From the outside, the supposed “hell on earth” doesn’t look much different from the lame Subway next door. The only tip off to its fright potential is the line stretching down the street. In Disney-gone-mad style, several morbid-looking characters — covered in ripped, blood-soaked shirts — taunt the patrons, at the same time providing a distraction from the painful wait (fast passes are an extra 10 bucks).
It may be a sneak preview of the much-anticipated horror, but the sidewalk version of the B-movie shtick — fake chainsaws, “boos” and all — repels cynics and innocents alike. For the patient: Once through the line, you’re forced to spend a steep $17 and are subjected to a quick recap of the rules (no touching the actors, no photos) and liability issues (if you faint, it ain’t their problem).
Once it’s finally your group’s chance to scream, you get your very own creeper as your escort. A woman with disheveled hair or a mad scientist leads you through the rickety elevator, where, surprise, the tour starts with a fright. The window in the elevator is jerked open by a man covered in scars (a “shocking” turn of events), and as you begin your walk down the halls, proper etiquette in regards to personal space is thrown out the window.
It turns out that San Diego’s Haunted Hotel is a basement. Each room of the “hotel” is different and offers an array of expectedly unexpected terror. A blood-drenched vampire awaits you in an antique coffin. Flesh-eating zombies rumble around in cages. A possessed-looking little girl climbs the wall. A blood-thirsty maniac suddenly emerges from a dark corner, screaming gibberish and revving his chainsaw. For the light-hearted, it may be jarring at first, but for anyone over the age of 16, it’s hilariously lame.
Don’t worry, the actors aren’t allowed to actually touch you — although walking through groups, growling, whispering and laughing hysterically are all acceptable practices.
Thrill-seekers are then forced into a tough dilemma: to speed-walk and ignore the ghouls or make the most of your hard-earned dollars, interacting and taking your time in every room? With the price of an inevitable parking ticket on Market Street looming, you’ll probably go for the former.
The problems with the Haunted Hotel are mostly predictable. Haunted houses are inevitably cheesy and overpriced; you wouldn’t spend $17 for the Disney Haunted Mansion alone, would you? We all want the whole kingdom too. It’s just not worth the spine tingles otherwise.
In this case, you’d probably get just as much of a fright re-watching “The Shining” on AMC, and you wouldn’t have to stand in theme park-worthy lines. If you’re still on the path to avoiding that Halloween frat party, try pre-gaming and get a laugh out of this seasonal attraction instead. Fear may be nowhere to be found, but humor is worth a shot.
Additional reporting by Aida Bagdasaryan.