Dead Zone 805, one of our favorite haunts for the last few years in Ventura County just started a new chapter in spooky fun year round, a zombie apocalypse themed escape/scavenger experience called, Operation: Search & Survive. Now, let me preface this with a few things. First, escape rooms have been the new trend for the last few years and can be found in all sorts of themes and even sizes. Next, I don’t have much experience with escape rooms and the only other experience I had wasn’t very good. I have been hard pressed to find an escape room experience that really gets me excited, or one that’s easily accessible based on availability and location.
Going to Ventura’s growing industrial district was easy. A place that has hidden breweries, food trucks, and now, a horror escape room. Well, one last preface is that Dead Zone’s scavenger hunt/escape room isn’t really just one room, it’s several, and yes, you do spend your time dashing from one room back to the other solving puzzles that test more than just your critical thinking skills.
The experience takes a bit of the story from Dead Zone’s last haunt: finding items that help you to find the cure for the infected. Seems simple enough, right? You have about an hour to figure out a plethora of puzzles and I do mean plethora. Some puzzles are misleading, some are obvious (sometimes so obvious you are embarrassed that you missed it), and some are downright punny.
When I went to check it out, I went alone. I do not recommend this. Take friends. If you don’t have friends, take strangers. I can almost guarantee that if you go alone, you will not solve everything. I do consider myself to be clever (sometimes), but without some encouraging hints and a little bit of cheating at the end, I would not have gotten to the cure with only three minutes left. Yes, I was given hints and I cheated, but it was being able to experience all the puzzles that I can confidently say that this would be a really fun thing to do with friends. There are all sorts of challenges, ones that are made better by more eyes scanning the rooms, and more brains breaking down the riddles.
Now, I don’t want to give away what the puzzles are, or each step I took, but the immersion I began to feel was great, and that’s for several reasons.
The brains of the operation is Nelson Cooper, who is an incredibly talented and creative FX makeup artist, haunt designer, and general producer of cool and creepy art stuffs. Nelson is almost the renaissance man of creep and horror—writing the stories for his haunts, designing them, bringing them to life, and even turning them into something new. To have taken his original haunt and transformed it into something as interactive as it is now took real vision.
When I stepped out of the lobby, I was transported, even more so, to the apocalyptic world of the infected than I was when I visited the haunt in October last year. I was given the opportunity to think within the world he created rather than have a fleeting experience from room to room. Because Cooper has such a talent for prop design, it was a treat to be able to interact with his custom props and to touch and feel things that you normally don’t get to pick up or examine for long periods of time in a traditional haunt.
What I found even more impressive is that the Cooper runs each booking is actually very impressive. And I don’t want to spoil how that comes in, but if you go experience it for yourself, you might react in a, “No, but how did you? And that? No way!”
At the end of everything, there’s a waiting room where you can take pictures declaring success or defeat, along with some of Nelson’s unique pieces of art and other themed merch.
In the end, even by myself (and a little help from Nelson) I had fun and towards the end, I began to feel like things were jumping at me from every dark corner (spoilers: they actually weren’t!). The atmosphere that Cooper has created does start to pull at the threads of fear, causing you to unravel as the clock continues to tick. After coming out on the good end of this Search & Survive, I think Cooper has me sold on horror-themed escape/scavenger rooms for a more unique and transportive experience into the darkness.
I would seriously recommend that if you don’t have plans for Valentine’s Day weekend, and want to take a special someone out, or go on a group date, this just might be one of those things that breaks from the laborious norm of romantic dinners, stuffed animals, or candy. If the zombies don’t scare them away, then maybe they’re a keeper!
The Dead Zone 805 Operation: Search & Survive is available for booking on Fridays from 4pm-8:30pm and Saturdays from 11:30am-8:30pm. Tickets are $40 per person in groups up to 6 (if you book less than 6, you might have others in your group) and for more information on booking details, check out their main site. You can also find coupon codes on the Dead Zone 805 Facebook page to save a bit of coin.