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Review: Cunningham House of Horrors

The Cunningham House of Horrors is a Halloween event virtually unique in our experience: a home haunt where you actually walk through the home (the last one we remember is Frightmare in Reseda, way back in 2004). What’s the story behind this unusual arrangement? Earlier this year, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group was asked to haunt the house for a private birthday party; the results were so well received that a decision was made to open the haunt up to the public for a couple of days in October, raising money for charity. Yesterday was opening night; today is the finale.

Those familiar with Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre will have some idea what to expect inside the Cunningham House of Horrors (in case you were wondering: yes, the house belongs to the Cunningham family). Although there is no plot, the presentation is theatrical: the cast of characters delivers monologues, performs actions, or acts out short scenes. Some deliver fairly traditional scares (e.g., there’s a reluctant werewolf, and a mummy comes to life); others deliberately transgress comfort zones (a naked clown sidles up to visitors sitting on his couch).

In case this sounds a little too disturbing, the horror is tempered with a sort of perverse playfulness; in fact, The Cunningham House of Horrors is so sometimes outrageously over-the-top that it borders on tongue-in-cheek. For instance, the tour begins with a maniacal matriarch who interrupts her monologue with cackling laughter and long intakes of raspy breath – a deliberately exaggerated performance that is creepy but also amusing, telling the audience to have fun with what follows.

The tour encompasses half a dozen rooms. Decorations are fairly minimal – mostly artificial candles flickering in the darkness – but the effect is suitably atmospheric, providing a spooky playground for the inhabitants of the haunt. There is one nicely done room which effectively suggests the lair of an ancient goddess, who recalls Odysseus, Leif Erikson, and other ancient explorers who have crossed her path; she wonders whether, centuries later, we are any more worthy to be in her presence. Perhaps the best scene comes near the finish. What begins with a nearly naked woman lasciviously writhing on a bed abruptly changes into an exorcism when a priest barges into the room to cast out the demon tormenting the woman; unfortunately, the ritual backfires with horrifying results.

The Cunningham House of Horrors is not a traditional home haunt walk-through; it charges for admission, so it should be considered a pro-haunt even though it raises money for charity. By that standard, it offers a pretty good return on investment. Though the walk-through is short in length, the experience lasts approximately twenty minutes because of its theatrical nature, which involves lots of extended interaction with the characters. Along the way, there are a few jump-scares, too, so the haunt checks all the boxes. Fans of ZJU Theate will definitely want to visit, and so should more adventurous haunt-seekers. For those put off by the more adult aspects, there is a family-friendly version early in the evening before the full insanity erupts later.

Just one more hint: if a whispered voice warns you not to look behind you, rest assured that “a frightful fiend doth close behind [you] tread.”

Cunningham House of Horrors Rating

Bottom Line

Though short in physical length, The Cunningham House of Horrors offers a twenty-minute tour of terrors filled with creepy interactivity. Don’t expect elaborate production design; this haunt is all about the characters.

The Cunningham House of Horrors continues on October 28. Hours are 5-7pm for the family friendly version (recommended for ages 8+) and 8-11pm for the dark and creepy version (17+). The address is 29724 Castlebury Place, Castaic, CA 91384. Tickets are $15, sold only at the door. A portion of the proceeds benefit CIRCLE OF HOPE. Get more info at zombiejoes.com.

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.