The warnings themselves, spelled out in capital letters on two 20-foot banners on a wall outside the entrance to the 17th Door Haunt Experience, are enough to rattle nerves even before entering:
“Warning … You may be exposed to or come in contact with insects … electrical shock … foul scents ... the ground … dizziness … loud noises … touching.”
Those about to enter the 17th Door are also cautioned they could be “shot with projectiles that may leave welts or bruises!”
And once visitors understand the warnings and sign the wavers, they are free to enter the 6,600-square-foot, 20-room labyrinth. (Yes, there are more than 17 rooms).
“We want people to know before they go in what they will experience,” said Heather Luther, who owns the 17th Door along with her husband, Robert. “We want people to know what can potentially happen to them.”
Since the haunted attraction launched four years ago, first in Tustin before moving to Fullerton two years ago, the central theme has been the plight of a troubled young woman named Paula, whose twisted journey has evolved from year to year.
“You get this following, and they come back, and we want to give them something new,” Luther said. “We want to give them a reason to come back.”
Because of events transpiring over the past three years, this year’s Paula is serving time for murder at Perpetuum Penitentiary. Art therapy prescribed by the prison shrink has only served to inflame Paula’s suffering and rage.
The psychiatrist gives Paula a therapy puppet named Lincoln, which creates unintended depravity that permeates the prison and raises the anxiety levels of the visitors.
Visitors will wind through the Perpetuum Penitentiary, going from room to room in small groups. They may find themselves in tight quarters, barely able to move, or maybe even alone … in the dark.
Along the 35-minute interactive foray, visitors will encounter dozens of monsters, alive and undead, who will do more then simply jump out of nowhere and yell “Boo!”
“It’s a really long experience, considering how psychologically challenging and intense it is,” Luther said. “It takes a lot out of you.”
Wyatt Barclay, 20, has been a scare actor in the haunt for all four years and has played the part of a psychotic inmate and a scary clown. He once posed as an emotionally unstable guest and blended in with the other guests before suffering a meltdown.
On another occasion Barclay fired a fake pistol, and one of the guests dove under a table for cover, assuming the gun was real.
“There are different results when you scare people,” Barclay said. “Sometimes the entire groups is freaked out, but it’s also fun when you can hone in on one person and the rests of the group laughs at them.”
Heather Luther credits her entrepreneurial husband for coming up with the idea for the haunt while they were still dating.
“We’ve been married for 14 years, and he is always coming up with crazy ideas,” she said. “It’s just so common to me now.”
They begin brainstorming for the upcoming haunt months in advance, Luther said.
“We want to keep people on their toes,” Luther said. “We have to do something that is going to be surprising and new — a scare you would never think of in a haunted house.
The most recent of the 323 reviews the 17th Door received on Yelp reads: “I’m hard to scare but the stuff they do there in priceless.”
IF YOU GO
What: The 17th Door Haunt
Where: 1851 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton
When: The Haunt is open every night through Halloween except Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Cost: Tickets range from $23 to $37