Haunted houses, creepy corn mazes where things pop out when you least expect them … the season for getting scared in the dark is upon us. Are these intentional horror experiences better or worse with cannabis? One extreme Los Angeles-based haunt thinks they’re better, and is trying high horror out for the first time this Halloween.
Cannabis produces this dissociative state that makes free association more likely to happen. You're actively producing your own narrative out of your paranoia.
Heretic House/The Parallel, purveyors of boutique, exclusive, full-contact horror experiences, have decided to play up paranoia and dread with their first 420-friendly haunt, SLEEP. The projects are all visions of husband-and-wife team Adrian Marcato and Jessica Murder (not their real names), and to call their performances ‘haunted houses’ is something of an understatement as well as a misnomer—what Heretic House does is different.
Year-round, they creep up with elusive horror simulations, open to only a handful of guests per show. Guests must apply to attend, submit full medical evaluations in advance, and sign waivers if selected. Many of these shows take place in LA, where Marcato and Murder live, but they frequently stage shows across the US and in Europe. Some of them are particularly aggressive, with guests being dragged around in the dark by masked actors who zip them into body bags, dump prodigious amounts of fake blood over their heads, or snip away at their clothes with scissors. Yet it isn’t all senseless terror; in each production, a story is told.
The first show I ever attended was called HEX, and it explored the uncomfortable nature of sleep paralysis. I was checked in to what was I was told would be a sleep study, before being tucked into bed on a damp mattress with my wrists duct taped together. I soon encountered demons who thrashed me about, whispered threats in my ears, and wheeled my around on a gurney while shrieking, “Don’t you want to wake up?” A second one, ISO & DREAD, poked at claustrophobia, forcing me into increasingly smaller spaces. Shows I haven’t attended include a series of events taking place in a remote cabin in the woods, just like all your favorite horror movies.
SLEEP is one of the first cannabis-friendly haunts in existence. Per the website, it is “an extreme horror experience that will challenge you psychologically.” Though not as physically aggressive as other shows such as HEX, SLEEP will place its victims inside an immersive, waking nightmare. Guests will be bound, held down, or guided throughout the hour-long experience, while simultaneously forced to watch a series of disturbing vignettes that swirl around them. In between these vignettes, guests will be moved to other rooms, where they have the option to consume cannabis in multiple forms, which may include flowers, edibles, and wax. (Guests may decline at any point if they so choose, and can stop the simulation at any time by calling a safe word, which will be written on their arms in case they forget.)
“We’re using monsters and other creepy elements, but it’s more based on paranoia because sometimes when people smoke, that’s what gets enhanced,” Marcato said. “So we play up the paranoia a lot with heavy visuals. You can tie someone that’s high to a chair, and make them see this creepy thing in front of them that escapes behind them, and then they have to wonder when it will attack them. There’s a lot of psychological dread that we try to plant inside the guests—moments where you’re alone in the dark, where you’re seeing things, or where you’re held down.”
Murder is the one who came up with the idea for SLEEP. Originally, she had wanted to start or invest in a dispensary, and while that has yet to manifest, she later had the idea of combining the horror theater she and Marcato were already producing with cannabis. The couple visited a cannabis festival in Northern California and found the community welcoming to their ideas.
Though they plan to expand in 2018 after California’s recreational cannabis laws have gone into effect, the 2017 show will only take place on October 30 and 31, and not everyone who applies will be admitted. All guests must be 21 or older, must possess a medical marijuana card, and must undergo a screening process, during which they discuss their medical and psychological history as well as the frequency with which they use cannabis. They must also come with a friend, who will safely drive them home after it’s over. A nurse is present throughout the entire show, the guest will be monitored at all times, and none of the actors will be high or ever come into contact with the cannabis.
Marcato said safety is important to them, and he’s not interested in replicating this experience with alcohol, saying that he’s worked security at horror theme parks that allowed drinking, and found himself having to break up fights among drunk guests. High guests are, as one might expect, a lot more chill.
So far, SLEEP’s beta tests are working well, with participants citing an enhanced (terrifying) experience after consuming cannabis. Ash Newton, a performer in the show and a creative partner at Drencrom, an upcoming collaborative series of performances, said he thinks it’s possible the scariest moments of the show will be when the participant is alone.
“[Cannabis] produces this dissociative state that makes free association more likely to happen. You’re actively producing your own narrative out of your paranoia,” Newton said.
This ties into what one of my friends said: her mind wanders, and she creates backstories for the monsters in the haunts. What stories would a guest come up with, if left “alone” in a dark room?
Marcato predicts we’ll see more cannabis-friendly haunts and psychedelic Halloween attractions in the future. After all, people are already going to haunts and horror movies high, even though these venues may not explicitly allow it. “People are probably going to see ‘It’ high tonight,” he said.