I sit in a wheelchair, my wrists strapped to the armrests, as it rolls down a dark hallway filled with cobwebs. I cringe and sink deep in my seat as the gossamer threads graze my hands. And we’re not even into the scarier parts of this virtual-reality haunted house, tucked away upstairs at Epic Brewery in Denver.
At a regular haunted house, you know costumed actors lurk behind every corner, ready to pop out and scare you. Fake blood, scary masks and darkness are all a given. You follow the crowd, cling to your friends and scream together.
But entering a haunted house powered by virtual reality? It’s worse — or scary-better, depending on your perspective.
Virtual reality gets inside your brain. The technology tricks you into believing that animated horror is really happening. When rising blood-hued water engulfs my head, I have difficulty breathing for a few seconds. The sharp, pointed teeth of a fleshy humanoid creature hovering near my neck makes me want to swat it away. But I can’t. My hands are strapped down.
With virtual reality goggles covering my eyes and headphones on my ears, I’m more immersed in this animated virtual world than any haunted house with friends. You also don’t see VR Haunted House co-founder Justin Moskowitz grinning as he uses finger pokers, netting and other tricks to keep the mind games going. I wasn’t rolling down the hall in the wheelchair, but Moskowitz’s wriggling of the handles made me feel like I was moving.
“A lot of what we’ve done here is bringing virtual reality even more to life with some 4-D effects,” said Moskowitz, co-founder of Clutch Gaming Arena in Arvada.
Moskowitz’s Halloween venture with partner Beatrice Leung is their first, but not the first for Denver. High-tech barber shop Spruce hosted a VR haunted house last year, but after a busy year doesn’t plan to do one this season. Nationwide, larger entertainment venues have expanded into virtual horror, including The Repository at Universal Studios Florida through the end of October. Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California shut down its “Fear VR: 5150” after being open just a week following insensitivity complaints by mental-health advocates.