Photos by Scott Feinblatt
How many more days until Halloween? How many more days until local haunts open up for “Scare Season”? Too
many. However, there are still plenty of ways for horror fans to occupy ourselves while we wait for our favorite
month to arrive, and, on this day, I shall reminisce about a spooky trip to San Diego...
Last year, I reported on Queen Mary's Dark Harbor for Diabolique Magazine. I had intended on reporting on a
couple more haunted attractions, but my new job as the magazine's Editor-in-Chief wound up swallowing all of my
time and part of my soul. Now that I am recovering peacefully – having returned to focus on my own horror
productions and contribute to such magazines as Fangoria, Rue Morgue and Screem – I can finish what I started.
As a serious fan of horror entertainment, it has been my custom to search various haunted attraction websites,
such as that of Hauntworld, to the find the best haunts. The very unfortunate truth of the matter is that the haunts
which are typically recognized for greatness in the world of haunted attractions are typically NOT in the state of
California. There are, of course, ratings categories for the best haunts WITHIN California, but amongst those, I'd
never seen any in the Los Angeles area. [Note: In previous years, the theme park haunts were not included on
these ratings boards]
There are one or two attractions in the Bay Area that have merited mention (notably Pirates of Emerson), but the
nearest attraction that has periodically been cited is The Haunted Hotel, in San Diego. While planning my trip, I
padded my itinerary by planning a double-header; in the past, I had seen advertising for a collection of haunted
mazes called Scream Zone, so, I added a stop at Scream Zone to my San Diego adventure.
After the 120 mile trek down to SD, I waited an hour or so at a
coffee shop for The Haunted Hotel to open. While I waited,
some of the HH's performers, in full costume, came and went –
adding to my anticipation. Finally, when the hour had arrived, I
headed on over, descended some stairs and wound up in an
ornate waiting room with a bunch of teenagers. In the waiting
room, a widescreen television set doubled as a window,
adorned with curtains, through which a dark rainy vignette
could be seen.
Once inside, the fun really began! One of the things that
disappointed me about my Queen Mary experience was the
fact that there were various opportunities to terrorize which
were not exploited – specifically, sometimes there would be a
dummy which could have been a performer waiting to scare
passersby after they had written it off as a dummy and let their
defenses down. At the Haunted Hotel, they took advantage of
that gag, and my adrenaline flowed freely. One of my favorite
scenarios that featured this scare tactic was a subway car
(which rocked and shook like an actual moving train while we
walked through it). In the car, there were many bodies seated
and hanging, meat locker style, throughout. The performers
that were playing bodies typically revealed themselves after
you had lowered your defense.
The spirit of the performers was quite endearing, as they pronounced: “Ah, here comes a fresh batch of victims.
Heh heh heh!” Throughout the whole maze, there was a nice variety of scenarios which featured great lighting
and areas in which guests could actually become lost. In fact, at one point, I found myself in a corner that
contained the huddled and frightened group of kids which had entered the maze before my group. After giving
them a brief pep talk about survival in adverse environments, I allowed them to take hold of my backpack and
follow me to safety.
One particularly disturbing scene involved a girl who appeared to be hanging by her neck via a chain. Both the
prosthetic and the performance of the girl were very realistic. And, talk about disturbing, there is a fine line in
terms of what is considered appropriate by many people, and it seems to involve physical contact. Here, they
took care to molest us in a safe way; when water or mist inexplicably hits you, you are unnerved from the touch,
but at the same time you feel safe because it's only water. The fact is it's an effective but safe gimmick.
The only real disappointment I experienced with The Haunted Hotel was the fact that it ended; I wanted it to keep
going. Alas, I still had the entire Scream Zone fairground to explore, so I walked to my car and headed north to
the Del Mar Scaregrounds.
First, the Del Mar Fairgrounds is an impressivly large area, which hosts the San Diego County Fair, horse racing,
and other events throughout the year. Whereas in SD I had to find street parking, here parking was not an issue.
However, the abundance of space ended as soon as I had walked the distance from the parking area to Scream
Zone. The place was packed with teeny-boppers who briefly made me wonder if I were not too old for all of this.
This was a poor first impression as I settled into the
line for the Haunted Hayride. In fact, it was at this
time that the most “actual” horrific thing of the
evening happened to me: I waited in a huge and
disorganized line for a long time, during which,
dozens of people, en masse, created their own
detour – cutting to the middle of an already long
line – before a few crowd control people showed up
to stand around looking puzzled. Perhaps it is with
age that the idea of waiting in a line for a fun park
attraction becomes an argument against going to
fun parks. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is with age that
we learn to forget how much we hate waiting in
lines until we agree to a situation that necessitates
standing in a line. Whatever the answer to this
question may be, it didn't help the line move faster.
After waiting in line for an hour and a half, a group of
guests was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and towed,
for a rejuvenating twenty-five minutes, through a
variety of entertaining scenarios. These featured
some eerily happy dancing clowns, the threat of
being squashed by falling barrels (which startled me
into accidentally hitting a fellow guest in the face) and
plenty of palate-cleansing space in between the
Once the ride was over, it was time to imbibe in that
fairground staple: the funnel cake. It was all right;
perhaps one of these days I'll write an article about
my various funnel cake experiences – in the event
that this happens, the fully-loaded funnel cake from a
private party, thrown by The Asylum, on Santa
Monica pier has to rank in the top three.
After I had introduced some sugar into my blood,
I stood up and looked at the long line for another
of Scream Zone's haunts, The House of Horror,
and decided that I had already had my fill, for the
week, of waiting in lines; however, I then noticed
that the third and final maze at Scream Zone, The
Chamber, was without line.
While The Chamber was not too elaborate, structure-wise, it did have some great maze-action. That is to say, I
was lost for several minutes while obese laughing clowns followed and taunted me. This maze also featured a
long bridge through a rotating tunnel; this disorienting feature was touted by San Diego's tourism website as
“the largest spinning tunnel in San Diego”.
When I emerged, the line for The House of Horror was still impressive, so late night at Denny's and the drive
home won out. It's a shame though; I have a feeling that The House of Horror may have housed the grandest of
Scream Zone's offerings. Perhaps this year I'll find out!
In the meantime, I'll look forward to my next visit to the Haunted Hotel and its sister haunt, The Haunted Trail at
Balboa Park, which, rumor has it, is supposed to be nearly as impressive as The Haunted Hotel.