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The Haunting Fields

45031 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont

Reviewed 10/05/07

As you've undoubtedly read, the Pirates of Emerson now has two locations. They've opened a new location at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz and their original Fremont location has been renamed The Haunting Fields.

The Haunting Fields is laid out in a similar fashion to the old Pirates of Emerson but the compound now features six attractions: The Asylum, Bilge Rat Maze, Densmore Manor, Heartstoppers, Rebel Yell, and the Pirates of Emerson (POE). You'll also find numerous wandering pirates, a fortune teller wagon, a "Pirate's Grub and Pub", "The Treasure Chest" shop where you can buy booty of the pirate kind, and a "Seadog Cinema" where you can catch a flick while you catch your breath between haunts. We must say that we are so happy that on our visit they were showing Pirates of the Caribbean instead of the Geena Davis movie Cutthroat Island.

Eager for scares we rushed to the haunt closest to the main entrance, Rebel Yell.

Rebel Yell

Rebel Yell is based on the story of Monticore VonBraun, a brilliant and troubled psychiatrist, who, seeking a private place to continue his unorthodox and ill-advised experiments, moves his family to the Rebel Hill Funeral Home in the deep south. A move that results in dire consequences for the VonBraun family.

A young and decidedly undead nurse took our tickets and ushered us right in through the dense foliage into the Rebel Hill Funeral Home. Wandering through its halls we discovered the often grisly results of Monticore's experimentation and many of the restless spirits left over from its days as a funeral home.

The haunt was well appointed and touched upon all the main areas you'd expect to find in a funeral parlor turned home turned mad scientist lab. A spooky parlor gave way to halls lined with evil family photos, which in turn gave way to secret passages and bedrooms. We particularly enjoyed the kitchen and lab scene with its high level of detail and numerous startles. An especially nauseating bathroom scene briefly brought back memories of a Tijuana restroom I had the misfortune to experience though this one substituted blood for ... well, no need to continue down that road.

Rebel Yell relies more on the use of pneumatic and mechanical props than it does on actors but there are a few good actor driven scares to be found. We all left smiling and satisfied though we did wish the experience was slightly longer.

Densmore Manor

Bouncing across The Haunting Fields compound from Rebel Yell we made our way to Densmore Manor where a bellhop greeted us and asked for our reservations. No back story was offered but it became apparent that we were guests arriving late to the manor, perhaps too late.

Scenes were typical of a creepy old mansion in classic haunted house fashion replete with murderously insane servants. However, they were also more than a little reminiscent of the scenes we had just experienced in Rebel Yell. Densmore Manor on the other hand is more actor driven in its scares and startles than Rebel Yell, which raises its creepiness and memorability.

Although we found many scenes quite good including the initial dining room experience, we consider the high point of the haunt to happen, as one would expect, near the end when passing through the manor's nursery we were accosted by two nether-worldly young girls who wanted us to play with them. Superb acting on their part left us with no place to go and propelled at least one member of our group into a screaming fit. Bravo.

The Asylum

Upon exiting Densmore Manor we quickly entered their sister haunt, The Asylum. Unfortunately, we were lumped in with an unrelated group of people, who didn't share our walking speed, instead of being allowed in by ourselves. Consequently the majority of the scares were ill timed occurring before we even entered the room. Several actors intending to startle the group from behind ended up in front of us only to turn around, look confused and with no exit strategy sheepishly walk back to their ready positions without attempting to give us a scare.

There were some wonderful exceptions though. A magnificent mental patient in a wheelchair did a superb job of frightening us as he careened out of control down a hallway only to flash by us again and slam first his chair then repeatedly his bloodied head into a wall. A level of dedication to the role that looked and sounded incredibly real. Powerful and spirited performances were also delivered by actors in the operating room who made sure the action continued for everyone in the extended group.

If it weren't for the glaring timing issues we had with this haunt we believe we would have really enjoyed our trip through the blood splattered walls of The Asylum.

Bilge Rat Maze

The Bilge Rat Maze is an open air maze constructed of chain-link fencing that you must navigate through while being disoriented by strobe lights. For the past few years we've passed on the maze because, frankly, once you've done it, you've done it. There are no actors or scares in the maze. This year we gave it another chance. Unlike our first time through we tried to run through it for a little excitement and did get lost a couple times trying to make our way out. We also bumped into a fence section we thought was further away than it was, leading to some laughter but overall it was just a lot of running/walking with not much of a payoff. So, we can say, at least for the next few years, we've done it.

Pirates of Emerson

We stood in front of Heartstoppers and the Pirates of Emerson trying to decide which haunt to go through. Seeing a line forming in front of Heartstoppers we decided to go into POE first.

We were greeted by the same surly wench and her cruel jokes we have come to love from years past but upon arriving at what we assumed would be the main Pirates of Emerson haunt entrance we were handed 3-D glasses and became a little disappointed to find out that it was a beefed up Pirates of the Deep in 3-D.

Pirates of the Deep in 3-D isn't a bad attraction but has always played second fiddle to the main Pirates of Emerson haunt. To its benefit they've made the attraction longer, darker, and with more twists and turns and a greater depth of decoration than it has had previously. The environment is immersive with details covering floor and ceiling and not simply the walls. Looking closely you could see here and there elements of the main Pirates of Emerson haunt from years past. More pirates inhabit the realm now than have in previous years but, as it has before, it seemed a little under-staffed on our visit. 

The high point, as silly as it may seem, has always been the vortex tunnel prop located near the end of the haunt. Unfortunately, although present, this was not lit and not in operation when we went through, which was disappointing.

Heartstoppers

Our final stop through The Haunting Fields was Heartstoppers. Heartstoppers didn't fill us with a lot of excited anticipation with its wild west theme. Perhaps its because we all visited too many corny wild west attractions in our youths. However, Heartstoppers was a very pleasant surprise.

When we reached the front of the line our tickets were punched by a comically undead and illiterate cowboy who helped us pass the time with his self-deprecating humor before allowing us into the jail to talk to the Sheriff.

The Sheriff, an animatronic skeleton, told us the story of Damien Hex, a bounty hunter who has "killed more men than Hell has souls". It turns out that Hex killed an Indian medicine man's son. The medicine man didn't take kindly to this and decided to take revenge on Hex by bringing back to life the men Hex killed to hunt him down like Hex had done to them. In the process, the medicine man turned himself into a hulking creature of pure evil.

Heartstoppers features some really novel scares that we hadn't seen before in other haunts. As much as we'd like to, we won't give them away but I will say that everyone will love finding their way out of the forest in this haunt!

Nearly all of the scares and startles that follow are in one way or another actor driven, which is something we've always appreciated as they can lend an on-the-spot personalized touch that is hard or impossible to duplicate with props alone. One wonderful example is when we entered the saloon for the showdown between Hex and the evil creature the Indian medicine man became. Making a dramatic entrance, the creature realized a subtle touch was called for amidst our screams and laughter. It beckoned us to "smell my feet" causing us to break out in uncontrolled laughter and proving once again humor is as important as terror in a haunt.

Conclusions

At $20 for six attractions, not to mention the pirate studded atmosphere of the compound, The Haunting Fields is an excellent value for your Halloween dollar. While we were a little disappointed that the main Pirates of Emerson haunt had set sail there were enough startles and scares in the other haunts to make its loss an acceptable trade-off. We particularly enjoyed Heartstoppers and both Rebel Yell and Densmore Manor are good solid haunted houses in their own right. The combination of all six haunted attractions as well as concessions make for a full evening of entertainment you wont want to miss.

Our usual advice still applies, go early in the season when there are fewer people and if you can't make it until later, buy their speed pass, which gets you to the front of the lines that can get very long, especially the week of Halloween.


Be sure to take a look at our Events Calendar or our map of pumpkin patches and haunted houses to find all the other great events going on in the Bay Area.

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 Sept. 28-29; Oct. 5-7; 11-14; 18-21; 24-31, 2007; Fri.-Sat. 7 pm-11 pm; all other dates 7 pm-10 pm
Where 45031 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont
Admission $20; $30 Speed Pass
Contact www.piratesofemerson.com
 
   

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