By Dana Martin
Chainsaws and clowns, vampires and zombies — there’s something about October that transforms normally conventional, straight-laced folks into thrill seekers bent on testing their nerves and wherewithal at annual Halloween haunted houses throughout the United States.
Halloween is a big industry, second only to Christmas in retail sales. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, seven in 10 Americans — 68.6 percent — plan to celebrate Halloween, up from 63.8 percent in 2010, and the most in the federation’s nine-year survey history.
Those celebrating were expected to spend slightly more, too, where the average person planned to spend about $72 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $66 the previous year. Total Halloween spending was expected to reach $6.86 billion in 2011. And statistics show an increase, rather than a decrease, during tough economic times.
People love to get their creep on, and many local attractions are happy to cater to them.
Haunted attraction enthusiasts make no bones about spending their hard-earned cash on spooky entertainment. Some make an annual trek to Knott’s Scary Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood or the Queen Mary — each transforming a large, or entire, segment of their traditional theme park into frightening fall entertainment. Other folks find family fun right here close to home — including pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and the nail biting, heart-stopping, self-induced nightmare of haunted house tours.
Here are some local Halloween attractions that are in Bakersfield, or within a day’s drive.
Where: 11811 Rosedale Highway, Bakersfield
What: Haunted houses, corn mazes and pumpkin patches
How much: $10 to $32, open Thursday to Sunday
Standing alone in 2012, as Kern County’s only professional haunted attraction, Talladega Frights returns this year for its seventh year haunting Bakersfield.
“We have something for everybody,” said owner Mike Wilbur. “We are known for the outstanding haunted houses we design, which are some of the best in California and offer the full haunted house experience. But we also have attractions for families who want the fall experience without the scare.”
Talladega Frights takes place on 20 acres of Rosedale Highway, and includes three haunted attractions: two corn mazes, a pumpkin patch with bounce houses and slides, and concessions.
Wilbur said he’s always looking for ways to give families something to do together for the season, and is adamant about improving every year.
“It’s never the same,” Wilbur said. “We create new themes each year, so that the customer never knows what is going to happen next. We never want the show to get tired or predictable. We want them to enter a new world.”
Spanning 30,000 square feet of fun and terror, Talladega Frights will feature a haunted mansion, Green River Asylum, and a dark maze called Wicked Dark for 2012.
“Our favorite thing to say is that you are entering a new world and leaving the real world behind,” said Wilbur. “We build scenes that are believable.”
Wilbur and his crew work to create realistic sets so guests will forget they are in a haunted house.
“Realism,” said Wilbur, “is the separating factor between a quality and non-quality attraction and enables us to immerse people in the scene. The details are important.”
Details in the haunted mansion include wallpaper and bookshelves, to China dishes and chandeliers. Guests should expect to forget they are in a make-believe attraction as they confront angry characters trapped to live for eternity within the crumbling walls.
The Green River Asylum is back by popular demand after a three-year hiatus and will depict the lunatic takeover of a mental facility.
Wicked Dark is returning for its second year, bigger than 2011. Wilbur has added new features and new allusions to this fun house of horrors.
Of the two corn mazes, the largest one features 10 acres of corn and more than 3.5 miles of maze, where guests try to find check points and prizes from sponsors, including Subway.
For folks looking for good quality Halloween fun, mark Talladega Frights on your October to-do list.
Wilbur also said this will be the popular attraction’s final year on Rosedale Highway. It will move to a new address for 2013 to expand, and to host other events throughout the year.
The Raven’s Gate Haunted Attraction
Where: 14295 E. Adams Ave., Parlier (in Fresno County, northwest of Visalia)
What: Haunted trail, haunted hayride, family-friendly trick-or-treat forest, pumpkin patch
How much: $5 to $25, open Wednesday to Sunday
Just a 90-minute drive north from Bakersfield, The Raven’s Gate haunted attraction is right off Highway 99 in Parlier, on 21 acres of Central Valley farmland.
Feeling trapped in the city? This outdoor attraction is a getaway to the country for families and haunted house enthusiasts alike.
“It is a destination haunt,” said owner Mike Callahan. “We bought this property with the intention of creating a spooky Halloween environment for families to come out and escape the city lights, away from projected stimulus of radios and TV, to be out in the fall air.”
The event features a carnival midway with concessions and vendors, stone fire pits, a stage and dance floor, three themed events, a Halloween store and a pumpkin patch to please guests of all ages.
The outdoor haunted forest is a terrifying walk-through full of enthusiastic and passionate characters that Callahan said are there to do one thing: “Get you.”
“They understand the psychological aspect of a good show,” he said. “In 18 years of haunting, I’ve never been creeped out or chased out of any haunt, but something about this place makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”
The haunted hayride is an event that isn’t “in your face,” like the forest walk. Hayride trailers carrying 30 to 40 people will pull guests through 15 acres of scenes intended to frighten and entertain, keeping visitors screaming and laughing at once.
The non-scary trick-or-treat forest is for children 8 years old and younger, and is just $5.
“We have Central California’s only non-scary, fully functioning Halloween event for children,” said Callahan. “Children can dress up and knock on doors, meet happy characters and get candy as they walk an outdoor trail lit by orange lights and blow-up pumpkins.”
The Raven’s Gate was designed as a family destination to create fall memories, and Callahan said it is unlike any other attraction in the Central Valley.
“You will be completely entertained.”
Where: 665 Fulton, Fresno
What: Six indoor haunted attractions
How much: $18 to $26, open Friday to Sunday
Another 10 minutes north, up Highway 99, will take you to Haunted Fresno, the valley’s only six-attraction indoor haunt.
Haunted Fresno’s attractions take more than 17,000 square-feet in downtown Fresno and include a midway, two full-sized haunted houses, a seance attraction, and two rides.
“The Last Ride is a motion-simulated ride built into a coffin that simulates the last ride you will ever take,” said Dexter Morgan, general manager of Haunted Fresno.
The Hellevator is a motion simulated ride, too, but this one puts guests on an out-of-control runaway elevator. This attraction lasts about two minutes and is one of Morgan’s favorites.
Starring in his own show, Morgan, a master magician, presents a museum of oddities and a theatrical séance attraction.
“For 10 minutes, we take 26 people at a time and summon spirits. Some pretty extraordinary things happen in there,” said Morgan.
This year’s Haunted Fresno will also offer two different haunted houses. The House of Zombies is a quarantined house during the zombie apocalypse. Guests have to survive their way through the house. And to complete Fresno’s sextet of shock, the Fortress of Fear is a gothic, Van Helsing vampire-themed haunt.
Morgan said if you’re looking for quality, you won’t mind the under two-hour drive to Fresno.
“Not only are we affordable, but we put on a professional show,” he said. “Our actors deliver lines and stay in character. They don’t break character for any reason unless it’s an emergency. Also, we don’t use fog or smoke machines, and because of that, our sets are detailed — Hollywood-grade detail.”