GSN — formerly Game Show Network, before it decided to drop the full name and stick to a newly meaningless acronym — isn’t really known for its premium programming. Mostly, it’s a network that’s great for half-watching reruns of Family Feud or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Originality isn’t exactly its strong point — the exception being Baggage, a Jerry Springer-hosted dating game show that I’m not-so-secretly obsessed with. Its new series Hellevator, premiering Wednesday, doesn’t do much to change that.
In Hellevator, a group of three contestants working as teammates are sent to a creepy elevator where they await instructions on the challenges they’ll face in an overly decorated industrial warehouse. It’s clear that this series is trying to channel some of the magic and surprises that made MTV’s Fear such a hit (and TV’s scariest reality show) by using a mixture of spoooooky stories, hidden cameras, and cheap screams. But it’s missing Fear‘s balance of a low-key vibe and legit scares, so it becomes nothing more than your run-of-the-mill game show, except with a lot more fake blood.
What made Fear so creepy was the isolation, the reliance on scares that seemed sort of “natural,” like a closed shower curtain in a haunted bathroom or bumping into a creaky door in the dark. In Hellevator, the tricks all come from a duo of women — the twin redheads/horror aficionados Jen and Sylvia Soska, who are decked out in clothing that combines Renaissance Faire with Hot Topic Gift Card — who run the show from a control room. They keep close eyes on the contestants, telling them what to do, then making snarky remarks amongst themselves and hoping no one completes the mission, but it’s hard to ignore how bored they seem throughout.
In the first episode, the three contestants (who call themselves “Team YOLO”; one remarks, “You only live once, but you also only die once” as they warily stand in the elevator) are told a story about an undertaker named Albert who began killing people to beef up his business. “Albert” would also steal from the deceased, and refuse to put bells on the coffin in case their occupants needed to alert people that they were still alive. This story is a mess, and it highlights that the reason why Fear worked: because it used “real” haunted places, with episodes based on events that really were said to have happened in those locations.
The contestants complete challenges that fit the story: they match bells with “stolen” items, remove gross “organs” from bodies and put them on a scale (I don’t know either), and try to free themselves from a crematorium. While they do this, they’re faced with horror pranksters like the kind you see in any bland carnival haunted house, popping up to scream or spray fake blood. For each challenge the contestants win, they get some money. If they lose, the elevator moves to a different floor without them. At the end, everyone who’s left navigates through a maze — basically a haunted house with a $40 admission fee — to collect more money.
Hellevator is mildly entertaining at best. There is only so much fun you can have watching strangers scream for an hour, especially when there isn’t anything particularly scary happening. Watching the series feels like hearing someone tell you about their experience in a haunted house: It was scary to them at the time, but there’s no reason for anyone else to care about it afterward.