Update (9/26/16): Knott’s has changed the name of the VR experience to just Fear VR after several mental health advocate organizations across the country were in an uproar over the use of “5150” that they stated propagates the stigma of mental illness.
Update (9/28/16): The backlash was too overwhelming for Knott’s and they have made the decision to close the attraction.
You won’t be able to turn away from this disturbing Gear VR hospital experience.
The seasonal Halloween Haunt event at Knott’s Berry Farm in California kicks off today, transforming the theme park into 160 acres of terrifying mazes and roaming monsters. The month-long event, that is celebrating its 44th year, is also adding an entirely new experience this year — scaring visitors in virtual reality.
The VR haunted experience makes its debut tonight and will have you coming face-to-face with paranormal chaos with sights, sounds and touch that overload your senses. Fear VR: 5150, which takes its name from the California police code for a mentally ill person who is a danger to himself or others, will have you strapped into a chair as you begin a medical examination when darkness takes over the medical staff around you.
I got a sneak peek of the roughly 10-minute FearVR: 5150 experience at Knott’s, which made use of real actors before and after the VR portion of the attraction. The four-minute 360° video segment has you donning a Gear VR headset while actors dressed in medical outfits strap you at the wrists in a wheelchair. After a “nurse” checks your straps and gives directions on where to look in headset, you find yourself transported into Meadowbrook Institute.
The premise of the story revolves around a demonically possessed patient named Katie who has taken over the hospital you’ve been admitted to and soon total chaos rains down on you as medical staff try to push you to safety in the wheelchair. The entire experience is filled with quick scares and graphic imagery of bodies and haunting montages.
Adding to the entire FearVR: 5150 experience was the use of haptic feedback from the chair you sat in and other elements around you. It felt like you were actually being pushed in a wheelchair as your seat rumbled. You also felt present in a cold dreary hospital as air jets blew across your body.
The Knott’s creative team collaborated with Simi Valley-based Hollow Studios to shoot the 360° video over three days at a local college movie studio. The physical installations and setup were built by the Knott’s prop team who as we know, are already veterans at creating physical horror experiences.
The VR experience will be available during Halloween Haunt on select nights in September and October at Knott’s as well as California’s Great America in Santa Clara and Canada’s Wonderland outside Toronto. For the Knott’s park, the VR attraction will be an upcharge to guests, many who may be trying virtual reality for the first time. The cost is $10 or $15 per person depending on the event night. A limited number of reservations will be available on a first-come basis when Knott’s Scary Farm opens each night. You can visit the ticket kiosk located outside The Dead of Winter: Revenge of the Wendigo maze in the Boardwalk area to make a reservation.
Fear VR: 5150 is just part of a growing trend by theme parks to add virtual reality experiences to rides and entertainment events. Six Flags has been promoting their Gear VR tricked out roller coaster across the country. Universal Orlando has been testing a Hulk VR experience on one of their rides. And on the more scary side, Universal Orlando is also offering a VR experience that has you working in teams while wearing a VR headset to uncover a paranormal mystery. Across the pond, Derren Brown introduced an entirely new type of group VR ride, utilizing HTC VIVE headsets that suspended 58 users at a time in a railway carriage.