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Nightmare University

Northgate Mall, San Rafael

Reviewed by Hauntmaster: 10/17/2002

Located deep in the spooky depths of San Rafael's Northgate Mall parking lot lies the decrepit and condemned ruins of Nightmare University. Founded as Time University by Professor Phineas Time, after he was summarily fired from a prestigious Midwest university for unorthodox practices, it never held a class because Professor Time died before the doors were officially opened. Some locals swear that in the middle of the night you can see strange lights and eerie sounds coming from the ruins. Some even believe that Professor Time still walks the halls of his university, quietly working on his next great invention. It is these beliefs that that have given rise to its nickname, Nightmare University.

We arrived around 8 p.m. on opening night not sure what to expect. We had been to other haunts held in mall parking lots before and they always left us wanting. We stayed outside the haunt for awhile to see if a crowd developed.  It didn't, so we made our way to the ticket booth. We were a little hesitant as the front isn't overly decorated. Just a small facade of stone. Something that is usually a warning sign. At the ticket booth with $1 off discount tickets from the website in hand we noticed a small sign. What luck, opening night was 2 for 1 night!

We waited for a previous group to complete their trip through Nightmare University before we were allowed into a small waiting room. After a few moments the show began. A recorded message about the history of the haunt started playing to the accompaniment of an actor that directed our attention to props on the walls. At first it seemed a little slow but having gone through the haunt the longish intro makes more and more sense.

From this room you are allowed into the rest of the haunt, where there are approximately 14 rooms to explore, each with a different theme. The horror movie buff will be pleased to see that many of the rooms are themed after popular horror movies from the near and distant past. I don't want to give too much away but it was great fun trying to name all the references after completing the haunt.

The individual rooms are a combination of actor and prop driven scares and are quite effective at giving you a jolt. On more than one occasion the Hauntmistress let out a scream that could be heard outside not only the room we were in but the whole haunt. All the actors did a wonderful job providing scares and we really appreciated the way they incorporated directions for us to move along into their scenes.

Some of our particular favorites included the compressed air gags, the movie theater, the black-lit head room, and the evil clown room. The Hauntmistress thought the theater room scared her the most as it lulled her into a false sense of security then got her good, while the evil clown room was one of my favorites. It references one of the funniest horror movies of all time. The juxtaposition of the grotesquely made up actor and props with what the actor is actually saying is just hilarious. You'll have to listen carefully to this one as in a room full of people the screams may make it difficult to hear.

This leads to another observation. The rooms in the haunt are of significant proportion, meaning larger groups can be lead through the haunt. For the best experience come earlier in the season and get more of a personal show.

At $7 per person ($6 with the website discount) Nightmare University is a good value in a medium-sized haunt. It doesn't have the gratuitous gore of some haunts, which is nice, but doesn't skimp on the jolts either. A fun haunt for all ages.

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