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Bones Gulch: non-profit haunt beats pros at their own game

Three amateur home haunts join forces to create an amazing – and ribald – ghost town of terror.

Fashioned by the creators of three home haunts (Beware the Dark Realm, the Farm Haunt, and Restless Souls Manor), the Bones Gulch haunted attractions is a non-profit fundraiser that matches and exceeds many professional Halloween attractions. Obviously, this is an apples-to-oranges situation – how can one compare a single stand-alone walkthrough to a theme park loaded with rides, shows, and multiple mazes? – but on a one-to-one level, the maze at Bones Gulch is better than any other new maze we have seen this year.

Sharp-eyed haunt-seekers may spot elements from the three home haunts (particularly the rustic vibe of The Farm Haunt), but this is not a mash-up. Bones Gulch is a ghost town where too many miners lost their lives – and their heads! – while prospecting for gold. It features an exterior scare zone and a (mostly) interior maze, situated in a remote section of Castaic, which will challenge your navigational abilities unless you use your GPS. You will travel down dark, dusty roads through a mostly deserted, rural area until you find your way blocked by a Los Angeles Sheriffs’ patrol car, forcing you into the dirt parking lot of the Jack Bones Equestrian Center, near the Pitchess Detention Center. The setting, which conjures images of prison inmates somewhere nearby, is not the most inviting location for a Halloween attraction, but think of it as part of the experience, setting an ominous tone before you reach the event itself.

Bones Gulch Review: Scare Zone

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After walking from the parking lot and passing the ticket booth, your first sight of Bones Gulch is an impressively convincing facade with signs for Sally’s Saloon and Rooms to rent. Before entering, however, you pass around the building to an outdoor scare zone. Illumination is minimal, but as your eyes adjust you see jail cells, booths, and other structures adorned with spiderwebs. Some contain candles and silent figures – mostly mannequins, by the look of them, but you cannot be certain in the darkness.

What is certain is that this old western ghost town is haunted by many roving spirits. Again, the darkness will play tricks on you. Is the approaching figure another guest wandering the dusty path – or something more sinister?

As you make your way in a loop, you will pass a door with fog spilling out, but do not go in – this is the exit from the maze. Instead, keep moving around the structure, which will take you to a cue line and eventually to the maze’s entrance, which is where things get really interesting.

Bones Gulch Review: Maze

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The cue line leads past Sally’s Saloon to he open door beneath the sign marked “Rooms,” where your journey through the maze begins. Immediately apparent is the fact Bones Gulch is no mere jump-and-scare haunt. It’s all about weird, quirky characters – sometimes creepy, sometimes spooky. Each has their own routine, but a recurring theme is: DON’T GO INTO THE MINE!

Guess where the maze leads?

First up, the proprietor of the boarding house is a gossipy woman with nothing good to say about Sally, and she wants to tell you all about it. If you can get away from her, take refuge in the saloon, where Sally will launch into series of suggestive comments so obviously lewd that they barely qualify as double entendres. She is looking for more girls to work in her house of ill repute and more men to patronize the establishment. Regardless of any moral objections, the proposal is not appealing when you consider Sally’s cadaverous pallor.

Up next there’s a crazy character whose business is selling gold and guns, whose temperament seems as explosive as the dynamite prominently displayed on the desk. The owner of the general store is cuckoo, talking to a rat skeleton. The butcher seems to be selling horse meat. The undertaker seems exceptionally happy because business is good – something to do with a series of deaths in the mines (and not from cave-ins). The marshal warns of miners mysteriously disappearing – except for their severed heads. There is someone locked up in the jail, but the deaths continue anyway.

Along the way, you will step outside into what seems to be the main street of Bones Gulch – a fabulous depiction of a ghost town, granted an aura of authenticity by the dusty ground on which you walk. Bathed in shifting hues of blue and red, the exteriors create a convincing setting for the characters inhabiting the half-dozen or so buildings, and the interiors are nicely done as well.

Inevitably, the path takes through a ravine, haunted by a crazed prospector, and then, ignoring all the advice you have heard, you head into the mine, where more than one ghoulish figure resides. Which is the killer? Difficult to say for sure. Just hold on to your head and move quickly until you can escape through the exit and make your way back to safety.

Bones Gulch Review: Conclusion

Bones Gulch is the sort of haunted attraction we dream about. It has a cool theme with supernatural overtones, but it is not just another haunted house. It uses sets and lighting to immerse visitors in its weird world. And that world is filled with characters that bring it to life in unexpected ways. There are jump scares, but more than that, there is an (un)healthy dose of interpersonal interaction with some truly demented denizens of this strange ghost town.

Initially, the horror seems almost secondary to the bawdy humor and eccentric insanity of everyone you meet. The fear factor increases when you move into the mine, but even here it’s less about shock than innuendo. For instance, one weirdo was aggressively channeling Deliverance, calling out the familiar line, “Squeal like a pig!” – the sort of thing that doesn’t make you jump but instead makes your skin crawl. (We are informed that the cast tone down this aspect when younger guests are present.)

The scare zone relies on darkness and the isolated setting to generate a sense of unease, but the approach is a double-edged sword. The empty darkness is intimidating, but it’s also…well, empty. The result is fun, but it feels as if more could be done with this section.

The true star of the show is the maze, which fills every room with some memorable creep who wants to do more than just say boo. They’re an enjoyable bunch, in an Addams Family sort of way, providing the sort of personal scares that a major Halloween theme park cannot afford to do while pumping guests through the mazes like a herd of cattle.

In short, Bones Gulch is the best of both worlds. It has the production value of a professional haunt, and it has the more intimate quality of an amateur effort, done for love rather than money.

Hollywood Gothique's rating of Bones Gulch

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Great production value, great atmosphere, and great performances. There is not a lot of fancy pyrotechnics and mechanical effects, but the haunt does just fine without them. The scare zone could afford to be populated by a few more ghouls, but  even so, Bones Gulch is a must-see Halloween attraction.

Bones Gulch continues at the Jack Bones Equestrian Center on Saturdays in October, plus Sunday October 30. Hours are from 6-10pm. Also, there will be a free kid-friendly daytime event on October 30th. The address is at 26983 Tapia Canyon Road in Castaic. Tickets are $20. Proceeds benefit the L.A. County Sheriffs’ Museum. Get more information at bonesgulch.com.

Bones Gulch Review: Photo Gallery

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.