This past weekend, a friend and I visited the new exhibit taking place near the Savemart Center called The 99 Experience. Through research beforehand, I found out that it was marketed as an extremely realistic walkthrough of all the major, preventable causes of teen deaths in America.
The name “The 99” comes from the statistic that 99 teenagers die everyday from things that can be avoided. Of those 99, 31 died from automobile accidents, 16 were killed by their own peers in gang related violence, and 12 committed suicide. The other 40 die from drug overdose, drug influenced choices and other poor choices.
I had heard many mixed reviews of the event from friends who had gone and been disappointed, but I was excited to go and check it out for myself. With the tagline “The ultimate near death experience”, I didn’t go into it with much hope for a relaxing evening.
The 99, like most horror attractions, does not advertise much of its secrets, so in all reality I did not know what I was getting myself into. Not really a fan of horror attractions or haunted houses, I thought that this event would be a happy medium with all the gore of real life paired with a strong moral lesson.
Upon arrival, the many people in line were amused by a man on a microphone entertaining the people in the waiting crowd with games and a dance off competition. This set the crowd in a rather jovial mood, which was quite misleading.
The mood quickly shifted from anticipation to apprehension as we were ushered into the enormous, circus-esque tent, in which the event took place. We were greeted with morbid before and after pictures of drug users and an ominous video foreshadowing the disturbing events that we were about to witness.
We then entered the first of approximately eight rooms in the experience, where we were introduced to our guide through the exhibit: Death himself. Although in reality the hooded figure was only a performer in a mask, partnered with a insidiously sinister voice-over, the effect was quite chilling.
The next couple of rooms were the most unsettling. Gory scenes of gang violence, drug abuse, and a distracted driving collision all gave me a bad feeling in my stomach. My heightened sense of fear was intensified by the terrifying, realistic actions of the performers. Whether it was being a raving drug addict in withdrawals, or a screaming distracted driver, coming to grips with the bloody ramifications of her poor decision, all of the actors performed their tragedy in a very convincing fashion.
Then the experience took an unexpected turn. We were ushered, by Mr. Death, into a fiery room with screaming, shackled performers. Then people dressed as demons seemingly jumped out of nowhere, and a figure, presumably Satan himself, gave a chilling monologue, claiming victory over our damned souls. Suddenly a light leaped forward in the darkness, and we were beckoned by a bellowing voice to come towards it.
In the next room we were shown scenes from the film The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus is whipped and beaten by Roman soldiers. Then a performer portraying Christ was dragged into the room by a man dressed like a Roman soldier. He was told to pick up a cross and was whipped repeatedly.
To my astonishment, the supposed “reality horror show” had turned out to be a type of ministry, hoping to give an unexpected reality check to visitors who had no idea that their night was going to be religious experience.
The conclusion to the experience consisted of watching an allegorical video in which God’s love for humankind, and the subsequent sacrifice of his beloved Son. The video shows a train master sacrificing his son to save a train of people, without those people knowing what just happened.
Then everyone walked into a room filled with volunteers from local churches who sat and prayed with each individual and offered free “get to know Jesus” packets to everyone. The volunteers attempted to talk to everyone about what knowing Christ is all about, and how they can get connected to a local church.
The experience as a whole left me with a very odd feeling. This was a type of ministry that I had never before encountered and I was caught a little off guard by its brusque nature. That being said I would greatly encourage my friends and peers to attend this experience if they can, as it was a great chance to see the importance of making good choices and why we need to accept Christ as our Savior.
The exhibit will run in Fresno daily from 7-11 p.m., with the last showing on Nov. 2. Taking in account waiting in line, the entire exhibit takes around an hour and thirty minutes to go through. The next stop on the tour after Fresno will be Orlando, Florida in early 2015. Tickets at the door are $10, but half-off coupons are available on the website.
For more information on The 99, click here to view their Facebook page.
This writer can be reached via Twitter: @NickFontes1.
For more reviews, read the Oct. 28 review, Horror fest terrifies, leaves lasting impression.