The great and mighty pharaoh, his fearsome visage projected by computer onto a waterfall, is very angry. And it's all your fault. "How dare you enter my place of rest?" his thunderous voice bellows as a sliding stone door traps you and your fellow explorers inside TOMB, a first-of-its-kind interactive walk-through adventure show opening Friday in the Fenway.
Flashlights suddenly flicker out, the chamber's walls seem to shake, and a once-brave guide, leading participants through the amusement, buries her face in a pith helmet. Poisonous snakes, falling ceilings, and secret traps — to name just a few of TOMB's high-tech special effects — could easily spell your demise. But if you and your fellow "volunteer archeologists" can solve pharaoh's riddles, you'll find his long-lost mummy and emerge from the game as champions. The brainchild of 27-year-old MIT graduate Matt DuPlessie, TOMB is a high-tech haunted house with an Egyptian twist. But with a price tag of nearly $1 million, it has the look and feel of a Hollywood movie set: More than 150 sound effects, visual illusions, shooting air jets, glowing stones, dropping ceilings, and the like are smartly packaged within a 2,000-square-foot space across Brookline Avenue from the AMC Fenway Theatre.
While the special effects are cool, TOMB is unique because, unlike other amusements, it allows participants to control their own fate, almost as if they are playing a video game. "The show is designed to make the individual feel like the hero," DuPlessie says. "For this show, you are Indiana Jones."
Groups of 5 to 15 "volunteer archeologists" enter the tomb's elaborate chambers in search of a professor who vanished a decade ago. Once inside, participants walk from room to room, scanning hieroglyphic-covered walls for secret buttons, flexing their muscles to push aside statues, and racking their brains to solve riddles before time's up.
TOMB's sophisticated computer-generated deity follows the group's actions and changes the 40-minute adventure depending on whether groups succeed or fail at the challenges. The computer chooses one of several different endings, with only the most successful groups making it to the final mummy chamber.
"If you don't solve the riddle, you die," says DuPlessie, an Attleboro native and Cambridge resident who worked on theme shows for Walt Disney and Universal Studios before gathering investors to finance TOMB.
He's only half kidding: Groups that fail at their quest pass through a faux death experience before exiting the game. "We try to make it convincing for about half a second. We don't want to give people heart attacks. Just a little bump in the blood pressure."
Casting participants in the hero role has become standard practice in the amusement world. Mock alien investigation and dinosaur hunter walk-through shows have popped up in recent years. Hop aboard Universal Studios' "Men in Black" ride and you too can be an "agent trainee."
But TOMB, located just blocks from Fenway Park, promises to take the genre to a new level because it is so interactive, DuPlessie says "When Disney calls a ride interactive, you're strapped into this car, you're going through this thing, and there's something happening on a screen," he explains. "Maybe if there's water on the screen they mist you with water in your car. There's no illusion of control. If you weren't sitting in that seat, the same thing would still be happening. This show gets you off your butt."
DuPlessie, a mechanical engineer who also has an MBA from Harvard Business School, nevertheless lists Walt Disney as his role model. But the special effects he's created for TOMB are straight from Steven Spielberg.
"There's a part of the show where you really feel that there are snakes squiggling around your feet. That's when I screamed the most," says Shamika Jemison, a Hyde Park surgical technician who tried out for a part-time job as a TOMB tour guide. "Poor Matt — I leaped into his arms. But I think that's what he wanted. He got the effect he wanted."
"Very likely you're going to hear an occasional shriek while in the lobby, which, of course, sells tickets," says DuPlessie, grinning.
James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business, an industry trade publication, said theme shows such as TOMB have to offer more if they hope to compete with increasingly sophisticated video games.
"If you can't provide the excitement and thrill you get at the computer at home, then you stand very little chance of luring people from their consoles to your attraction," he says.
DuPlessie and his partners at 5W!TS productions — a name taken from a Shakespeare line — expect a college and post-college crowd to be their main customers, with ticket prices ranging from $10 to $20 depending on show times. TOMB will also be open for school field trips (the hieroglyphics have been copied from actual tombs), private parties, and corporate outings.
If it's successful, DuPlessie hopes to expand to Providence next year, with either a James Bond-type attraction or an underwater adventure replacing TOMB in Boston.
"It's a dream project," he says. "It's a ton of fun. I mean, we're building basically a museum exhibit/theme park ride in the middle of urban Boston. There's nothing else like it up here."
TOMB is located at 186 Brookline Ave. It opens Friday at 11 a.m.with shows starting every 15 minutes. For more information visit www.5-wits.com.
©2004 Boston Globe