I’ll be honest, I’m at a loss for how to begin this review. Not for any bad reason, but because here we are, on what is technically year seven for CREEP (after a smaller Halloween show during the pandemic), and I’m not even sure what I can say about them that I haven’t said before. So let’s start with this: this year’s CREEP L.A. is so beyond my expectations that I can’t even believe how much they blew me away.
But let’s backtrack a bit.
Like most people in the Los Angeles immersive scene, I have been eagerly anticipating the return of JFI Productions’ flagship show. I have been following along with their adventures the last few months, from taking over a portion of The Three Clubs to turn into The Ghost Light (a new immersive venue), to the first teases about the show, and all the way up to the announcement. The teases they have been putting out have hinted as to the story; something about a town gone wrong, a house that changes people, and the residents that have lost their way. It was hard to try to piece together what they were going to do, but like many, I had the utmost confidence in whatever they had planned.
But this year’s show…whatever I was expecting, they delivered tenfold. I saw their last full show, HAUS OF CREEP, five times in 2019, so it’s pretty apparent I loved it. But after only ONE time through this one, I am pretty sure that this has become a contender for my new favorite.
It’s also very different from what they have done before. Instead of thrusting you into the show from the get-go, this time around, you begin a little more socially at the bar. Harkening back to ENTRY, the show from their second season, you spend the first part of the night grabbing a drink and interacting with the characters roaming around.
Estelle, the bar’s owner (and played by the fantastic Julia Henning), laid out the ground rules to help set the mood and welcome us into her establishment, while also making sure we were wearing our cool, new face masks. From there, we enjoyed a drink (or two) while hearing snippets of the back story from the various interactions we had.
While I won’t spoil the story, since it’s more fun to hear it directly from them, it was fantastic to get to know them all as they told us about the town we were able to explore and the house that doomed it. From the lounge singer (Misha Reeves Bybee) who was acting a little too strangely, to the tall, silent man (Austin Minard) who reminded us that things were better left unsaid, to the poet/writer (Mike Merchant) who kept the stories of everyone who didn’t return, to the strange man with the box of finger puppets (Mason Conrad) who didn’t remember what his laugh sounded like, and finally to the dancer (Stephanie Turek), whose unrelenting stare even made me uncomfortable, each one of these characters was better than the last. To me, this is were CREEP often thrives; setting their actors loose in the world and allowing them to do what they do best.
While that portion of the night was pseudo-open world, the rest of the show was very linear. While I did enjoy the open nature of HAUS OF CREEP, it also led to so many storylines at once that there was no way you could see everything. Now, we’re back to being on the rails, and I think the story is a little stronger for it. With only 6 people per group, that leaves plenty of time to get up close and personal with the creeps we were about to meet.
As soon as we were into the show proper, I will admit that my jaw dropped. CREEP has always done incredible stuff when it comes to production design, but this year takes it to a whole new level. I mean, seriously, I was seriously blown away when I walked into the “town” itself. For those who are in the LA scene, I’m talking Delusion-level production design here, and in a lot of places, even beyond that. The amount of detail that went into every single inch of this show is truly breath-taking. I mean, this truly isn’t that big of a space to begin with, but the way they made it feel real, feel lived in, was very impressive. Kudos to Elizabeth Jarrett, scenic designer, because *I* wanted to move into this town, that’s how incredible it looked, from start to finish.
The show wasted no time in trapping us deeper inside of it. Without spoiling the story that you’ll uncover, hearing more about the town itself and how a place called Hollow House had ruined it was fantastic. Each character we encountered prior to entering Hollow House had their own standout moments with our group, and frankly, there were too many to even begin listing them. But the characters themselves were wonderful; Miss Slyvia (Dasha Kitteridge) warned us of the dangers to come while The Shopkeeper (Bill Bingham) showed off his wares. Teddy (Tyler Gordon) made me take a shot in the middle of town, which steadied my nerves for what the lost soul Penny (Mara Shuster-Lefkowitz) and the matron (Melinda DeKay) told us what it was like being the last “normal” people in town. While the nature of the show doesn’t allow for too many one-on-ones, I guarantee you’ll still be satisfied with the amount of attention each character gives your group.
And once we stepped inside Hollow House, good lord. It was like the book HOUSE OF LEAVES come to life, and considering that is one of my favorite novels, I was in love. I know the story is that anyone who enters the house really doesn’t leave, but hell, I didn’t want to. I wanted the spooky house to take me forever. I would have been okay with that!
Needless to say, the deeper you explore the hallways of the house, the more twisted it became. Up was down, left was right, and the house kept growing and growing beyond our imagination. Everyone we met within the walls was sufficiently creepy, and enough to make my skin crawl. But, you know, in a good way.
I want to make sure everyone I saw gets their due, because they were all fantastic, so forgive me while I list their contributions to making me unsettled. The two lovers (at least I assumed they were), Christine and Harlan (Kylee Thurman and Jacob Miller, respectively) were great hosts as they brought us into and helped us tour, Hollow House. Bobbie Griggs (Romeo Seay) sufficiently creeped me out as another soul, lost in the house’s walls. Grady Fox (Harrison Meloeny) was a great attendant to bring us deeper into the depths of the House, while The Dentist (Nicky Romaniello) yelled at me enough that I won’t be eating sweets for awhile. And of course, the incomparable duo of Jamie (Deirdre Lyons) and Jasper (Aly Trasher) came together for my favorite scene of the evening.
And honestly, I’ve never truly been scared during a CREEP performance before. Unsettled and unnerved, absolutely, but never scared. That changed this year. While wandering through Hollow House, it was nice to see portions of it take on a more traditional “haunt” feel, more akin to Knott’s Scary Farm than what we usually expect from CREEP. And I’ll be damned if they didn’t scare me, not just once, but TWICE. Shout out to No Face, played by the show’s writer, Daniel Montgomery, for that honor. Jump scares are the last thing I expect at CREEP, but it was pulled off so beautifully here that I can’t wait to watch someone else get scared by it.
Of course, the show would be nothing without director Justin Fix and producer JT Swierczek, who truly help cap off this incredible dream team.
Another thing I’m sure is top of everyone’s mind is COVID-19 safety. Well, friends, let me assure you that CREEP is going above and beyond. To even be allowed in the building, you need to show proof of vaccination AND wear your mask at all times. In addition, 95% of the cast are also wearing masks. To be honest, this was the safest, COVID-wise, I’ve felt at any event so far this year, so kudos to the team for putting those measures in place.
I want to say so much more about this show, about this story, but I truly cannot without giving things away. Everything about this show was wonderful. Even though they were running a little behind (opening night and all) and our group spent longer than usual in the bar area, we didn’t care. We had such a blast getting to know everyone that the time flew by. If I had ANY gripe whatsoever, it’s that the famous CREEP photo booth was out of commission (how dare they!), but they said it will be up and running for future shows.
Chances are if you are reading this, you already have your tickets. Good. But if not, what the hell are you waiting for? CREEP L.A. is by far the highlight of the haunt season every year, and I am so happy it is back. JFI Productions continues to astound with CREEP, and I consider myself lucky to be one of the first to experience it. Go see this show. Answer the call of the house. You won’t regret it.
For more information, and to buy tickets, visit them online at www.creepla.com