Insomniac Events strikes again! Once more, this reporter heeded the call of a highly regarded music festival thrown by founder Pasquale Rotella’s promotional / organizing company. This time, it was right up my alley. As it is, I write about and photograph many horror-themed events, and when I learned that the same folks who threw the epic rave festival Nocturnal Wonderland — which I recently attended for the Weekly  — also organized a Halloween-themed bash, my fight for permission to stretch the jurisdictional boundaries of OC Weekly to extend to San Bernardino began anew. Although my experience of Insomniac’s Halloween festival, Escape Psycho Circus, was generally as enthralling as was my experience of Nocturnal Wonderland, one thing I wasn’t counting on was my discovery of one of the best haunted attractions that I’ve yet experienced.
Escape Psycho Circus was held at the National Orange Show (NOS) Event Center on Oct. 26-27. The NOS grounds featured four DJ stages, complete with Halloween-influenced art design and projections. The stages were colorfully named: Ghouls’ Graveyard, Cannibals’ Tea Party, The Chopping Block, and Slaughterhouse; over the course of the festival’s two days, the stages had been scheduled to host 66 DJs. There was also a large plastic dome with a DJ / mini dance space— bearing the standard of event sponsor Corona Electric Beach — and a semi-hidden club called the Shanghai Surprise Speakeasy.
As I’d confessed when writing about Nocturnal Wonderland, I’m new to the EDM scene, and I was unfamiliar with any of the DJs, so I wound up sampling a bit of the sounds from each of the tents throughout the evening. I particularly enjoyed various moments from sets by DJs No Requests, Tinlicker, Lane 8, Mercer, and Kayzo. Beyond the music tents, the grounds housed an enormous playground. There was a carousel, a ferris wheel, a gigantic Medusa’s head with snakes that blasted flames, numerous carnivalesque and horror-themed backdrops and sets for photo ops, as well as bars and rest stations. There were also wandering fanciful characters and a circus area with fortune tellers, acrobats, magicians, etc. There was also the Psycho Circus big top, wherein guests could sit on bleachers and watch magic and juggling acts, burlesque performances, and similarly themed fare.
Throughout the massively attended Halloween event — the average rate per the last couple of years is well over 100,000 people — festival fashions featured a fascinating hybrid of Halloween and rave gear. For anyone who favors Halloween as their number one holiday, the setting alone was a paradise. As per the predominance of drug use at EDM festivals, there were naturally a few casualties. Thankfully, there were no deaths reported, but I did spy a couple of fascinating scenes; one of these included a girl being wheeled away by paramedics — I believe she was dressed as Wonder Woman, but in her slumped-over state with long hair covering her face, she looked more like the ghost from The Ring. Another sight was a little less troubling: a girl dressed as a skeleton was hugging a trash can and purging the contents of her stomach while her girlfriends, also dressed as skeletons, patted her on the back and consoled her.
Once again, Insomniac Events offered reasonable accommodations for all of its guests. Restrooms and trash receptacles were plentiful, as were staff, security, and first aid providers. There was free, filtered, cold water for attendees who didn’t want to pay the exorbitant vendor prices, and there were also helpful signs put up to warn attendees of a particularly powerful drug. The sign featured an image of a triangular-shaped pill and identified “Orange Tesla” as a dangerous and extremely high dose pill. On the subject of ingesting pills, it’s high time I got around to discussing the festival’s epic Halloween centerpiece, The Asylum, which featured its own prescription medication.
The haunted attraction’s exterior resembled a prison. It was flanked by security kiosks and metal fences. Actors dressed as doctors, nurses, and security guards patrolled the area, while spotlights searched through the crowd, and scenes of doctors restraining patients and administering severe psychiatric treatments were projected onto the walls. Guests were given waivers to sign, which designated their permission to be handled roughly and to be put into dangerous situations.
Each group of about 10 guests was berated by an orderly, who then marched them, single file, up to a processing desk, where they handed their waivers over to a couple of stern-looking nurses. A doctor, flanked by a midget doctor, then welcomed the inmates, who were subsequently fitted with straight jackets, administered SweeTart medication from a paper cup, and then fitted with face masks (ala Hannibal Lecter). Next came a march past some caged men who menaced guests — one did so with his hand down the front of his pants and a twisted grin.
After being placed inside a padded room with a raving lunatic who shoved us around and mildly battered us with a rubber stick, the wall opened and we continued our adventure into the depths of the enormous 32,000 square foot maze. [Sorry, dear reader, but I was denied permission to photograph the glorious interior.] Rooms included demented and cannibalistic scenes, featuring Alice in Wonderland imagery; an appearance by Slender Man; an enormous hedge maze; a derelict carnival environment; a hallway designed like an extensive closet space with a flickering light bulb and shadow figures; sadistic clowns; an experimental surgery ward; etc.
All of this was experienced while bound in our straightjackets and masks, while clumped in our group — except for that straggler whom was captured and tormented for a prolonged period. During the final hallway, a wall-projection of our doctor informed us in a deadpan voice that we had been cured; nurses greeted us in the final room to remove our bindings. Beyond the maze, one or two more actors jumped out to scare the guests as we returned to the main area of the fairgrounds, but before we got there, we were invited to wander into a strange Chinese scene, duck inside of a refrigerator and enter the Shanghai Surprise Speakeasy, a scenic little club with its own DJs,a bar, and charming set and lighting design.
My experience of Escape Psycho Circus was easily one of the best of the Halloween events I’ve ever attended. Though I’ll never favor DJs over actual musicians — perhaps because I’ve never tried the Orange Tesla — the scene was simply unbeatable. Insomniac Events has thrown another epic festival whose careful and flavorful design facilitated a wondrous vibe that, when fueled with electronic beats, enabled tens of thousands of free-spirited people to thrive happily for another brilliant weekend.