We braved Friday rush hour traffic to revisit Castle Dark for the first time since 2017. Located in Riverside, the annual event transforms Castle Park amusement grounds into a Halloween adventure at night time. Gone is the Haunted Castle virtual reality attraction which captivated us two years ago; in its place are better scare zones and a more interactive experience in the mazes.
Castle Dark Review: The Mazes
For Halloween 2019, Castle Dark features three walk-throughs. Since we were invited to attend their VIP Press Preview Night, signage for the mazes were not up yet. Therefore, we walked around randomly and below was the order we hit:
The first maze we encountered was The Crooked Man. Inside, you hear “The Crooked Man” nursery rhyme recited throughout the walk-through. In the first room, the “Crooked” girl warns you to go away with some extended interaction that was not expected. Verses painted in blood and fluorescent material on the walls were clear signs to turn, back but we ignored them. Throughout the maze, we encountered members of the Crooked family warning us to move along, perhaps secretly setting up a confrontation with the Crooked Man. In the final room, there is a place setting on a long table for supper. Verses on the walls distract you: as you're focusing on the text, the Crooked Man himself may show up behind you. We suspect we were supposed to be dinner.
The title of Meltdown suggests what to expect. Scientists - infected and mutated by something in the plant - stand in the way of your freedom. Are they all too far gone from their human state to help you escape? Or will you be lucky enough to find one in the end to help you get away? We were lucky to have a helpful mutated scientist give us pointers.
The Ringmaster and his clown (Jinxx and Havoc perhaps) really steal the beginning of the show in Jinxx & Havoc Twisted Circus. The Ringmaster lined up against the wall while exchanging some witty banter. When it came time for the walk-through, he announced, "We got some VIPs," which earned us special attention from the first scare actor we encountered. The maze itself was filled with cartoon animals on the walls and a few jump scares from clowns. At the end is neat drawing of Pennywise, and the exit leads out of a clown's mouth, which is a great photo-op.
Castle Dark Review: The Scare Zones
In Dark Harvest, Father walks around surrounded by his “family," warning of the evils of the world and baptizing you into his family. The members congregate around you until the ritual is completed then you are made part of his “family”. We had 2 run-ins with said Father who presented a different interaction during the 2nd time. The 2nd time was met with lighting the Holy Bible on fire! It was a neat surprise!
The Lady In White is haunted by a ghost bride searching for her future groom. She emits a creepy “Grudge-like” vocal effect before scattering away. Apparently she means no harm; she simply wants to find her man.
Dia de los Muertos features ancestors and dead family members roaming the grounds freely as if this were still their home.
Leading to The Crooked Man maze is The Nightmare scare zone, where The Grim Reaper and his monk-like minions scour the streets for recruits.
Located between Meltdown and Jinxx & Havoc Twisted Circus, The Midway is a carnival full of killer clowns who love to dance and charge at you. We encountered two female clowns who were seeking the culprit that bit off their chicken's head. The interaction seemed like some good improv.
Castle Dark Review: Conclusion
The biggest improvement in Castle Dark 2019 is the interaction with attendees. When we attended in 2017, Castle Park's Halloween transformation felt like a basic walk-through at a high school or a private residence. This year's mazes still lack more refined props and sufficient scare actors, but what they lacked in props and manpower, they made up for with improv. Each maze contained at least one scare actor who offered a custom tailored interaction; in the scare zones, there were hordes of them. As Castle Dark's website warns about The Midway: “If you stick around for too long, you might become part of the show.” That is exactly how we felt. When most scare actors would have moved on to the next victim, these actors remained and incorporated us into their routine. When walking through select mazes and scare zones a second time, the interaction was completely different.
Backstage, we learned that 80 actors are employed each night to give the fans a premium experience, and their work shows. Though Castle Dark has reduced the number of mazes from five to three, they improved the overall experience by hiring a professional quality cast, whose performances makes this Halloween event worth seeing.
Castle Dark 2019 Rating
Definitely worth the $19.99 since you get the rides and mini-golf activities to go along with the Halloween attractions.
Castle Dark is open on weekends through October 27. The $19.99 admission includes rides and mini-golf. For an additional 19.99, you can dine at the pre-scare buffet dinner and get a souvenir bottle. If you are feeling like a big spender, you can go with the VIP package which includes: a Lanyard, a Trading Card, a Castle Dark T-shirt, a Castle Dark Drawstring Back Pack, a Tour of Mazes, and the Scare Actor experience. Dinner includes 2 BBQ Ribs, 1 BBQ Chicken breast or thigh, 2 Corn Muffins, Coleslaw, Mac & Cheese, and Souvenir Bottle with unlimited refills all night. For 49.99, you can enjoy the haunt all season long!
Castle Park’s address is 3500 Polk St, Riverside, CA 92505. For more info, visit: https://www.castlepark.com/CastleDark.