To understand my thoughts on the House of Horrors match at Payback 2017, you have to first understand one of my most formative experiences with professional wrestling.
In 1991, Ultimate Warrior was feuding with The Undertaker. Warrior, in need of help, turned to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who told Warrior he would need to face three tests in order to gain The Answer: a way to defeat Undertaker’s dark powers. The final test involved Warrior walking through a room full of snakes to open a chest, only to reveal the chest contained an (obviously fake) cobra, which struck him, the venom weakening him and leaving him open to an attack by Undertaker, Paul Bearer, and Roberts, who had been working together the whole time.
I was eight years old, watching this melodrama wide-eyed. It would have two major effects on me: First, it would scare me away from professional wrestling until well into my teenage years. Second, when I later returned to wrestling, it would ensure the best way to get my attention was with an over-the-top supernatural storyline.
I am exactly the sort of fan that House of Horrors match was meant to attract. The entire Bray Wyatt versus Randy Orton feud was my kind of thing, conceptually. Orton pretends to be pulled into Wyatt’s cult in order to discover his weakness, drive his family apart, and eventually destroy him. Wyatt, however, proves that Orton’s biggest mistake was seeing all of this, but not believing in it. Even the lack-luster match at WrestleMania wasn’t enough to totally deter me—I was willing to see how they escalated from “Wyatt summoning gross bug footage mid-match,” even if Orton’s victory left me confused. Hell, I even told myself “stop being such a pretentious smark and just enjoy the show.”
In return, I got a great concept that was executed badly. Not in the somewhat satisfying “this is so bad it’s incredible” way, in the “I can see where you could have made this work, but you didn’t bother” way.
For weeks no one even knew what a House of Horrors match was. WWE sent out surveys asking fans what they thought a House of Horrors match would involve. Fans speculated plenty of scenarios, from just an “anything goes” sort of cage match, a Boiler Room Brawl style fight, even a callback to the old Chamber of Horrors match from Halloween Havoc 1991. My joking suggestion was reusing the bamboo cage from the Punjabi Prison match, but with Dollar Store Halloween decorations hung all over it. My repeated desire was a spot where one competitor hit the other with a mesh bag full of plastic bats.
Considering what we ended up with? I’m almost sure my pitch would have at least been more memorable.
The match would begin in Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors. Many people observed it was a good thing the House of Horrors was located in San Jose, where Payback was being held. In a very obviously pre-taped segment, Randy arrived at the House of Horrors to confront Wyatt. Then the objective was to…okay, so, the objective was to pin or submit your opponent, but you had to do that in the ring. Which was in the arena, which was at least driving distance from the House of Horrors. So, as far as WWE could explain, Orton and Wyatt would start the fight in the house and then at some point break it off to return to the arena where they would end the match in front of the crowd.
It’s hard to pinpoint where it went wrong. I can name a number of things that bugged me, I even compiled a list of what may have contributed, but in the end none of these single factors explains the end result. What I can say for certain is:
- Orton was the wrong opponent for this match. Orton is the wrong opponent for any supernatural-themed feud because there is no way for him to make it seem like he’s not secretly sneering and rolling his eyes at all of it. I’m not sure if that is character or just Orton’s own aura, but you can’t make me believe Orton would enter a House of Horrors match acting like anything other than “dumb frat guy acting too cool for a haunted house attraction.”
- Reread the explanation of how the match worked. It almost starts to make sense but then it doesn’t. There was no point to having the fight start in the house. There was nothing Orton or Wyatt had to retrieve in order to prove they went to the house. For all they knew, Orton could have just shown up at the arena all “I went to the house, Bray wasn’t there, guess he forfeits, OH WELL, I WIN!”
- They over-explained the concept. The announce team and pre-show panel kept saying “the match has to end in the ring,” as if they were assuring the viewers that “don’t worry, Orton and Wyatt WILL BE HERE AT THE ARENA TONIGHT!” It took out a possible point of suspense and genuinely just left people wondering how the hell anything was supposed to work.
- The atmosphere of the house itself was a problem. Not even the decor, though the room with the dolls hanging from the ceiling and the spooky red room were great touches. There are ways to make even the most normal room feel off. What we got was confusing: half suburban home with covered furniture, half dollhouse of horrors. There was no theme, no (and I hate that I am about to use this term) vision.
- Missed opportunities to mess with us. For example? People were pointing out the pre-tape happened at night, but it was 6:30 and sunny in San Jose while it was airing and claiming to be “Live.” An easy fix would’ve been shooting the limo in the sunlight, cutting inside to Orton as it stops, and having him open the door to night time and then check his watch, looking confused. Again: stuff that is just off enough to make you go “wait.”
- No bugs, no worms, no snakes, none of the imagery that has otherwise dominated the feud.
- How do you have the arson angle from the WrestleMania match continued, with Orton even promising to burn the House of Horrors down, and yet there is no fire at all in the actual match? When Wyatt fell to his knees outside the house I was SURE we were about to see it go up in flames…instead we get a blue light changed to red, which didn’t have the same effect.
Despite all of this, there were a few moments here and there that hinted at what could have been effective. Bray’s hand shooting out of nowhere in a hallway, Orton being foolish enough to pull a doll off the ceiling (Randy, have you never seen a horror movie?), Bray’s falling to his knees in front of the house and then struggling to stand up. But what really hit me was Bray sitting in the back of a limo singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” to himself, over and over again.
And yet none of this equaled out a lackluster ending with Orton appearing behind Wyatt with no explanation, and interruption by Jinder Mahal and the
Bollywood Boys Singh Brothers. We were denied even a short but entertaining one-on-one match between Wyatt and Orton, forcing them to settle things like mortals, in favor of building Orton’s next title feud. So a match built around Bray Wyatt in the end wasn’t even really about Bray Wyatt.
My greatest takeaway is that I’m glad WWE was at least willing to take a chance on the House of Horrors. They seem so timid most of the time when it comes to Bray Wyatt, like they’re afraid to commit to his character as fully as he does, unsure whether they want us to be afraid of him or think he’s just silly and not to be believed. At least at this point it seems like they’re willing to let us make up our own minds: do we think Bray is magic or are we looking for where the strings are being pulled? And that’s how Bray Wyatt works best, when he’s that terrifying unknown.
Now, let us never speak of the House of Horrors again.