The Lure of Horror-Themed Escape Rooms

‘It wasn’t that I was scared,’ said a recent customer who I’m going to name Brian Blokeman, his stammering explanation a vain attempt to justify how much he had screamed over the last hour. ‘It was just a natural instinctive response, you know—fight or flight.’

Well, that fight or flight instinct, Mr Blokeman, has a name: Fear.

The room this customer played was Escapologic’s own Butcher, a serial killer’s lair which currently has a higher quit-rate than success-rate. It’s arguable that Butcher is one of our easier rooms, if one would judge it on the puzzles alone. However, it can be hard to concentrate on the puzzle before you while the piece is slipping through your clammy fingers and you’re pretty sure you just heard the sound of a bolt being slid from that lightless room around the corner… followed by the slight creak of an opening door…

But what is it exactly that makes rooms like Howitz or Butcher, and other horror themed experiences cause so much nausea and fear? After all, it’s not real… is it?

Since Neolithic times, when humans gathered around campfires to embellish tales about the mammoth that almost gored them the other day, the idea of horror has thrived in most cultures across the world. For every medium of art that has ever been conceived, from theatre to paintings to music and videogames, there has been some deranged creative who has sought to use it to give us all the spooks. And, each of these mediums brings its own strengths and advantages, new ways bring about a blood curdling rush: Novels seep the horror directly into your consciousness, letting you create the image of whatever threat is looming with your own unbounded imagination; The world of film brings music and cinematography into the mix, allowing the focus of the camera lens to hide whatever is lurking behind the protagonist while the score delivers an uneasy atmosphere to the situation; Video-games go further by allowing the participant to interact with the world, taking control of an avatar who will only open that ominously rattling drawer in the corner when you choose to do so. So, what do Horror Escape Rooms do that is different?

Well, what horror rooms add to this formula is quite unique: they add you.

Unlike a book, you cannot pause and take a breather from your reading in a well-lit room. Unlike films you can’t hide behind the cushions and wait for the scary bit to be over. And, unlike videogames you can’t pause the game and try again at it when you’ve muted the volume. You are stuck there, in that room, until you yourself can figure out how to get out of it.

The barrier between your world and the world of the horror is removed. The security that comes from choosing your moments of courage dissipate once the door is locked. And, though the logical part of your mind might try to tell yourself that it’s all a set, that it’s not real, that it’s listed under the ‘fun things to do’ section on TripAdvisor for heaven’s sake(!), the instinctive primal system that governs fear is urging you to believe that the opposite is true.

Convinced that you are in danger from something currently unseen, your nervous system will kick your adrenal glands into gear. Your pupils will dilate so nothing goes unseen, your breathing and heart rate will spike, muscles will shake and tense as they prime for action. And, if you get especially alarmed, your body may relieve itself of any excess fluids currently within you (by whichever route is fastest), so you’d better use our facilities beforehand (And yes, this does happen on the odd occasion. It’s an unspoken rule that whoever does the scare, smells the air—they better hope that new puddle is just another spilled water bottle).

Yet, horror remains popular in every medium and some customers have been known to return several times to play our scarier rooms. Something about the heightened adrenaline when one knows they are in complete safety is simply invigorating. It’s the walking of the line between mortality and security. To feel in danger yet be removed from danger. It’s the same reason why people pay money to skydive or choose to be hurtled along a metal track a hundred miles an hour at Alton Towers. The catharsis of experiencing the pure mortal dread and walk home safe and sound at the end of the day. And, as long as you guys keep asking for it, we’ll keep coming up with new ways to chill your bones.

Speaking of which…

Very recently, while building the rooms on our Leicester site, our own construction team suffered the worse end of a spook when they uncovered a long-forgotten ancient portal. Upon sending one of the part-timers through it, we’ve learned that appears to lead to some aberrant hellscape plane of existence that defies mortal means of description. Strange things have been happening since it was discovered: such as tools going missing, voices being heard in empty rooms, and the part-timer keeps sporadically spinning around on the ceiling like a Catherine-wheel. But the landlord’s doing nothing about it and our insurance providers say they won’t cover it unless it affects the ‘structural integrity of the building.’ So, we’re making do with a bad situation and building an escape room around the howling nightmare-window. This new room is called The Gateway.

So, if you’ve read through all of this and thought to yourself ‘this all sounds horrible and not at all fun, but I’m a masochist and Leicester’s only a twenty minute drive from here,’ then come down to our basement and try out the new room.

Trapped in a long-abandoned suburban family home, can you learn the secrets of the family and escape the building before The Gateway hidden within claims you? Be warned though, the fragments the old family left behind imply that you aren’t alone in there, that something unseemly found its way through…

If it takes your fancy, bookings for Butcher, Howitz, and The Gateway are available now from the Escapologic website… just don’t say that you haven’t been warned…

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