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.