Experience Stephen King’s IT in Virtual Reality

For the select few cities lucky enough to receive this gem from San Diego Comic Con, slip into your big girl panties and don’t chicken out on the ultimate introduction to the new IT film, set for release September 8, 2017! The exhibit is free and open to the public, but for us Austin-ites, it was only here for two days! I had heard about it by mid-week but couldn’t land where it was actually taking place until 5 o’clock yesterday. If you missed it, Austin-ites, I’m dreadfully sorry. IT has since moved on.

I would like to preface this write-up by saying I am the least qualified to bring you a run-down of this virtual reality sensory overload. I have a history of reacting badly to horror related events, like haunted houses, haunted hayrides, the Halloween aisle at Party City–all of the Spirit Store…

You get the idea. From almost my earliest memories, I have been absolutely afraid of horror in person. So it was with some trepidation that I talked myself into making the hour long drive up from South Austin to the Alamo Drafthouse at Lakeline Mall to stand before the mere 45 foot long tube of nightmares.

An old retired school bus has been rendered filthy and blackened as if by age and grime. At the tail end of it, the logo for "IT" is scrawled in red paint. Screens on the side of the bus previewed the latest trailer for the film
The FLOAT simulation is a mobile virtual reality experience, first exhibited at San Diego Comic Con, and now on a limited tour ahead of the release of the new IT film.

I almost got back in my car and left.

Outside, a line formed, mostly of people leaving the theater. The experience didn’t open it’s doors until 7, which meant those leaving the new Annabelle: Creation showing were able to catch it on their way out. The folks in line ahead of me spoke in animated tones, having seen the four-minute clip of Georgie’s final moments before Annabelle. Some are calling that clip the best part of going to see the latest installation of the Annabelle franchise, but that’s neither here nor there.

I'm standing in along the profile of the school bus, which has "Derry High School" stenciled on the side of it like the school bus from the film. Blood and grime spatters the sides.
See, proof I went to a scary exhibit. Alone. Like a big girl.

I signed the waiver saying I don’t have any medical conditions and took my place in line. This was to be me no real film footage, but rather a cinematic adventure that lasted only about 12 minutes at the most. An excellent aperitif to anyone going into the theater and a night cap for those leaving–if one dared.

Upon entering, you are bathed in strobing light pulsing over a pair of sliding double doors at the end of the space (roughly half the size of the bus). Normally I would have been nauseously afraid, being at the end of the line, a prime target for any other haunted house exhibit. But this was nor ordinary haunted house. The strobing light gave the cramped space the impression of being bigger than it was. Fog–dare I say it–floated from nozzles at our feet. All around us were the haunting, anxious sounds of the sewer we “Losers” found ourselves standing in.

Scott Wampler got a few shots of the interior of the space on his write-up at birthmoviesdeath.com. I’ve taken the liberty of showing them off here. Credit goes to the photographer. This was the same exhibit I went to yesterday.

Scott Wampler stands patiently waiting for the double doors to slide back.
Fellow Austin-ite Scott Wampler at birthmoviesdeath.com snapped this shot of the doors of the “pipe” we all stood in. I stood with about six other people during my visit, so pictures were impossible. Credit to the photographer.

In the same room as the sliding double doors, a backlit floor representing the floor of the “pipe” we were standing in. In the streaming “water” lay the scattered “remains” of the children lured into Pennywise’s lair. George’s boat was easily recognizable, along with a shoe and a Frisbee.

The backlit floor looked as close to streaming sewer water as you could get without getting your feet wet. "Debris" littered the "water", including Georgie's boat.
Scott Wampler and the folks at birthmoviesdeath.com snapped a shot of the floor of the “pipe” we were standing in.

 

As we stood in the “pipe” listening to Pennywise “approach” and laughing in a strained manner, a cold rush of air blasted us out of nowhere. We all got quiet, then laughed it off nervously, anticipating the sliding doors, which did eventually slide open after the last of the exhibit group before us exited the bus. Our “tour guide” surprised us with a good-natured “Boo!”

Stepping inside the back half of the bus was an altogether different experience than the “tube”. Red light flooded the “cabin”, and two rows of high-quality cinematic motion chairs greeted us. We adjusted our headsets and headphones. Be wary. As soon as the headset goes on, the event starts, so be quick, and don’t take it off. Remember to turn your chair, and look around. Some of the scenes have images that take place around and behind you. Don’t be afraid to move around. And don’t sit on your cords.

Obviously you can’t take pictures of the exhibit. I won’t reveal any scenes or events. None of it was “spoilery” in any case. Nothing you haven’t seen in the trailers. The motion of the VR environment and the movement of the chair make for an adventure rarely had even in the Capital of High Tech Entertainment. Prepare to have your spatial orientation tested, along with your mettle. From the fog floating around our feet, to the motion of the chairs, everything floated. VR is an excellent medium for voyeurism. You are not part of the reality so much as you are on a journey through it. You still live through the experience of someone or something that is not yourself. There you are in the chair, already suspended, and constantly in motion. Your lack of control over the situation is just one part of the cosmic fear you will experience on this exhibit. You are alone in the headset. You came with friends, but none of them can save you. This is the essence of IT. In the end, each of the Losers, though in company, journeys into the sewers alone to face their own particular fears. Pennywise just happens to be the face of them.

I will say this. Bill Skarsgard is the end-all-and-be-all of Pennywise. Tim Curry’s camp is a thing of the past, and in the past is where it shall stay. Bill Skarsgard frightens with his gravelly accent. He seduces with friendly tones. He invites you with open arms. You want to go play with him. What could possibly go wrong? Bill Skarsgard and Tim Curry both offered their victims the promise a good time; an empty promise, with a cold grave, but each went about it in their own way, and each were successful. If you look at it that way, you won’t be disappointed with Skarsgard as the new Pennywise. Like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Tim Curry will go down as much-beloved and fondly-remembered as Pennywise (and still a favorite!), but no longer King Clown.

They assured us we were being recorded. I’m waiting for video to surface of me talking to Pennywise like an old friend before gradually changing my tune.

Myself standing outside the FLOAT exhibit, too jangled to go back in. Later I would wish I had.
My nerves were so jangled after that, I could only be on the highway for a few seconds before I nearly had a panic attack. I took the back roads back to Mopac and sped all the way home.

I should have gone back through a second time. The event was free, so there is no cost prohibition. I did not ask if I could go back through. At the time, once was enough for me. But I had one eye open through all of it, and kept my back purposefully to Pennywise for a lot of it. His voice followed me. The balloons…

The exhibit’s next stop is Miami. If you are in any of the upcoming towns, I strongly urge you to go step inside and let Pennywise take you for a literal spin.

The front of the exhibit in partial opacity with FLOAT: A Cinematic VR Experience as the title. Upcoming tour dates are Miami August 14, Philidephia, PA the 18th through the 20th, Chicago, Illanoise the 24th through the 27th, Toronto, Canada August 30th through September 3rd, and heads back to Los Angeles, CA September 8 (film release date) through September 10th.
The upcoming tour dates for FLOAT.

 

Author: Ashley McGee

Ashley is a content marketer and content strategist in Austin, Texas. She has a BA from the University of Texas at San Antonio in English with emphasis on Professional Writing. She has been writing since she was 14, and has turned her interests from Westerns to Fantasy, Horror, the weird, and back again. She works in automotive social media management and freelancing.

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