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Dragon's Head Inn

1500 Valley House Dr., Rohnert Park

Reviewed 10/15/2006

Looking for fun and scares? We have the haunt for you! Dragon's Head Inn joins our short list of best Bay Area haunts for value, scares, and an overall good time.

Moving from their long-time location in Sonoma to Rohnert Park this year, Dragon's Head Inn is better than ever, with three haunts to please: The Carnival of Carnage, Dragon's Head Inn, and the 3D Labyrinth.

As we drove to Dragon's Head Inn we were pleased to notice that they had placed signs by the side of the road leading you to the haunt. So many haunts are in out-of-the-way places and neglect to post signs for first-timers. So not only was finding the haunt easy, the outside of the building was well-lit and had an wacky wailing inflatable arm flailing tube man, err, ghost, on the roof, with a most wonderful orange flame light effect behind which made the haunt easy to spot in the big parking lot.

Upon entering the building that houses the haunts, it was refreshing to see that the entryway and the main room leading to the haunts were both decorated. This type of attention to detail has been lacking in most haunts this season. A centerpiece of the main hall was a spooky old organ which filled the room with a wonderfully mood setting tune. A seemingly never ending cavalcade of relentless actors in great costumes and make-up kept descending upon us as we looked around the main hall soaking up its atmosphere.

Aside from the three haunts, other attractions located off the main hall include a Cold Stone Creamery stand, a snack shack, and a gift shop offering a selection of Halloween necessities and some particularly fine full size costumes from Bump In The Night Productions. Between the Cold Stone stand and the gift shop is a Scare Care center, where you can leave the little ones while you have fun in the haunts. This is a great idea and offers an "out" for small children. If your child is scared by the decorations, props, and characters in the main hall, leave them in Scare Care and hit the haunts without them taking comfort in knowing they will be safe and having just as great a time as you will.

The Carnival of Carnage

After we had looked around for a bit we hit the first haunt, The Carnival of Carnage. Walking up we were greeted and offered a balloon. A nice touch that brought back childhood memories of days at the fair. From there we were directed into a small waiting room where we waited to enter the haunt. A suitably evil carnie gatekeeper greeted us, asked our names, and offered us a choice of wisdom or a game of chance. Being gambling people, we naturally chose a game of chance so he dealt out a game of "21". Our evil carnie dealer busted and gave us our prize, entrance to The Carnival of Carnage while announcing our names and that there were more victims. The whole setup was an excellent idea to keep people occupied before the start of their tour when they could have been otherwise just standing around looking at each other and an even better way of personalizing the haunt because now the evil clowns waiting inside knew our names.

The Carnival of Carnage was super fun, with a madhouse vibe that had us laughing and screaming the whole way through. The characters were superbly made up (costumes and make-up) and it seemed like it was their life's mission to torment us. At one point we were surrounded by crazy, creepy clowns, blocking our path all the while manically laughing, screaming and hissing at us! All the rooms in this haunt had something cool to look at and actors aplenty who you would swear have been practicing their whole life for their chosen role. The evil clown running the rat food booth, the most disturbing living doll, and the demonic game show host were all particularly memorable in their costuming and stagecraft.

We also particularly liked how specific elements of the overall theme was carried between rooms. We can't say without giving the gags away but it's nice to see that certain things you see or don't see in one part of the haunt are carried through to another part making for an overall much tighter experience rather than just a series of disjointed vignettes. Just an example of the type of attention to detail that made this haunt so much fun.

Some of the best elements of this haunt are ones that we can't mention. They're unique and best left unmentioned to be experienced first hand without any pre-knowledge. We will say though, the ending of The Carnival of Carnage was most refreshing and we exited with our hearts racing and in uncontrolled laughter.

Dragon's Head Inn

Between The Carnival of Carnage and the next haunt, Dragon's Head Inn, we traveled through a small graveyard scene with a very nice hearse that will help keep visitors entertained while they wait in lines that are sure to grow the closer it gets to Halloween. The front of Dragon's Head Inn is the same as in years past. An ornate three dimensional "stone" structure with flanking seven foot dragon statues that we've always liked because it isn't like so many other haunts, just paint on plywood. They've taken the time to build it in relief, a nice touch.

The cute graveyard scene continues as you enter the Dragon's Head Inn and are greeted by the jovial Inn Keeper. This gives way to some quiet and dark corridors where you are told you're safe by a decidedly unsafe looking man with murder in his eyes.

The relatively benign beginning of the haunt belies what is to come, an almost non-stop series of actor driven scares, jolts, and startles set to a foreboding cacophony of mood music, wolf howls, dragging chains, and screams of the damned.

Several confusing rooms invite you to stop and be swarmed by incredibly creepy actors who admonish you to stay while agonized victims beg and plead with you to take them from their personal hell.

While we thoroughly enjoyed the in your face intensity and non-stop action from all the actors we particularly loved the werewolves let loose in this haunt who stalked us repeatedly, always to good effect, constantly howling, panting, and clawing at the walls. We also particularly enjoyed being fresh meat for the butcher.

By the time we exited we were ready for a breather. We weren't to get one though as characters who had been wandering the main hall had also found their way between haunts to entertain us and themselves leaving no rest for the weary.

Labyrinth

The last haunt is the Labyrinth, a 3D maze designed by Dan “BOZ” Krumlauf of AtmosFEARix, (the design division of Neon Gargoyle Enterprises), with artwork by Stuartizm Designs. [1] This was one of the most visually stunning 3D haunts we've ever been inside. The website for Stuartizm Designs says it "takes its attention to detail into the 3D atmosphere, creating 3D like its never been seen before! Stuart uses the airbrush, which eliminates brush strokes on the finished pieces and Extreme 3D looks Fantastic in regular lighting and Awesome in black light!" As we walked through the haunt it was as if we were walking through a wonderfully evil art gallery. Every wall had intricate 3D black-light paintings of tremendous depth. Many gave the impression the scene was of one thing upon first glace and something completely different upon closer inspection. The paintings were bright and vibrant featuring skeletons, skulls, shredded bodies, and a wealth of other evil visions.

We would have been completely happy with this third attraction were it nothing but a gallery of paintings but the numerous actors we'd come to love in other parts of the haunt were plentiful here too. (We've since learned that some of these talented actors were from The ScreamSyndicate First Order of Fear acting troupe.) [1] You'll find "Death Demons" complete with medieval armor and Labyrinth matching vibrantly painted faces which glowed and distorted in the black light popping out of paintings or from around corners. We found our travel blocked, we were menaced, and occasionally surrounded. They whispered evil nothings in our ears, and promised to take good care of our women after the rest of us were gone. To top it off, even after we left the Labyrinth they swarmed, surrounded, and followed us as we sought escape in the light of the gift shop.

Final Thoughts

We've mentioned in reviews of other haunts that utilizing kids in age appropriate roles is the only way kids can effectively offer a scare in a haunted house. Let's face it, a kid you can step on, chainsaw wielding or not, is not too scary to grown adults. But put the kid in an appropriate role and it works. Dragon's Head Inn does that with their teenage actors. They were so well costumed, made-up, cast, and coached that their age became an asset allowing them to use all of their youthful energy in a manner that maximized their character's creep and scare factors.

One magnificent undead spawn, who adopted the Hauntmistress as his mark, sought us out time and again to creep up from behind or run at from the front and disturbingly ask her if she wanted to play. Simple, age and size appropriate, and above all, effective. Others played harlequins or small vile creatures that hissed, crawled, and slid from behind or out of the darkness to scare us. So relentless were these actors they had the Hauntmistress in tears of joyous terror and everyone who witnessed in full laughter.

The whole time we were there actors were in character and giving us very personal treatment and it should be noted, they did not know who we were. To them we were just more paying customers.

Each individual haunt at Dragon's Head Inn isn't much longer than your average haunt but they are each so full of thrills that you'd swear they were much, much longer making them an excellent value for your Halloween dollar. Even more so if you show up on October 21st to participate in their blood drive from 7-10 pm. Everyone who gives blood receives a small discount on admission and helps a worthy cause.

We can't recommend Dragon's Head Inn enough this year. Go, you won't be disappointed.


[1] Thanks to Elaine "Zelda" Krumlauf for bringing to our attention the the contributions of Dan "BOZ" Krumlauf of AtmosFEARix and The ScreamSyndicate First Order of Fear acting troupe.

Be sure to take a look at our Events Calendar to find all the other great events going on in the Bay Area. Or if you're reading this review in a year other than it was written, please check our Events Calendar for current dates and hours of operation.

Do you think we got this review totally wrong? Agree with us? Or just want everyone to know your thoughts? Then start a discussion of this haunt in our forums!

QUICK FACTS
When Oct. 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, 26-31, 2006, Thur. and Sun. 8 pm-10 pm; Fri.-Sat. 8 pm-midnight; 8 pm-10 pm on the 30th and 31st
Where 1500 Valley House Dr., Rohnert Park
Admission $15
Contact www.dragonsheadproductions.com
 
   

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