Illinois and the evanescent world of Bedtime Stories , it was as though he was a butler, a servant, a ghost, or the chief Shadow ordered about by Father. Was he just a convenient gofer whose purpose was to perform physical tasks so that Mother and Father weren’t removed from the flow of the action?


The Fear Experiment – Bedtime Stories 2023 – Extreme Haunt


Who were the Shadows and what was their role, aside from wrangling guests? Their demands of “Let me in!” suggest they are the spirits of the children who died in the forest. Why did they flee from the Monster In The Closet?

Who was the Feral Child/Man? Was he truly the only survivor of the massacre presented in one of Father’s bedtime stories? Mother’s actions suggest he was Timmy, or a Timmy analogue.

Finally, aside from temporarily being Timmy, Mary, Suzie, and Billy, who were we?

If some other attendee of Bedtime Stories can enlighten me, I’d love to hear it.

The Fear Experiment’s Bedtime Stories 2023 has completed its run. For information on future shows from The Fear Experiment, checkout their Facebook page and website. For information about similar events, check out our Event Calendar.



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