2015 Golden State Haunts and Events Annual Halloween Attractions Awards

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This year was a great season for everything Halloween from independent haunted houses to theme parks and live theater.  A lot of thought went into choosing winners and we wanted to recognize those that stood out the most for us.  We want to note that doesn’t mean that the ones not listed weren’t great.  There were a lot of new attractions this year and it seemed to us that the returning haunts and theme parks really amped things up this year.  We want to note that our winner for best experience may seem a little biased, but we’re going off feedback from everyone’s experience and the location living up to its reputation.  We’d also like to note that unfortunately due to other commitments this was the first year we weren’t able to attend any home haunts so those have been omitted from consideration.  So without further ado, here are our winners for 2015.

Best Halloween or Halloween Themed Experience
(Tie)
Investigation Yost Theater and Ritz Hotel

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Valley Investigators of the Paranormal along with Golden State Haunts and Events hosted a paranormal investigation at The Yost Theater and the Ritz Hotel.  Before this investigation the only groups to ever investigation both locations were VIP and Ghost Adventures.  Joining this exclusive investigation were members of Paranormal West and PARA.  Both locations lived up to its reputation.  In the Ritz Hotel an investigator’s scarf was pulled and another investigator’s shirt was tugged.  There were unusual malfunctions in one of the rooms were a night vision camera was being used and visible orbs were seen flying through the air.  There were also EVPs captured and intelligent responses on multiple spirit boxes.  In The Yost Theater an investigator was scratched in the basement and the same investigation also had his private area messaged by an unseen force in the balcony.  There were EVPs captured throughout the theater and conversations had with the spirit box, most notably in the balcony where one specific Asian lady kept coming through.  The Hack Shack even said, “Fuck You” in the green room.

Underground Empire Wrestling Presents “Hellbound”

UEW held a special Halloween event where every match was hardcore and saw the crowning of Sean Black as new UEW Heavyweight Champion.  There was also a Pumpkin Patch Death Match where Sage Sin’s mystery opponent turned out to be none other than The Vicious Nomad Homeless Jimmy.  But, the highlight of the night was the Satanic Sanitarium Cage Match which pitted The Resistance (BC Killer, Michael Krueger and The Insaniac) against “Vandal” Andre Verdun, JD Horror and “Halfbreed” Billy Gram in a steel cage match that was filled with weapons.  There was so much bled shed in this match this one of the participants actually passed out after posing for pictures after the match.  If that wasn’t enough there was an all-night movie festival that went into the wee hours of the morning including the premier of “Ash vs. Evil Dead”.  Also shown were “Trick ‘r Treat” and Darren Bousman’s “Tales of Halloween”.

Best New Haunt
CreepLA

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This was a hard one as there were so many great new haunts that popped up this year.  The one that stuck out the most for us though was CreepLA.  This is one of those haunts where you can actually feel the energy as it’s located in a 110-yr old abandoned warehouse that’s really haunted.  That alone isn’t enough to garner a win, but it definitely adds to the atmosphere.  What we enjoyed most was that in an interview we were told that one of the inspirations for the haunt was one of our favorite movies “Session 9”.  They were able to pull of the creepy feel of the movie with a great scene featuring Bloody Mary and one featuring Slender Man.  The Slender Man scene where you hide in a box was truly frightening.  While you’re in the claustrophobic box Slender Man appears in the dimly lit room and you can see him lurching in the near distance through port holes in the box.  He comes closer and you can hear horrific scratching on top of the box and see him trying to look through the port holes looking for his prey.  This scene actually makes you feel like you’re being hunted.  There were other parts of the haunt that enabled CreepLA to pull off the theme of “creeps”.

Most Innovative Scene in a Haunt
The 17th Door

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This actually goes to another new haunt and there’s actually THREE scenes that really stood out.  The first one is the “buried alive” room where while sitting plastic balls fill the entire room until you get the feeling like you’re actually drowning.  It is amazing how they were able to pull this trick off.  Another scene is the meat locker scene where the temperature suddenly drops into the mid 30’s.  In the room are actual pig carcasses hanging from the ceiling.  The final scene is the autopsy scene where you see a dead Paula (the protagonist of the story).  The room actually smells like death and is filled with live cockroaches (some that actually wind up smashed in an unlucky persons hand or even back).  They actually cut down on this room as the first time we went through there were literally so many of them you couldn’t walk without smashing them and there was also mild nudity.

Most Extreme Haunt (That Isn’t McKamey Manor or The Victim Experience)
Heretic Horror House Hex

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This was an easy winner.  Like we said in our review, it became so real so fast that for a moment we actually didn’t know if we were going to be involved with an occult ritual or possibly even injured or killed.  This haunt involved a bloody bed you lay in where real murders occurred.  People who went through Hex were subjected to full-nudity, being scratched, being slapped, being choked and even being puked on.  After we went through we had bruises on our face and our clothes had been torn to shreds and ruined.

Best use of a Location (Other than Dark Harbor)
Alone Index of Absorption

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Alone always puts on incredible haunt experiences.  Their locations are used to perfection and always seem to be haunted.  Index of Absorption was no different taking place at the old UCLA Film Archives in Hollywood.  This haunt played a video in the old theater, had you walking around the whole building and even had you crawl under it.  The theme was corporate and there was even a hallway with doors marked like different offices and work spaces such as “Film Lab”.  There was also a puzzle you had to solve which led you to a bookstore where you picked up a business card which had a code on it to open an extra room.

Best New Maze at a Theme Park
Paranormal Inc: Case #1 The Haunting of Hayden Hill (Knott’s Scary Farm)

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This maze was right up or alley with the theme being that you’re with a reality film crew filming at a haunted asylum.  This maze had the best opening of any maze we’ve ever seen with high-tech special effects including a ghost that flies right over your head.  This was a fun maze that made you feel like you were at a haunted and abandoned asylum and not only had scare elements, but comedic as well.  The story line was cohesive and the acting was right on point.

Best Maze Set Dressing
Crimson Peak (Universal Halloween Horror Nights)

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This was a beautiful maze that puts you right into the hit movie.  As you you go through you actually feel like you’re in the remote gothic mansion in the English hills.  It’s amazing how they were able to put every aspect of the film into a single maze.  They even had the bathtub scene.  We liked it so much that we ventured through Allerdale Hall twice.

Best Costumes in a Theme Park
Queen Mary Dark Harbor

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Dark Harbor had everything from ghosts and ghouls to voodoo priestesses and evil clowns.  Each maze had a unique theme with a central character.  The Ringmaster costume is always impressive and the character has been a big hit since its debut.  The simplicity of the Scary Mary costume (paranormal investigators know her as Jackie) was creepy and gave her a real ghostly look.  The Captain looked like what we would expect the spirit of a ship captain to look like and Graceful Gale was elegant and classy.

Best Halloween Theater
Wicked Lit

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Taking place at Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, Wicked Lit is Broadway quality theater that takes place in a really cool location.  The acting, set design and special effects are all amazing.  We were especially impressed with The Fall of the House of Usher which took place in the mausoleum.  The acting was superb and what was done with the set dressing and lighting left us in awe.  The way the event was organized with three different groups seeing three different plays at the same time and all meeting at a central point where there was theater in the round was well orchestrated.

Best Haunted Theme Park
Dark Harbor Queen Mary

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Everyone we talked to who attended Dark Harbor thought the same thing, that it was amazing.  There was only one new maze, Lullaby, but all the returning mazes were pretty much completely redone.  Lullaby actually startled us at some points and the character of Scary Mary (who was played by different actors) really enjoyed playing the part and had fun with us playing hide-and-seek and saying things such as, “are you my new friend”?  Soulmate had more gore and was scarier than last year featuring an all new ending.  Circus had a new feel as it felt more like a funhouse and there was one really neat scene where you crawl through plastic balls (like at Chuck E Cheese) with a clown waiting at the end.  The other two mazes, Deadrise and Voodoo also were redone and seemed to be more intense than previous years.  There was also nonstop entertainment, an all new Anubis Paintball and a bar with a stage where you could see side show acts and even The Ringmaster.

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Demons Lurk Behind the 17th Door

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The 17th Door is a brand new haunt in Tustin, California just south of Disneyland created by first time haunters Robbie and Heather Luther.  They had the idea for a haunt for over a decade but finally decided to make it happen one night while on a date at a sushi restaurant.  Word spread about The 17th Door through social media and haunt websites.

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Robbie has his hands in many things including construction, which came in useful as he oversaw the design of the 17th Door while wife Heather has a business background and handles that aspect of the haunt.  Many of the sets were built at a warehouse in Santa Ana where Robbie has spent up to 120 hours a week working on it since April.  Originally he wanted a much more extreme, controversial attraction but had concerns about it being accepted in the community.

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The 17th Door is extreme, but not as hardcore as some haunt such as McKamey Manor or Blackout.  Still, you need to sign a waiver and the monsters can touch you.  If you can’t handle it then you can scream “Mercy” to get out.  It’s good to know that each door you progress through becomes more scary than the last.

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The premise is that you’re following the story of Paula who is transitioning from high school to pre-med at Gluttire University.  The haunt explores Paula’s demons such as eating disorders, bullying, drunk driving and suicide.  Sometimes you’ll experience things through the mind of Paula while other times she’ll be in the room with you.

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The haunt starts in the classroom where a strict looking teacher explains the rules and has you hand in a waiver.  There are 17 rooms, each lasting about a minute.  To go through the whole haunt takes about thirty minutes.  When the light above each door is red you stop, when it’s green you enter the next room.  In between the rooms are transitions, some of them having a 20-second video delay where you can see what happened to you and others in the room before.  The transitions also help with crowd control and are effective for some up-close and personal scares with the monsters.  Throughout the maze you’ll encounter demonic pigs which represent Paula’s inner demons.

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We saw things in the 17th Door that we’ve never seen anywhere before.  It has to rank up there with one of if not the most innovative haunts we’ve ever been through.  The sets are movie set quality and rival anything from Universal Halloween Horror Nights.  There’s around fifty actors throughout the 15,000 square feet and each of them has a part to play.  There not just there to scare you, but to progress the story.

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The 17th Door is interactive and you might get wet from a toilet shooting water, a game of Russian Roulette or one of the pig demons actually licking you.  There is one part where each person goes through a dark passage which has a shocking ending.  If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you might actually have to eat something or come in contact with roaches.

One of the scenes that really impressed us was the meat locker room which was actually thirty degrees and had pig carcasses hanging from the ceiling.  There’s also a tightly constricted room called “Buried Alive” which is a brand new concept we’ve never seen anywhere else that actually had us feel like we were drowning.  The hospital morgue scene contains mild nudity, a rank smell and a room full or roaches.

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There were other rooms that we really liked such as the drunk driving scene and the scene where you actually enter Paula’s head after she experiences a drug overdose.  This might be the most controversial scene for religious zealots as you see something not so Christ like hanging from a cross.  But the most screams we heard came from a scene called “Solitary Confinement” which is much longer than any of the other scenes.  We’ll let you try to figure out what happens in this scene.

Overall, we were very impress with The 17th Door and definitely suggest you add it to your Halloween itinerary.  In our opinion, this first year haunt should already be considered a destination attraction.  When we were there for media night the line was snaking out the door as soon as they opened at 7pm.  We think The 17th Door will be successful for years to come and can’t wait to see what they do next year.  We’re actually going back on October 11th with Theme Park Adventure.