This weekend, Hollywood Gothique made it out to Corona for our first-ever trip to the Crossroads Haunted Village Halloween Attraction (also known as Coffin Creek). Had we gone sooner, this entertaining event would have earned a slot on one of our "Must-See" lists for Halloween 2013. Crossroads Haunted Village may not be as elaborate as some of the high-end Halloween Haunted Houses and Hayrides around Los Angeles, but dollar for dollar it provides a greater variety of scare experiences than you will encounter anywhere outside of the Southland's major Halloween Theme Park Attractions. If you're a Los Angeles haunt-chaser seeking something new to do during the final days of October, this is worth the long drive to Riverside County.
Crossroads Haunted Village is a mini-theme park, with a midway, a magic show, and five haunts: Chambers of the Mausoleum, Coffin Creek Manor, Bog of the Abyss, Labyrinth of Lost Relics, and the Sleepy Hollow Hayride . The closest comparison we can make is to the well-known Pirates of Emerson up north in Pleasanton, California (which we reviewed here a couple years ago). The difference is that Crossroads Haunted Village is less unified, more spread out: there is no central theme, and the separate attractions are all individually owned and operated. In a sense, it's like going to a shopping center where half a dozen different business are operating side-by-side because proximity draws customers.
One other note: In the past we have referred to this event as Coffin Creek. In fact, Coffin Creek Manor is the oldest attraction at the location, but collectively the haunts are known as Crossroads Haunted Village.
Crossroads Haunted Village benefits from being situated in an area that seems virtually rural (at least when viewed at night), as if you have wandered off the main highway onto some back road where Norman Bates might be working the desk at the hotel, or the Texas Chainsaw family knocking off from a hard day at the slaughterhouse. Driving through the front entrance, we were stopped by a jovial young man doing an excellent impersonation of Matt Smith's Doctor Who, who pointed us in the right direction (very important in the dark) and gave us a map to the various haunts (also useful in the dark).
The roads and parking lots in the park are unpaved. There are two separate parking lots: one is near the first three haunts; the other is further along, near the midway, which contains the magic show and the last two haunts. The two areas are widely separated, so your best strategy is to park in the first lot and visit the nearby haunts; then drive to the second lot for the remaining entertainment.
No matter where you park, you will be walking up and down a dusty hill in the dark, as your traverse uneven terrain to get from Coffin Creek Manor to Chambers of the Mausoleum to Bog of the Abyss. A flashlight and comfortable shoes are highly recommended.
FIRST AREA: Chambers of the Mausoleum, Coffin Creek Manor, Bog of the Abyss
As you exit your car in the first parking lot, you will be next to Bog of the Abyss and down the hill from Coffin Creek Manor and Chambers of the Mausoleum. Despite the convenience, we recommend saving the Bog for later and heading up the hill to the other two.
Chambers of the Mausoleum is probably the star attraction of Crossroads Haunted Village, having been earning a reputation since it was located at Castle Dark. Theme Park Adventure even called it "easily one of Southern California’s most innovative and creative haunts." We think the praise is a bit over-stated, but we did enjoy our walk through the Chambers, which begins with an impressively large-scale outdoor area, replete with a massive crumbling wall and numerous tombstones - we felt as if we were about to step into a favorite Gothic horror movie.
Unfortunately, the line moves with excruciating slowness. Groups of about a dozen are allowed in at regular intervals, and on the night we went - a slow Sunday night - the wait outside reached nearly an hour, because each group had to complete the entire tour before the next group could begin. This was apparently because the haunt was under-staffed on a Sunday, with only one "Guide" to escort visitors on their tour of terror.
Chambers of the Mausoleum, you see, has a clever gimmick: it's a guided tour. A silent skeletal figure leads you through the dank corridors, directing you with gestures and tapping with his walking stick, presumably to alert the monsters lying in wait for you. Consequently, the entire group is always inside a room and properly positioned before a scare is sprung; this allows the monsters to be precise with their surprise entrances - the actors have mastered the art of showing up out of nowhere, to startling effect.
The surprises are enhanced by sets that convincingly convey a sense of walking through a subterranean mausoleum. Moving coffins, lights, and shadows suggest danger coming from one direction, when in fact the actual live monster will be dropping in from somewhere else - sometimes a hidden entrance.These interiors contrast nicely with a couple of exterior sections, which make effective use of the local terrain, particularly a run-down swampy-looking area.
More than one scene forces visitors to stop and wait - perhaps in pitch darkness - for something to happen. Fortunately, those pauses pay off with some memorably creepy creatures, particularly a roaring demon, featuring full-body makeup of Hollywood-quality.
Our only complaint is that the density of scares inside the Chambers of the Mausoleum is relatively low, so the haunt feels as if it promises a bit more than it delivers. It's definitely fun, but not overwhelmingly terrifying.
Coffin Creek Manor is located nearby. As with Chambers of the Mausoleum, a ghoulish hostess outside allows visitors inside in groups, but in this case the intervals between groups are much shorter. Coffin Creek is a bit more of a ramshackle affair than Chambers, but that is not a bad thing. Perfectly suited to its desolate location, Coffin Creek looks as if it was thrown together by some crazed maniacs who love visitors - for all the wrong reasons.
This lends a convincing aura to the scares: whereas Chambers of the Mausoleum evokes old-school Gothic atmosphere, Coffin Creek Manor suggests the more visceral horrors of backwoods crazies. And without a guide to pace the crowd, Coffin Creek occasionally erupts into full-fledged panic mode, with screaming victims fleeing for their lives. (Our group, consisting apparently of foreign tourists, spoke perfectly good English until the terror struck, at which point they lapsed back into their native language while making a run for it.)
After completing these two hilltop haunts, head back down to the parking lot for an interesting change of pace...
Bog of the Abyss is definitely an economy haunt, with only a handful of props and decorations and a minimal crew of monsters. Yet it works! How? It's set totally outside in soft, boggy terrain, filled with whispering trees and rustling grasses. Lighted by dim lamps set at irregular intervals, the trail takes you on a circuitous path that soon leaves you disoriented and lost, desperately following the lanterns as you struggling to find your way back to what fragment of civilization there is nearby.
The occasional monster lurks in the foliage sometimes soundless and still, sometimes startling you with the roar of a chainsaw. Exactly how many creatures are out there? In the darkness, it is impossible to tell. As the trail winds on and on, your imagination peoples the shadows with phantoms. What's the rustling? Another monster - or simply the wind? Who knows? But you must be on alert, because just when you have convinced yourself that the night breeze is your only companion, you will be joined by something else.
Bog of the Abyss is similar in effect to the Creatures of the Corn trail at the FrightFair ScreamPark. It could use a few more actors with the aggressive verve of the FrightFair cast, but the authenticity of its location evokes some very real shudders. (Note: We walked through this one totally alone, without any groups before or behind us. It is possible that companionship would have diluted the effectiveness of the experience.)
SECOND AREA: Labyrinth of Lost Relics, Shady Hollow Hayride
After trekking through the bog, get back in your car and drive up to the second parking area, which will place you near the entrance to the "Dark Shadow Market," the midway containing vendors, the magic show, and the last two haunts. Only the magic show and the Shadow Hollow Hayride are mentioned above the entrance, but rest assured that Labyrinth of Lost Relics is here as well. It's just a new attraction who name has not been added to the marquee yet, and in fact the entrance to the actual haunt is also anonymous. Just look for the stone facade with the huge door.
Labyrinth of Lost Relics is the latest creation from the masterminds behind Chambers of the Mausoleum. It uses a similar strategy (a guide leading you through the labyrinth), but the settings and theme are totally different. These relics apparently belong to a religious sect, and the demonic force they worship is not pleased at having his slumber disturbed by your presence.
Like Chambers of the Mausoleum, Labyrinth of Lost Relics features great sets, impressive effects, and amazing makeup: there's an almost-cute little weird talking animatronics figure at the beginning, some kind of mutant wart-hog-human-hybrid thing lurking in a cave, and one or two other dwellers in darkness that will give Universal Studios Hollywood run for their money. The feeling of being inside an underground cavern is convincingly rendered, and toward the end, your guide abandons you to your fate, leaving you to find your way out before the monsters can hold your there forever.
Should you survive, you can make you way to the final haunt...
Shady Hollow Hayride must inevitably be compared to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. It stacks up about as well as Bog of the Abyss compares to Creatures of the Corn: it's not as good, but the location provides a unique ambiance that makes the ride worth taking. You move over a dusty, uneven road, past structures impossible to discern clearly in the darkness. From their shadows emerge a rogue's gallery of intimidating figures - monsters, maniacs, clowns...
Emerging into open terrain you see empty landscape stretching apparently to the horizon - a desolate scene of shadowy rock and weed silhouetted against the slightly brighter darkness of the night sky, looking vaguely like something out of an old black-and-white horror movie. Anything could happen here. Who knows? Perhaps that "actor" with the scythe approaching you is not an actor at all; he could really be a homicidal maniac who sneaked onto the trail to interrupt the pretend horrors with a little real-life mayhem. The scythe glints in the moonlight... Metallic? Yes. Sharp? Maybe, but let's hope not.
The shambling things laying siege to your trailer come in all shapes and size - even a diminutive brain-eater no bigger than child. The tractor pulling you goes to slow; the monsters keep apace, bedeviling you with their unwanted attention. One even boards your trailer: a grinning clown who removes his mask to reveal - not a human face but a death's-head skull, with an even bigger grin than the clown. Just pray that he loses interest and departs quietly, leaving you unharmed...
If your nerves are not completely shattered, have something to eat in the Dark Shadow Market; then sit down and enjoy the magic show...
Although we were not overwhelmed with any individual attraction at Crossroads Haunted Village, we were impressed with the incredible variety. We were never simply seeing more of the same; each haunt was completely different from the others. Their cumulative impact won us over; that impact is enhanced by the lonely location, which couldn't be any better suited to a haunting if it had been custom-fabricated for that very purpose.
On Sunday night, there was a slight shortage of monsters. Apparently the actors are volunteers (which is a bit of a dubious practice at a for-profit business), and volunteers sometimes have other things to do, such as completing homework for Monday morning. We are generally not happy with haunts that charge full price on slow nights, knowing that their customers will receive only a fraction of the Halloween horror experience from a thinned-out cast, but in this case the compensation is shorter lines and less waiting, and the actors on hand strove to fill the vacuum left by their absent colleagues.
As mentioned above, Chambers of the Mausoleum needs to work on getting customers inside more quickly. We applaud the haunt for avoiding the conga-line approach, but you shouldn't keep people waiting in line for an hour when they have tickets in hand for other events that are closing in forty minutes. (Fortunately for us, Labyrinth of Lost Relics and Shady Hollow Hayride stayed open past their appointed hours, in order to honor those tickets.)
Crossroads Haunted Village will resume on October 30 & 31 at Crossroads Riverview Park, 14600 Baron Drive (used to be River Road, which is how it may show up in your GPS if it hasn't been updated recently), Corona, CA 92880. Hours are 7:30pm till 10:30pm on weekdays. Gate opens at 7:00pm, box office at 7:15pm. Tickets are $13 for one attraction, $33 for all five. Parking is $5. Click here to get more information at their website.
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