Me, Husband, and a severed head.
  • Me, Husband, and a severed head.

“That chupacabra was a total dick.”

“I don’t know the rules of human-centipede-ing!”

“Ugh, I am so sick of tentacles on my face.”

“Fuck yeah, I found a tongue! Score!”

“I don’t even see the point of washing off all this blood.”

These are just a few of the things I heard and/or said during the Great Horror Campout, and they all, amazingly, made perfect sense at the time. Part scavenger hunt, part immersive horror-fest, the GHC caters to adults who miss summer camp but also wish it had been way more terrifying.

At one point, Husband and I were in our tent resting and changing clothes (because of, you know, all the blood), when—in one creepily fluid movement—a ghoul slid in through the flap and sat between us. Her face looked half-rotted, and her jaw hung sideways like it broke years ago and never healed. In all of two seconds, she was in, sitting between us, staring straight ahead with vacant, jaundiced eyes, and Husband and I froze, and we all sat like that until Husband did the only thing he could think of: gave her one of his Sour Patch Kids. She took it, seemingly fascinated, and nibbled it slowly. Then she looked toward me and hissed angrily. Husband slid the bag of candy to me, and I pulled out another candy to offer her. Satisfied, she relaxed and nibbled the second candy, her mutilated jaw flapping. We squeezed past her slowly and ran off into the night, leaving her in our tent, caring only that we got away.

Now, at no point during that encounter were either of us actually unaware that the “ghoul” was a regular human, a person who watches TV and eats Cronuts like everyone else. But that’s a key feature of the GHC: So long as you commit and play along, the actors will stay in character, and suspension of disbelief can come easily. (It also helps that the costuming and makeup are absolutely top-notch, even up close.)

You must commit! It’s absolutely key—and a requirement for some of the highest-level scavenger-hunt items. We won the coveted and rare severed head by (among other things) twerking, imitating lions, and limbo-ing enthusiastically enough to stand out from a crowd. You have to leave your dignity locked in your car, where the monsters can’t get to it.

You dont want to know how this happened.
  • You don't want to know how this happened.

The GHC incorporates a lot of humor—more than I expected. But there’s also a lot of really scary shit! It makes for nice variety. One of my favorite things involved creeping around a maze, dodging genuinely terrifying monsters from whom my only defense was freezing stock-still. Trying to stay motionless while something out of a nightmare crawled around my feet was a serious fucking challenge, which meant it felt like a capital-A Accomplishment to complete. Well played, GHC.

One of the monsters hovering near the base camp was Cthulhu himself, who liked to lurk near the porta-potties and sneak up behind unsuspecting hand-washers. His seaweed-tentacle-fingers were somehow always cold, wet, and slimy, and he loved slapping people in the face with them. I always have a knack for attracting elder gods, and this was no exception; Cthulhu took a liking to me and started lurching toward me whenever I entered the area. Somehow, he learned my name. He slapped my face with his tentacles roughly a billion times. Sometimes I jogged around and led him in little circles and figure eights around the camp area. I felt like we had a real connection—I’ll miss him.

I only heard one person use the safe phrase “I want my mommy!” (It gets you out of any situation instantly, but I think you have to go back to base camp and leave the activity? The rules weren’t totally clear.) In fact, I’m amazed to be writing this, but it could be a little scarier. For example, I only got grabbed and bound once, and most monsters could be escaped just by leaping away from them. Higher stakes would make the experience more intense, although I’m sure there are already myriad legal concerns as it is.

Going in, I confess I had my doubts that the GHC concept could be pulled off. It seemed all too likely that it would either be too silly/tacky to take seriously, or too purely terrifying to be any fun. In actuality, it exists in that awesome middle ground of creepy and enjoyable, aided by participants who obviously want it to work.

The Great Horror Campout is a creation of California-based Ten Thirty One Productions, and this is their first time taking it on tour. Organizers say it’s been a big enough hit that they’re already planning another one next year.