Delusion Haunted Play is, without a doubt, one of the most revered and well-respected Halloween-season attractions in Southern California. Almost no other event can match the quality of its rich and detailed productions, consisting of historical settings, theater-level quality sound and lighting, and professional actors. Sure, the ticket price is steep, but it’s worth it, because Delusion is not just another haunt with actors jumping out from behind corners to extract a cheap startle. Delusion sets the stage with elaborate back stories, immersive scenery, and the chance for you to “play your part” in interactive sequences expertly sprinkled throughout the experience.
At least, this is what we’ve come to expect from Delusion. This year, however, we were left feeling that the production came up a bit short compared with previous years.
The 2022 iteration, titled “Valley of Hollows,” is a continuation of the storyline from last year, in which Esther Phillips, the collector of souls who disappeared many years previously, has nevertheless inspired a rabid cult following in the 1970s. These cult members have flocked to her estate, where sinister and murderous scenes unfold. Guests play the role of deprogrammers searching for someone who escaped the cult as a boy but now, as a grown man, seems to be back in its clutches.
Along the way, the deprogrammers will have to evade detection from the groundskeepers and others who are involved in a sort of grave-robbing and corpse-reanimating scheme, ostensibly continuing some of the soul-capturing activities of Esther Phillips.
Although this is certainly an interesting back story, most of it is clear only if you read about it beforehand on the Delusion website. One person in our group foolishly went into the performance “blind,” because he didn’t want to be spoiled. He ended up having no idea what was going on most of the time. And although the rest of us read the back story, we still couldn’t be sure how the special “soil” worked, or what exactly the creature was that chased us down a tunnel. A creepy ventriloquist-type doll shouted at us, but it was almost impossible to hear and understand its words. A spider-type creature with human legs popped up a few times, which was terrifying but left us wondering how it tied in with the story.
Plot aside, Delusion is, as always, a wonder to look at and experience. Stepping inside the Phillips Mansion in Pomona, we were instantly transported back in time. And this year, they’ve added a layer of set dressing that convincingly turns the stately Victorian-era home into a crumbling and dirty hippie flophouse. Grateful Dead–style posters hang on the walls adjacent to a fireplace adorned with blurry Polaroids. A record player scratches out Fleetwood Mac songs as you hang out in the living room before your allotted performance time. Once again, the actors were fantastic and convincing, and we were amazed at their ability to not break character when someone in our group selected “baby carrots” as his new “family” cult name.
The design of some of the creatures was also some of the best we’ve seen from Delusion including monsters that came out of the shadows to chase us into the next scene and the previously mentioned spider hybrid that left us feeling completely discomfited.
This year, the action feels a bit more frenetic in general. There seemed to be more crouching, hurrying, hiding, and generally moving faster than we remember. This gave the play more energy but at the expense of not being able to savor individual scenes. But maybe this was for the best, as the 1970s setting felt dirtier and more monochrome than some of the lavish and colorfully lit settings from previous years. On the other hand, there was less “interaction” between the guests and actors during the play. One unique feature of Delusion has always been the chance that you would be pulled aside into a separate space and given either a task or special instructions that helped the story along. There would also be the chance to explore rooms or hold objects that would used later in the plot. The use of these devices seems very scaled back this year. Perhaps this is because of COVID precautions, which is understandable; still, this unique feature is sorely missed.
Yet, we have these criticisms only because we’ve experienced every Delusion performance in the past. But first-time visitors will likely not notice any of these things. In fact, we attended with people who had never been before, and they loved it! Delusion remains one of the best haunted attractions in Southern California and is well worth a visit this year. However, we hope to see the return of more interactive elements next year that will truly allow us to “play our part.”
We opted to upgrade to the VIP Experience, which comes with access to a “Kool-Aid” bar with custom drinks (extra charge), a small crawl/walk-through maze experience, and a lounge area where you can sit and enjoy your Kool-Aid. Although the maze is fun, it’s mostly just a dark tunnel this year that requires crawling (those with bad knees…beware), and the drinks are somewhat overpriced (not surprisingly). We recommend skipping the VIP experience this year and instead hang out near the concessions on the main grounds, which offer some excellent snacks and drinks and an atmosphere that’s actually more conducive to chatting with friends.
Delusion: Valley of Hollows is open now through November 20. Tickets are timed and start at $89. A VIP experience is also available for an additional charge.