Where: I-17 and Thunderbird Rd., in the shopping center adjacent to QuikTrip
When: Dates vary as Halloween approaches (see website), open at 7 until at least 10
How Much: $23
House of Screams (and Wicked Dreams) appears to be a collaboration between the creative minds responsible for Jack & Jill’s Haunted Hill and another group I was unfamiliar with (according to their website, they started as a home haunt and are going commercial for the first time this year). The introduction to the haunt and many of its scenes and scares I remember from Jack & Jill’s, but retooled to fit this new setting.
This is technically a brand new, independent haunted house for 2014, but you wouldn’t really know that by going through it. It’s housed in a pretty large storefront and has professional-looking signage and web presence. I went on a Sunday night very early in the season, and while the place wasn’t busy by any means, it wasn’t dead either. There was nothing in the way of line entertainment, but it wasn’t needed due to the short wait. This is something Chambers of Fear sorely needs as their line moves much more slowly.
One nitpick to get out of the way: In the outdoor line area, they were blasting an alternative music radio station. Nothing like a little STP and Red Hot Chili Peppers to get you in the mood for spooks… It could have been worse – if they were playing Top 40 or hip hop I might have revolted – but honestly, spooky music is so easy to come by. Even some Rob Zombie would have been better than the radio. The soundtrack to Halloween, anyone? Nightmare Before Christmas? Oh well.
The haunt begins with a new version of the fantastic Jack & Jill’s faux news report/voiceover monologue that makes you a captive audience for the first couple minutes and establishes the loose story line that governs the haunt. Once it’s over, a large door slowly creaks open and brings you into the maze.
The corridors within range from unsettlingly dark to just lit enough to see the show. A potential problem with indie haunts moving into commercial buildings is an over abundance of square footage, leading to wide open hallways that can negatively impact the tension. There’s a little bit of that going on in House of Screams, but other areas close you in more and make much better use of narrow spaces. The first few turns of the haunt are big on impressive-looking static props, but those are just window dressing. The actors start appearing shortly and that’s honestly the real draw.
They call this haunt House of Screams, and man is it literal. Those actors get in your face and scream so loud it actually made my ears hurt. I can’t help but feel sorry for them and their vocal chords sometimes. If this was all they did it would have grown wearisome quickly, but fortunately there were many more surpises in store. I loved one of the holdovers from the old Jack & Jill’s – the cattle cages filled with live prisoners. Their desperate screams and banging on the metal bars establishes a chaotic atmosphere.
I’d be remiss to spoil too many of the scares of course, but believe me when I say there were moments that startled me way more than I was expecting. Let’s just say I’m relieved to now know that my natural screaming voice isn’t as high-pitched and girly as I feared. You get all the staples here – zombies, clowns, mad scientists, butchers, creepy little girls, and more. Plus, a few of the impressive live murder scenes that I loved from Jack & Jill’s Haunted Hill.
As of this writing (October 7th), there is a Groupon for $13 admission, and at that price this haunted house is a no-brainer. I highly recommend jumping on it while it’s still good, but even at full price, you’d be supporting an excellently crafted, independent haunted attraction, and the world needs more of those. Forget the Woodstock-esque crowds at Fear Farm. Come to House of Screams and see what a small group of dedicated horror fans can do.