The sun has already gone down when I arrive in downtown Los Angeles. Per the email instructions I received the night before, I make my way to the dark alley behind the address and follow the light streaming out of an open door about halfway down. As I get closer, I see a number of patrons dressed similarly to me (in retro, tiki-themed party attire) smoking cigarettes against a brick wall. After checking my name off the list, a woman points me up a flight of stairs. When I reach the top, a messy scene comes into view: the landing is scattered with eucalyptus leaves, luggage, barrels, and (most notably) a dead woman’s body, her ribcage splayed out. On top of a barrel, front and center, sits a mysterious idol. The immersive party of the summer has begun: Curse of the Jungle Drums!
Since 2015, Drunken Devil has been responsible for what are arguably the biggest events in our corner of horror/theater subculture here in Los Angeles. Blending party elements like live music, burlesque, and an open bar with immersive and theatrical elements, the company hosts a handful of themed, can’t-miss party events per year, with each seemingly attracting bigger crowds and more positive buzz than the last. The company even has their own annual membership program in the form of The Sinners Social Club (temporarily open for registration now), which grants participants early entry and other exclusives year round. This year, Drunken Devil’s summer soiree came in the form of Curse of the Jungle Drums, which took for its theme the Western colonial view of tribal “exoticism” that colored the movie serials and pulp adventure novels of the early 20th century. This is the same aesthetic that would come to be re-appropriated as cartoonishly adventurous in cultural landmarks like the Indiana Jones franchise, and Disneyland’s Adventureland. Indeed, the tongue-in-cheek, far-removed-from-reality approach to said “exoticism” is even more apparent in Curse of the Jungle Drums’ approach, making for a fun and nostalgic theming that perfectly captures the absurdity and fun of the adventurer subgenre.
The setting of Curse of the Jungle Drums is Pele’s Hideaway, a popular tiki bar in 1950’s Hollywood. As one enters the venue, a quick glance around the room reveals that at least a handful of the fellow partygoers have incurred some kind of recent trauma—gashes, head wounds, and blood splattering their clothes. These details are the first hints of our party’s narrative, which is roughly as follows: John Washburn is an intrepid explorer of exotic lands, who makes a frequent habit of returning to Pele’s with “cursed” objects to sell to the proprietor. Unfortunately, Washburn’s latest souvenir—an idol that appears to be of Pacific Island origin—appears to have been more authentically cursed than Washburn anticipated, leading to bloody eruption of violence between all of the bar patrons, which includes a colorful cast of Hollywood actors and socialites.
The method through which participants are expected to glean this story, however, is a bit non-traditional. Rather than breaking the flow of the party to draw the crowd’s attention to specific scenes, the characters of the Pele’s Hideaway massacre are simply set upon the event to mingle alongside everyone else like regular guests. It is incumbent upon us,, then, to make the effort to chat with these characters and ask the right questions, should we take an interest in learning more about the terrible circumstances that surround the bloody wounds that punctuate all of their costumes.
This mechanic of storytelling is particularly clever for Drunken Devil’s overall aims. It allows each party-goer to effectively choose their layer of immersion by how actively they pursue it. Those who are desperate to learn everything have an opportunity to do so, and those who just want to throw back a few drinks with friends are not forced to participate in anything that doesn’t interest them. The motto of the party’s immersion seems to be that of “it’s here if you want it”. Characters are not going to approach you and start spilling their guts, and you’re not going to accidentally stumble into any immersive scenes; the goal is simply to enjoy the party in whatever way you see fit. Even with very little pursuit of the actual “story” of the party, the roaming characters are so charming and entertaining simply to observe and interact with that their presence is an undeniably positive attribute to the event.
As for the non-theatrical elements of the party, there is very little room for complaint. The open bar provides a delicious selection of mixed drinks and cocktails to keep you well dehydrated all night long, the stage in the main room is always abuzz with fantastic live music, DJs, and burlesque performances, and there is even close-up magic and tarot reading to keep you entertained between all of that. At 75 dollars for a ticket, it is more than worth it in terms of entertainment and (especially) alcohol.
If Curse of the Jungle Drums can be said to be representative of Drunken Devil’s ethos, then one’s enjoyment of Drunken Devil events is going to be largely dependent on approach and expectations. Those looking for immersive experiences on the engagement level of a murder mystery dinner might come away slightly disappointed. However, if you enter the world of the Drunken Devil on his own terms—that is to say looking for a fun, friendly environment to have more than a few beverages, laugh, and be entertained amongst friends within the community—the event is more than worth its weight in gold.
Those intrigued by Curse of the Jungle Drums interested in exploring the hedonistic world of Drunken Devil a bit deeper (including exclusive story-driven and immersive elements presented in an early entry hour) might take an interest in joining the Sinners Social Club, which is (for a brief time) offering prorated memberships through their website.