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Three for the 13th
In honor of Friday the 13th we decided to take a drive out to Sacramento for some haunted house action. While we would have liked to visit 13 haunted houses we did manage to visit three: The Scream Extreme, Fright Planet World of Fear, and Gyro's Fear Factory.
The curse of Friday the 13th is obviously alive and well, the trip, a disaster. It began with a three and a half hour drive up to Sacramento, a full two hours longer than it normally takes, in the most annoying stop and go traffic. This was followed by a fault in directions to the first haunt that resulted in another 20 minutes of lost time and increased aggravation. By this time we were really aching for some fun haunted house action to lift our spirits. Our first stop...
Where to begin, well, first, The Scream Extreme is billed as "a Live Action, High Startle, IN YO' FACE Haunted Attraction!" and you will "Be terrified through approximately 2500 square feet of Haunted House followed MEGA square footage of Haunted Trail." Through their various marketing tools (corporate sponsors, press releases, contests, clothing sales, etc.) we were led to believe that this was a professional/commercial haunt. While it is, in the sense that they charge for admission, it isn't in the sense that this is a home haunt.
Let's back up a bit. When we got off the freeway in Sacramento we were in a commercial area. A suitable environ for a commercial haunt. As we followed our directions we noticed the area becoming increasingly residential, light commercial structures gave way to newer upscale homes, which in turn gave way to older more modest homes. We thought we had again deviated from the planned route as there were no signs, no indications we were going the right direction. We joked amongst ourselves that it would be funny if this turned out to be a home haunt.
As we drove down El Camino we spotted a small handful of people standing in the street and a single dark figure in the shadows twirling a glow stick in front of a gated ranch-style house. Could it be? Yep, we had arrived at The Scream Extreme. We drove right past. Surely this is just another home and not the "haunted attraction" we're looking for, we thought to ourselves. We circled back and saw the signs in the shadows, The Scream Extreme. With a chuckle we found a place to park on a side street and made our way to the haunt.
The front is fairly nondescript, just your basic ranch-style house illuminated with some rope lights. It's separated from the street by a tall chain link fence. The gate on the right hand side of the property is the entrance. Don't venture to the left hand side or you will be interrogated as to your intensions like we were.
When the right gate was opened we were allowed in to a rather confusing arrangement of chairs on the front lawn. Hidden in the darkness was a thin twine that connected all the chairs forming a path. A lady in front of us stumbled as she tripped over this unseen guide. After a short wait we arrived at a bedroom window to purchase entry. The haunt was not yet open at this point so the crowd milled about not sure where they were supposed to be. As we waited a black cat kept watching us, a further omen of what was to come.
After everyone had purchased entry they conducted a "Yell Like Hell" contest, which was filmed by a local TV station. Seven young girls competed with their best horror movie screams. Michaela, Crystal, and Tasha won first through third, respectively, and received some very cool prizes including pieces of Jason's clothing from Friday the 13th and autographed photos. With the conclusion of the contest we all lined up again to hear the rules of the haunt and await entry.
We were allowed in, in groups of six or less, always a good thing, and told the haunt was full of creatures of the underworld from the 12th century who had bounced around through time until they landed here. A journey that had made them mad and hungry. From here we were directed to a decontamination room (essentially an empty white room) so that these creatures would find us a little more palatable and then through the rest of the backyard haunt by ourselves.
What followed was a very short series of poorly constructed and barely decorated scenes in the typical haunted house maze fashion. What decorations there were, were of the Halloween superstore variety like you would see gracing the front stoop of any-house USA.
There was a nice bar scene where we were offered a Bloody Mary by a very evil bartender and a creepy bedroom scene with an actress crying for help although no apparent source of danger existed. However, before we had even completely left the room the actors broke character and complained about a prop not working. Overall, the scenes didn't fit with the the back story we were told before we entered.
After a series of dark corridors toward the end of the haunt you enter into the "MEGA square footage of Haunted Trail" which is a barely illuminated, sparsely decorated graveyard scene in the home's backyard featuring hanging laundry and full spooky views of the neighbor's backyard. This is where our biggest scare came in the form of a well camouflaged "bush man" who gave us quite a startle.
By this point we had long separated from the rest of the group. Which is strange because it only took us two and a half minutes of walking to reach this point. While in the "MEGA square footage of Haunted Trail" we ran into the other half of our group who had inadvertently exited the haunt when it was unclear which way to go. We directed them back in to continue their journey.
At the very end we were handed advertisements for some of the businesses that sponsored the haunt, something that seemed odd and very out of place while still "in" the haunt.
All this is not to say there aren't a few good jolts here and there but three startles does not a professional haunted house make. The haunt is very much misrepresented; the build up from advertising a home haunt as a professional one sets expectations high and left nowhere to go but down. If advertised as a home haunt it wouldn't have been such a disappointment.
Following The Scream Extreme we continued on our Friday the 13th adventure to our next haunted house destination, Fright Planet World of Fear. This time we followed the directions flawlessly only to have Date Avenue dump us into a parking lot next to a Holiday Inn with no indication of where to go. Before us in another building lay a Spirit Halloween Superstore so we figured we were in the right area but we weren't sure where to proceed. No signs whatsoever to point the way, no lights to beckon us, and no address on the building. Once again spotting a small group of people standing around gave us the clue we needed to find that the haunt is tucked into a small dark entrance on the left side of the building behind the superstore.
We quickly parked and made our way up to the small ticket stand set up outside the building and learned that the curse of Friday the 13th had struck again. Only the Psycho Midway in 3D was available that night. We were informed that their Hellton Hotel haunt would not be open until the following night "due to a problem with the elevator". We were offered $8 tickets to the single haunt and $2 coupons if we were willing to return the following night.
We entered the deserted hallway leading to the first haunt where they took our tickets and we were issued 3D glasses. With a demented carnival soundtrack wafting overhead we began our 3 minute and 30 second journey through Psycho Midway in 3D.
The maze featured some good 3D effects/images. We felt there could be more paintings, as some of the rooms lacked eye catching images. Some of the black lighting was well-placed and showed off the paintings, but often the lighting was misplaced or non-existent, either blinding us or making the paintings or actors in the haunt not very visible. Whether this was by design or accident was unclear.
There were a few scenes and actors that were very well done, such as the clown surgeon who offered us "body parts" to eat and the wonderful Dr. Death, who offered us his heart. There was also a hallway that was lit in black light and painted with a perspective effect that was supposed to make it seem like the hallway went on forever without escape. That effect, although good, could have been great if the hallway was longer and darker. If you were even a few inches off center while walking down the hallway, you could see where the hall ended and where the exit was, ruining the effect.
While we had a much better time at Fright Planet World of Fear than we did at The Scream Extreme, we left disappointed that the second haunt was not open.
Our last and final stop of the night was Gyro's Fear Factory. A short trip down the freeway found us in downtown Sacramento just a few blocks from the state capitol. I've always loved our capitol in the fall and at least weather-wise this was a perfect night, clear skies, the changing leaves being whisked along the street by the breeze, and just a hint of chill in the air. Things were looking up.
This all ended rather abruptly once we got inside the Westfield Mall. While there were signs everywhere telling us Gyro's was in the mall there was no indication where in this large mall they were actually located. We asked some security guards and they pointed us to a second floor location directly above us and told us to use the escalator located at one end of the mall. Arriving at the escalator we found the up side turned off for the evening. Not a big deal but slightly annoying when the haunt is going to be operating many hours after the other mall shops have closed. Backtracking to where we were, but now on the second floor, we arrive at a black door with the name Gyro's painted in dark paint above it. Things are not looking up. Sitting in front of the door was a Gyro's security guard who asked what we wanted. Kind of confused by this we asked to visit the haunt. He asked if we had tickets. "No, can we buy them here?" we asked. Looking very much put out by this he told us they didn't sell tickets here and that we'd have to go downstairs and get them at the Halloween store. When we asked him to be more specific he told us to just head down the escalator and it's "over there" with a motion of his arm. Well, "over there" it wasn't. We had to find another mall employee to give us better directions, which involved backtracking to where we first asked the security guards for directions and going through what looked like an exit to the mall but in reality is an indoor portion of the mall, with what feels like a thermostat permanently set to "Hell". Finally we had found the "Monster Magic Halloween Emporium", which is little more than a ticket booth with a few sorry Halloween props for sale.
There were a few people standing around desperately fanning themselves outside the store apparently having had a similar experience to ours. Thankfully, there was an elevator near the store that takes you up to Gyro's. As it turned out this is not where we were before (black door with Gyro's painted above) and the mall security guards did not point us to the correct location. A fact Gyro's security didn't feel necessary or willing to correct or inform us of. We can only wonder where those guards would have sent us next if we returned with tickets on hand.
Now that we were finally in the correct place, apparently the fiery pits of hell because it was even hotter upstairs than on the first floor, we entered the first of Gyro's haunts, Psychotic Episodes.
The highlight of the night occurred just inside Psychotic Episodes as we waited to enter RUOK Pharmaceuticals. Pronounced as a word not an acronym by the way which we thought was clever. A screen played an introductory video apparently telling us about RUOK, the theme of the haunt. Of course we couldn't hear the video for the commotion of the ultra ghetto couples ahead of us who delayed everyone in line for 10 minutes while they loudly argued back and forth over who was who's "baby daddy" and which b*tch needed to keep their hands off of said "baby daddy". Then proceeded to argue about how many of them there were (could have been solved with a simple headcount) and who was going to go with whom through the haunt which of course brought up the subject of baby daddies again.
After they let these obnoxious people through, the hot and sweating line of people that had formed behind them let out a collective sigh of relief. Our party was brought in to be individually greeted and introduced to the haunt. No sooner than we had stepped in our introduction was cut short by a security guard telling the actor to wrap it up because there were people waiting. This startled the actor into forgetting his lines and he just ushered us through.
Thoroughly annoyed, we found ourselves in a big empty room with no exit save the way we came in. A large group of early teen girls eventually piled in and we all stood around looking at each other.
Our startled host entered the room and welcomed us to his "elevator" and informed us we were going, "down, down, down... to the gate of Hell!" He paused for a couple of seconds and then announced, "We've arrived". Only there was no movement, no lighting effects, no sound effects, nothing. It was quite sad really.
What followed wasn't much better. A few black light lit scenes that weren't particularly interesting with or without the 3D glasses (which might as well have not been issued) interspersed with a few turn a corner and have someone yell in your face moments. Shocking?, most of the time, scary?, not really.
We did enjoy the performance of one of the female victims who was quite believable in her helplessness as she was strapped to a table awaiting some gruesome experimentation and another selling eyeballs but overall we weren't happy. The acting was good, not great but the timing was all off. Some of the very few attempts at scares would happen so long after we had already left a room that it wasn't even worth the effort of a courtesy scream.
It didn't help that the immature gaggle of girls behind us were talking loudly about how this "hella sucks", "isn't scary", and was "boring". They were of course right and I wouldn't give a good performance to them even if you paid me either but you have to just keep trying no mater how odious your clientele is. Unfortunately, they were with us for most of the haunt, swearing and mocking the actor, before we ditched them. By then though we found ourselves again in long, empty corridors connecting mostly empty rooms.
The end was also disappointing by being rather abrupt without any hint of a final big scare or memorable moment as one would normally expect.
After exiting Psychotic Episodes we walked over to Planet Horrorwood, the second of Gyro's two haunts. A play on Planet Hollywood this haunt is naturally horror movie themed.
At the entrance we were greeted by a very nice lady vampire and male ghoul, both very well costumed, who collected our tickets. We asked them if we still needed our 3D glasses, the answer, "maybe". So, we do or we don't need them? To expand the vampiress said, "You can or can't, your choice."
Well, that clears that up. Doesn't it.
The ghoul went on to say that they would mostly interfere with our enjoyment of the haunt and make props and actors more difficult to see but there were some 3D sections and that we would know when to put the glasses on. Having gone through the haunt the correct answer was, no.
Just past the entrance you enter corridors reminiscent of a typical movie theater with horror posters on the walls. Within seconds of entering a security guard with a flashlight stopped us to ask if we had seen a pair of dark framed prescription glasses, we hadn't. As we're trying to look around he continues his search shining his light everywhere. Through each successive room, there he is with us ruining the atmosphere. What few actors there were would see him and break character and talk to him instead of making any effort to scare us.
We tried to walk faster and it didn't work. We tried to walk slow and it didn't work either so we just stopped. We waited and waited then waited some more until we were sure he was long gone. It was no use though. We ran into him half a dozen more times on our way through Planet Horrorwood. When he wasn't disrupting our experience by interacting with the actors he was picking through the trash left on the floor by previous guests, paper, food wrappers, bits of what looked like wire, even beer bottles. Of course he didn't take these items with him to keep the haunt clean, he just tossed them back on the floor.
If somebody loses something in a haunt the correct position to take is we'll look for it after the haunt closes for the night and call you if we find it. You don't send someone through an active haunt to look for something the guest should have kept track of.
The vast majority of rooms were large and empty, devoid of decoration or actors. The few and far between rooms with themes were often not very well done.
The Scream theater looked like it had seen better days and was decidedly not scary. There was an actor here but he made a half hearted attempt to scare us, never even bothering to get out of his chair. We can only assume that he was suffering from heat stroke with the full costume. We were sweating buckets by this point.
We encountered several actors who were not prepared for us and were out of character talking amongst themselves, cursing, and even one with his mask off. Probably because it was so unbelievably hot in there. He simply put his mask back on and waited for us to leave as it was pointless to do anything after we'd already seen him out of character.
A couple of actors attempted to menacingly follow us but it was a day late and dollar short scenario. There was nothing in the room we left to make us have the slightest interest in turning around and the actors were as quiet as church mice so the effect was completely lost.
At one point we were encouraged by a couple of actors, not making an attempt to be scary, to run. Run from what? The Hauntmistress concluded later, not joking, that they wanted us to run so that we wouldn't notice the rooms were empty.
On a positive note, early in this haunt we did enjoy the Gatekeeper's performance. He was a true character, both genuinely creepy and funny at the same time. Another character worth mentioning was an unnamed menace who came up from behind us singing, "A tisket a tasket, I lost my mental basket". While we weren't frightened, he shined above many of the other actors in both his energy and devotion to creeping us out. The music throughout both haunts was also very good. There was no discernable bleed between rooms and the music was well selected for atmosphere.
The last experience of the Planet Horrorwood pretty much sums up how we felt about Gyro's Fear Factory - Sacramento as a whole. We entered the Nightmare on Elm Street room to find a well decorated but otherwise empty room. Not sure what to do, we waited for a moment then decided to try what looked like it could be an exit only to find ourselves behind the scenes of the haunt. This obviously wasn't the correct way to go so we chose another "exit" and re-entered the haunt just before the Nightmare on Elm Street room we had just left. Re-entering the Nightmare on Elm Street room Freddy decided to make some effort and come out for us. He was well costumed but had little impact. "Exiting" a third time just dumped us out into a hallway, the haunt apparently over.
Both haunts were long and made you feel as if you'd been walking forever but both had few scares and even fewer really memorable moments which really made us wonder how one could justify the ticket price. We never saw the advertised Nightmare Alley with Evil Jack's Arcade and Cut Throat Cafe. They could have been hidden in another part of the mall for all we know. We were not inclined to look for them either. Much like the rest of the hot, sweaty, and tired people we saw exiting the mall we were more looking forward to getting in our car and going home.
If we had to pick three words to describe this "haunt": Empty. Long. Boring. In case you haven't guessed, this experience was not worth the $20 per person admission charged. Especially when you compare it to the value offered by some of the other haunts in the Bay Area.
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