Year after year, local drag legend Peaches Christ’s demonic attraction Terror Vault is a haunted house on haunted steroids, an interactive nightmare with a complex narrative and dozens of actors. Past iterations have involved abductions, the need to catch “dead rats” so the bad guys won’t get you, and a strobe-lit room filled with punching bag clowns, one of whom turns out to be a real-life evil clown.
This year’s installment, dubbed The Summoning, involves three entirely separate time periods and numerous highly curated thrills (and gross-outs). Patrons can simply submit to it all—or you can choose to be one of the brave few who wears a red necklace, symbolizing a willingness to become absorbed into the plot by any malevolent entity that comes along.
If you’re the kind of person who thinks a peeled grape and some wet spaghetti in the dark is sufficiently scary, kindly move on.
The Summoning is spread out over multiple floors of one of San Francisco’s spookiest buildings, the Old Mint on Fifth Street. While it hosts fancy events and weddings throughout the year, the grandly deteriorating structure has a subterranean level that’s unnervingly eerie even in the afternoon. Some rooms—chambers, really—have vaulted ceilings and a general vibe that someone may have been buried in the walls along with a stash of gold doubloons.
“I just think it’s a gem of the city,” she told The Standard, conducting a tour in a svelte, ghoulish look reminiscent of a Cossack noble by way of Mars Attacks! “It’s falling apart and still gorgeous. This year, for the first time ever, we’re taking guests up to the third level.”
The Summoning begins in Fang Bang, the vampire-themed bar—which serves real cocktails, so show up early—where a rogue vampire has started to feast on human blood, spurring the other vampires to kill her. They don’t quite do it, and the resulting plot detours through the medieval period and through one Vivian Vain’s 19th century cosmetics factory, where the lipstick is human blood and the wigs are scalps. If you’re particularly unlucky, you may get a free beauty consultation.
Throughout, there are movie-grade scares and Easter eggs for longtime Peaches Christ fans—including the guillotine from her 2010 black comedy All About Evil—as well as props donated by Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, himself an avid collector of horror memorabilia. Because it’s Peaches, The Summoning is also filled with male nudity and in-your-face queerness.
When setting up this labyrinth, which is so elaborate that some Old Mint staff have gotten lost, some of the pieces even puzzled the show’s creator. One such item is a propmaker’s mold of the male sexual organs.
“She’s like, ‘Look, I made something for your guys. It’s a male hide with a penis on it!’” Peaches recalled. “Clearly, this person has never seen or touched a penis in their life. … I don’t know what people are going to make of it, but I put a bright light on it.”
San Francisco is full of experiences claiming to be “immersive,” but few are like this. If anything, Peaches Christ has been doing immersive theater long before it became a buzzword. At her Midnight Mass events, there would be lap dancers. At All About Evil screenings, characters from the film would sell you the tickets.
“Haunted houses are really an American invention,” Peaches said. “It was the first form of immersive theater: You walked through this experience, they jumped out, they made you touch things and they performed for you.”
“I’m not leaning into ‘immersive’ anymore,” she added. “I like ‘theatrical’ and ‘horror show.’”
San Francisco Mint, 88 Fifth St.
Oct. 7-Nov. 5 | $55-$75
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]