Arts & Culture » Theater

'Terror Vault' will make SF scream

by Sari Staver

The "Terror Vault" doll is designed to creep you out. Photo: Courtesy Terror Vault
The "Terror Vault" doll is designed to creep you out. Photo: Courtesy Terror Vault  

"Terror Vault," an immersive haunted journey though the underground vaults at the historic old San Francisco Mint, opens on Oct. 10 for a four-week run. The new attraction is San Francisco's first haunted house experience, according to Joshua Grannell, the writer-director who will make an appearance as Peaches Christ during the tour through the newly constructed maze inside the ornate granite building at Fifth and Mission, a historic site now used for events and conferences.

"It's part immersive theatre, part haunted maze, and part escape room," said Grannell in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We hope to make you laugh and scream."

Grannell created the new show with business partner David Flower, who has produced haunted house events in Provincetown for many years. The two formed a new production company, Into the Dark, which hopes to produce immersive theatrical events "for the Bay Area and beyond," said Grannell.

During the 45-minute show, groups of 12 will be guided through the "haunted house." Participants can choose whether to "opt in" for an interactive experience, or "opt out" to be a passive participant and watch the action happening around them. Tickets are sold for a specific time, scheduled every half-hour between 8:30 and 10 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.

Those who opt in for interactivity "should be prepared to be shocked, thrilled and amazed," said Grannell. "You could be touched, become part of the show, pulled away from your group and isolated, written on, asked to eat something, climb or crawl," he said. Opting in, he added, is for people who like to "choose their own adventure," and probably not the best choice for those who are easily terrified.

Grannell, whose stage name is Peaches Christ, is a drag performer, emcee, filmmaker, writer, director and actor. He said Halloween has been his favorite holiday "since I was a kid. I was always interested in spooky, creepy stuff."

Growing up near Baltimore, Grannell said, "Going to haunted house attractions was always my passion. I was terrified but also fascinated by the staging and special effects." During summers at Ocean City, MD, Grannell would often visit the gigantic house "Morbid Manor." He recalled "staring at the long line of people entering, and then being chased out with a chain saw at the end. My parents thought my fascination with it was quite strange." He noted that he was producing horror plays in the family basement by age 11.


Peaches Christ is in a scene in every Terror Vault show. Photo: Jose A. Guzman  

At age 14, Grannell said his ambitions "grew" when he got permission from a local landlord to use a big plot of empty land near his parents' home to create a "scary tour through the woods." The teenager wrote the scripts, built the props, and held auditions with neighborhood kids. "It was my first taste of showmanship where I was interfacing with the public, not just putting on a play for friends and family," he recalled. "My mother was the ticket lady, and my father starred in the chainsaw finale, where we chased people out in the final scene."

Grannell said he "really enjoyed the marketing," creating and distributing posters to promote his event. "People knew it was put on by kids, but I think we really impressed them with the detail and thought we put into the production."

When Grannell settled in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, he was surprised there wasn't a successful haunted experience anywhere in the city. "Most major cities and suburbs have one."

When Grannell met business partner David Flower in Provincetown, "It was kind of obvious that we should be working together" to do something in San Francisco. The two decided to partner with NonPlus Ultra, which operates the Mint and other venues for the city.

Grannell said he has been the writer and director, and Flower the production designer of the new show. Their newly formed company Into the Dark hopes to continue creating immersive theatrical productions when "Terror Vault" closes on Nov. 3. "David agreed with me that it was absolutely crazy that San Francisco didn't have something" haunted.

To create the new show, Grannell said he and Flower each had to "cancel" all their previously scheduled commitments for September and October. "We both took a risk" to create the new show, he said, "but I really believe in this, and wanted to see it happen. This may sound obnoxious, but I have always created things that I would want to see, whether it's a show, a movie, or a play. I've always followed my passion.

"I really wanted San Francisco to have an experience that was scary and campy, where people can scream and laugh. Now more than ever, given the state of the world, people are attracted to an experience that is a safe and fun way to experience fear. That release component is definitely part of 'Terror Vault.'"

Master showman that he is, Grannell urges San Franciscans to order their tickets early. "Tickets are selling briskly, and there are only a finite number available," he said. The show cannot be extended because the venue has other events locked in. "Everyone is asking whether Peaches will be in the show, and the answer is yes. She's in a scene in the middle of every show. You cannot miss her.

"The show is dark and creepy," said Grannell, "but it's still a Peaches Christ show in terms of laughs and fun."

Tickets for "Terror Vault," 88 5th St., SF ($67.92): www.eventbrite.com/e/into-the-dark-terror-vault-ages-21-tickets-46585228673
Cocktail bar with specialty drinks available.


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