Slaughterhouse Massacre 5 – I know that you enjoyed that last year. Leon, our favorite Horrorwood Video clerk, clutches a bootleg VHS tape, pointing at the label. But number 6 puts 1 through 5 in the grave. Pig Gut returns, because some of us don’t know when to die. I find myself back in the same video rental store as last year, still decorated nostalgically for Halloween. John Carpenter’s 1978 classic is playing on an old bulky CRT, cardboard cutouts of ghosts dance across the wood-panel walls, and orange lights try their best to illuminate the hazy storefront. But we’ve come here to see Leon on this very night… because there’s a weird phenomenon, it happens every year, here at Horrorwood Video. You know your buddy Leon likes to call it The Vortex – where the movies…. come alive.
Horrorwood Video is a twenty-minute immersive horror experience produced by Majestic Repertory Theatre in Las Vegas, NV. Small groups of three to six are led by a Horrorwood clerk into the humble video store where they will meet Leon and enter each film. While 2018 sent guests through eight films, The Vortex scaled back to only six this year, with half being repeats from last year. However, to make up for the reduced number, Majestic has scaled up the content in the films and added some repeatability by offering two tracks. At a pivotal moment inside, one (un)lucky guest will be pulled from the group and taken on a separate, solo experience. But regardless of which track you’re on, all films provide some clever interactivity, wonderful scares, and a nostalgic new world to explore in each room.
The Hex, Heretic Baby 2: The Reckoning, and The 13th Halloween all return with some small changes and improvements. The Hex was Majestic’s homage to The Craft, where a spurned girl calls upon an evil demon to take revenge on her ex, Chad. While the tone shifts between horror and humor, it provides some of the best laughs and comedy due to its perfect timing by the actress. One of my favorite lines was “I gave him my heart, and he gave me a teddy bear.” This line isn’t just a clever joke though – the teddy bear holds a darker secret and a warning: Always be wary of what you’re summoning.
Heretic Baby 2: The Reckoning is similar to last year, but now experienced in its original Portuguese (sadly, with no subtitles). The lighting is gorgeous, and with some clever shadow work from monsters on the other side, I found myself more in awe of the design than scared of what lurked beyond the veil.
Finally, The 13th Halloween returns to give audiences a chance to go trick-or-treating at a witch’s house. This was easily one of my favorites from last year, constantly subverting expectations and leaving audiences unsure of what is a trick and what is a treat. This year, the Michael Myers-inspired character breaking out of the lunatic asylum is incorporated better into the overall narrative, and provides a wonderfully cinematic moment as a treat for all.
While watching a movie again can be fun, the new releases are what bring audiences out to the theater – and Horrorwood Video hit box office gold this year. Satan’s Sideshow invites guests to step into a circus freak show. While they tease a human blockhead and the spotted girl on twenty-foot hand-painted curtains, audiences are given a chance to get up close and personal with Spidora – a sassy spider with enough personality to fill any carnival tent. Spidora will read your fortune – and in a fun reveal, provides one of the best scares of the attraction. The freak-show theme is fun, and the spider is a nice call-back to The Trees Have Eyes from last year.
Last Rites is the fan favorite this year, putting audiences directly into a black-and-white film. Actors are beautifully made up to look like a monochrome feature film – and the décor is gorgeously designed to match. Participants are privy to the reading of a will. It’s here where the tracks split. The majority of the group will finish off this scene to its bloody conclusion and head to The 13th Halloween, while a solo participant will be taken as a nurse to read a bedtime story to Timmy. But Timmy has been a bad, bad boy, and not even reading his favorite bedtime story can hinder his urge to stab, stab, stab.
Slaughterhouse Massacre X: Pig Gut Lives is the classic haunted house chainsaw chase-out ending that we all love. Chad brings audiences into the office of a redneck sheriff, complete with taxidermy animals and missing children posters lining the walls. But Chad, recently escaped from a mental institution, is ranting and raving that Pig Gut is alive. Much like all ‘80s slashers, the sheriff doesn’t believe us – and when Pig Gut emerges, chainsaws roaring, the sheriff is in for a rude awakening.
While it would be amazing to see new films every year, that is a herculean task, and Majestic did a wonderful job with keeping the previously-viewed section entertaining. The Director’s Cut ending to The Hex is a fun new surprise, and they hand-picked the three best from last year, offering renters a chance to view them if they missed them previously. Returning customers may find themselves wanting something a bit different in these scenes, but the content is strong enough that a repeat viewing is far from feeling stale.
The new films are a perfect accompaniment to the previous movies, matching tone and theme, while providing just enough to differentiate themselves from last year’s offerings. Showcasing the various strengths of Majestic, we see these films utilize strong set dressings, clever writing, and strong make-up. Specifically, the make-up and set design of Last Rites felt so devoid of color that it is completely off-putting. Satan’s Sideshow felt expansive when entering due to the towering curtains that hide each freak; the beautiful hand-painted designs on them left me wanting to peek behind each drape to meet each one (please, let’s see more next year!). And finally, Slaughterhouse Massacre X: Pig Gut Lives felt more cohesive than last year. Incorporating the Wanted posters cleverly hidden outside Horrorwood Video and bringing back Chad who’s mentioned throughout, the final room felt like an appropriate conclusion – at least as much as six different horror films can provide.
This year, we see Majestic Repertory Theater further pushing the boundaries of Las Vegas immersive theater. With a winning formula for Horrorwood Video in 2018, they came back this year and implemented the two-track model into the experience. While Los Angeles immersive theater began with solo experiences (e.g., Blackout, Alone, Heretic) and this format is now almost commonplace, Las Vegas has yet to see this level of individualized experiences. I commend Majestic for stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new to truly scare their guests.
Finally, this review would not be complete without mentioning Leon. This year cemented him as the unofficial mascot of Horrorwood Video for me. While numerous clerks (each with a different and distinct personality) escort audiences to the video store, Leon is your guide through the storefront and The Vortex. Mike Vargovich is perfect in this role, playing Leon with such a frenetic and crazed energy that he hypes you up before you even step into a film. He perfectly toes the line of creep and friend, ensuring that whenever you start to feel comfortable, he invades your personal space so completely that you can’t help but reevaluate your feelings toward him. Vargovich is Leon, and Leon is the face of Horrorwood Video.
Horrorwood Video is the highlight of Vegas’s immersive horror scene. It creates an experience that feels both new and exciting, yet familiar and nostalgic. It perfectly blends a classic love for horror cinema with immersive theater that only Horror Rewind has done in the past – seriously there needs to be more of this for immersive and film fans alike. With noticeable growth and innovation this year, I’m excited to see where 2020 takes Horrorwood Video. Wherever it is, I hope it involves some stabbing from Timmy directed right at Pig Gut.
Horrorwood Video has concluded its run, but follow them on Instagram or Twitter for news and future shows. Find out more about Majestic Repertory Theatre on their website, Facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive and horror entertainment throughout the year.
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