Between the earthquakes, brush fires, mudslides, and Heidi Montag, the West Coast is already pretty scary. Throw in the highest concentration of special effects artists and out-of-work actors in the world and you’ve got a great recipe for horror (Making paella with unshelled shrimp is another great recipe for horror). Here are a few of the best; vote for your favorite.
Haunted Hotel (San Diego, California)
Set in an antique building in San Diego’s hip Gaslamp district, the Haunted Hotel finds some innovative ways to terrify you. Our favorite: the dot room. In it, visitors are greeted by an almost pitch-black chamber illuminated only by multi-colored polka dots of light around the room’s edge. Perfectly camouflaged among these lights are actors in matching light-covered costumes. The effect is that shadows on the wall seem to jump out at you from nowhere. It works so well that the same actor can scare people three to four times before they have a chance to leave the room. That’s taking it to the next level.
The Nest (Chandler, Arizona)
The American Southwest just looks like it’s full of serial killers; horror directors have played off of this for decades. It’s “Natural Born Killers” country. Hell, it’s Manson country. Arizona’s The Nest plays off that association too by presenting the dilapidated ranch of deranged redneck “Jacob,” which comes from the same demented place as things like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “The Devil’s Rejects.” Designers bring their own flair to the table with beautifully grungy, blood-splattered sets and authentically gritty, axe-wielding actors. No wonder The Nest was selected by MSN.com as the scariest place in America.
Pirates of Emerson (San Francisco, California)
With their missing limbs, faithful parrots, and delightful accents, pirates have always been more endearing than frightening to us. Pirates of Emerson, set in Alameda County’s fair grounds, tries to change that with a full-sized, fire-spewing pirate ship surrounded by a coterie of haunted houses. Though the sets range from the high-end to the homemade, PoE nails its pirate costumes across the board. No wonder it was featured as one of Discovery Channel’s Best Haunts in America. As for the scariness, well, that depends on how scary you find Jack Sparrow. We just happened to be terrified by him.
Scream at the Beach (Portland, Oregon)
We’ve got to hand it to Scream at the Beach: they really stick with their theme. While many haunted houses throw together an amalgam of creepy references, whether they make sense or not (“Why is there a midway full of demented clowns in this castle?”), Scream at the Beach follows its theme—Alice in Wonderland—through to the finish. And while that might mean that some parts of the attraction are scarier than others (Just how frightened are we expected to be by a room full of giant “hallucinogenic” mushrooms?) it also makes for one satisfying experience. There’s nothing like wandering through the Madhatter’s demented tea-party and Tweedledum and Tweedledee’s Asylum only to find out that find out what a psycho Alice actually is.