I sat down at a special table with a ‘Reserved’ sign in the center, surrounded by three people I’d never met. In front of each of us sat a legal document, waiting for our signatures — which were required if we intended to go any further.
If it sounds like the setup of a pretty great horror movie, it’s not far from the truth. The waiver in front of us was required to enter The Satanic Panic Room, a team-based escape room challenge, and one of the most talked-about installments of this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. The three strangers were people I’d met on Twitter the week prior. They were a team of three looking for a fourth, so as a solo participant looking for a team to join, it was the perfect match.
To give a little bit of background here, the Satanic Panic refers to a brief period in the 1980s where people across America were suddenly terrified of devil worshippers, and looked for signs of it everywhere — in TV and movies, in role-playing games, and even in the backwards grooves of heavy metal records. Today, it’s regarded as little more than an ill-informed moral panic with roots that traced back to everything from bloodletting myths of medieval Europe to the red scare of the 1950s McCarthy era.
Years later, that bizarre time in U.S. history would serve as the inspiration for this four-person escape room, designed to encourage teamwork and cooperation in order to solve a series of puzzles and escape in under 45 minutes. Those who succeeded, according to the lore, we were chosen to be disciples of the dark lord. Those who failed would be sacrificed at the altar.