ORLANDO, Fla. - As you enter the dark set — an old library from the 1700s filled with ancient artifacts — at Universal Orlando Resort's new Halloween experience, it's obvious you're in for a creepy time.
The actor playing a librarian flips from quirky to spooky as he warns of a deadly curse if you venture into a warehouse filled with powerful, paranormal artifacts. But none of his warnings and babblings can quite prepare you for The Repository, a new virtual reality experience that opened Thursday as part of Universal Orlando Resort's annual Halloween Horror Nights.
The immersive, interactive adventure features human actors as well as first-of-its-kind virtual reality technology. Participants in groups of four follow a series of signs that must be remembered in the right order to wipe out the curse. And don't you dare let go of the keystone you're given. You'll need it to finish the challenge.
Be prepared for a pricey evening as well as a spooky one. The Repository, which runs select nights through Oct. 31, costs an additional $49.99 plus tax on top of the $104.99 general admission (prices can vary; details at www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com/Orlando ).
The experience keeps you on edge as you and your group are guided through various rooms in the warehouse where actors and props await. It's not an experience for those who scare easily or have personal space issues. The actors come close, talk loudly and are extremely animated as they react to your words, expressions and movements.
"What this place is built on is interaction," said T.J. Mannarino, senior director of art and design at Universal's entertainment division. "It's all about you and what you do together and with the actors in the space and even with the objects and the props that you come into contact with."
He added: "You now have the chance to be the story and we as storytellers now interact and react to what you do as you move to through the space."
The highlight of the 30-minute show is a virtual reality, or VR, experience, while wearing goggles, that creates the illusion of being in a cemetery with paranormal activity swirling around. It will leave the bravest person afraid to move.
"We have found that a very small amount of external senses really goes a long way in VR, whether that is motion, whether that is winds or just the implication of something flying over you," said Thomas Geraghty, advanced technology director at Universal Creative.
With goggles on, participants walk around a 20-by-20-foot room as they search for symbols, Geraghty said. "So you can really have some agency and explore the whole library and find your way around the tower," he said.
Once out of the virtual reality experience, you and your group come back together. Now you must remember the symbols and their order, and align the keystones accordingly to solve the curse. You don't get a lot of time to complete the task, but there's a payoff, says Mannarino: "You can pretty much wipe the curse out and basically neutralize this place from all of its evil."