Now that Haunt Season is more or less behind us, we can start taking inventory of the various surprises that our favorite time of year brought. Jon Cooke jumped ship from Knott’s to Dark Harbor to give the latter its best year ever, while Boney Island made a triumphant return, in association with the Los Angeles Ghost Train. Most surprising, however, is that one of the most impressive immersive experiences we saw is operated by a high schooler in his front yard.
Glendale’s Opechee Haunt has been part of the home haunt scene for a few years now, filling out an impressive field of L.A.-based walkthroughs that include classics like Rotten Apple 907 and The Backwoods. But the haunt, run by 16-year old Sam Kellman, took on brand-new inspiration for the 2018 season, presenting The Donnie Darko Experience.
On its surface, it’s an unconventional choice for a theme. While Richard Kelly’s 2001 film was a cult favorite for years, the cultural landscape of 2018 has largely passed it by. But Kellman’s house adapts its source material so deftly, so dutifully, it’s just as engaging as a first-time viewing of the movie.
Volunteers stationed in front of the maze portray followers of Jim Cunningham, Patrick Swayze’s secret-hiding motivational speaker from the film. They question guests in the queue as to the nature of their fears, and how the experience might help them become “Fear Survivors.”
There are a few visual flourishes visible from the queue, from a beautifully repurposed headboard standing in as the film’s country club sign, to an eerie projection of the hypnotically spinning jet engine. But once guests enter, completely alone, that’s where the real magic begins.
After viewing a pre-show video once again in the vein of Cunningham’s cult-like philosophy of overcoming fear, guests relive Donnie Darko’s final days. Songs culled from the soundtrack, like Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” place the maze in the same 1988 timeline as the film, while Donnie himself narrates some of the scenes.
One of the most disorienting, yet engaging, elements of the house is the use of shifting perspective. Some scenes are third-person, like when guests watch Donnie douse Jim Cunningham’s home in gasoline. Others put visitors inside Donnie’s shoes, like an intense recreation of Donnie’s bathroom, his “reflection” pounding at an invisible mirror with a butcher knife.
Frank the Bunny provides a few of the haunt’s more effective scares, but to concentrate on the jumpscares would be to miss the point entirely. The fact that a home haunt has offered one of the most emotionally charged, faithful interpretations of an IP largely untouched by haunted attractions is impressive enough; the fact that it was created by someone that isn’t even old enough to vote yet is absolutely unreal. If the Donnie Darko Experience is any indication of where Sam Kellman’s Opechee Haunt is heading, its 2019 iteration will undoubtedly give the professional haunt world a run for its money.
For more information on Opechee Haunt, visit spookyscary.wixsite.com/opecheehaunt.