San Diego, California

Darryl Pamplin's Photos

Horror to be found

   So what is there to do as Halloween comes closer? What does San Diego have to offer that might be fun and scary? Well outside of the night itself and the costumes it brings and the random things some bars do, we have three haunted houses I got to explore with Mike Rollerson

     So maybe it's hard to put in words first without showing you what some of these attractions look like. So let's start Downtown proper with the Haunted Hotel. It's been in some top lists for haunted houses and even opens up during Comic Con to show our out of town guests a... unique time. So from the outside it looks like any other downtown building, yet once you step inside it takes a turn for the unnerving. Starting off in the lobby the doorman is mad, matted, and looking like he hasn't cleaned himself between murder victims. You enter an elevator with yet another crazed individual and it jolts and the lights go off, and from there I'll let you go on your own to see everything yourself. But throughout the type of things you witness change, ranging from those interred in a psychiatric facility to a normal(yet blood and gore filled) deli. So what's not to love?

     But what about those who like the outdoors more? Well you can drive about two minutes from the Haunted Hotel and end up at Balboa Park for the Haunted Trail. Being as it's out in the park, a stroll through is more unsettling due to uneven ground and other natural barriers from getting away.

     Unlike the hotel, the Haunted Trail offers a choice, do you do the trail proper or the maze they have installed? Filled with fog, wrong turns, and walls that may house more than a glance will reveal one might have a bit of trouble navigating. Making your way through might be a bit slow since you can walk into other groups who might be ahead of you, but that doesn't lessen the experience any. It has quite a few things like a scene from a trailer park nightmare, inflatable walls that might have someone grab at you, while you might also have someone sneak up next to you in the fog and bang a wall as you try to pass.

     So what if you make it through the maze or just don't like an experience that's almost entirely claustrophobic? Well the trail proper is just for you. It also has elements of fog, but has scenes reminiscent to new horror films. You have escaped mental patients, a trek through a bus of the dead where some might be reanimated, and a mixture of Silent Hill small town horror and masked figures that could be mannequins or more.... The sounds of chainsaws leaves you unsure of what will happen, but do know that just because you get out the gate doesn't mean something or someone might not be waiting for you.

     So last but not least, we have the Screamzone that is in Del Mar, a bit of a way away from the last two attractions. What can be so bad about it? You're already done a maze and a standard horror crawl at the last two events.

     Well the difference is in themes(there's a few more pop culture scares and clowns for example) and scope. There are two haunted houses, one having more pneumatic approaches and corners while being overall larger. You might have someone come from behind a bush, car, or as shown above the ceiling! There ends up being some crossover between both in style, but one is more on a straightforward while the other uses lighting and design to inspire a more internalized dread through confusing the senses.

     But how about we talk about what the Screamzone has that sets it apart from the other two. They have a haunted hayride and a paintball range for shooting zombies(this I didn't get to do unfortunately, had two friends who acted in it I wanted a shot at...) that is set up along the racetrack. So while the other things are all contained to rooms, this attraction has lanes. So imagine you're in a tractor that does about 5 MPH while you go through a prison, a child's nightmare, and more. Every lane has a different theme and a variety of areas from where "they" might come from. Some might throw barrels at you like a super-powered zombie Donkey Kong, others might brandish weapons, and others might chase down the tractor. The soundtrack for each leads to an unnerving mix of kids story melodies that have been transformed to ruin your childhood up to a carnival of screams. It all ends up being a different approach to what you might have already seen.

     So yeah, it all is pretty cool to see behind the scenes, but why bother with that? Go when they're open and experience the scares San Diego has to offer, whether you try to hit all three in the time leading up to Halloween or wander to the Haunted Hotel during Comic Con, you'll have fun, I'm sure of it.