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Three Family Friendly East Bay Haunts
Reviewed 10/19/07 and 10/21/07
In our continuing quest to visit the more family friendly haunted houses the Bay Area has to offer, we made trips to three haunts in various locations in the East Bay: Chamber of Chills in Antioch, the Livermore Haunted Barn, and Candle Lighters Ghost House in Fremont.
After calling various locations on the Peninsula home for the past few years, the Chamber of Chills hopes it has found permanence at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds in Antioch. The site is perfect for a haunted house. Located in the fairground's old stables, it's hidden from view at the end of a spooky road. The grounds also have plenty of room for the other activities the Chamber of Chills offers.
The first thing we noticed at the Chamber of Chills was the trackless train carrying kids around the stables. The kids looked (and sounded) like they were having great fun. Our attention was then drawn to the huge Kraken Super Slide, which is 35 feet high and 57 feet long. Brave kids were sliding down what is almost a vertical inflatable slide made to look like an octopus that has toppled over a cruise ship. The kids came flying down from the stern of the ship to be caught in the tentacles of the Kraken, which was busy devouring the bow. Afterward, all you could see was a hand or foot sticking out and they often needed help to extricate themselves. Delicious!
After enjoying watching children sliding to their doom in the belly of the beast we made our way to the haunt. We were greeted by a very nice man who gave us instructions: "You're about to stand before the Evil Queen. Do so in a humble manner. You are to hold your ticket in front of you and she will take it. When she is ready she'll give you permission to enter into the Chamber proper. Do not go until she has given you permission. To do so would be disastrous, not to mention rude. You wouldn't want that; she'd get upset." Even after following his instructions, the Evil Queen was not impressed with us. She seemed to think we smelled. But that's OK, we were impressed with her. The costume and make-up was perfect. As was the Queen. She was haughty and beautiful and full of attitude. Speaking to us was beneath her, so she quickly waved us off into the Chamber.
Kids will enjoy the haunt. It offers mild scares but is not gory. Amid a maze of spooky scenes they'll meet props of characters from popular horror movies including: Freddie, Jason, Chucky, Michael Myers, and Alien. Every now and again a little actor manipulated prop (an alien baby or a spider, for example) will pop out of the wall or onto the floor to offer a startle, which is really rather cute. One of our favorite parts of the haunt was a green laser/smoke tunnel. A simple illusion but so much fun.
On the weekends, Sher's Spook Stage adjacent to the haunt offers live stage productions, character meet and greets, games, and more. You can also buy food and take a rest at the picnic tables. On Oct. 27th at 2 p.m. the stage will host a costume contest with cash prizes and on Oct. 31st at 5:30 p.m., businesses will decorate their cars and line the venue for kids to go Trunk or Treating.
If you're in the Livermore area, another family friendly haunt to check out is the Livermore Haunted Barn. Although the website for this haunt says it is recommended for kids 10 years and older and they offer both a scary and non-scary path through the haunt, we didn't find the scary path to be that scary or startling and would say it's OK for kids younger than 10, provided they are not complete scaredy-cats.
We were a little put off by two things:
1) There was a long undue wait even though there were only a handful of people out on the rainy night we visited. This was followed by a reading of a lengthy set of instructions that included no eating, drinking, or smoking, which further delayed our entry and could have been better posted outside. It did make me wonder how long we'd be in there though if I was going to need to eat, drink, or smoke.
2) We were closely escorted through the haunt. Maybe if we were rowdy kids, having an escort would have been appropriate, but as middle aged adults, it was more than a little strange. Especially so considering that the inside of the haunt has security cameras. As if this wasn't enough of a distraction, our escort, while trying to be "helpful", kept ruining things for us by telling us which way to go, what doors to open, and where to stop. The fun of a haunt is discovering these sorts of things for yourself.
Having said all that, there were some fun moments in the haunt, including chainsaw wielding men who menaced us a couple of times, and a few good rooms, including the butcher shop, a very well-done laboratory, a neat cemetery, and an interesting "choose the right door" hallway. The later, as stated above, could have been quite shocking if it weren't for our overzealous chaperone.
If you're not familiar with the location of the Livermore Barn, you'll have to look closely to see the blinking orange lights around the door on the parking lot side of the barn to find the ticket booth, as there are no signs - we almost missed it.
The Candle Lighters Ghost House changes its theme every year and this year they've chosen to portray "100 Years of Scary Movies". We've always been fans of the Candle Lighters haunted houses and this year is no exception. As usual, you can take a "scary" tour or a "chicken" tour guided by a good fairy, but the "scary" tour is pretty tame.
When we arrived this year the midway was filled with kids and parents having lots of Halloween fun playing games ($0.25 per ticket) such as ring toss, pumpkin walk, and wheel of fortune. Others were visiting the general store, getting their faces painted, or having their photo taken at the photo booth. Everyone seemed to be snacking away on the plethora of goodies available for sale (caramel apples, hot dogs, chili dogs, bowls of chili, corn dogs, nachos, popcorn) as they walked around or sat at the picnic tables.
The line for the Ghost House was short the afternoon we visited so we made our way over and got right in. Following the theme of scary movies, you enter into a dark hallway with a ticket window and a concession stand filled with a creepy assortment of treats fit for every little ghoul and goblin.
The centerpiece for this year's haunt is a very well-done theater showing The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The skeleton audience seemed scared stiff, but hungry vultures waiting in the wings seemed more concerned with their next meal than the movie.
Making our way past the movie screen we continued our journey through horror movie history and visited room after room of vignettes depicting popular scary movies such as Aliens, The Exorcist, The Birds (one of our favorite rooms), Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. All the scenes are detailed and very well done, as is the music that changes with each room to fit its theme.
While adults will find the Candle Lighters Ghost House more cute than scary, kids will love it and the whole family will appreciate that it's only $2!
Do you think we got these reviews totally wrong? Agree with us? Or just want everyone to know your thoughts? Then start a discussion of these haunts in our forums!
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