In Los Angeles, there are Halloween theme parks and haunted houses galore, but what about San Diego? Located at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, home to the San Diego Fair, the Scream Zone provides San Diego county haunt-goers with a multi-haunt attraction that includes a hayride and two mazes, Karnevil and the House of Horrors. A multi-pass is definitely recommended, in order to enjoy all three of these Halloween treats.
Scream Zone Review: House of Horrors
We enter what seems to be an abandoned house. The hallways are Victorian, with flickering candles on sconces. We descend into a sub-basement with wooden stairs leading up to somewhere, creating the illusion that we are beneath the house. The dead roam while screams echo into oblivion.
Soon, the house also fades into oblivion as we enter an outdoor area, reminiscent of a castle or monastery. Hearing a growling noise in the background, we run into a dark hallway and pass through some demented torture chamber or dungeon, while chained victims shake vigorously in a feeble attempt to escape. We end up in a dining hall, where we discover what that loud growling a minute ago really was.
Misdirection is a trend that seems to be on the rise this season. An adolescent girl shows up in a room full of inflatables, asking us which way are we going? As we looked for he correct path, another girl shows up that dressed like the first one - creating the illusion that no matter where we turn, there is no way out. After a few more pitch black turns (black plywood), we pass a cult ritual performed by hooded figures with big black eyes and beaks.
Just when we think we have escaped the House of Horrors....we approach another: The Neibolt House! Georgie, with a bloodied raincoat, intones the classic “You'll Float Too!” line as Pennywise motions for us to enter. Since it's too late to turn back, we enter - against our better judgment. The first room is a nightmare for people who fear clowns - a giant Pennywise animatronic. In the second room, we see Georgie and a dead Pennywise in a well, so we're safe now, right? No, another Pennywise greets you, perhaps to distract you from yet another giant Pennywise animatronic -this looks more like his true demonic self with his evil sharp teeth. We end up in Pennywise's Lair - with Pennywise here and there, Pennywise everywhere!
The House of Horrors is a solid maze. It is long, with plenty of surprises, especially IT and the Neibolt House. San Diegans who cannot make the drive to the IT Experience at Warner Brothers' Horror Made Here: A Festival of Frights could enjoy their own version. We could have done without the pitch-black turns and plywood corridors mid-maze; it would've been nice to see something that indicates a theme change.
Scream Zone Review: Karnevil
We expect carnivorous clowns in this maze but we meet Little Red Riding Hood, whose grandma is being mauled by the big bad wolf. Next is a “find your own way out” maze, where each corridor is cleverly themed as one of the Three Little Pigs' homes. We get lost in the brick house, but at least we're safe from the big bad wolf, right? Unfortunately, the pig is much scarier.
We enter a Carnival, where a goblin slides up to the camera for a closeup, then encounter a clown in a revolving tunnel. In a black room decorated with skulls, we know at least one skull will come to life - but which one(s)?
At the final turn, we meet a character from one of our most beloved fairy tales, The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. He mumbles inaudibly as we pass through the room, which is nicely dressed with a giant top hat and cards from the story.
Karnevil is a fun maze with multiple trips down memory lane offering a twisted nostalgic factor. Perhaps a change to the name would be more appropriate to the overall theme, which is more fairy tale than carnival.
Scream Zone Review: The Haunted Hayride
The Haunted Hayride at Scream Zone explores different themes. Each “row” is distinct, with its own soundtrack. In the first row, there is a zombie outbreak, with the living dead banging on toxic bins. The next row features what looks like an abandoned, post-apocalyptic small town. A hillbilly ambushes the tractor and cracks jokes, eager to show off his animal “girlfriend.” Though the row was short and sweet with decorative sets, there was room for an extra scare actor or two.
Next, we approach a marquee labeled “MOTEL HELLO”, with the “O” scraped off to read “MOTEL HELL”. The ominous music lends a creepy feel reminiscent of that of the Bates Motel and Psycho House at Universal Studios Hollywood. The scene is a small town with its own graveyard, where the dead rise to defend their land, attacking you with chainsaws.
The next row is designed for horror fanatics. “Tubular Bells” from The Exorcist starts playing, then segues into John Carpenter's “Halloween” theme before Freddy Kruger appears, accompanied by the dream sequence music. Michael Myers and Freddy walk to our tractor and Freddy poses for the camera, saying, “Cheese.”
The following row is “The Mine." The sets create the illusion of going deep into a cavernous mine even though the road is flat. Next is a Carnival theme. We expected clowns but were pleasantly surprised by adolescent girls asking if we'd like to play with them - only to get angry because we were leaving too soon. An Annabelle doll pops out and springs forward towards the tractor. The final row has a Mad Max post-apocalyptic desert feel, with angry mercenaries wielding chainsaws.
The hayride, at nearly 12 minutes long, is a recommended attraction for those who want to enjoy the horrors of a maze without walking. The downside is that, if it's too much for you, there is no where you can run.
Scream Zone Review: Conclusion
Scream Zone is not a bad value for the admission price: $34 for all three attractions. Oh, and did we mention that parking is free?
The only thing missing, which prevents Scream Zone from being a completely satisfying multi-haunt attraction, is scare zones. All non attraction areas are filled with customers instead of free-roaming ghouls. How interesting and fun would it be to have a few scare monsters sneak up on haunt-goers? That would more accurately live up to the definition of “Scream Zone."
Scream Zone Ratings
Three Halloween scare attractions for $34 – not a bad deal for the money.
The Scream Zone continues every Thursday through Sunday in October, every Wednesday, starting on the 10th, and everyday from the 24th to the 31st. Hours are 7PM to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7PM to 11PM on all other nights. The address for Del Mar Fairgrounds is 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014. For more information, visit thescreamzone.com.