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Conover Mystery Ranch / Swank Farms
2600 San Felipe Road, Hollister
Reviewed by: Hauntmistress 10/11/2002
Looking for a night of terror and fun? Get on down to Hollister! Swank Farms and ScreamWorks have joined forces again this year to produce an action-packed experience well worth a visit.
Swank Farms has a 12-acre corn maze and pumpkin patch that is open daily for family fun. Friday-Sunday you can tour ScreamWorks' Conover Mystery Ranch, a 2 1/2-acre haunted ranch within the maze.
Touring the maze at night is a great experience. The only light to shine into the maze is the moon. I wasn't expecting to be as spooked as I was, but when you're walking among 12-feet tall corn stalks, it is easy to get disoriented and you can't tell where sounds are coming from. Quite a few times I heard a scream and turned around thinking someone was coming up on me, only to find that no one was there. Also, in the darkness, the corn stalks can easily be mistaken for the limbs of a human and on multiple occasions I thought I was coming upon a spooky character, only to get closer and see a corn stalk blowing in the breeze. The maze is so large that although there were a lot of people walking through, we seldom encountered anyone.
Enclosed in the maze is ScreamWorks' Conover Mystery Ranch. Horrible things happened here at Abe Conover's Corn Ranch. Good for you, bad for poor Abe. Impressive by size and design, this is well-worth more than one trip through.
You enter the self-guided haunt, if you can get past Daddy and Lorraina (men, watch yourselves), and proceed to follow a tighter path of corn maze that leads you in and out of an authentic-looking back-woods ranch. I was particularly impressed with the length of the haunt. In fact, because the haunt ends in the corn maze, you're never quite sure if your tour is over. Many times I thought, "Wow, that was great" only to come upon another prop or frightening character and realize that it wasn't over! The corn maze also provides places for characters to hide. And because you are never sure where the screams are coming from, the party walking in front of you can turn a corner and get spooked and a second later you can turn the same corner and still have no idea what is coming.
The size of rooms is also a bonus. A lot of haunts use small, cramped spaces, making you feel a bit claustrophobic or causing you to duck throughout the whole tour. But the rooms in this haunt are big and leave plenty of room for props and for characters to assail you.
The rooms you visit include a barn, a water tower, and tool shed that are all quite scary and well-done. There are little touches, such as obituaries on the wall, that show how much time and thought went into creating this haunt.
There are also two impressive bridges you must cross. The movement and creaking sounds as you walk over are scary enough, but there are also a few other surprises. In fact, I had to be prodded into walking over them and got a good scream out of it, or rather, they got one out of me! Another of my favorite features was the closet. Again, prodding by the Hauntmaster was needed to get me to walk through!
The ranch makes impressive use of fog and lights, and combined with the tall corn stalks, left me a bit disoriented. I also appreciated the varying heights the tour took you through - uphill, downhill, back up again. This added dimension to the maze-like feel of the haunt.
The characters are able to frighten visitors by both being stationary and by jumping out at you. Of particular interest is the Bride, who patiently waits for her prey hidden among the corn stalks. By the time you see her, you are right up next to her. The stark white of her dress against the dark corn stalks is pretty creepy when you suddenly come upon her. There is also a character with a chainsaw that comes after you and my suggestion would be to run.
The staff at Swank Farms is very patient with the hordes of kids that come to the haunt. There were quite a few times when I would have broken character and screamed at the kids to behave, but the staff held their characters and earned the respect of the kids in the process. In fact, from what I hear, a lot of kids visit the haunt multiple times and know the staff by their characters' names. There is even a section of the haunt's parking lot where parents can drop off and pick up their kids. Now that's community spirit at work!
You can tell a lot of time, effort and energy went into this whole event and I highly recommend a visit or two!
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