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HorrorAddicts.net 122, Dario Ciriello
Horror Addicts Episode# 122
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The San Francisco Dungeon ~ Where’s Jack?
Most of you will recall my write up on the San Francisco Dungeon from April reporting on what an awesome attraction it is.
They invited me back for a very special preview of the new Where’s Jack segment running this summer from June 6th to September 6th right here in San Francisco. The segment focuses on one of the most notorious killers in history, Jack the Ripper.
At first approach, the old-world water-cooler gossip of recent murders entices you. From the newspaper boy calling out that there is a mysterious gentleman trolling the streets, to the photographers and ticket takers telling you to be careful, a murderer is on the loose, they bring you into their world. The Dungeon writers and directors have sprinkled the thought through the tour, all building to Miss Piggott’s Saloon, where you finally hear the story, told by a haunting lady of the street. The chilling tale of Jack’s unknown whereabouts will have you hanging on this beautiful, willowy gal’s words as you try to glean the answer to where Jack is. She walks the room with a lone lantern lit, her ghost-like persona adding to the ambiance as she recounts the death of a friend and the suspicion that Jack the Ripper may indeed be in San Francisco. With the use of animatronics and chair effects, you actually feel certain aspects of how the victims were murdered. Although this is a fictional journey you are led through, the realness of the actors, sets, and sound design make you feel as if the threat is real.
I won’t tell you when or where Jack appears, but when he finally shows, the genius behind the play writing comes into view. His identity is so obscured, it keeps you wanting just another look. Like the monster in a horror film, we only glimpse a second of him before he’s gone, taking a helpless girl with him. From the rumors, you know what fate befalls her.
After his initial appearance, the rest of the tour takes on a more dangerous feel. Did he truly kill the girl he dragged off? When will he appear again? Are you to be his next victim?
For those of you who’ve already experienced the awesomeness of the Dungeon, this segment will not disrupt the show you are used to. Instead, I found the Where’s Jack addition to strengthen an already remarkable attraction. Where else can you experience such an up-close-and-personal play? Visiting the Dungeon is like being granted a backstage pass to the Phantom of the Opera, where you actually get to interact with the characters as if you’ve stepped into the pages of their book. And like the Phantom, Jack the Ripper is out to get you. But beyond that, the realness of the play changes your view from spectator to participant. Instead of, “Oh cool, they rigged a chandelier to swoop over the crowd.” You think, “I might seriously be in danger here. The Ripper just kidnapped the woman standing right next to me, I might be next!”
The historic side of the show actually does have basis in reality. According to Performance Supervisor, Matt Gunther, there were rumors during Jack the Ripper’s lifetime of him coming to San Francisco. “Many people think Jack the Ripper stopped killing in Whitechapel because he came to the United States and this is a port city. Just after that is when we started having these mysterious murders.” Two murders suspected to be the work of Jack in San Francisco were Blanch Lamont and Minnie Williams, which Matt references as inspiration for the new act. Although a medical student, Theo Durrant, was executed for the deaths back in 1898, the evidence that Jack the Ripper committed the crimes is more than just a hunch.
Even though this was my second time attending in such a short time, it was not boring in the least. In fact, because they rotate actors every time you go, the different actors bring something new to the roles. I was excited to see my favorite ghost of Alcatraz this time cast as the gang lord in the torture chamber. It was awesome to see him in a different role and I was surprised that the Alcatraz ghost bit was still entertaining without him. The new actress brought a whole different feeling to the show. Since they have such a large cast of actors, you could attend multiple times without seeing the same cast in the same roles.
I asked Matt about the Alcatraz show and how when the lights go off, and the actors creep around the cell to appear in a completely different place, you never hear footsteps. Do they train the actors how to walk so the audience doesn’t know where they will appear? “Funny you should say that,” Matt said. “Before your show, I was in there, and I was specifically giving them notes on the footsteps. That’s gratifying to me as a director that you picked up on that.”
Well, Matt and the team are doing a great job at creeping me out and by the reaction of the group I was with, I am not the only one. All I can say is, I can’t wait to see what they cook up next.
If you haven’t seen the San Francisco Dungeon, be sure and check it out. For those of you not in the San Francisco area, they have other Dungeon locations. In fact, the San Francisco installation is the first in the US, but ninth in the world. Other Merlin Entertainment Dungeon locations can be found in Amsterdam, Berlin, Blackpool Tower, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Warwick Castle, and York, all using local history to take you on a journey through time.
To hear audio from Matt and what goes into creating the show, listen to HorrorAddicts.net episode #116, coming July 1st, 2015.
The San Francisco Dungeon a Horror Addicts Dream Attraction
You ever think to yourself, “Where can I go to get roughed up by the locals, sold to an angry ship captain, and put on trial for being a little loose at the local pub?” Well, I’ve got just the place for you. The San Francisco Dungeon is a great attraction to soothe your weary soul. For those of us who live in the Bay Area, it’s a godsend for out-of-town family members who always want us to take them “down to the pier” as it is an entertaining way to fulfill the tourist requirement.
This horror attraction is a mix of Dicken’s Faire-like live performances, a Stephen King-led history lesson, and all that was really cool about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney before they commercialized it Depp-style. With nine live shows, awesome sets, and even a boat ride, this fun adventure is a highly interactive thrill for even the most morbid of tastes. What’s more, there is enough true history seeped in, that your “norm” friends will find in interesting as well.
On my trek into the dark, I took along two of my horror-loving friends and we all had a great time. Cam was locked in a jail cell, Ari was spooked by the Alcatraz ghost, and I was put on trial for doing some sort of lewd dance on a saloon bar the night before. The actors played their parts well and the group you travel with is small enough to give that really intimate feeling that you are trapped in a horror film and may not make it out alive. By using realistic props, sound effects, and interactive chair mechanisms, the Dungeon has done a really great job of making you feel in the moment.
This was the first time I’ve ever been to a Merlin Entertainments attraction, and I must say it made me want to try others. For those of you not in the San Francisco area, they have other Dungeon locations. In fact, the San Francisco installation is the first in the US, but ninth in the world. Other Dungeon locations can be found in Amsterdam, Berlin, Blackpool Tower, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Warwick Castle, and York, all using local history to take you on a journey through time.
San Francisco’s attraction is centered around the Barbary Coast, a notoriously rugged and wild part of our city alive in the 19th century known for its dance halls, saloons, and brothels. Each of the live performances at the Dungeon centers around a unseemly character and what they are after, whether it be gold, morbid scientific achievement, or selling the visitors as slaves. My favorite show was the final act where you are told of a ghost and then by using sound, light, and actor magic, you feel as if you are witnessing a poltergeist. Although all the shows were great, the Alcatraz actor we had was beyond entertaining. Scary, real, and so close, we really did think he might kill us.
After the show, I was afforded the special opportunity to speak with Matt Gunther, the Performance Supervisor and ask about the talent portion of the experience and how long they are trained. “Each actor learns two shows in three days to a week,” Matt said. “Once they have them down, they expand to learn other parts.” The show I watched had only one woman involved, but the parts are interchangeable. “Miss Piggott is the only role that is exclusively female,” said Marketing Coordinator, Jesse Russell. “All of the other roles are interchangeable. That’s one of the many exciting aspects of the Dungeon. All of our professional actors bring a unique flair to the characters, so you’ll never see the same set of shows twice.” This makes me want to go back and witness a whole new set of experiences.
Speaking of new experiences, the Dungeon has an April-only show called Death by Chocolate. Jesse went on to say, “Death by Chocolate is our April event which features a new character named Cordelia. She’s based on Cordelia Botkin who came to notoriety in the 1890’s for giving poisoned chocolate to the wife of a man with whom she had a sordid affair.” If you miss the April show, don’t despair. They have another top secret special coming in June 2015 that will run through the summer starring a special guest from one of their European dungeons. The Dungeon is a permanent installation on the wharf, but their shows are constantly changing. And what about our favorite time of year? Well, Jesse assured me, “The two weeks leading up to Halloween we plan to increase the scare factor during our night time shows.”
You might be wondering who created such an awesome place and how the stories all came together. The sets were created by Daniels Wood Land, who you might know from the Animal Planet television show Redwood Kings. The Paso Robles, California based company used rescued wood for the creation of the sets with some of the wood salvaged from World War II Japanese Internment Camps. As for the scripts, they were spearheaded by Dungeons Creative Director, Kieron Smith. The scripts were heavily researched using information from historical societies and books on the city’s history.
I asked Performance Supervisor, Matt Gunther, what makes the Dungeon so unique. “What makes the Dungeon great is, we’re on that knife’s edge of comedy and scary.”
Not only is the attraction great fun, but it also seems the employees love it too. Everyone from the front greeter to the giftshop staff seemed into it, engaged, and ready to riff off the spooky theme. Samantha Villegas, Duty Manager, said, “I love the dungeon, it’s my heart and soul.” And I believe it. Who wouldn’t want to work in such an awesome place?
Although the Dungeon will by far be the horror addicts favorite attraction, Merlin Entertainments is the second largest attractions company in the world. In addition to the Dungeons, they operate Legoland, Madame Tussauds, and Sea Life Aquariums. In San Francisco, Madame Tussauds just happens to be right next door, and if you’re taking your non-horror visitors there, they will get a kick out of posing with the famous stars. Whether you want to pose with great presidents of the past like Washington and Lincoln, sit next to Rosa Parks on the bus, jam out with Hendrix, or pose with the great croon master, Tony Bennett, this is the place for you. Other figures range from music stars, to movie stars, and even royalty.
For the horror addict, you will be creeped out by how life-like the statues are and even get to pose with Dr. Horrible if you wish. You’ll also be thrilled by seeing heads on stakes and a life-size figure of Madame Tussaud with what looks like a bloody head on her table. This attraction is sure to inspire some creepy stories of dolls coming to life like the mannequins in The Twilight Zone’s “After Hours” episode.
Our live reactions of the Dungeon can be heard on HorrorAddicts.net episode #113, coming April 25th.
Have you been to one of the Dungeons? Let us know what you thought and any creepy experiences you’ve had by commenting below or emailing email@example.com.