It’s not like we hadn’t been warned. A good number of people had told us about the physicality of Zombie Boot Camp. Guests being thrown against the walls, actors jumping on your back, bruises, days of being sore afterwards. To make things worse, we had chosen their Asylum event – advertised as their most extreme horror experience. The waiver beforehand was enough to make us doubt our decisions, even just for an instant. They were pretty clear we were coming out battered, and we had put our signature under a document stating more serious injuries could potentially occur. What had we let ourselves into?
Once inside, we were donned in some extensive safety gear. A riot helmet, elbow and knee protection, and a thick flak jacket to protect our back and ribs. Military boots thrown in just because why the hell not. During our briefing, a military instructor explained the situation – a nearby compound had been taken over by the criminally insane. We were here to act as support, to restore the peace in the compound – but to do that, we needed some training first. In the next half an hour or so, we were instructed in breakaway techniques, how to approach a possibly violent inmate, how to react when they would approach us. A number of times, they reminded us communication was key, and how some conflicts might be resolved peacefully, if we adopted the right body language, the right mentality and mindset. All fun and games was over, as we desperately tried to remember all different movements we had to execute if an assailant was to grab hold of us. It would soon become clear however that all these meticulous exercises would be of no use whatsoever, as the all-out clobbering fest began.
In our first mission, we had to secure a number of inmates roaming around the perimeter of the compound. We climbed into a military truck and were sped to the location. Visors down, riot shields lined up in front of us, we advanced onto the courtyard. Already, my visor was fogging up, and all of us, barely trained in the use of our equipment, we must have looked like amateurs as we approached the first inmate, a giggling lass, hopping along, evidently not in the mood to be caught by us. It’s a scary idea how quickly we resorted to violence instead of trying the talking option, even considering she wasn’t particularly cooperative. Eight against one, and not a single one of us questioning the somewhat excessive and unprovoked baton-to-the-knee method we employed. It would however come back to bite us in the ass later on – the inmates did not forgive and forget. After this girl was secured in a police van, we rounded up two more – a very twitchy, physical actor with a facemask on, who managed to send me flying after a well-placed shoulder against my shield, and an hilarious guy in a wedding dress, his falsetto voice begging us to leave him alone, and for us just to wait until his fiancé would come back. In hindsight, for the bridal character, a simple please and thank you might have made a big difference, but our nervousness and inexperience with the situation led to him getting the same brutal treatment, being bent over a car with a riot shield in his back and escorted to the van. Back at base, we still had to get them out of the van and into a cell, not an easy task by any standards, as they struggled and fought back as much as they could. In the end though, we managed to lock them up. Sweating and panting, we had a moment to catch our breath, as the second team was taken to the compound to sweep up anyone who might be hiding inside.
Soon enough the second team returned with their catch of the day – three more inmates to be secured in the cells. We were all having a sip of water, and half our equipment was lying on the floor so we could cool down a bit, when we started hearing a lot of noise coming from the cell area. This wasn’t good. Guess we had to go and crash the party. What followed was complete and utter chaos. All prisoners had broken out and were running rampant. A smoke grenade was thrown in to make sure our entrance would be as menacing as could be, and hidden behind our armadillo shields, we barged in. Two levels of cells, three inmates on the ground floors, rolling their muscles menacingly, all the others on the top floor, chucking bottles and other debris at us. If there ever had been an opportunity for the talking option, it had now long passed, and it was clear this was going to be brutal. All the reservations I had had before about hitting the inmates were chucked out of the window, and an all out brawl ensued. We were thrown all over, our batons and shields were stolen, we fell into disarray, as the inmates easily made minced meat out of us. As soon as we had one under control, three others would jump us, setting the first one free in the confusion. We never stood a chance. All the while, tracks by Rammstein, Drowning Pool and the likes were blasting through the prison. I wonder which idiot thought this was a good idea, the raging guitars didn’t quite work as a pacifying lullaby!..
At one point, I was facing two inmates on my own, already exhausted, and they just played a game with me, knowing very well I could never do anything to get them under my control. Another time, it was maybe six of us against one of the inmates, a huge, incredibly strong bare-chested dude. He yelled at me whether I was ready for him to fuck me. I yelled back: “You don’t have the balls, big guy”. Huge should-not-have-said-that moment. The five others didn’t have a chance in the world to hold him back, while he ran at me and pinned me against the wall, in hysterics, laughing the entire time at my inability to defend myself. Me and my big mouth.
Eventually, the battle was over. The unorganized bunch of us had managed to get the facility under our control again, albeit only because the inmates let us – we had been playthings in their hands. Dripping with sweat, we got a cooldown speech, and after that, only the struggle to get all that equipment off again remained.
Importantly now, would I recommend this Asylum run by Zombie Boot Camp? It sure is an odd one. We absolutely loved the physicality. That safety gear we were equipped with, there was nothing unnecessary about it. At the very end, I was pinned by an inmate, repeatedly hit around the head with a baton, after which another one easily tossed me a good three yards away – and I didn’t feel a thing. A few other times, I got slammed, flew through the air and hit the ground hard, I was pinned against walls, tossed around like a rag doll, and I ended up with only a couple of bruises on my arm, after an arm protector had slipped off for a moment. The actors portraying the inmates are really beyond spectacular. The exertion they go through during a night like this, it’s unbelievable, they play ridiculously demanding roles, and they never stop coming back for more. And remember, we were the only ones wearing protective gear! The inmates also had a great sense of improvisation, as they kept verbally abusing us in between all the hitting and grabbing. Really, really impressive performances by these guys and girls. I would have loved to know a bit more about the backstory of the inmates, it would have been fun to play around with that aspect.
On the other hand, there is no reason or motivation behind it the fight, except for the very basics. The military instructors seemed quite bored with it all, and never went the extra mile to ensure we’d get immersed in the situation. The proudly displayed Tripadvisor sign didn’t help either to get the urgency of the situation across. It really is something like, “hey, there’s bad guys there, and so, umm, you have to get them, okay” in the driest way possible. I got the idea the entire experience was thought up after a “let’s have a full on fight between our actors and the guests” proposal was offered one night at the bar, and everything else was a bit of an afterthought. Their lackluster attitude contrasted greatly with the amazing performances by the inmate actors. As for the experience itself, if they were to combine the physicality they offer with an actual story, some proper scares and a bit of theatrics, it would be insane. We never got to explore dark hallways in search of an escaped convict, ready to jump out at us at any moment. There was no tension, no buildup. There was no closure. Rereading the ScareTOUR review, apparently the event used to start off with a proper intro, using some scare tactics and a well produced video to explain the backstory – a backstory we never caught a glimpse of. These tiny details would have made a world of difference for the overall quality of the event, so it’s a shame they have been scrapped. Asylum could really have done with a more theatrical build-up, story progression and sense of immersion to round off the experience, especially considering the steep price. With tickets going at 130 pounds, I would really expect more polish.
Every scare attraction we visit, there’s always this specific feeling, this vibe, that might originate from a particular type of people organizing these attractions. Asylum did not have that specific vibe. Mind, it is a very interesting experience on its own terms, but I wouldn’t call it a scare attraction per se. It was a playground wrestling game taken to the max, and a very fun one at that. It is one of the most spectacular things I have ever done. The rough physicality of the event was something amazing to participate in, and the inmate actors were just beyond belief. I suppose it really is a question of expectations. If you crave immersion, and a rounded-off story line, perhaps it would be better to look elsewhere. But, throwing all classic scare attraction tropes to the side has its own value. This is a raw, violent simulation, and we had an absolute blast, we couldn’t believe how fast three hours plus had gone by. If you want to put yourself in a fairly realistic prison riot scenario, and test your mettle against some really physical, crazy inmates, this is absolutely for you, and you will have the time of your life.