It’s never a good feeling when you are about to head up a flight of stairs to test out a haunted motel-themed escape room and you hear two women screaming in fear.
But there I was this week about to tackle the Starlight Motel, the newest attraction at the Escape Artist on Stone Avenue near downtown Greenville. The Escape Room’s owner and chief scare designer, Will Rutherford, likely saw my apprehension because he has seen it on other people who were about to enter his latest creation.
Will had told me that he and his wife and co-owner, Kim, were coming up with a scary room for the Escape Artist over the summer. He wouldn’t give me many details other than it was going to be a haunted motel and feel like a horror film.
Being a horror film buff and a guy who wrote two books on Upstate ghost legends, I was intrigued and decided to check it out this Halloween season.
Joining me were Todd Livingston, a film director and comic series writer with a strong background in the horror genre, and his wife, Candace, a professor of Art History at Anderson University and who had her wedding with Todd on the haunted Queen Mary. So, needless to say, these two are a great pair if you are going to decipher some clues in a haunted hotel.
As we waited in the Escape Artist’s lobby complete with velvet curtains and wallpaper that reminds one of a 1920s speakeasy, we talked about the art of being scared and what scares people. We shared stories of the things that go bump in the night and why we liked them. Granted it was mostly, Will, Todd and Candace talking. They understand this much better than I and enjoy the art of it. They talked about what works and what doesn’t work. Me, I just tried to mentally prepare myself for what was about to happen when we went to the Starlight.
Then there were the screams. And then one of the actors in the room came down to bring us upstairs. And then the fun began.
It would be a major cheat for me to tell you what happened next because the reality is you need to experience the room for yourself. I feel a little bit like Alfred Hitchcock telling people not to give away the ending of Psycho. But you need to experience the Starlight Motel this Halloween season.
Yet, I will comment on a few things.
Will told me he wanted this to feel like a creepy old motel, and he did the job extremely well getting the little details right such as a TV that still had a VCR set-up; a hard-as-rock bed, stained sheets; wood paneling, missing items and dirty fixtures. Subconsciously, you felt the claustrophobia of the motel. That was A-plus.
In addition, his team plugged in enough fun little elements and story props into the room to keep you guessing as to what was important and not. Yet, the storyline of what you needed to do in order to escape was still linear enough that you never got too far off track. It will take about 70 minutes to get through the room, and the time goes by quickly.
They also tossed in a nod or two to 1980s movies that was kind of fun.
Finally, adding to the creep factor was the music. A steady stream of 1960s loves song played quietly in the background. Just loud enough that it was distracting in the setting, but soft enough that you never found any comfort in Motown. And when the music went off, you definitely felt a sense of panic.
So, do yourself a Halloween favor. Check out the Escape Artist this Halloween season.