Haunted Attraction Serves up Sheer Fun and Terror

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When the LivingSocial deal offering tickets to the Dead Time Dreams Haunted Attractions in San Jose popped up in my email (which, for all the instructors who might be reading this review, I was not checking during class), I was initially skeptical. Weren’t haunted houses just short way-stations for children before they make their way into the glorious, Pixy Stix-dusted Halloween night?

As a mostly high-functioning adult enrolled in professional school, I relegated haunted houses into the memento box of my childhood, along with other relics such as braces, tricked-out yo-yos, and an appalling predilection for fast food. I remembered haunted houses to be either school hallways cordoned off with cardboard dividers adorned with papier-mâché skulls and cobwebs-from-a-can, or sad amusement park affairs staffed by bored, horned-up teenagers who cared more about flirting with each other than making any real effort to scare the intrepid kids making their way through the hay-lined paths. (Yes, I grew up in the Midwest.)

So perhaps it was the nostalgia for my Halloweens of yesteryear that motivated me to round up some of my classmates and purchase tickets to Dead Time Dreams. Their website bills the haunted house as consisting of two “immersive attractions,” called “The Meat Factory” and “The Church.” As a vegetarian, the thought of going through a meat factory was terrifying enough, so at least I had guaranteed scares there. Churches I mostly associated with my off-key singing and neckties, so I wasn’t too worried there either. (Unless they were going to make me match my tie to my shirt — a nightmare if I ever knew one.) If the haunted house proved lame, I knew that my classmates and I could at least laugh about the slipshod animatronic skeletons over pho and soft serve.

Driving up to the clearing at the intersection of Tully Road and the Capitol Expressway in San Jose on a Saturday night (interested readers, take note — we made a wrong turn following the printed address), the first thing we noticed were a collection of pitched tents, pumpkins, and four-story bouncy castles shaped like tigers and goblins. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.

Perhaps the gourds and laughing children were meant to lull us into a false sense of security, because as soon as we handed the attendants our tickets and stepped into the houses, the scares (and screaming) were fast and relentless. First, the corridors are obligatorily dark, leading into rooms that are slightly better lit, but are full of all manners of unnerving scenery and props. Have you ever had to walk through a room full of huge (and hopefully fake) pigs hanging from hooks? I didn’t until that night.

Second, the employees are actually terrifying. Their costumes, makeup, and props are probably plenty convincing in the daytime, but put a bloodied, cleaver-wielding man in a room full of swinging pigs and tell me that you don’t activate your sympathetic nervous system. (Otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response, or the feeling I get every time I have to find parking in downtown San Francisco.) To add to the sheer terror of the experience, the employees aren’t content with just jumping out of a corner and scaring you once. If you listened to a voice recording of the first few minutes of me in “The Meat Factory,” you would hear me screaming. “THEY’RE FOLLOWING US. GOOD LORD WHY IS THAT BUTCHER STILL FOLLOWING US?”

As good as a time as I had, the experience did have some drawbacks that might give the reader pause. Even from the Sunset, it takes a good amount of time to get to our more-populous neighbor in the south, so I would recommend making a night of it with dinner or drinks. In addition, the experience itself is not terribly long for the listed admission price of $15. (Yelp tells me it’s an average of 20 minutes for both attractions combined, but trust me, the adrenaline-to-minute ratio is much better than the dollar-to-minute ratio.)

My advice for those still interested in checking out Dead Time Dreams? Go with a group of friends. Though the attendants only let four people go in through the house at a time, there is strength in numbers. Also, make sure your group has the right combination of fearless leaders and shameless clingers. I would not have gotten very far without some of the brave classmates that I pushed into the front of the line. I could say the same about some of the individuals that didn’t let go of my jacket the entire way through. Finally, come up with a good excuse for why you lost your voice screaming your pants off. When my classmates ask me why I sound so hoarse on Monday, I’ll tell them I went to a Metallica tribute band concert.

Dead Time Dreams Haunted House

344 Tully Rd San Jose, CA 95111


HOURS: Open 7 p.m. in October

PRICE: $15