“You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet – my family.”
– Henrik Vanger, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), screenplay by Steven Zaillian
There are things one should know before going into The Immortal Reckoning. Some of them are things you’d already expect: strobe lights that may cause seizures; lots of gore; lots of explicit sexual material; guests have to be able to walk under their own power; and one sequence requiring the audience to push through a womb-like maze that triggered one person’s claustrophobia. All of those elements logically require disclaimer, but if I had to mention only one, it would be this: don’t go in with a sore neck.
That was my mistake.
I’d somehow strained my neck the day before the tour and was doing my best to go easy on it. Why I thought “going easy” included “attend a horror tour that purposefully induces whiplash”, I’ll never know. Needless to say, one’s upper-torso will get almost as much work as their legs as part of the annual adults-only horror tour produced by Peaches Christ.
As San Francisco continues to lead the way on COVID-safe in-person entertainment (well, most of the time, anyway), it only makes sense that the experiences get more and more immersive. One is immediately grateful that those minding the door to the SF Mint require guests to go through multiple checkpoints, show proof-of-vax with their ID, and keep their masks on at all times, save for when drinking in the bar. A few regular checks to get inside are a small price to pay to avoid the deadly virus outside. (Cast members are, by and large, unmasked, but we’re assured that everyone is fully vaccinated.)
Besides, in addition to being an unabashed horror freak, I’m also a longtime fan of SF’s own Joshua “Peaches Christ” Grannell. I used to love attending Peaches’ Midnight Mass screenings (especially when The Bridge was still around), and still have my DVD of her short film collection (which she claims to not have anymore). Going into a Peaches event, one often has two expectations: it’ll be super-gory and it’ll be super-gay. The Immortal Reckoning does not disappoint in that regard.
What surprised me – other than the gruesome beasts who pop out from every corner – was just how thought-out the story of the tour is. I may have made a mistake in trying to catalogue all of it in detail, but I was engrossed in it all the same.
Before enter the tour area proper, one must descend the catacombs of the SF Mint, whose old stairs and mortar walls make one wonder what stories they could tell if they could. One is greeted at the bottom by a green statue that looks like some cross between Man-Thing and the mu-tant from This Island Earth. The corridor is a cacophony of color and scary music, with rooms on the left and right: a gift shop; a lounge; a stripper’s pole behind a cell door; and, of course, the vampire bar Fang Bang. There’s also photo op room in the blood-stained morgue.
As the tour proper starts, we’re escorted by a woman whose appearance I’d describe as “the way you wished Velma-from-Scooby-Doo would look”. Her name is Tina and she’s our docent on this tour the Blackwell Foundation’s collection of curios reflecting its founder’s affinity for the occult. We’re led into a Vampire Vault preserved in all its ‘80s gauche and boasting the burnt remains of several dead bloodsuckers who died in a bar.
Tina then shows us the sculpture of Lord Lepus, a giant-rabbit god whose followers were nuns that became witches. She begins to wrap things up by telling us of the Blackwell twins, Jason and Joan, both of whom disappeared mysteriously. All we know is that it involved a pair of mysterious artifacts: the Book of Shadows and Hecate’s Tablet. The Blackwell’s journey recovered two-of-the-three stones, which the artifacts require to give the owner untold power. (The in-universe story of this can be read here.)
We’re then met by an effete gentleman who introduces himself as Jason Blackwell… then shit gets weird.
It’s impossible for me to describe all that transpires after. Not just because there’s so much of it – there is, every inch of the tour has been crafted in minute detail – but also because I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice it to say, the appearance of Jason Blackwell kicks off the single-best museum tour you’ve ever seen involving bears (the Castro kind), drugs, blood, bad plumbing, strippers, and the aforementioned bunny-worshipping nuns.
It is neither for the faint of heart nor something to be dismissed as mere fluff. Grannell and his collaborators have plotted out their story better than most proper horror films. In fact, the tour serves as further evidence against the elitist rule that “real” horror requires less blood. It’s not the blood, it’s whether we care about who’s bleeding. One is reminded of how Walt Disney pioneered the theme park necessity of telling a story through the attractions, hence referring to performers as “cast members” (had the original Disneyland failed, Walt’s Plan “B” was to turn it into a film backlot). Grannell’s show owes much to the Magic Kingdom’s famous Haunted Mansion, including the presence of transforming portraits. But this one offers more to ponder than Madame Leona.
One can easily walk into The Immortal Reckoning, have a great time, and miss how it tells the timeless story of the hubris of the rich and their need to exploit everyone they consider “lesser”. It contains a none-too-subtle commentary of how a willingness to shed blood for one’s religion is far more dangerous than any afterlife torment cooked up by that religion’s mythology. What’s more, it enforces the classic pop culture rule that you should always listen to the girl in glasses.
It just so happens that all of this is accompanied by a tour involving a bear with a pierced dick. If that doesn’t improve your outlook on life, I don’t know what will.
The Immortal Reckoning is scheduled to run until Hallowe’en (31st of October) at the San Francisco Mint.
The tour runs roughly 45min – 1 hour with no intermission.
BE ADVISED that this show contains strobe lights, close-contact moments of intensity (including the tourist being pushed through a claustrophobic maze), nudity, strong sexuality, and graphic depictions of violence & gore.
All patrons must be aged 21 or older.
PROOF OF VACCINATION required for entry and masks must be worn at all times.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.