The Heritage Haunt at Hart Park-Heritage Junction (2401 San Fernando Road in Newhall, California) is an eerie trip back in time to the Old West. Set in what is essentially an old Western museum, this Halloween attraction - titled "Curse of the Ghoul Mine" for 2008 - is sponsored by the Santa Clarita Historical Society, which strives to preserve the history of the local area (which was both a mining community and later the location for filming early silent cowboy movies starring William S. Hart). The use of an authentic location (all too rare for a haunt these days) lends a believable atmosphere that envelops the visitor in the spooky surroundings, reminiscent of the dearly departed Haunted Vineyard. Although punctuated with traditional "Boo!"-type scares, the emphasis is on giving you the creeps rather than giving you a heart attack. If you're not interested in monsters and madmen leaping out at you, but would rather enjoy sensation of entering a haunted house full of ghosts, make this your destination for Halloween.
The ghostly goings-on begin almost immediately upon arrival. As you leave the parking lot behind, you move toward a dimly lit security check point (be prepared to empty your pockets of metal) and then a ticket table. Past the entrance, the pavement gives way to dust; mining shacks enclose prop zombies; and shadowy trees obscure lurking monsters eager to attack before you reach the actual walk-through haunt. In fact, these free-roaming ghouls - looking like the ghosts of cowboys and gunslingers long dead - provide most of the traditional jump-scares. Shrouded in darkness, they resemble ordinary people until they are upon you, masked faces snarling and snorting unexpectedly.
Past a small cemetery (featuring a couple of comical talking skeletons), there is a scaffold with a hanged body, a saloon, a small building with a fortune teller, some stands selling souvenirs and masks, and the haunted house itself. This last resembles something from the 19th century. A skeleton and a raven decorate the roof; as you wait in line, a mechanical monster pops up in a window unexpectedly.
Visitors enter in groups of four, maximum. First, a guide fills you in on the back story of the ghosts inside, all of which are supposed to be based on actual legends of the old Western mining community in the area. The first ethereal manifestation is glimpsed through a window: a spirit who rises from her chair and walks through a wall, signaling that she is willing for you to enter. (For some reason her shawl slips off, as if it were a physical object, incapable of following its spiritual owner through a solid wall.)
The main building looks like an old museum, with a grand piano and a fine fireplace suggesting the turn of the previous century. After the guide gives the usual prohibition (don't touch the monsters and they won't touch you), she sends you off on your self-guided tour through the house.
After a brief encounter with a more physical version of the ghost glimpsed through the window (i.e., it's an actress in makeup), you find yourself wandering down narrow corridors that seem literally alive with phantoms. The feeling of being in a real place adds incalculably to the effectiveness. At first there is little to startle you. Instead, a spine-chilling audio track conveys the presence of the invisible visitors, who whisper repeatedly, "You can't see me, but I can see you."
Eventually, the scares becomes more visceral. There are some strategically placed actors in makeup leaping from around corners and grasping from the darkness, but most of the sudden startling appearances are courtesy of mechanical pops that pop up like malevolent Jack-in-the-Boxes. By the end, a fairly conventional madman-with-a-chainsaw chases you the last few yards through the exit, but the overall effect is much more of an eerie encounter with the supernatural than a brush with physical danger.
Afterwards, you can have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in the saloon, which offers you live video feeds from inside the haunted house, so that you can laugh at antics of the next set of terrified victims walking through. Other entertainment options include live bands (performing three times a night on Fridays at the Saugus Train Station) and a ”Sleepy Hollow” ballet (performed three times a night on Saturdays by New World Dance Productions).
One consistent refrain you hear us singing at Hollywood Gothique is that Halloween should stay true to its origins: All Souls Day is the evening when the graves open up, releasing their dead to walk the Earth; demons and witches are also abroad, along withtheir familiars, including black cats and bats. Too many Halloween haunts take their cue more from the fun-house than the October season: they are loaded with killer klowns, escaped lunatics, and masked slashers. Consequently, when we encounter a Halloween attraction that truly resembles a haunted house, we are as happy as a vampire in a blood bank. Heritage Haunt is a distinctive addition to this short list of high-class scare factories (which also includes Turbidite Manor, unfortunately no longer available in Los Angeles). The interior of Heritage Haunt may be short on shocks, but it delivers delicious chills that will make your skin crawl with delight.
Heritage Haunt has been open all months. Its remaining dates are October 30-31 & November 1. It runs from 7:00 to 11:00pm each night. Tickets are $13. There is a $3-off coupon available at the official website: www.scvhaunt.com. Parking is free.
NOTE: Although we have listed this attraction as a Professional Haunt, it is a non-profit event to benefit the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.