Spook Show 17 Is a Haunted House Reality Show With Few Scares and Less Charisma

You might initially think that a haunted house reality show would be pitched to horror audiences. That isn’t really what Spook Show 17 is about, though. Robbie and Heather Luther’s extreme haunted house, complete with live cockroaches and electroshocks, seems like it would be pretty frightening to go through. But based on the first episode, the series functions more like home improvement shows, or like Netflix’s giant toy extravaganza Making Fun. You’re there to watch ingenious people build complicated stuff.

Build-it reality television can be great, and the projects here are ingenious. The problem is that Robbie and his crew are not especially charismatic or witty, and no one seems to have figured out a way to narrate or frame the builds in an appealing fashion. As a result, spending time in the haunted house just isn’t that much fun.

Horror Takes Time

The Luther’s haunted house is called The 17th Door, and is located in Fullerton, CA. As they explain at some length, most haunted houses are designed as walk-throughs. People go past actors and effects single file. The 17th Door, in contrast, sends small groups through a series of individual rooms, which are closed for 90 seconds each.

That allows for a much more controlled and elaborate experience. The detail and extremity of the projects is impressive. One room they work on in the first season involves driving a truck at the unsuspecting haunted house visitors. The vehicle stops only a foot from them.

Another room, to be designed later in the season, actually tips upside down. A third includes “pneumatic roach launchers” which are, disturbingly, exactly what they sound like.

The series doesn’t try to give you a real sense of what it would be like to be in one of these rooms. That would make it a horror movie. Instead, it’s about how Robbie and his team puts these elaborate scares together. How do you make a pneumatic roach launcher anyway? (Hint: It involves using a snack bar to get your roaches into position.) What does a scare room full of roaches look like after the better part of a year? (Answer: Repulsive enough that you need a mask to prevent yourself from vomiting while you clean it.)

If you’re a building geek, or even if you’re just a passerby kind of interested in how stuff works, these details are fairly compelling. The problem is that alone they can’t fill up a 14-episode series. For that, you need characters and, ideally, some sort of narrative arc. That’s where Spook Show 17 runs into trouble.

Humor, Horror—Or Neither

The publicity materials bill Robbie as an “egotistical innovator” in an effort to present him as Tony Stark or the equivalent. In reality, he seems to be a mildly conceited small business owner who, like most people who aren’t professional comedians, thinks he’s significantly more amusing than he actually is.

As an example, there are multiple gags which revolve around supposedly funny accents. In one sequence, Robbie (who is Chinese-American) mocks his Italian subordinate for pronouncing “mozzarella” the way his Italian mother taught him to pronounce it. This back and forth goes on for, roughly, forever. It’s like being trapped with the blowhard at the end of the bar. Or like being forced to listen to your boss’ jokes.

The rest of the banter isn’t any more clever. Robbie makes up an uninspired theme song for the truck room. The workers tease the new guy. Someone drops the r-word in a desperate and ill-conceived effort to look cool and irreverent. Another worker uses a blowtorch to light the cigarette of a drunken homeless guy, who somewhat incoherently begs them not to put him on television. But they put him on television anyway. Which seems like a crappy thing to do.

Presumably, the producers decided to run the blowtorch cigarette bit because they realized that otherwise there’s not a whole lot going on. Reality shows usually create some drama or forward momentum by setting up a contest, or by introducing a client whose story or interests create a frame story.

Robbie somewhat belligerently boasts that he is not taking the usual reality tv approach. But he doesn’t replace the standard gimmicks with any other narrative device.

The result is a lot of wheel spinning. We watch Robbie and workers make cabinets…which is about as interesting as you’d think it would be. In another sequence, Robbie rigs a shock chair and everyone has to sit in it to show that they trust him and will do what he says. It’s pointless and kind of ugly. Bosses really shouldn’t electroshock their staff as a gag.

It’s possible that the show finds its footing further on, and figures out some way to turn what looks like a great haunted house into interesting television. I’m not intrigued enough to find out, though, and I can’t exactly recommend anyone else tune in either.

Rating: 4.5/10 SPECS

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.