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Conover Mystery Ranch at Swank Farms

2600 San Felipe Rd., Hollister

Reviewed by Hauntmistress 10/07/06

Swank Farms in Hollister offers all the trappings of any good pumpkin patch. But they offer up something spooky on the weekends - the Conover Mystery Ranch.

The Conover Mystery Ranch tells the tale of Abraham Conover. What heinousness happened at his ranch? You’ll find out as you journey through this haunted mini-corn maze (located just inside the much larger Maniac Maze (corn maze) of Swank Farms) depicting different scenes of increasingly disturbing sites.

When we arrived at the Conover Mystery Ranch there was a line to get into the haunt, but as we waited we were entertained by characters emerging from the thick fog that’s pumped out into the waiting area. The costumes and make-up of the characters were outstanding and the acting was excellent - they stayed in character and managed to be scary and intimidating to a large amount of people at the same time, providing much needed entertainment for all. The pulsating music combined with the characters, fog, and lighting gave the place a freak-show atmosphere.

The line to get into the haunt actually went surprisingly fast. That is both good and bad. Good because we hate waiting. Bad because that means that you are sent through the haunt with a large crowd of people. In big groups it's inevitable that as you navigate the maze the group separates, offering scares by the characters for some in the line of people and none for others. We prefer more intimate groups (OK, we prefer to go through alone) but when you’re moving through the amount of people this haunt attracts, it is perhaps just not feasible. Initially, we were in our own group up to the point where they took our wristbands (used instead of tickets) and even to the point where we were brought into the haunt to be given rules and instructions. There though, our machete wielding host made us wait as they decided that our group was too small to go alone. Eventually 17 more people filed in behind us to join our group much to our disappointment.

Once inside the haunt I was surprised to see mostly feral-type kid characters. I only remembered adults in the haunt the other times we visited. A few of these kids looked like they had accidentally wandered into the haunt and appeared more confused than frightening. Luckily, the other cast of characters, both adults and kids, made up for that. They popped out at us from unseen locations and spooked us throughout the walk (again this year I loved the sparks one of the caged characters made as he ran a blade along the fence separating us mere inches from him).

Some characters blended in with the corn and just hissed at us. Paranoia sets in during experiences like this and you end up thinking you hear or see someone around every corner, hiding behind every stalk of corn. One of the feral children blocked my way at one point and would not let me by for what seemed like an eternity. It went from funny to creepy as I started to wonder if dawn would break and I’d still be trying to get around this creepy back-woods feral kid. Another highlight was the ranch house where we were greeted by a superbly creepy woman-child with a tattered panda bear on an invisible string. Her costume, stance, and her distant gaze as if she had just witnessed or even participated in hacking her parents to death was priceless and shows how much more less acting can be.

All the scenes in the haunt were well done. We were particularly impressed with the car junk yard that we walked through at the beginning of the maze. It had a real junk yard feel and you could smell rubber burning. Also of note was the machine shop scene, which reminds me to always get my car serviced before driving through creepy farmlands at night.

Through the whole haunt you can hear a chainsaw revving up now and again. As we approached the end of the haunt the chainsaw sounded like it was inside my head and the smell of gas was strong. We walked through plastic “drapes”, like they use in the refrigerated sections of meat packing plants, and the whole place took on a creepy Texas Chainsaw deserted feeling. I did not see the holder of the chainsaw but the pre-teen girls behind us must have been very scared by, as described by Specter, the young and tiny boy who looked more scared of us than we were of him, wielding the chainsaw because they ended up pushing us aside and running out before us. I assume they thought he was after young meat that night or perhaps he just had cooties. All in all, it was an entertaining haunt. I think it would be amazingly fun to get a group of 10 or so people and go through with just your party.

After the haunt we took a look at the other offerings at Swank Farms. People were having a blast (no pun intended) at the pumpkin sling shots. They were trying very hard to hit the targets but it takes a lot of strength to pull the giant sling shots back far enough to make a pumpkin fly all the way to the target. We watched as a group of friends tried a train approach – one friend grabbed the sling shot, another friend grabbed the waist of the sling shot holder, and so on. Then they all pulled the sling shot back. They didn’t hit a target but they all hit the ground as soon as they let the sling shot go and it was super funny.

We also spent some time at the petting zoo and Goat Manor watching the goats enjoy climbing on their very own farmhouse. They were cute and friendly and frolicked around whomever they thought had food.

The other offerings at Swank Farms include a farm gift shop, snack shack, skeletal art boutique, pedal-powered “go-carts”, a non-scary Manic Maze corn maze, and lots more fun. So make an afternoon of it one weekend, but make sure to stay until dark for the haunt.

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.

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When Sept. 22-Oct. 31, 2006, Fri.-Sat. 6 pm-midnight, Sun. 6 pm-10pm
Where 2600 San Felipe Rd., Hollister
Admission $15
Contact www.screamworks.org

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