The Purge was one of the unexpected box office hits of 2013, so it makes sense that the film’s creators were planning a follow-up. But when tossing around ideas for that next act, producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions went in an unexpected direction: in order to build a visceral connection to the film’s mythology--a dystopic future America where civil unrest and economic hardship led a group of "New Founding Fathers" to create a national holiday when all crime would be legal during a 12-hour window--he opted to tell the next story set in The Purge's world not as a film, but as an interactive haunted house.
The Purge: Fear The Night bills itself as "a brand-new, immersive theatrical horror experience" and runs in Los Angeles from September 27 through November 2. And while Blum says, "It’s not really a prequel," it definitely builds on the mythology laid out in the film--which also currently has a sequel in development. "We’re expanding on the idea of what was in the movie," he says. "It’s an idea that you can hang a lot of different kinds of stories on." Blum has big ambitions for The Purge--"The idea of 'what if crime were legal for 12 hours a year’ lends itself to a lot of different things: sequels, live events, it would be a great series at some point," he says. And for Fear The Night, he’s brought on the team who did the New York haunted house "Blackout"--described by Cracked as "The World’s Most Hardcore Haunted House"--to develop the experience. He talked with Co.Create about how to expand the creative possibilities of a narrative universe by jumping to a different medium.
This isn’t the first year that Blumhouse (the production company behind franchises like Paranormal Activity and Insidious) has put on a haunted house--but it’s the first time it’s got a theatrical narrative element that ties it directly into one of the studio’s films. "We did 'Blumhouse of Horrors’ last year, and the biggest difference is that it’s real 3-D. It’s totally, totally immersive," Blum says. "When you do a movie, your production is designing one or two sides of a room. This has to be a whole environment--that already gives you more in some ways and less in some ways."
Controlling that experience means that they can really crank up the scares, which, after all, is the point of both a horror movie and a haunted house. By combining the two, you can build something that’s scarier than either one on its own. "People who love haunted houses, they always say that the more storytelling you do in your haunted house, the better."
The Purge sat its audience down and told them one story over the course of its 85 minutes. In an immersive theatrical experience like Fear The Night, the audience will have more ability to control their own experience--which widens the sandbox for the creative team, too. "We’re giving bits and pieces of mythology, as opposed to a whole 90-minute movie, which is a reason why [a live event] is such a natural thing to do: Most people will at least have some idea what The Purge is, so they’re bringing a story to it--we’re kind of expanding on what’s already in their head."
For Blum, the real fun starts when the audience starts making decisions. If you go with a friend and you each make different choices, you’ll each receive a different part of the experience. "Both people can go to the same event and come away with different stories, and different things that you’ve seen and done," he says. "I think as a storyteller, that’s cool."
The Purge: Fear The Night won’t be the first immersive experience like this--British theater company Punchdrunk has had hits with its adaptation of Masque of the Red Death and Sleep No More, which Blum cites as an influence. But where those were theatrical experiences, this event is something that Blum says takes elements from haunted houses, immersive theater, and The Purge to create something that’s none of the above.
"If Sleep No More is at one end of the spectrum, and [Universal Studios’] Halloween Horror Nights is at the other end, we’re kind of in the middle," he says. The theater audiences who made Sleep No More such a massive hit might find Fear The Night thrilling, but only if they’re willing to embrace the haunted house elements, too.
"It’s very scary," he says. "There are jump scares. This caters much more to a haunted-house crowd than to a theater crowd. If they went to this and they didn’t like jump scares, they ain’t gonna like it. They’ve got to like Sleep No More, but they’ve also got to like a roller coaster."