I WAS FOUR YEARS OLD and trick or treating when a werewolf jumped out of a leaf pile and made me cry. The werewolf later apologized—but the damage was done. This repentant lycanthrope is the closest I dared come to a Portland haunted house... that is, until now. This year things were going to be different, I told myself. I would explore every haunted house I could and finally experience the blood-curdling horror I'd been missing.
My first stop on my haunted house tour spoiled me pretty bad. FrightTown has the benefit of truckloads of money, a whole city block to work with, and three legit haunts inside: The Chop Shop, Elshoff Manor, and Baron Von Goolo's Museum of Horrors.
For my money, Elshoff is the best haunted house in Portland this year. The rhythm is just right: a slow build from unnerving quiet to a frantic dash past hordes of monsters. I don't care how stoic you are; when a masked man on stilts chases you down a hallway, you run.
Von Goolo's is a change of pace—more museum than haunt. Though shit jumps out at you, you're free to amble around taking in the design and craft, which is uniformly awesome. Where else could I touch the mouth protruding from a man's stomach and sing TLC's "Waterfalls" with a dwarf? Very few places!
As for Chop Shop, it's a well-done spin on the standard haunt: spooky auto repair joint. Though the rhythm isn't as tight as Elshoff's, it's all beautifully constructed. Maybe it went so fast because we were the last people to leave after a long night. For example, someone (possibly an annoyed employee?) was breathing down my neck the whole way, yelling, "We've got to get out of here!"
Memorial Coliseum, 300 N Winning Way, Fri-Sat 7-11 pm, Sun-Thurs 7-10 pm, $20, through Nov 1
This Beaverton haunt is inside an old Thriftway, which was unsettlingly delightful. Though the spaces are uniformly small and dark, I entered alone, feeling far too chipper for the occasion. Thankfully, the glowering actors dampened my spirits to a level more appropriate for a murder victim. After all, what's more unsettling than saying "Excuse me" to hordes of silent, glaring teenage zombies? There are two spots here that really made an impression: The first is a checker-tiled bathroom with a strobe light that actually made me feel like I was going to pass out. I told a ghoul I was getting dizzy and bashed my shin on a toilet, leaving a raspberry-colored bruise. The second is a pitch-black maze that's more annoying than scary. Feeling along the wall didn't do anything until I stepped on an actor's foot. Eventually I found my way out to the delicious concession stand. Goodbye fear, hello diabetes.
8805 SW Canyon, Beaverton, Fri-Sat 7-midnight, Sun-Thurs 7-10 pm, through Nov 1, $15-25
SCREAM AT THE BEACH
Christ, this was awful. First you wait for your group number to be called in the "Halloween Town" mall—which is great if you want temporary tattoos, pretzels, or a headache. Then, once you've decided you're too old for this shit, they usher you in like cattle on a conveyor belt to the worst haunted house ever. Since each group consists of about 100 people, it feels like a school trip with strangers. My group was full of teenagers on dates and a very nice man recently released from prison for public masturbation (a hooker framed him—so, you know...). Once assembled, a slow march begins through understaffed rooms of volunteers jumping out of things. Since drunken strangers constantly surround (and sometimes touch) you, it's hard to feel very vulnerable to anything new that pops up. I should note there is a clown area that's nightmarish for some of the right reasons. Also, serving as portals between each area are inflatable fabric butts that you must blindly squeeze through in order to escape. Sometimes it's so crowded that you get stuck inside a butt with people touching you. Look, I want a haunted house—not Ron Jeremy's Club Sesso.
1772 Jantzen Beach Center, Fri-Sat 7-11 pm, Sun-Thurs 7-10 pm,
through Oct 31, $20
ALICE'S DARK WONDERLAND/VII DEADLY SINS
On the list of all the things I like, boobs and haunted houses are neck and neck—so I was psyched for Darkest Dreams' 18+ haunt, VII Deadly Sins. What a buzz stomper to discover that VII is neither erotic nor scary, but (like most of my relationships) just a gross and hollow experience. I suppose forced penetration and vagina-chainsaw assault are fresh and shocking to some, but if you're familiar with the movies Saw and Seven, then there's not much here to surprise you. My reactions were less "Oh! How shocking" and more "Aww, you didn't have to do that." "Aww, you didn't have to rape that man in a diaper." "Aww, you didn't have to tell me to 'fuck my boy-pussy.'" Etc.
The all-ages counterpart, Alice's Dark Wonderland, fares a little better. It's not really scary, but the puppets are accomplished and the acting is gung-ho. Coming face to face with the dish-throwing cook and the homicidal white rabbit is good for a giggle, but everything suffers from the fact that Lewis Carroll's book has been twisted so many times that Dark Wonderland only suffers in comparison.
Darkest Dreams' real downfall is that both houses are short and expensive. For $30 you can visit both haunts as well as the Lust Lounge bar with fire dancers, but both Alice and VII take about six minutes each, so maybe there are some movies you'd rather rent.
1434 NW 17th, Thurs-Sat 7-10 pm, Sun 6-9 pm, $10 for Alice (all ages), $20 for VII (18+), Lust Lounge (21+) is free until Oct 25, $10 from Oct 29-31
Alice 2.5/5 pentagrams
VII Deadly Sins 2/5 pentagrams
FIELD OF SCREAMS
Oh fuck yeah. Stumbling through the muck and mist at the Field of Screams on Sauvie Island is a blast. The line to get into the corn maze is really long (if you're going with 15+ people you might want to make a reservation), but that's because when they let you in, you're practically on your own. Wolves and pigs jump out of the corn and sniff you. Scarecrows shake tambourines. There are scary old men trapped in outhouses. All of these things are much scarier than they sound when you're alone in the corn—truly nature's most sinister crop. At $10 the price is right and when you leave the maze you can buy fresh vegetables and salsa. This haunted farm experience will make you fall in love and shit your pants all in one evening.
The Maize at the Pumpkin Patch, 16511 NW Gillihan, Fri-Sun 7-10 pm, through Oct 31, $10
NOT INCLUDED: Salem's Nightmare Factory is supposedly pretty good, but they weren't open in time for inclusion in this article. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go.
999 Locust Street NE, Salem, Fri-Sat 7-11 pm, Sun-Thurs 7-10 pm, through Oct 31, $8-12, nightmarefactorysalem.com for days