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EVENTS: The Glorious Madness of Escape Halloween 2023

Monday, November 6, 2023 | Events, Exclusives

Text and photos by SCOTT FEINBLATT

This Halloween season was a blast. In addition to the glory of the season and the “Great Haunt Hop (Parts 1 and 2)”  that you may have read on this site, this writer returned to Escape Halloween. Most of the basic facts about the EDM event’s design are included in the RUE MORGUE write-up I did last year. However, there are always fresh experiences waiting to be had any time a person chooses to venture into an Insomniac event, and this year’s Escape Halloween was no exception.

Once again, the event took place at the National Orange Show (NOS) Event Center. The Psycho Circus area was back with its plethora of musical, mystical and sexy stage acts. Of course, the Crazy Town zone, with its mayor (played by the boisterous Jeffrey Damnit), its fire organ and stage, and its various decorative areas and mini-party zones returned. There were also large-scale installations, such as a Ferris wheel and four trademark gloriously designed, spooky-themed stages: The Grimm, Feeding Grounds, Sanitarium and Sewer District.

In addition, this year, there was a fifth stage called Wicked Woods, which made randomly wandering throughout the event’s grounds an even more pleasantly overwhelming experience. As this writer/photographer could only attend the second day of the two-day EDM festival, my experiences of the programming were limited to the DJ line-up on Saturday evening. That alone, however, provided plenty of opportunities to dance the night away surrounded by waves upon waves {and as the hour grew late, waves upon waves upon waves upon waves) of costumed revelers.

In preparation for the night’s festivities, I researched a few lists of recommended DJs to check out and prepared a crib sheet, but in the process of assembling my photography gear and doing some last-minute sewing (so that my pirate sash was long enough), I forgot to grab my notes. While I did remember a few of the DJs I wanted to check out, I also resigned myself to a path of random discovery. Overall, I enjoyed portions of and entire sets by Siren, Green Velvet, William Black, Yetep, Matroda, DJ Snake and Zedd.

It was, however, in the two mini-clubs of Crazy Town (The Butcher and Poison Ivy), that I enjoyed the creepiest of what the event had to offer. The Butcher began with a microcosmic haunted maze, themed in accordance with the name of the establishment. Then, once guests emerged from the corridor of gory, dangling props, smoke and scare actors, they would enter a dance room decorated with dangling corpses and body bags. In one corner was the Butcher,  a sadistic-looking character who posed for menacing selfies with guests in his little, cannibalistic kitchen. A DJ table was stationed along one of the other walls, flanked by two human-sized meat scales that served as go-go stands for dancers dressed in torn, bloody outfits. Throughout the night, DJs Rocky Slaughter, Nicola Vendettoli and Kevin Krol rotated to provide the room with appropriately dark but indelibly dancy sets.

Over in Poison Ivy, Baseck and CZ laid down equally dark, heavy and hypnotic beats. The design of this mainstay room is as clever in its conception as it is in its execution. In the center of the room, there was an enormous Audrey II (the man-eating plant featured in Little Shop of Horrors), painted in dayglow colors that made the prop pop in the room’s black light. The rest of the room was spattered with varying hues of dayglow paint, giving it the effect of a zone thoroughly tainted with the poison of the centerpiece plant. Rounding out the theme were two zombiesque nurses who consistently drew poison from the plant in oversized syringes and pretended to inject patrons and their fellow cast member, a deliriously cackling mad scientist, while periodically licking the plant.

The horror hound in me found the most joy in immersing myself in the latter two areas, but as always, the sights and sounds of the entire fairground, with its colorful characters and extensive Halloween design, as well as the presence of tens of thousands of guests (many of whom go the extra mile and a half with their costumes), make Escape Halloween a great event to experience every year. There is simply nowhere else where one can find such an enormous hybrid of Halloween-themed entertainment, intricate production design, electronic dance music and oceans of people eager to lose themselves to the creepy bacchanalia.

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