I’ve had the pleasure of living in Southern California for the past year and a half, and during that time, I’ve experienced more things than I ever knew possible. One of those has been the countless amount of “escape rooms” that have begun to pop up all throughout the area.
Given my deep love of the horror genre, it excited me to see that the majority of these escape games involved horror themes. Wanting to know more about why there has been such a steady upswing in these attractions, I spoke with two escape room owners to learn their views on this rise in popularity.
The first of these I ever experienced was Cross Roads Escape Room, located in Anaheim, CA. Co-creators Madison Rhoades and her husband, Luke, opened their escape room in January of 2016, but had been working on it for a full year beforehand. When I asked Madison about why they wanted their first room, “The Hex Room,” to be horror-themed, she stated:
My husband and I love horror movies and at the time there were very few escape rooms open. We thought it would be the perfect medium to combine our love for horror and theatre to create a game where you had to try and survive a horror film.
What sets Cross Roads apart from its other contemporaries is that their “Hex Room” really does deliver that sensation of being inside a horror movie. Each participant is given a stereotype to act out — whether it be the jock, the nerd, the prom queen, etc. — and everyone must work together if they want a fighting chance of surviving this twisted and deranged plot. Along with the stellar storyline, the amount of detail that went into the design of the space was superb, and lent itself to unique and mind-bending puzzles that supported the overall story.
Along with Cross Roads Escape Room, I also spoke with Evan Gregory, who co-owns The Cromwell Estate with his partner Julie. They opened their escape room in August of 2016, and though it’s only been 9 months, Evan feels as if it’s been a lifetime. When asked why he wanted the Cromwell Estate to be horror-themed, he stated:
For me personally, it wasn’t even a question. A few days after we started designing it we both asked each other if it was going to be horror influenced and laughed. There was no doubt that it was going to be. When I was a kid, my Granny would sit me down in front of the TV and show me her favorite horror movies, everything from Karloff’s FRANKENSTEIN to CHILD’S PLAY. I always knew that if I created some form of entertainment it would undoubtedly be influenced by horror.
That’s exactly what Gregory and Julie did — they created a beautiful game that allows participants the chance to solve a mystery within a space designed as someone’s house, with expertly crafted rooms and unusual puzzles I hadn’t seen in any other escape room.
I then posed the question to Madison and Evan as to why they think horror-themed escape rooms have become all the rage:
I think escape rooms in general are popular because people crave to be immersed in the experience… So much of our lives are lived through our computers, phones, and screens that being inside something is the reality that people want. I think horror escape rooms are popular because it allows people to experience this life or death threat head on and find out if they would be able to survive the challenges we see so often in the movies.
Evan believes the growth in popularity of escape rooms — and horror rooms in particular — can be attributed to a few factors, including “the need for escape (pun intended) from the monotony of the same routines we live in this day and age.”
Being asked to not touch your cell phones for an hour is almost too much for some people. As the rise of horror rooms in particular, it’s the want for that extra thrill of suspense of not knowing what could be around any corner or through a locked door. Add in the already ticking clock while having to keep an eye out for what might come for you in the dark is exhilarating! It adds to the tension of an already ticking clock and you get the perfect mix that people want to experience.
I don’t foresee a shortage of these kinds of attractions anytime soon; if anything, I think the creators will begin to push the boundaries of what an escape game is capable of. One such experience that has already begun doing that is Escapade Games, located in Fullerton, CA. I had the opportunity to experience their newest room, “Zoe,” and my mind was completely blown. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it’s one of the scariest escape experiences I’ve ever had. If this is the path escape games plan to go, then I say bring it on!
When asked about where Madison and Evan saw their escape rooms going from here, they both had differing views: Madison would like to continue to push the boundaries for interactive experiences, trying things that have never been done. Evan, on the other hand, would like to expand and create a destination where participants can make a full day of it, while experiencing the entirety of the story. He would like participants to feel as if they are being toyed with by a killer — similar to what audiences would see in ’80s slasher flicks.
Whatever these two bring to the table next, they will surely have a solid fan-base of participants eagerly awaiting. Personally, I can’t get enough of these adventures, and I look forward to seeing what’s next in the realm of escape game experiences.