By the end of the 12 hours, I was covered from head-to-toe in fake blood and chunky neon-green baby vomit. The smell was unholy. I'd crawled around in dumpsters while being egged on by goatmen, human centipeded with a complete stranger (TWICE!), stripped to my skivvies, and got locked in a coffin by a kinda racist voodoo ritualist, the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1973 Roger Moore 007 film Live and Let Die. Not only that, but I'd also witnessed a pretty epic moment in monster history... Cthulhu straight up hanging with Nosferatu, best-bud style. (What do those two even talk about?) But I survived the Great Horror Campout for my Worst. Night. Ever! With my gag reflex intact, even!
Hit the jump for all the camping 'til dawn 'n' dirty details.
In the editorial board's infinite wisdom, they changed the rules of Worst. Night. Ever! to send me straight to the Great Horror Campout instead of putting my misery up for a vote on Blogtown. Fair enough. The immersive haunt of the Great Horror Campout was tailor-made for my Worst. Night Ever! It's marketed as a horror film incarnate, and I love me a good horror film (Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, and Suspiria, in that order, in case you were wondering), but the fuck if I want to be in one. I saw my first scary movie at a fifth grade sleepover—Nightmare on Elm Street—and I still have nightmares that prominently feature that knifey-handed bastard smearing me all over a ceiling. Yeah, I was scurred to camp overnight in rural Oregon while being terrorized by gum-spirited monsters, but I also had the conflicting, thrilling desire to go to this:
Great Horror Campout is... where attendees can “choose your own adventure” and experience an overnight summer camp unlike any other. Campers can decide how extreme of an experience they get by their choice of activities lasting 12 hours (8 PM to 8 AM). From the interactive “Hell Hunt” to being forcibly handled by a cast of actors, campers may shout the safe phrase “I WANT MY MOMMY!” to put an end to any nightmare.
Oh, and there was this little worrisome gem from the liability waiver:
Serious injuries are less common, but do sometimes occur. They include, but are not limited to: property loss or damage, broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, exposure, heat-related illness, mental stress or exhaustion, infection, and concussions. [I added the emphasis, because how many brain-jarring injuries are we talking about here? Will I be able to feed myself after the Great Horror Campout?]
Sufficiently wary, I headed out to Beavercreek, Oregon, after work on Friday—alone, stone-cold sober, and stocked up with trail mix and a sleeping bag, prepared to share my tent with three complete strangers, maybe even a serial killer getting his/her feet wet in this perfect Petri dish of a training ground. On arrival, I checked in at a table in a huge mown field, while being harassed by the camp counselors, a group of wise-cracking hillbillies with burlap sacks tied to their overalls:
“Why yes, I was alone.”
"Why no, I did not care to give out my tent number.”
A delightful sprite of a lady friended me mere minutes after finding my tent (OH, AND LOOK AT WHAT WAS IN MY TENT).
Us two solitary horror aficionados banded together to study our dossiers for clues as to what the night might entail (entrail?).
At this point I should probably speak to my preconceived expectations for the night. I went in blind not having read The Stranger's version of the night, but I thought the Great Horror Campout would go down like a mystery dinner theater event, where a serial killer would pick campers off, one-by-one. If you were “killed” off you discovered the behind-the-scenes camp, which could be rich with marshmallow-roasting opportunities and makeout sessions in the woods, and the serial killer would be revealed at the end of the weekend. A farce, a giant goofy fun game, where maybe no one made it out alive. (Can I get a “Hey!” for April Fool's Day?!)
Great Horror Campout didn't shake out that way. This event is a traveling production out of LA, whose founder started the popular Haunted Hayride, and it got $2 million in funding from an investor on the TV show Shark Tank. The Campout is a straight-up scavenger hunt. A haunted scavenger hunt, sure, but there's no mystery theater shenanigans, sadly.
So, our dossiers were emailed to us 24 hours in advance of camp check-in and they included this map:
There was also an extensive rundown of monsters we'd encounter (what the fuck is a Pope Lick?) and a list of cryptic clues, some of which made sense (“shave and a haircut” is a useful knock to know) and some were seemingly nonsensical (“Point Pleasant 66—four will die”). My new bestie, Serena, and I geeked out for a while about the clues, then hoofed it down to the outdoor amphitheater to hear the rules for the evening, mandatory before they'd open the gates to the activity grounds—where we wouldn't be able to take pictures.
UMM GUYS, THERE ARE A LOT OF RULES AT CAMP.
So that took a while. Edicts included: no traipsing outside the property's boundaries, don't run, don't touch the monsters (although they can certainly touch you—binding, trapping, and kidnapping are all on the table), and don't venture into the water on the property because it's full of human poop (!?). The head cheese, the Camp Headmaster, a mouthy bastard with a nasty head wound and sequined spats harangued the campers for a bit, some of whom had already been dowsed with buckets of faux urine, and some of whom were overly prepared for the evening with militia-grade night-vision goggles and full-color laminated printouts of the dossier. After enduring a rousing scolding and now pitch dark outside, we were set loose for our five-hour scavenger hunt (of horrrrrrrrrorrrrrrrrr).
* The Hunt Begins *
Serena and I immediately hit up the nearby dumpsters, patrolled by a bunch of freakin' adorable goatmen, who kept chanting “SCAG.” SCAG stands for “Stuff Campers All Get,” AKA scavenger item shit, and the wet, disgusting dumpsters were full of sweet, sweet SCAG, brah. I crawled in and nabbed a used band-aid! Look, Ma, at the sentence I just typed. Who knew my professional career would involve saying that! I SCORED A USED BAND-AID, FUCKERS! We then ran over to the hillbillies' home away from Appalachia, The Homestead. It's there, at a barb-wire-enclosed compound, an hour into our adventure, I got covered in the most foul, viscous toxin I've ever encountered: fake baby vomit in a neon-green color most alarming. Elbow deep in a bucket I found in a mobile home crusted over with trash, I was filling that grody condom I'd found in my tent; another proud achievement for me! [PSA moment: Hey kids, a condom should never be used as a baby-vomit balloon. If you use condoms properly, the term “baby vomit” will never enter your lexicon.]
At this point in my Worst. Night. Ever! maybe you've guessed the obvious: the Great Horror Campout was wayyyyyy sillier than scary. Not to knock it, because it was super fun, but it was no Dementia 13, running through the woods like my tits were trying to catch my pants on fire. There were many jump-scares when our flashlights were trained on our dossiers, and a sneaky Mothman caught me unaware, but there was never a huge creep-out factor. One girl at the Witch Circle would totally disagree with my assessment—she was begging for her mommy, while one eager camper's girlfriend hadn't even made it through registration before she ran for the car.
From Hillbilly Heaven, Serena and I dodged chainsaw-yielding murderers, got locked in cages or were scoped by an unmarked white van driving around the grounds, and most humiliating, we had to compete in the human centipede race, of which, we lost twice, our legs wrapped around each other's thighs, scrambling on our hands to dash a couple of yards. (I was the weak thorax in that endeavor. Sorry Serena). So we never gained entry into the Pope Lick nest. I will probably die not knowing what the fuck a Pope Lick is, or how I can defeat it—put that on my headstone. I'll just keep on envisioning it as a pervy Catholic dude.
The strangest part of the evening was the “Swimming Hole,” AKA a huge open-air metal storage container (maybe it was a semi-truck container) filled with dubiously sourced water. Serena and I stripped down to our underoos in front of a bunch of hillbillies and were given an inner tube. After we crawled in, we had to float around in the pitch-black. We were supposed to be looking for leeches, but all I found was another band-aid, while some poor sap done up in SCUBA gear poked at my inner tube any time I got near him. I think his job might've been worse than Cthulhu's, who at least got to slap campers about the face with a very dirty-looking mop (I got face-slapped twice). Anywhozit, never found a leech and had very soggy underwear the rest of the evening. At least it washed away some of the baby vomit.
Other sundries from the hunt: I was electrically shocked when pulling organs out of a corpse in the medical tent (it was real-life Operation). Some rotting girl ate half a bag of my Pirate Booty. They don't make coffins big enough to fit people of taller stature. The Beast of Bray was a total dickbag—he threw my flashlight into a puddle of blood. The Labyrinth was infested with Chupacabras, and that was probably the scariest of exhibits at the Great Horror Campout with its dark dizzying maze and creatures a'plenty. And the Mothman trapped me inside his wingspan for at least seven claustrophobic minutes, while breathing on my neck. Give that burgeoning actor a SCAG card for his performance! (Did that Hollywood joke land?)
In between all the crazy whatnots in the woods, the Headmaster beckoned us to the activity field to play Blood Tag. Which is a non-fancy way of saying “laser tag,” but with blood. I felt like I redeemed myself in the blood fields after my poor showing at the human centipede races and my failure to score a severed head from the voodoo dancers. Turns out, I'm pretty good at finding blood guns and squirting them at other people. I wasn't the ultimate winner, but that's okay, there wasn't a prize anyway except for blood glory and three different colored bloodstains on all my clothes. But I'm going to add Blood Tag Finalist to my résumé, and feel a warming sense of well-being whenever I think of it.
Blood Tug-of-War was a different story. I hated Blood Tug-of-War. This was the last event of the evening before turning in our SCAG, and it sucked. We were split into two teams and given a skinny little ski rope covered in fake blood to tug amongst ourselves. Um, fake blood could be used for lube, because it's slicker than fuck. So a pile of people ended up with staph-enticing rope burns, while another pile of peeps ended up on the ground wallowing in field blood. Nope. Not a fan. The winners got a rubber band.
* The Sleepening *
After we turned in our skanky SCAG bags full of vomitous trash, the Headmaster gave us the option of roasting marshmallows at the firepit, staying up to watch horror flicks in the amphitheater, perusing the arts and crafts tent, or letting our hormones rage in our tents. At this point it was almost 3 am. Tired. So tired. I changed into my new $100 Great Horror Campout shirt, took a whore's bath, and hit the sack. Same with Serena. That delightful land of slumber was brief. About an hour later, Cthulhu and the voodoo dancers were trying to drag us out of our tent by our sleeping bags while KORN (or something equally as brain-cell killing) blared over the loud speakers. We shrugged it off and went back to sleep. Men farted in nearby tents.
* The Dawnening *
Okay, dawn was a bit of a letdown. Campers were leaving in droves throughout the night and into the morning before the final camp meetup at the amphitheater. Maybe the word had spread that our last activity would be trivia. No one wants to do trivia at dawn with no coffee, covered in various shades of red-tinged karo syrup. No one. But it was mercifully quick. Some gal got crowned the winner—she got a sash with patches on it. And the rest of the 100-plus campers parted ways. Bye Serena, 'til we kneel before our overlords again!
* The Takeaway *
If you get the chance to do the Horror Campout, do it! I had a really good time. I'm not sure if it was a full $100's worth of a good time, but it was definitely a must-do if a Groupon came your way. And it would be oodles of fun to be one of those super-prepared people in teams with laminated dossiers and black-ops gloves and rations of jerky. Sure, you can be spooked in the real woods for free, but the blood you'll be covered in at the end of that night won't be fake. The monsters were top-notch with great makeup and costumes and they were very committed to their characters, but my biggest complaint of the evening goes back to the whole ancient Cthulhu kicking it with a vampire...
What is the backstory here? For such an elaborate production, it felt like there was a catchall quality to the Great Horror Campout. Why were the hillbillies in charge? Did they wrangle up all these monsters? Did there really need to be a posse of clowns, voodoo dancers, and a Vietnam vet surgeon all at the same camp? And why no zombies? There was a "let's put every single horror archetype together" quality to the thing. The show could've benefited with a stronger curation of monsters and a backstory (not even a super in-depth one, just a little explanation for this oddball monster convention in the forest). Even the 20-minute haunt attractions that pop up around town at Halloween have strong backstories that color all their tableaus. It just needed refinement, which is a strange thing to say about an event that runs on synthetic body fluids. I suspect that if they come back through town next year, some of these story kinks will be spit-polished for a high-camp glossiness.
Next week's Worst. Night. Ever!: Dirk meets his match. And stay tuned for Denis' write-up of his time as a trombone-playing Spock at the Jazz Festival.