Horror movies have been a source of thrilling entertainment for decades and they have a lot of wisdom on the best way to shock and amaze an audience. Here are a few things we’ve learned from movies that can appear in any theme of Escape Game.
1. Take time to establish your world.
No horror movie starts out as an all-out scarefest because they know the audience needs to figure out what’s going on first. Instead there’s usually about 15 minutes of the ‘status quo’ of the world: Friday The 13th is a summer camp, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a highschool or Night of the Living Dead is a world…totally not yet overrun with zombies. Then, when a villain comes in and turns the world upside down, it’s that much more exciting.
In the same way as a movie, players entering an escape room need a little time to establish where they are and what’s going on. Throwing in shocks too early can either confuse players or leave them less surprised and delighted. Letting players first get used to the space and ‘status quo’ of the room makes any changes that much more exciting.
2. But, hook your audience first!
Horror movies know an audience looking for a thrill doesn’t want to sit through 15 minutes of exposition so many choose the ‘cold open’ method of placing a shock before their credits even role. An unexpected kill or scare kicks off most horror movies. It may not make narrative sense yet, but it eventually ties in and ensures the audience is glued to the rest of the movie.
Throwing in twists once players are first IN a room may not work well but, you can add a lot to an experience by throwing a narrative or gameplay twist BEFORE it begins and split the difference. Think about what your players may not expect based on marketing or buzz online for the game. Adding the unexpected into an intro video or the immediate look/feel of a room excites players and tends to get even casual escapees raring to engage with the puzzles. From there they can find their footing in the room.
3. Space out the surprises
The infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho doesn’t happen until deep into the movie. Up until that point, the movie was a tense crime thriller that still engaged audiences, but the killing of the main character and a new mysterious threat completely changes the game of the narrative.
Hitchcock knew that giving his audience time to invest in a narrative would shake them up more in the future. If you plan your Escape Game to have twists in narratives and big reveals in puzzles its best to space them out. You don’t want all your trap doors and world shifting coming all at once. You’ll never know how players will approach puzzles or what speed they’ll move but if you want to subvert expectations and really excite people, make sure your players are deeply thinking your game is one thing before you surprise them that it’s really another.
4. Don’t forget the looming threat.
Good Horror Movies spend plenty of time with their villains looming in the background and cutting from their heroes back to the threat that’s after them. This works to establish a connection and ramps up the tension the audience feels for the peril their heroes face.
Escape Games have a time limit and many feature a timer of some sort to keep the pressure up but you can really play with the tension in your players by how you deliver this info. Audio timers, countdown clocks and changing music can ramp up the tension and timing it perfectly can remind your players what happens in your narrative if they fail. Often a reminder flourish halfway through a longer room can guarantee a burst of excited energy from players who are struggling or are less energetic.
5.Always get one good last scare in!
A horror movie ending on the baddie being killed and the hero prevailing can sometimes feel like a letdown to an audience looking for a scare. To battle this many classic movies like Carrie and Friday The 13th throw in their greatest shock right before the credits roll.
This is a fun technique for an Escape Game as well. If a team just stumbles across a key and waltzes out, they’re still winning but they might be less excited about it. Nothing thrills and delights escaping teams more than the heart-stopping realization that they’ve screwed up or are still stuck right before they escape. Some of the best Escape experiences we’ve had involve one last twist or puzzle right before the exit that ramps up the tension and makes your escape that much sweeter.