When Hollywood previously encountered Fears Gate, during its Halloween 2010 debut, the attraction was named Forbidden Haunt and situated inside a circus tent pitched in Sherman Oaks. Three years later, rechristened and relocated to Ventura Country, Fears Gate now has a solid roof over its head; the tent is gone, but the clowns remain, joined by mutants and other monsters, all of them eager to enjoy a little Halloween fun - at your expense.
The new location is less auspicious in appearance and easier to overlook - a storefront in a shopping center - but looks can be deceiving. Inside the main entrance, a ticket booth awaits, and many are the cowards who, upon hearing the screams emanating from within, turn and run before making a purchase. Those with stouter souls proceed to any or all of Fears Gate's three attractions: Deadtime Stories, Krazed Klowns, and Mutant Militia. The first two are walk-through mazes; the latter is a fast-paced, interactive paintball experience.
The interior facade for Deadtime Stories suggests a haunted house. Inside, Grandma - a hideous hag - awaits, along with demented characters drawn from childhood nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The highlight is a "blackout" area that begins as a crawlspace and eventually opens up, allowing you to stand again. You will have to find your way by touch through the pitch-black corridor, and you never know what may be lurking around the next corner. We have encountered crawlspaces and dark rooms before, but usually they rely on claustrophobia and blindness to generate fear, abetted by whispered voices. It's a little less common to suddenly come face-to-face with monsters, who announce their presence with a sudden flash of light before disappearing back into the darkness.
Krazed Klowns begins as a standard Halloween circus maze, but these clowns are more verbal than most, addressing you directly to deliver personal scares. You may try to avoid the direct interaction, but sometimes that simply is not possible. In one clever set piece, a caged clown exhorts you to join him inside his cell; you decline and move on - the cell looks locked, after all - but turning a corner you find yourself facing a dead end and forced to retrace your steps. The cell is now open, and you have no choice but to enter, while the clown mocks you for your attempt to bypass him.
Fears Gate's third and final attraction, Mutant Militia, is a considerably different experience - more fun than frightening. You are given a spring-loaded, light-weight paintball shotgun and given a brief demonstration on how to use it. Then your team is sent through the course, timing your movements to a buzzer that sounds at regular intervals: you enter a room, fire two shots a piece, then proceed to the next room when the buzzer sounds. This maintains a frenetic pace that keeps the action moving. Sure, you could fire more than two shots in the first room, but you have limited ammo and don't want to run out before you reach the end.
The mutants do not attack you; they dodge back and forth in the darkness, hiding behind obstacles and laughing at your poor aim. The impression is of a demented shooting gallery rather than a traditional walk-through Halloween haunt.
For those seeking a more intense experience, you can pay extra for additional ammo and take part in the "Final Stand." After completing the main course, you reload and proceed to the final area, where the mutants get a little more aggressive, swarming toward the barrier, reaching over and under it, while you try to fend them off as best you can, firing round and after round until your gun is empty.
So, what kind of Halloween Horror experience does Fears Gate deliver? The sets are simple - mostly painted flats - but the monsters know how to work a room, sometimes double-teaming their victims (one distracts you while the other sneaks up from behind). In several places, the clowns or other creatures swarm their victims, sometimes blocking the path forward, leaving no way to escape from the what is following from behind.
Also, the characters are persistent, often following you through exit from an attraction. You know the old saying, "It's not over till it's over"? At Fears Gate, it's not over even after it's over.
If you need a rest after all the excitement, you might consider a ride in Fears Gate's double-wide coffin. You and your significant other climb inside for a motion-simulation ride, with sound effects and dialogue, portraying your last ride from the funeral parlor to the graveyard, where you are lowered into the ground and welcomed by hungry worms.
Fears Gate will be open on October 31 and November 1. Hours are 7-10pm on Thursday; 7pm-midnight on Friday. The address is 816 North Ventura Road, Oxnard, California 93030 (located within a storefront in a shopping center). Click here to get more information at the website.