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Pirates of Emerson
45031 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont
Reviewed by: Hauntmaster and Hauntmistress 10/12/2002
Is it possible that the Pirates of Emerson is twice as good as last year? This is what I found myself asking as we sat out in the parking lot after our visit this Saturday. Even though I thought it could not get any better, it somehow did! In short, stop reading this review and go there now!
For those of you who have never heard of or been to the Pirates of Emerson in Fremont let me give you a little background. In this haunt, you will journey back to the Isle of Emerson, circa 15th Century, when pirates ruled the sea and land. You'll explore the wreck of a pirate ship only this time it won't be the boring archeology dig from the Discovery Channel. This ship is haunted and it ain't by Casper.
Now in its eleventh year, Pirates of Emerson covers almost three acres and requires a crew of 12 to work almost 40 days straight to build the props and another 63 to staff the attraction and run the background operations. These 75 must work their butts off because this haunt doesn't disappoint. Pirates of Emerson (POE) is based in a compound containing the main haunt, a 3D maze, a graveyard, and a small concessions area. Just to make it confusing I'll talk about these back to front.
The Graveyard - This is in the backmost section of the compound adjacent to the exit of the main haunt. While we were there they were showing a movie and we later found out that they show three features nightly. The graveyard has some very Cool props but need to be lit more effectively for nighttime viewing.
The 3D Maze - This will knock your socks off. You and your 3D glasses walk through a maze of black light and bright colors. Skulls pop out of the walls at you and scary creatures lurk here and there. The highlight is a spinning tunnel that you walk through that completely throws off your equilibrium. Just like last year, I (the Hauntmistress) would have bet money that the floor was moving because I could not stand up straight to save my life and I had to grip the handrails to avoid falling over. The tunnel must have been rotating faster and/or been more brightly lit than last year because even the Hauntmaster who last year did not feel like he was falling over felt safer holding on to the handrail.
The Main Haunt - This is by far, the best haunt we have been to - ever. It has it all, scary characters, wonderful props, amazing sets, differing levels and excitement throughout. Props that you wouldn't normally get excited about, like ropes and fishnet, are wonderfully placed and authentic. The ship in the haunt is outstanding. It moves back and forth, as if in a storm, and has rats abandoning ship. I was very impressed.
The haunt uses strobe lighting to great effect. In one scene, you walk toward a skeleton pirate head on a wall and we would have bet money that it was actually moving toward us. It was very disorienting and a perfect example of how POE takes a simple prop and makes it into something terrific.
The actors are superb and well placed. When one jumps out at you and you turn, another is right there waiting. The use of darkness is great too. Often you can't see when a pirate is sneaking up on you until they are right in your face. We also really enjoyed that so many of the scares came from above or below eye level adding much to our uneasiness and the depth of the haunt.
I can't say enough about the set design and originality. Most haunts are designed for throughput and keeping the guests out of the illusions. POE has gone to great efforts to put the guests into each scene. With that in mind lights are, wherever possible, placed in nooks or behind shields to light scenes and paths. Everywhere you look there is a prop or painting or other form of decoration. A lesser haunt would just assume that people are going to be looking in one direction and not bother with an immersive experience. There are few if any barricades to your exploration, rather they design the path to follow with your desire to explore or flee in mind.
Toward the end of the haunt there is a split path leading back to the same hallway, either way you go, be prepared to be spooked. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a trend toward multi-threaded haunts. A haunt with a strong story like this could be even more outstanding with two or more routes to take and encourage multiple trips through.
One thing we would like to see is a little more effort on the outdoor graveyard. Although the graveyard isn't needed at all as the 3D Maze and the main Haunt are more than strong enough to carry the haunt it seems that when attention to detail is so obvious in every other aspect of the haunt it makes the graveyard area seem almost an afterthought.
Update 10-16: According to Karl from POE the graveyard now features additional lighting. Lighting had been in place during our visit but time constraints prevented it from being turned on. Karl also stated that they were in the final stages of "getting things running and sorted out" and they have now additional sound effects in the compound and animations running. Sounds good to me! Already a great value and more detail. What could be better. For a glimpse of they type of high quality props you can find at POE take a look at Kreepers, the company started by Karl Fields, creator and owner of POE. His props are used at many of the better Bay Area haunts and best yet you can buy them!
For more information about Pirates of Emerson including hours and pricing visit the Pirates of Emerson website.
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