I just got back from the Great Horror Campout Portland Oregon, 2014, event. This was the 2nd year the events been held at all, and the first time in Portland. Let’s start off with saying: I absolutely loved this event. I am already planning on going again next year. Every single dollar I spent on this was 100% worth it, and I would definitely rate it 5 stars. It was also the second year this event has gone down, and I look forward to them improving many things (and reading the reviews, it sounds like even during this year, they took advice and greatly improved).
I was unsure what I was getting into when I signed up. Some of the things I heard they wanted to do sounded like borderline torture, an “extreme” horror event that would potentially leave me emotionally scarred, while some reviews made it sound like a subpar snoozefest that would leave with me regret. Nonetheless, I went in with high hopes.
This event should be advertised as an all night, horror themed scavenger hunt. This is a game. At times its a competition, other times its cooperative, and other times its a test of your own skills. And its all horror themed. There is an area to watch horror movies, to listen to scary stories told by a fire, there are monsters prowling the tents pulling you out if you try to rest, there are forested areas filled with creatures, there’s a “Voodoo” magic ritual, a haunted-house, a labyrinth filled with monsters, and lots and lots of things you have to reach into to pull something out.
I think its important to note here there are many types of horror. Hostel and Rosemary’s Baby are NOTHING alike, but both are categorized as horror movies. What scares certain people is laughable to others. “Screamer” horror, where something jumps out at you is very common at haunted houses, but it generally makes me laugh. There’s gross out horror, such as reaching into gunk or seeing gore. There is the fear of waiting for something or the sense of being hunted. Sensory Deprivation is a type of horror that can actually really get me jumping. There’s torture and humiliation horror, where you actually have to experience it. There’s lots of other types of horror, and I felt that this event had a little bit of everything. Screamer and gross out humor are the easiest to employ and there was plenty of it. The only thing lacking is anything that would be classified as “Extreme,” but I’m sure its hard to get too many people to sign up for true torture. Many of my friends didn’t sign up because they were worried about how bad it could possibly be, so my reinsurance that its not that extreme will definitely bring them in.
A day or two before the event, you receive a printable Dossier, which includes what various events there are, what “SCAG” items you are looking for, and hints / riddles. An example is that one hint is “The Penitent Man knows to ask for Agony.” During one event, you are asked “What do you desire,” answering “Agony” gets them painting blood on you, as well as a piece of scag that you might need to be crowned a “Hellmaster” (aka winning). This just tickled my fancy, and made it a mind game. My focus was now split between reading the dossier, figuring out what to do, and worrying about what was sneaking up on me.
So we get there, start pulling in, and someone runs right in front of my car. He’s one of the “Mutated hillbillies,” and starts yelling at me “What the fuck! Get through that fucking gate!” And just like that, this shit is on. This isn’t going to be child friendly, this has hollywood level make up, and this shit is going to involve both harassment and shit jumping out at you.
While standing in line for check in, you get harassed by the mutated hillbillies. Everyone did a great job, and really kept to a character. Some of them would steal your items and run off with them, and others just stood way too close while talking at you. A less murderous version of the Hills Have Eyes. While going through security, we talked to a cute a couple and we eventually formed a “Group” to help each other out and join the events. After checking in, you go through security, get to your tent, and can set up. During the process, there are prowlers who jump into people’s tents or do the infamous rev-a-chainsaw right behind you trick, there are mutants “kidnapping” people and making them publicly grovel, and a few monsters who just want to hug you with their big goo covered bodies. At a set time, there is orientation, where they basically go over the rules of the games, an idea of what’s about to happen and things to expect. And then you’re off, for the next X hours, you are released to enjoy the area they’ve created.
We started by going to the “Dumpsters.” A bunch of satyrs, who looked fucking amazing (I’m going to stop that. EVERYONE at this event looked fucking amazing. There was not a costume that didn’t make me say “Wow, thats well done.”) guard some dumpsters. You have to jump into the dumps-
Nope. I was kidnapped. Hood thrown over my head, dragged off, and forced to my knees. I then hear someone shouting for volunteers. “Whose going to join this bitch in the woods! Don’t make me bag all of you fucks!” I hear some roughing up, then told to stand, and put my hands forward. My hands are guided to someones shoulders, and then we march. The ground is uneven, and I have TO “watch” where I step while blindfolded as the ground is uneven. The people around me are freaking out, “Oh god, did you just see that.” “Oh shit, there’s something following us.” No, I have a bag over my head, I can’t see shit! But, I am seeing movement. A scream, some laughter. Eventually we come to an end. Our guide removes my hood, and tells us to go over there, in the dark forest, and we’ll find some scag.
As described earlier, some things scare me, others don’t. Being bagged didn’t scare me itself, but it set me in the mood. The group I was with was scared for me, and one was already freaked out. While none in our group got kidnapped again, plenty of others did. There was a van going around grabbing people. Other people were thrown into cages, which looked terrifying, “hunters” who would catch you and “feed” you to a monster, and while I never witnessed it, there were apparently zombies throwing people into coffins. To get all the scag, you had to be exploring areas while being ever vigilant of monsters coming at you.
I’m not going to detail everything, because there was a lot. So much so, I didn’t actually participate in all of it (I missed an event or two). The area we were guided to had human corpses that you had to reach into, through gore, to find scag items. Some were large, like ribs, others were small pentagram coins. There were events that were physical competitions of you against others. There were very hidden things to find. There was a labyrinth with monsters in it that if they saw you moving, you were dragged out and had to start over. There was a “haunted” house area with the strobe lights and things jumping at you (it was a decently done haunted house; better than some haunted houses I’ve paid $20 to go through just once). A pool that you floated through while a creature tried to flip you. There were mandatory events, one being just tug of war, another being a game called “Blood tag.” I’ll let you imagine that one. Basically, outside of people who wanted to literally be tortured (which I give, some of the advertisements made it sound like you might get taken to a dungeon and literally get waterboarded or given electroshock therapy), it had a little bit of everything for everyone. It wasn’t “extreme,” but I felt there was something to get everyone. Again though, the event is first and most of all a Scavenger Hunt, with a horror theme. It was far from the scariest thing I’ve done in my life, but it is easily one of the most fun times I had with a horror theme.
The event got even better later. Around 1 AM it got completely dark and many people had decided to clock in for the night and take their chances in their tent. I spent little time in the actual camp area, Now, it was very dark and there weren’t people screaming warnings of when something was coming. There were no lines for any of the events either. I wandered into “Creature Country,” and actually got scared. This is an area where creatures could, and would, actually capture you. With no back up, I was digging trying to find an item, and then I hear a twig snap behind me to my left. Then another to my right. I stand slowly, and look over my left shoulder. A monster is breathing down my neck. To my right, another. I take a breath, and then I scatter. I scatter the wrong way too, and I think I lose them. I have a freaking flashlight, and they know the area...I can’t lose them. They play with me for a bit, eventually decide they are done, and guide me to the item. I grab it and start heading BOO! Another monster jumps out at me shrieking. I fall to my knees, take a deep breath in, and just start laughing. They fucking got me.
At the very beginning people were spread out, but it quickly got clumped up. I loved the rush of having a group that was watching out for your back while you were reaching into gunk, but when there are a dozen other groups nearby screaming and alerting you when somethings coming… gets rid of some of it. Not to mention, there was a ton of light pollution. By the end of the night, when I was alone or with just another or two, we could see nothing but that spooky glowing cabin in the far distance and the exact area my flashlight shown on. Unfortunately, outside of either “Get a bigger venue,” which has lots of difficulties which may or may not be out of the hosts hands, or “Have less people a night,” which goes against the concept of profitability, I can’t think of a fix for these. The camp did have plenty of Mandatory events throughout which took large portions of people off the field at a time to do some other awesome events. The scavenger hunt ended at 2:30am, and I do wish it was open a bit later because, for me, the best time was after 12:30 or 1ish when people were crashing for the night.
Another problem was that there was a lot of passing of information. Clues being answered and many people learning it, or hidden areas being talked about and next thing you know there is a line. This isn’t something I can blame on the hosts though. As discussed earlier, I formed a small group of 4, and when we figured something out we tried to discreetly share it with each other. Still, sometimes what we said in whisper was overheard by another group. And we were trying to be discreet. While the camp counselors could discourage it, there was actually fun in bartering information with others. This is another unavoidable problem.
The third problem is really the complaint of a loser. I did not earn the title of “Hellmaster” by the end of the night, and I really tried. To become Hellmaster, you had to collect a certain # of items from certain areas. The hardest items were either through competition or limited in #. For the competitions, I often found myself competing against tons of different people, and they were long events. The smallest competition was 7 people, and the largest was somewhere around 40, and they often took somewhere of over 10 minutes each. Of everyone who signed up, only 16 people had a chance to take the Hellmaster challenge. I would have aced the Hellmaster test, which was horror movie trivia, but I couldn’t get those items. Simply put, I didn’t do what I needed. The competition made it a ton of fun for me. Some people thrive on competition, other people thrive on competition but only if they win. I’m a little sore I didn’t become hellmaster, but it’s really just fueling me into being better next year.
Let’s conclude this shit. I loved this, and am strongly recommending all my friends join me next year (and then stealing their stuff so I can be Hellmaster! Bwahaha!). The monsters were amazing, both in make-up as well as acting. All the games were enjoyable, and the concept is solid. It wasn’t the scariest thing I’ve been to, but easily one of the most fun. The faults I found in it could simply be the faults of reality. A huge thing to me though is I’ve read the reviews from last year, and the ones from earlier this year, and I see a lot of improvement. They are taking the feedback to heart. If they keep doing that, I can see this being an event I never miss again until it becomes Burning Man huge.