Fistful of Fear: A Guide to Local Haunted Attractions

All right OC haunt freaks, you’ve got a few to choose from this year. But which ones? Which ones!? If you’re not made of money or if you’ve already maxed out your available credit, the admission costs can quickly add up. Thus, you may have to be selective when deciding where to go for your masochistic kicks. We, at the Weekly, thought we’d take a few for the team in order to make sure you’re as informed as you can be before making these difficult decisions. Here is our round-up / break-down of several local haunted attractions that you can consider when deciding where to get your scare on.

Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor

For our first haunt of the season, we went to Long Beach's Queen Mary, which hosts one of our favorite haunted attractions, Dark Harbor. As always, this attraction mixes a touch of the debonair with a crimson splatter of dementia. Guests can expect to witness a roaming cast of haunted mascots, sliders [not the White Castle variety, but those scary performers with hardcore kneepads who slide up to you and catch you unawares], belly dancers, fire eaters, musical performances, freakshow performances, comedians, fortune tellers, various attractions on the monster midway, and of course the mazes.

As for the mazes, the fairgrounds house: Intrepid, Deadrise, and Circus. Of those, Circus is hard to beat. Not only does it include a decent hall of mirrors and other puzzling corridors that can trap you for some time, but there are killer clowns, which are currently very fashionable. Intrepid is a lot of fun for folks who love great atmospheric scenes with a lot of creative lighting; much of it consists of industrial parts fashioned into intimidating vistas. Added to this are a few monstrous factory workers and their unfortunate victims. Deadrise is a perennial fave of haunted and decayed sailor imagery.

The ship, itself, contains: Soulmate, Lullaby, and B340. Queen Mary haunt veterans know that even without the “Halloween treatment,” the ship mazes are pretty creepy by the merit of being located in the ship’s guts. As for their respective highlights: Soulmate makes good use of the pitch black, where guests’ imaginations can do half of the work. During other parts of Soulmate, guests might find themselves being followed for a while by a persistent ghost. B340 includes a charming wall of human limbs, and Lullaby showcases myriad eviscerated teddy bears (whose own guts include much more than cotton stuffing).

Finally, while it is not a maze, there is a haunted attraction at Dark Harbor that is definitely a stand-out in our round-up; it is Panic 4D. Located in a screening room on the ship, this is a short animated movie that is enhanced by fixins in the theater. The video game-grade animation film depicts a trip through a monster and zombie-laden Queen Mary. Along the way, the theater comes alive to enhance the 3D effects. It will make you feel like you are really being splashed with gore, jabbed, poked, having your feet grabbed at, etc. Rest assured: it’s all an illusion. Or is it?

The 17th Door

Residing in a strip mall in Tustin, The 17th Door Haunted Experience is one of the more unnerving entries on our list. This is evident even before guests sign the waiver which indicates that they may come into direct contact with insects, reptiles, electrical shocks, human hands and tongues, etc.; a large poster warns them that they should not enter if they are put off by disturbing imagery having to do with drugs, molestation, abortion, gun violence, etc. Buyer beware! Thus, we headed inside!

Our behind-the-scenes tour of the haunt revealed a set-up right out of The Cabin in the Woods. Various operators sat in a control room, where they monitored screens of the rooms in the haunt and cued various effects and transitions. What the experience is like for the guests is a progression of performed scenes. That is, the entire haunt is a storytelling platform of the creepiest kind; each room contains characters who demonstrate the twisted and disturbing moments of an abused girl’s life from the moment she encounters an inappropriately behaved priest until…well, let’s just say that this haunt demonstrates that abused people develop patterns of being tormented by monsters throughout their tragic lives.

The 17th Door features colorful characters like: abusive boyfriends, inhuman doctors, experimental electrical technicians, and Ronald McDonald. Some of the rooms are strictly scenes that the guests more-or-less witness, and other rooms are actually mechanically rigged structures that are guaranteed to shake up their occupants. There are, indeed, live roaches, tarantulas, and snakes; one of the rooms is an escape room; and at times, individual members of each party [guests experience the haunt in groups of about 4-5 people] are separated from their group and taken to unknown destinations where unknown experiences befall them.

Knott’s Scary Farm

Knott’s Scary Farm, in Buena Park, is another of our favorite haunts that not only brings out the squealing child in many of us, but also nudges us a little closer to madness. This year, The Red Barn and Shadow Lands mazes joined Trick or Treat, Voodoo: Order of the Serpent, Paranormal, Inc., The Dead of Winter: Wendigo’s Revenge, and Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises. Beyond the standard walkthrough mazes, this year sees the return of Special Ops: Infected, wherein guests are not only running for their lives through a simulated zombie apocalypse, but they are also defending humanity by shooting the zombies with laser rifles [lights on the zombies indicate whether or not your shot has hit its mark].

In the Red Barn, guests get to experience what it’s like to walk through the domain of a maniac farmer. Here, not only are chickens in cages, but humans are as well. Pig-headed monsters will accost you as you run screaming through the hay. Shadow Lands transports patrons to the far East, where sexy geishas might entice you into adulation just before a raving samurai charges at you, sword in hand. All of the returning mazes still have the power to transport you to their respective creepy worlds, but the expansive scare zones (comprised of the areas of the park between the mazes) are half the charm of Knott’s — especially when one of the marauding monsters corners a victim; the performers don’t back down or break character, so if they find that one simpering soul is terrified enough to run, screaming, into one of the park’s souvenir stores, the monster will likely lie in wait for as long as it takes for their target to emerge.

For an additional fee, skeleton keys are available. These will get you to the front of the lines and provide access to several exclusive haunted scenes. Other perks of the regular ticket to Knott’s include: The Hanging, Elvira’s Danse Macabre, and some of the best funnel cake in Orange County. Guests who attended during the first week of Knott’s Scary Farm may have also experienced the now defunct virtual reality attraction, Fear VR: 5150. This attraction took guests on a virtual tour through an insane asylum, wherein they witnessed a girl possessed by a demon. Evidently, by utilizing the California Welfare and Institution code 5150 (which provides for the compulsory institutionalization of people with mental illness), Knott’s caused a furor which resulted in their closing of the attraction. Boo!

MOTEL 6 Feet Under

This Anaheim haunt is the smallest production on our roundup, but sometimes when haunts get too big, it is at the cost of their charm or ingenuity. MOTEL 6 Feet Under occupies a business complex, and while the space is available year-round for events, seminars, and business pow-wows, when the MOTEL 6 team takes over the space, they transform it into a jolly frustrating maze.

Other mazes may occasionally include halls of mirrors or similarly quizzical corridors, as mentioned above, but few of them employ walls that are relocated while guests’ backs are turned. That is one of the stand-out charms of this haunt. Other highlights include a haunted elevator, creepy characters, and some nicely choreographed scares. If you have the dough to shell out for one of the larger theme park haunts, then why not dig a little deeper and make a brief getaway to MOTEL 6 Feet Under?

Sinister Pointe

While we’re still in the area, Sinister Pointe awaits you in Fullerton. Also occupying a business space [in fact, the former location of a Goodwill store] this haunt makes good use of cultic imagery. Specifically, one of the first things guests experience is a tarot card reader who determines what the sign of your symbolic journey will be: Tormentum, Infernal, Arcane, or Rebus. Each of these designations signifies a unique experience of Sinister Pointe.

Sinister Pointe’s maze centers around the central idea of each respective guest’s journey through a realm of strange and macabre sights, sounds, and sensations. These journeys include unique sets of rooms — depending upon which card had been drawn in the initial room. Some of the rooms necessitate crawling through narrow corridors or being trapped in a box. Some of the rooms overlap regardless of which path has been chosen for you; so if you return another day or purchase access to all four rooms, you will re-visit several of the rooms on each journey through the maze.

Overall, this haunt makes good use of most of the tricks in the haunt book. The unifying theme is compelling, the lighting is creatively used for the purposes of illuminating set pieces and disorientation, the physical engagement with the terrain can be intimidating but is not overwhelming, and the performers do a great job of acting out their various creepy roles.

Coffin Creek

Since we started our haunt hop west of Orange County, it is fitting that we wind up our little tour in our eastern neighboring county, Riverside, where we ventured into Corona’s Coffin Creek. One of the greatest things about Coffin Creek is the setting. As visitors drive down the fairly desolate roads that lead to Coffin Creek, they might experience a creeping curiosity along the lines of: “Where the heck is this place, and will anybody be able to find me if I fall prey to some backwoods maniac out here?”

Though Coffin Creek is essentially run by volunteers and might seem a little shabby around the edges, its roughness is absolutely part of its charm. All of the actors give spirited performances, and while some set pieces might be missing a little paint or may not be lit as creatively as the vignettes in the theme park haunts, the sense of decay is intoxicating. That being said, there are definitely some impressive set pieces, and the choreography of the scares is top notch.

Coffin Creek features three haunted attractions. One of them is a maze called The Haunted Asylum, which contains some great unhinged characters. Another is a maze called The Catacombs of Guasti Cemetery; this one features some ghoulish priests who are definitely not praying for your soul to ascend into heaven. But perhaps the cream of the crop is the most threadbare of them all: The Prado Witch Trail.

Very few props or set pieces can be witnessed along this haunted trail. In fact, it is difficult to even see clearly enough to stay the course, as the trail runs through a genuine swamp and is illuminated only by faint light posts. This is not to say that a disoriented cackling witch might not appear to taunt you along your way or that a chainsaw-wielding madmen might not pop up and chase you over jagged terrain and through rough foliage.

Well, kiddies, that’s it for the roundup. While it does represent a nice collection of haunts, it is by no means comprehensive. We have also heard good things about: Cross Roads Escape Games and The Fleshyard, in Anaheim; Higgins Manor, in Mission Viejo; Hauntington Beach Manor and Earrywood Haunted House, in Huntington Beach; The Haunted Rose, in Whittier; and The Legend of Boot Hill (free yard display), in Irvine. Also, be sure and check out our additional photos of: The 17th Door, Sinister Pointe, and Coffin Creek!

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