On 10/8/06 we visited San Diego County’s largest haunted attraction, the Scream Zone. Located in the Del Mar Fairgrounds, this is the Scream Zone’s 9th year of operation. There are 3 “completely redesigned” gorey attractions: House of Horror, the Haunted Hayride, and the Chamber of Chills. We arrived around 8PM, parked in the huge dirt lot that was off to the side, and dug right in.

House of HorrorsFirst up was the House of Horrors. It was Sunday night and the attendance was low so we had no problems with lines. Only groups of 4-6 people were admitted at a time, which did slow things down a bit. It didn’t have an overall theme, but a few ideas were repeated throughout the attraction. It began with a girl silently slumped in an armchair, bloodied bandages covering her wrist. As the door closed behind us the girl leaped up, screaming, and ran to the other side of the room where she sort of swayed as we listened to a Saw-like monologue over the speakers. Due to a loud chainsaw and general screaming, the monologue didn’t get the chance to introduce a storyline. We made out “poison gas” and “stay together”: intriguing. As doors opened and we were urged onward, we saw perhaps the best actor of the evening. A girl with her bloodied wrists suspended above her head in a jagged metal contraption screamed “Please help me!” over and over with realism that makes you squirm. Of course it’s part of the haunt, but she did look awfully scared and desperate…

Bloody autopsy roomHowever, this is pretty much where the Saw theme ended and the usual haunt themes began. We passed a man performing some exploratory surgery on a hapless body and walked into his blood-soaked autopsy room. Dessicated corpses and long, pointy tools littered the area. A furnace was blazing to aid in clean-up of said corpses when their usefulness had passed, and the light cast from the fire made the scene more surreal. We pressed onward and smelled the unmistakable odor of gas fumes. Yes, we met with a Texas-style chainsaw-wielding maniac, complete with skin mask. There was also a “jumper” on the opposite side, yelling at us through his gothy facepaint. Further on there was a long stretch of pitch black corridors. Chainsaw ManiacThe dangling strings above our heads were the only props used in this painfully long stretch of dark nothingness. Other notables were a room lined with clowns and a few chained up zombies(?) that were behind a series of chain link fences, both under strobe lights: both very well executed. At the end we met up with the Chainsaw guy again, and in his blood-soaked room a girl jumped from a cabinet and screamed for us to help her. It was an appropriately creepy end to the House of Horrors.

Chamber of ChillsThe Chamber of Chills was next, but there’s little to mention about this one. When you buy tickets, you can purchase single, double, or triple ride packs. Chamber of Chills is, unsurprisingly, the only attraction that can’t be purchased alone. There wasn’t any mention of this being a maze, but after wandering through empty splatter paint covered corridors for a while, we figured it out. Except for one particularly energetic clown who managed to surprise us, blind corners were not utilised anywhere in the 3 attractions. This is forgivable in a regular walk-through, but in a maze it should be considered mandatory. We spent the majority of the time wandering around and hitting dead ends, no actors or props in sight. While a clown theme was not held throughout, it was the most popular character in the maze and we saw at least 3 of them. Evil Clown roomThere was a chainsaw going somewhere in there, and by the time we got to the end we were feeling sick from the fumes. As if in ironic response to our nausea, we approached a large spinning tunnel with a clown waiting at the end. Maybe it was the fumes, but it took me a comically long time to reach the end of the tunnel and I was just barely in an upright position. Optical illusions, black lights, and gas fumes don’t mix, kiddies. The clown seemed to take pity on us and let us pass without a word.

We exited the last attraction with mouths agape, not sure how one attraction could be so good and the other so bad. We got a little nervous, wondering if the entire budget had been sunk into the House of Horrors, but were pleasantly surprised with the Haunted Hayride. The biggest flaw of all these attraction was theme presentation, so again we had no idea what we were in for when boarding the hay-padded tractor bed. Sean and Lauren on the Haunted HayrideOur “guide” was wearing a bio hazard jumpsuit and helmet, and a gas mask was hanging on the tractor, so it was going to be a contamination of some sort. The only time she spoke was to instruct us to keep our hands inside at all times, which was a huge let down. The ride from the loading dock to the actual area with the actors was several minutes long and should have been used to set the mood and confirm the storyline with dialogue from the guide. But once we reached the haunted are, the fun began anyway. We were greeted by a soldier who barked at us that the entire area was contaminated and that there was no cure. Did we wish to proceed? “Yep”, we replied automatically. “DO YOU WISH TO PROCEED?” he yelled louder. The children in the tractor with us took great pleasure in returning a resounding “YES”! And guess what that means? “Then you must all be contaminated!” That little bit of dialogue lended the much needed mood and storyline, and we were now embarking into a contaminated military base with no hope of cure or escape. Brilliant idea.

The props and decor here were really good, with toppled vehicles on fire or smoking and the stable area (it’s located next to a racetrack) making convincing military housing. Most actors didn’t seem sure what to do, so there was basically just a lot of screaming from them. A few infected personnel seemed more crazy than zombified, and that worked well given the actors. For the actors that chased the tractor, the kids inside were treated to their scream-inducing grabs and yells. At one point, a mutated looking character stood on top of a truck, ominously rocking a stack of metal barrels. As we passed by him, he flung one of the barrels at us and everyone flinched. The rope it was attached to seemed juuuuust long enough to miss its victims. Shortly after, we passed through a foggy tunnel with dark shadows flanking us. As lights flashed and water began to drip, someone asked “are we being decontaminated” and our perky guide affirmed “that’s the idea”. So, turns our there was a cure all along! We’re huge zombie fans, so we wanted to see an outbreak of gut-chomping soldiers, but any recreation of the walking undead is satisfying. Being California, the hay ride is somewhat of a rarity, and despite any other aspects of the attraction, the ride itself is unique and exciting for many patrons. If you’ve read the true legend of the racetrack, the Haunted Hayride can be an even darker experience.

Overall the experience was excellent. Most visitors will probably find the Scream Zone well worth their time and money; it’s just us year-round Halloweenies that can find things to nit-pick. There are supposed to be over 50 actors, and hopefully when you visit you’ll see more of them in the attractions than we did. Like any Halloween event, attendance increases steadily as the big day grows nearer, so wait until later in the season for the best atmosphere.