It’s hard to describe exactly what Shock Treatment is, because there’s nothing quite like it.
The nearly 5-month-old business at 1735 Swift St. in North Kansas City is not a haunted house, but if you go, prepare to be scared. It’s not an escape room, but you will have to work through some things before you can leave. It could be compared to a virtual reality game, but you’re not stumbling around in an ugly, bulky headset.
At the risk of being too seasonably cheesy, Shock Treatment forces you to face the unknown. Enter if you dare.
Co-owners Adam Roberts and Brent Miller, who also own Tapcade, an arcade pub at 1701 McGee St., and Screenland Armour, a vintage movie theater at 408 Armour Road in North Kansas City, have wanted to create a haunted house for years. But the classic idea of a haunted house — the giant, multifloor buildings and the endless gimmicks — was an expensive one. They satisfied themselves in the meantime with Panic Fest, an annual ode to horror and science fiction movies at Screenland. But the haunted house dream never fully went away.
Around two years ago, when escape rooms started gaining popularity in Kansas City, the haunted house plan returned, albeit in a slightly different format.
“It kind of made us re-evaluate the idea of a haunted house,” Roberts says. “That you didn’t have to maybe necessarily walk through an entire haunted house, and maybe you could be in a controlled environment. You would book a private haunted house experience.”
They found a location a block south of Screenland Armour, in an area Roberts describes as growing and vibrant.
“We signed the lease before we had really developed the idea,” he says. “I knew we were going to call it Shock Treatment, and it was going to be a multiroom haunted house where each room was totally different from the next. I think that was pretty much it.”
He started brainstorming for each room and writing plots, which began in the form of little screenplays or ideas for movies he’d been saving up. Those ideas slowly developed into the three experiences Shock Treatment now has up and running, which are “Kemmler Labs: Black Site 17,” “Dinner for Four” and “Apartment 1B.” Tickets for each room are $35 apiece.
“Kemmler Labs: Black Site 17”
“Kemmler Labs” was the first room to open on June 1. Roberts’ idea was to make a playable classic zombie movie, where some lab testing has gone wrong and players are sent in as part of a special forces team to find out what’s going on and to retrieve a mysterious compound for an even more mysterious big company.
He decided to have it take place in the mid-1990s, because technology back then was a little more crude.
“Some people haven’t seen a VHS or a cassette tape maybe in their entire lives,” Roberts says.
At the beginning of the mission, players get instructions by sliding a VHS tape into a clunky TV, then pressing play. Cellphones are forbidden; you won’t be able to use the internet to get you out of this one.
Kemmler can be played by up to eight people at one time, and puzzles are scattered throughout the experience. The puzzles are nonlinear, so people can be working on multiple things at once and learning new things about the room.
If you don’t have eight people in your party, you may have to play with strangers — but don’t worry, you’ll bond pretty quickly when frantically pawing through clues while a zombie lurks somewhere in the lab.
“Kemmler Labs” isn’t the kind of place where you make polite small talk with new acquaintances. Instead, you’ll be screaming at them to work faster, and you’ll all love every minute of it.
“Dinner for Four”
“Dinner for Four,” Roberts says, is whatever the players make it.
“It’s the most intimate, the most personal, the most intense, and I think potentially life-changing room, because it is so personal to people,” he says.
“Dinner for Four” must be played by — you guessed it — four people. It begins when the players are handcuffed and brought into a dark room with bags over their heads. They are then introduced to two people who are holding them hostage and forcing them to do things or reveal personal details in order to survive.
“It’s kind of a psychopath game show,” Roberts says. “We try to incorporate every major fear in the room. So anything you can imagine that people are really scared of doing or trying is definitely in that room.”
He adds that “Dinner for Four” is the most realistic of Shock Treatment’s three experiences.
Roberts describes “Apartment 1B” as a ghost story.
Two players must investigate an apartment in New York City that was purchased for a suspiciously low price. It’s obviously haunted; “cheap” apartments don’t exist in NYC.
The room requires a great deal of improvisation from the actors working in it, Roberts says, because players are “constantly trying to change and ‘break’ the rooms, and not do them the way we want to do them.”
All three Shock Treatment experiences rely on actors. On a busy night, Shock Treatment requires a team of seven — two for each room, plus one person who mans the front desk and rotates in and out of rooms.
Since Roberts has a background in the Kansas City film and theater scene, the hiring process wasn’t difficult. For him, it has been as easy as doing a little networking and asking people he knows are great actors if they’d like a full- or part-time job.
“It’s a total acting experience,” Roberts says. “There’s really nothing like it.”
Emmy Panzica, 22, recently graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a degree in theater performance and now works at Shock Treatment.
“Funny enough, I’m not really a haunted house person,” Panzica says. “I don’t react well to people jumping out of a corner and yelling at me, which is why I really like Shock Treatment.”
She describes the terror there as a more cerebral, psychological, intensive kind of horror.
She and Nash Chaney, a 19-year-old who also acts at Shock Treatment, both say their least favorite part of the job is when people don’t really get into the stories in the rooms.
“When people don’t get into the story, it’s really hard as an actor to keep the high stakes of the situation and really keep pushing through,” Panzica says. “If you don’t decide to play your part, it makes it not as fun.”
“It’s like being in a movie or a video game, 100 percent,” Chaney says.
It took a while for Roberts and Miller to figure out how to market Shock Treatment. At first, they relied on word of mouth. After all three rooms were fully operational, they decided it was time to put a handle on exactly what was happening inside of them.
“So many people come in thinking that it’s a cheesy haunted house with cheesy scares, or it’s an escape room,” Roberts says. But Shock Treatment is neither one of those things.
The hardest part, he says, was figuring out how to explain to customers what they were about to experience. He and Miller finally settled on “live action theater.”
“It’s the best way to describe (that) you’re in a room with actors, and there’s a story or a concept of a story being told, and you’re a part of it,” Roberts says.
“You truly are the main star of these horror stories.”
Try Shock Treatment
While Shock Treatment does accept walk-up customers, it’s best to book online. Tickets cost $35 apiece, and groups range from two to eight players, depending on the room. Players must be at least 15 years or older; “Dinner for Four” is an 18-and-over experience. Most Shock Treatment experiences last from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how quickly players work through their challenges. For more info or tickets, go to shocktreatmentkc.com.
If horror isn’t your thing, Kansas City has a wealth of escape rooms that can be fun alternatives to haunted houses or interactive horror experiences such as Shock Treatment. Take your partner, take your friends, take your family — just don’t take anyone who will slow you down.
▪ Clue Pursuit, 3953 Broadway. Teams of three to 10 players work through rooms such as “The Office of John Monroe,” “The Warehouse of Jack Travis” and “Call of Gold.” Tickets cost $24-$28 apiece depending on the size of the group. For more info, call 913.982.1076 or go to cluepursuitlive.com.
▪ Breakout Kansas City, 114 W. Third St., No. 102. Teams of three or more players take on rooms such as “Room 13,” “The Truman Room,” “Szechuan Secret” and “River Quay Casino.” Tickets cost $28 per person. For more info, call 816.945.2633 or go to breakoutkc.com.
▪ Breakout Lawrence, 727 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence. Teams of two or more try to bust out of rooms such as “Y2K,” “The Rules of Basket Ball” and “Mass Street Stock Exchange.” Tickets cost $28 per person. For more info, call 785.422.5625 or go to breakoutlawrence.com.
▪ Escape Artist KC, 408B E. 18th St. Teams of two to eight players can take on the challenge of “Broke, Broker, Broken,” and more rooms are planned. Tickets cost $19 to $25 depending on group size. For more info, call 816.472.6699 or go to escapeartistkc.com.
▪ The Exit Room, 304 S.W. Market St. in Lee’s Summit. Bring lots of friends for this one. Groups of up to eight people work together to escape rooms such as “The Surgery,” “Midnight at Ravenloft” and “The Heist.” All rooms are $150 plus tax for the group. For more info, call 816.434.5808 or go to theexitroomkc.com.
▪ Escape Room KC, with locations at 511 W. Fourth St. in the River Market and inside Union Station at 30 W. Pershing Road. Teams of two to 16 people tackle rooms such as “Secret Agent,” “Prison Break” and “The Da Vinci Code.” Prices vary by game and size of group. For more info, go to escaperoomkc.com.
▪ Tick Tock Escape Games, 6398 College Blvd. in Overland Park. There are three ways to play: A shared room with a maximum of six people for $30 per ticket; a private room for six for $165 total; or a dual room race that costs $310 for 12 people. Rooms include “Beasley’s Billions” and “Pyramid Paradox.” For more info, call 913.396.9144 or go to ticktockescapegames.com.
▪ Novus Escape Room, 4142 Main St. Teams of two to eight people try to unlock rooms such as “The Testament of Tesla,” “The War for Rembrandt” and “Mr. Oswald’s Greatest Show.” Tickets cost $27 for kids, students and seniors and $29 for adults. For more info, call 816.982.9775 or go to kansas.novusescaperoom.com.