Here at Hollywood Gothique, we occasionally receive requests to cover Halloween events that lie outside our usual domain (that is, Los Angeles and the surrounding Southland). This year, we finally took this advice, travelling up north to visit two haunts in the East Bay Area, near San Francisco: "The Candle Lighters Ghost House - Haunted Hotel" in Fremont and the Pirates of Emerson in Pleasonton. We will save the latter - a venerable haunt that has earned a solid reputation over the years - for another post. For now, we focus on the Candle Lighters Ghost House - a family-friendly community haunt featuring games, activities, food, and a short walk-through haunted house.
The Candle Lighters is an all-volunteer womens' organization that raises money for community projects with its Halloween attraction, which has been running for several years.The event is set in the suitably 19th-century Chadbourne Carriage House, which is part of the Williams Historical Park - although you might not realize it, since it's surrounded by what otherwise looks like a standard shopping center. Parking is free, and the proximity of other restaurants (Chili's, The Elephan Bar) opens up dining opportunities beyond the hot dogs and caramel apples for sale in the Ghost House's midway area.
The midway immediately sets the home-made happy vibe, with temporary structures housing booths for face-painting, bean-bag-toss, and other activities. Happy children scamper about, accompanied by parents; clearly, the event is meant to be safe family fun, not a disturbing scare experience. Nevertheless, there are at least a few screams awaiting inside the Ghost House itself.
The walk-through's theme changes every Halloween (for example, "Horror Movies" in 2007); this year's theme is Haunted Hotel, which is perfectly suited to the location. Outside, there are two lines: the "Scary Line" and the "Good Fairy Tour." The latter is for timid trick-or-treaters who want to venture inside without being assaulted by monsters: a "good fairy" (a teen-aged girl in costume with lighted wings) will lead the way, warding off evil with her magic wand. Needless to say, we opted to plunge in without a celestial bodyguard.
The carriage house is a good stand-in for an old Victorian Hotel. The back story is that party-goers disappeared decades ago, their ghosts returning on Halloween. The initial interior decor feels quite authentic, as you pass the check in desk, and there is that pleasantly creepy sense you get from being inside a real place, not an obvious fabrication.
As you move farther in, the Haunted Hotel turns into a series of decorated displays behind chicken wire, giving it something more of a museum feel. Most of these scenes feature static mannequins, but there are one or two mechanical pieces. And there is always a monster well hidden in corners and eager to deliver a scare. The actors are all youngsters, not professional actors, but their amateur enthusiasm is infectious, and it hits just the right note of fear for this particularly haunted house: even without a good fairy bodyguard, the sudden startling screams are fun but not disturbing. Hard core horror hounds will not be amused, but parents who go in to protect their children may find themselves jumping in shock once or twice.
The walk-through is fairly short, but there is little wasted space: there are no long, empty corridors; every time you round a corner, there is something new to see. For an all-volunteer effort, the result is not bad. In fact, the Candle Lighters Ghost House strikes the perfect middle ground, filling the gap between the cute Halloween haunts for children and the scarier Halloween haunted houses and hayrides for adults. Little kids want to enjoy Halloween, too, and they don't want to be left out when their older siblings head off to some nightmare-inducing horror show. Well, this is the place to go. We only wish we could find some similar Halloween event in Los Angeles.
The Candle Lighters Ghost House: Haunted Hotel runs throughout October, in the Chadbourne Carriage House at Williams Historical Park, 39169 Fremont Boulevard, in Fremont, California (the East Bay Area). Hours are 6-9pm weekdays, 6-10pm Fridays, 2-10pm Saturdays, and 2-9pm Sundays. Tickets are $3. Call 510-796-0595 for info, or check out their website: www.candlelighters.com.
NOTE: We would like to give a shout out to Haunted Bay, sort of the San Francisco equivalent of Hollywood Gothique, whose Haunt Mistress suggested several great attractions for us to investigate up north.