Ah, never has joy been more bitter! Hollywood Gothique finally makes the sordid sojourn down to Brea to explore the demented delicacies of Dark Realms: An American Haunt - and discovers an amateur Halloween yard haunt that rivals many professional Halloween events. So, why the bitter tears of despair? Because Halloween 2012 may represent Dark Realms' final manifestation on this earthly plane of existence. Therefore, we recommend you move this haunt toward the top of your "things to do" list.
Dark Realms turns out to be more of a “home haunt” than a “yard haunt. There is no decorated yard; instead, a facade has been erected in the driveway, above an entrance to a walk-through maze. Unlike many amateur Halloween events, there is a charge for admission (the money goes to charity); visitors wait outside, allowed entrance in small groups at discrete intervals, to insure that the monsters are ready and waiting for you inside.
The maze itself is a clever piece of carpentry, creating the illusion that you are inside the house even when you are initially walking the perimeter; eventually, you do get inside, but for how long we cannot say, because the transition is seamless. Rather like the Backwood Maze yard haunt in Burbank (though not to quite so great an extent), Dark Realms manages to squeeze in a a surprisingly large cauldron-full of toil and trouble into its available space. The theme is similar too: cannibal crazies, although in this case we seem to be inside a cabin rather than wandering through the backwoods.
Not that Dark Realms is a carbon copy of Backwoods Maze. There is less emphasis on pop-scares (although there area a few of those). Instead, Dark Realm presents us with a series of scenes in which the crazed characters confront intruders (i.e, us), demanding to know why we are trespassing or occasionally offering to share a meal of ladyfingers and "filet of feet."
The horror is fairly grizzly, though done in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner: most trick-or-treaters should find Dark Realms amusingly creepy rather than outright disgusting; the young and the timid may avail themselves of the early no-scare period. There are a few nice surprises along the way, when misdirection allows the monsters to get the jump on you from an unexpected direction.
The settings are very nicely done, and the cast fill their roles with enthusiasm; there are some nice professional touches, such as the slider scare-actors. In the few photos available online, the masks and makeup do not look terribly convicning, but seen in the lighting of the actual event, they are impressively effective.
If you live in the Brea area, Dark Realms: An American Haunt should be on your must-see list this Halloween; you really don't want to miss what may be your last chance. Los Angeles Halloween fans may understandably think twice about travelling that distance for an amateur haunted house that takes at most ten minutes to walk through; however, we would highly recommend this as the first leg of an Orange County Halloween Haunt Tour, including the Sinister Pointe Haunted Attraction (also in Brea) and The Empty Grave Halloween Attraction in nearby Anaheim. It's a triple-crown of terror that will satisfy even the most horror-hungry Halloween fan.
More: 2012 Orange County Halloween Haunt Tour
Dark Realms: An American Haunt is located at 537 Palm Dr., Brea, CA 92821. Remaining dates are October 19-20, 26-27, and Halloween night, 7-10pm; non-scare hours for children are 6:30-7:00pm. Admission is $8 for one or $15 for two. All proceeds will be donated to CHOC Hospital.
Note: Dark Realms is for sale (the owners are moving to a new home where they cannot maintain the haunt). We sincerely hope some Halloween-loving soul will purchase the assets and resurrect Dark Realms next October.