Below is a review of the Hunters Grindhouse Experience. Special thanks to Brian Erzen for his photography and input on cast interaction.
As I’m walking up to the line for Amazon Prime’s Hunters preview screening, a woman with a loud jacket and perfectly styled feathered hair walks up and hands me a guide for the night. She tells me that, tonight, Mr. T’s having a huge party, and to look for him. A few minutes later, while I’m in line, a tall man in a sexy, tan, leather jacket, with a thick New York accent says, “You gotta come to my party tonight at the bowling alley.” It’s Mr. T himself, and I simply can’t refuse.
For a few short days surrounding the February 21st launch of Amazon’s new series Hunters, Campfire NYC and metaforyou (Terence Leclere, Karlie Blair, and Dasha Kittredge) teamed with Amazon Prime to transform Los Angeles’ Highland Park (between Avenues 56 and 57) into 1970s New York City by bringing authentic, era-specific details from the show. The Hunters Grindhouse Experience was a free-roam immersive experience that started with the takeover of the entire city block. With multiple places to visit along the block, a map was given out urging people to interact with characters at various locations including around ten local businesses. The evening’s programming began with a sneak peak of the Hunters pilot episode, followed by an after party at the bowling alley across the street. The detailed and large-scale event was a nostalgic look back at the ‘70s – including bowling, live musical entertainment, free giveaways, NYC-style pizza, and Hunters-themed cocktails.
The new Amazon Prime series Hunters follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters living in New York City in 1977. The Hunters, as they’re known, have discovered that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living free, conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the United States. The show’s content is meant for more mature audiences, with horror themes and comic book camp. The live Grindhouse Experience, however, left out the darker elements of the show, and instead focused on comic book camp and the chance for attendees to have a good time. As an activation, the focus here was on creating a memorable night filled with good food, strong drinks, and unforgettable characters.
What really stood out about the Hunters Grindhouse Experience was the attention to detail in recreating a ‘70s New York City – and the chance to explore and to partake in its offerings. It wasn’t about just changing the labels and turning the Highland Theatre into Empire Grindhouse or the Highland Park Bowl to Hunters Alley. The event excelled and impressed with the period clothing the cast was wearing, the era-appropriate cabs and cars, lighting, music, food, and the details around the venues. The after party at the bowling alley also included different areas and entertainments, extending the event far beyond the screening of the pilot episode. The Coney Island room included funhouse mirrors, along with a magician (Micah Cover), a tap-dancing clown (Dana Benedict), a sword performer (Krystal Kurio), and more. Hunters Lair included a photo booth complete with a range of spy memorabilia, including a moustache, and Hunters-related props. The DJ playing ‘70s hits helped with the ambiance for the evening, and included several cast members leading guests in a rendition of the Village People’s “YMCA.” Even the stairs contained numerous pictures of characters from the show, as well as the famous recipe for chicken noodle soup.
Several Hunters-themed cocktails were available at the after party, providing a glimpse into the series as well as delicious adult refreshments. Looking for something with gin? Mix in egg whites and luxardo to create the Nunchuck, and pray for mercy. For vodka lovers, mix in some lemon juice and sugar, and be prepared for total transparency after one sip of the Truth Serum. For those falling into the Mensch camp, some rye, Manishewitz, and Angostura bitters gave them the chance to Passover in no time.
With so much to see and do throughout the evening, the experience would not have been complete without the talented cast of 42 immersive actors (spread across all days of the event). Dressed in an assortment of ‘70s-style clothing ranging from skirts, bell bottoms, and fur or leather jackets, and a range of prints and colors, the ensemble helped bring the streets of New York to life. All of the actors bounced off each other well with witty commentary and banter, and guests were often included in the mix. This was seen early in the evening when Carla (Shayne Eastin, Secret Thing II) complained about her boyfriend Tony’s (Tyler Antione Gordon) Valentine’s Day gift to her: a used car.
Upon entering Highland Bowl, Eli Moskovitz, dressed like an old school taxi cab driver, welcomed guests to the affair, “Welcome to the party! We’re so glad you could join us for a groovy time!” At Hunter’s Lair, inside the bowling alley, Archie and Hannah (Sheer Aviram) offered commentary on a wall littered with classic spy memorabilia. Archie, pointing to a very large cassette deck, exclaimed, “Look how small this is, isn’t that amazing?” Later, while getting pizza, a woman (Annie Lesser, Death and Coffee) approached me in a stunning outfit – white-rimmed glasses, a black-and-red fur coat, and a gold skirt – and a thick New York accent, and asked if I knew the correct way of eating a slice. She watched, eagle-eyed, as I folded my slice in half and took a bite. She smiled, satisfied, and praised me for my know-how.
With so many actors roaming the experience, there were countless little moments of interactivity. A favorite interaction of mine came during an exchange with Carney McGillicutty (James Cowan, The Kansas Collection). Sporting an outfit including a bullet necklace, hat, and vest, this tall gentleman with lots of energy helped bring people into the sideshow. “Hey, did I ever tell you this story before?” he began, followed by a great story about dating a woman, but only if he could successfully avoid being shot by her overprotective father. Carney continued his tale: “I say, if I can catch the bullet, I can date his daughter – if I miss, I’m dead. When he fired the gun, I reacted quickly. I caught the bullet with my teeth.” He smiled and put a bullet in his mouth, between his teeth, for emphasis.
While the screening of the first episode of Hunters provided some context for the atmosphere of the evening, the immersive experience excelled beyond what the show could offer, providing ‘70s fun and full immersion into another world. There was so much to see and do over the course of the event; it was well worth it to arrive early and just exist in the world, explore the area, and interact with all of the various characters. With a talented cast and great attention to detail, I’m looking forward to seeing what the talented teams at Campfire NYC and Metaforyou will do next.