This scare season was bittersweet. I couldn’t visit my favorite haunts this season – Universal Halloween Horror Nights, Knott’s Scary Farm – but I refused to let that deter me. This year was new scary experiences trying Portland’s haunted houses. The Pacific Northwest is lousy with gnarled branches and dark, shadowy forests, a perfect breeding ground for bumps in the night.
You don’t need big, multi-million dollar attractions out here. All you need is a good patch of land away from city roads, and you have a breeding ground for scares. For the most part, though, I was met with a little less enthusiasm than I hoped. Although there were several mazes I enjoyed, many were lackluster in overall execution. Large, impressive billboards and websites unveiled haunts that were less than shriek-worthy. This is not me being jaded by fancy SoCal events – my favorite experience haunting is still the death row scene at a now defunct haunted house in an Ohio water park. This is just me seeing cold, hard facts.
If you advertise screams as soon as you park your car, that’s a little difficult to achieve if you have nothing set up but a both to win a free trip to Vegas. If you’re going to charge prices that are two to three times as expensive than they should be to go through each maze only once, they had better be stellar. And, if you have an event with more than one attraction, it’s best to have signs to tell everyone where to go. This means more than one dark banner for one maze in the building that ended up housing them all.
Add in genuine dangers such as un-anchored set pieces, and the evening is definitely dampened. That being said, there were some definite stand-out moments, and even one haunt that hit all of the right notes. Let’s take a look at the haunts!
The Four Horsemen Scaregrounds was the first haunt we visited for the season. The advertising looked impressive, the activities and mazes sounded stellar. All in all, we were looking forward to an enjoyable night of terror.
What we were met with was a lot of confusion and not a lot of help. The event was housed at the Clark County fairgrounds, and there were little to no directions regarding where in the fairgrounds to go, and no real clear answer for which way to head for the mazes. Each worker gave us different directions to get to the mazes, and after wandering around outside several barns and empty guard posts, we discovered that all the mazes were in fact in the same building. Doesn’t seem that hard to guide people to, right? There were also several audience draws that weren’t even present, including “Carnival Games with a Halloween Twist!” There were supposed to be caricatures, coffin simulation rides, and concessions as well. These never appeared.
The mazes all had impressive artwork, but this was wasted because there were no lights on them, or on any pathways or routes, for that matter, making it all the more confusing. But once we stepped inside the one building, the energy improved as we were met with 4 chilling mazes to get our horror fix. Be sure to check out the crushing walls, and an honest-to-god slider! Unfortunately, the slider had no room because she was inside a room in the maze. Also, this was where I was hit with a giant wood pallet that fell on me. If it fell on me, how safe is this poor clown actor? And god forbid any guest who could be seriously injured. I try to be as supportive of haunts as I can, but when you promise an immersive experience and instead give confusion and unsafe mazes, it’s hard to be positive.
There was a highlight and that was their clown maze, Screamhouse 3D. This had the best use of 3D effects in a haunted maze ever, outperforming Universal and Knott’s respectively. If the ticket prices were lower I would say come for Screamhouse alone, but at $20-$33 dollars, it unfortunately not worth the trip by itself.
RATING: 2/5 Skulls
The House of Shadows
The House of Shadows in Gresham, Oregon is definitely the reigning favorite for guests. The only full-contact experience in the Portland area, it features 3 unique mazes and an equally impressive website. The mazes, Purgatory, Sinister Circus and Hooch all hold their own very specific personalities from murderous clowns to killer rednecks ensure that there is a little something for everybody.
I unfortunately can’t say much about the event, as badly as I want to. To talk about it would ruin the experience for those who visit. But the fresh and brutal approach House of Shadows invokes is a stop any Halloween fan should run for, just so you can run away from it.
RATING: 4/5 Skulls
Following in the steps of the bigger haunts of the Portland area, Fear PDX was another event I was quite psyched for, but was left feeling disappointed. Toting 5 horrifying mazes and a creepy atmosphere, we were met with what only felt like a bored group of volunteers. From the mazes to the atmosphere actors, there was really nothing of note. Monsters wandered aimlessly, silent and seemingly uncaring of the people who had paid good money to jump and shriek. You bring your boyfriend or girlfriend to these things so at least one of you can jump and cling to the other. It’s sexy, and exciting, and most importantly fun. But when you only get talent and crew who seemingly wish they were zombies, it makes for a waste of time and hard-earned cash.
RATING: 2/5 Skulls
Frighttown seems to be the staple of Portland haunts, the event taking place inside the Veteran’s Auditorium and claiming “A full city block of screams and shock!” But once again, we are met with lackluster and bored monsters. The death knell for any kind of event, whether it be a haunt, meeting Santa, or a Fourth of July parade, is for those working it to seem sapped of the will to live. And in Portland, that seems to be an epidemic.
The positive aspect of this haunt was that it was all safe indoors, which for an event in the Pacific Northwest is a boon. The rain even in a drought is ample, and can hinder outdoor haunts to the point of even closing for the night and losing revenue. By being able to house everything inside, you keep both talent and guests alike warm and toasty while you set about scaring. Too bad that Frighttown does not live up to its hype, and you are left wishing something like House of Shadows could take over the place.
RATING: 3/5 Skulls
The Haunted Ghost Town
I had to save the best for last. Ghost Town isn’t presumptuous, or wasting money on huge billboards. What it is focusing on is entertainment and fun, not only for guests but staff as well. As soon as you pull up to the cherry red barn out front, you are filled with a giddiness only reserved for Halloween treats. Finally, an event that not only uses the space, but excels at blending the environment they have to work with, but enhancing the experience to bring both adults and kids hours of screams and down home feeling.
The Haunted Ghost Town is easily the most friendly and satisfied group of workers, talent and volunteers that we saw out here. Organized and helpful, you could enjoy a trademarked “Slasher Meal” as you had long-dead cowboys and outlaws stalking you behind your shoulder. Got kids? No problem. If they aren’t brave enough to go through the mazes just yet, there are plenty of monsters willing to lighten up for a high-five or two, and even a petting zoo with feeders to entertain the rugrats while the adults go off to pee their pants. The mazes themselves, three in total, are all deceptively long and worth the time in line, and unlike several haunts in the area you can go through the mazes as many time as your trembling heart can stand.
Standout moments are hard to narrow down, but I will try. The freight train that runs you over is a serious scare, enough to bring this seasoned horror fan to her knees. And why use inflatable hallways when you can just make your victims wander through narrow cornstalk rows? The most impressive stop in Ghost Town is the farmhouse itself, which is a non-stop adrenaline rush as veteran actors run a finely-tuned machine, giving you no time to catch your breath as scare after scare bombards you.
The event also hosts horror movie screenings, showing classics such as 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to not only get the word out about their creepy Old West town, but to also raise money for the haunt. The owner and operator of Fearworks and Haunted Ghost Town, Brandon Treadway, was kind enough to talk to FGN about his company, and how a young man like himself has created one of the most creative haunts I’ve seen in years, found here.
RATING: 4/5 Skulls