The Saunders family have experienced a series of disturbing events. After Elsa, their youngest daughter, showed signs of possession, her mother brought in a paranormal investigator, but he soon left the property feeling the demonic force was too strong to be working with.
So a new team of six investigators (including myself) was sent into the Saunders’ farmhouse, even though I was afraid of the dark for a week after watching only half of the movie, The Exorcist.
But I was up for the challenge of helping the Saunders find out what demon has possessed their little girl — a task that’s necessary in order to “escape” from her creepy room in the 45 minutes given to search for clues and solve puzzles at Horror Escape in downtown Victoria.
Since my heart rate increases every time I even see the word “horror,” I questioned what I had gotten myself into the moment I stepped inside the first small dimly-lit room lined with a blood splattered wall with a few holes, three crosses with numbers, the head of a goat and creepy music wafting through the air.
But that uneasy feeling quickly diminished once my team of investigators went to work, combing the walls for clues and trying to make sense of the numbers in order to unlock the door and get into the next room.
With a few extra clues from a staff member who would pop into the room whenever we were stumped, eventually we made our way into Elsa’s room, which truly felt like something horrific had happened thanks to all the little details incorporated into the elaborate set — created by Derek Lovell.
Lovell has always had a passion for creating immersive experiences and used to make haunted houses. But he wanted something that was more immersive and challenged guests to do some work, so he came up with the concept of a haunted house people had to escape from.
Lovell moved to Victoria from Toronto to put his passion into action with Horror Escape, but during construction, he decided to switch gears from the haunted house experience and create an escape room with a haunted theme.
“I love offering people entertainment, I love creating detailed sets and creating an experience that can rip people away from something out of the ordinary,” said Lovell, adding it took between three to six months to plan the elaborate scenarios for the three different rooms that are rotated every few months.
First he starts with a general concept, then thinks of how he can create an experience that will fit with a theme, also incorporating puzzles and technology that will work with a lock or door. Once that’s nailed down, he starts creating the branding, imagery, photos and graphics for the set, along with a soundtrack to set the mood.
Opening on Canada Day in 2015, Lovell makes sure Horror Escape offers something for everyone. The Crimson Manor room is more family oriented, but still has a creepy tone, he explained, while The Cellar contains gore, loud noises, and is created towards a horror theme. On scary nights, actors come in to give visitors a few startle scares.
“It’s really incredible to see your vision come to life,” said Lovell, adding most people have a little bit of fear about what they’ll encounter before they enter the rooms. “I always tell people there are some extra thrills, but our intention is for you to have fun overall so nothing is over the top. Whenever you scream, you’ll laugh.”
Getting out of the rooms isn’t exactly easy. The success rate of Crimson Manor is 33 per cent, the Cellar is 29 per cent and Omen (which I was in) is only 16 per cent.
Determined to make it into that 16 per cent, my team of investigators was well aware the clock was winding down as we wracked our brains, trying to make sense of the string of colourful numbers painted on a wall and the cards containing names of several demons.
Sadly, we ran out of time, leaving all of us musing about where we could have done better. In the meantime, Elsa’s family will continue to wait for answers about who took the spirit of their little girl.