OC’s Halloween Haunts: Some Parts Have Horror, Some Need Help

17th Door (courtesy of 17th Door)

With so many horror haunts across Southern California — including corporate ones like Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights — Orange County enthusiasts looking for a good fright don’t go have to go far to get creeped out.

For the last several years, independent haunts have sprouted up across the county, with two arguably dominating the local scene: The 17th Door and Sinister Pointe.

As a Halloween and horror enthusiast who appreciates all things horrific, gory and creepy, I live for this season. And every year I look forward to the two attractions that I feel set the bar high even for the more corporate haunts.

As someone who has been through all the 17th Door chapters and most of the Sinister Pointe events since the attractions’ inceptions, I decided to visit both haunts to see where their strengths lied (and, ultimately, where mine did, too.)

The 17th Door

Now in its fourth season, the Fullerton-based haunt truly immerses attendees into the experience by making them part of the story. Since 2015, guests have learned about a character named Paula, who went through a series of hardships and tough decisions before landing in one of the most messed up prisons imaginable.

Before entering the attraction — which takes nearly 45 minutes to complete by going through (you guessed it) 17 rooms each catering to a different fear — guests must sign a waiver acknowledging that they will be shot by projectiles that could leave welts or bruises, may be touched by scare actors and will be required to crawl, jump, climb and fall. If any of this is too much for someone, they can declare they are a wimp by crying out “Mercy” in any room. Those expecting only the typical jump scares and not anything involving participation might want to steer clear of this one.

Like last year, guests who pay an extra fee will have an added shock factor to their experience in the form of virtual reality. I’m not one to get frightened by haunt attractions; rather, I enjoy the costumes, props and sets more than anything. But I will admit this room has made me nervous every year. The 17th Door really knows how to mess with someone psychologically and make them believe the unreal could actually be a reality.

The 17th Door also excels at bringing in some of the most talented scarers around. These actors really embody their characters to add to the fear factor. In several rooms, the guests are greeted by Paula, whose damage has turned her into an almost demonic presence that can make anyone feel uncomfortable. In another room, a crazy pastor will have you begging for Jesus.

courtesy of 17th Door

The rooms also are some of the best sets around, with several different jail-type locations that make the visitors feel like they are actual prisoners. Gross spaces with overflowing toilets and bugs? Check. Grounds for the death penalty? Check.

Two rooms had concepts that worked hand-in-hand and, quite honestly, left me and my friends baffled and surprised (not to mention, in pain and left with physical marks for the following days.) In another room — with signs encouraging people with back problems to exit — we faced falling backward into the unknown.

But while this year did bring in some new concepts, I also felt like some ideas were also teased in each room, rather than executed. At some points, I convinced myself that something would happen because of hints we were given in a room, either audibly or visually. But I was ultimately let down when the ideas turned out to be merely threats more than anything.

Still, I would argue 17th Door is an experience that can be easily compared to the most popular in the game, including Halloween Horror Nights and Scary Farm. In fact, with such passionate actors and shorter wait times at a fraction of the cost — ranging from $23 to $39 for regular and VIP passes — the attraction is arguably one of the best bangs for its buck in its category.

The 17th Door runs on select nights through Oct. 31 at 1851 West Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton. For more information, visit www.the17thdoor.com.

A ghoul of Sinister Pointe (credit: Brittany Woolsey)

Sinister Pointe

While the 17th Door executes interactivity well, the concept was arguably started by Sinister Pointe in 2009, when they erupted into the scene with an experience based on the “Saw” movie franchise and brought haunt events to another level.

I’ve been through most of their attractions, including their off-season escape rooms and experiences because I’ve known Sinister Pointe to be an event that puts my body and mind to work.

This year, after a two-year hiatus, the haunt set to return with a vengeance with “Scary Place,” undertaking its biggest attempt to date — the three floors of a gutted, former Macy’s department store building. Three levels of scare? Count me in.

Perhaps I showed up on a bad night — a Friday, around 9 pm., a few weeks into their season — but this place seemed like a ghost town, and not in a good way. I found a lack of scare actors and people, in general, to make me believe this year’s haunt just isn’t up to par with what they’ve done in past years.

The event includes three attractions: an interactive “Phobias” maze, the “Evil on 2” haunt and The Boogeyman Express ride. There are also stage shows and scream zones that cater to a variety of fears. But, despite the number of things to do, there just didn’t seem to be enough scare actors to fill the place. In the “Evil on 2” maze, for example, I often found myself walking through empty rooms, which left me desiring more from the spaces and ultimately walking through faster than I normally would — not out of fear, but more out of anticipation for a room more exciting. The Boogeyman Express was a welcome new, more original venture but ultimately fell short, again, due to a lack of monsters throughout the attraction.

Knowing what Sinister Pointe was capable of, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and had it in mind to save the “best” for last. Prior to my entering Sinister Pointe that evening, a worker touted the “Phobias” maze as a “classic Sinister Pointe attraction” with interactivity. My expectations were high for this one, as a result, and once again found myself a bit let down, especially after going through some of the more extreme tasks at the 17th Door. “Phobias” did not seem to add any new elements than what was seen in past years — sticking hands through unknown holes to be squirted at, for example — so I just did not find myself surprised at all.

While Sinister Pointe does offer a front-of-the-line pass, guests may be better off saving the extra cash and opting for a regular ticket. At times there seemed to be no difference between the tickets, as workers would often let in people in the regular line (who had not been waiting as long) before people in the priority line.

One positive element to this event is it really does show appreciation for the genre. With a multitude of retailers offering spooky fashion and memorabilia, Sinister Pointe’s support for the scene is obvious. In a way, this makes it feel like more of a smaller scale festival.

Sinister Pointe’s actors — while small in number — also pack a punch by bringing a commitment to their characters when in the presence of guests. (Though it was easy to catch those in empty scare zones interacting with each other out of character, as well.) The makeup and costumes are also exceptionally well done and could easily compete with higher-budget productions, like Halloween Horror Nights.

I appreciate Sinister Pointe’s attempt at taking on such a big challenge this year, but, unfortunately, I feel like it may have been too big a feat. In the past, with attractions like an escape room completely in the dark and a sadistic live game of Operation, Sinister Pointe proved they could make small rooms appear frightening and almost endless. Perhaps the mall was just too big (literally) of a challenge, or perhaps I went on a wrong night. Either way, this year’s attraction just appeared lackluster compared to past concepts, mostly due to a lack of scare actors. Due to my past positive experiences at Sinister Pointe, I’m really going to hope I showed up on a bad night, but some reviews on Yelp seem to prove my points, which does bum me out. I was so looking forward to the return of one of my favorite haunts, and I just found myself feeling let down. Here’s to hoping Sinister Pointe finds its groove again next year.

Sinister Pointe runs on select nights through Oct. 31. All-night admission for “Scary Place,” located at 24100 Laguna Hills Mall in Laguna Beach, ranges from $39 to $249 for single-person admission and group tickets for up to six people. Front-of-the-line passes are available in limited quantities. For more information, visit www.sinisterpointe.com.

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