Welcome witches and warlocks,

I had the great pleasure of attending visiting the haunted house Sinister Valley in Temecula, California and figured I would offer up my thoughts for my fellow haunt enthusiasts.

I have to admit, walking up to Vail Headquarters I was not entirely certain what to expect.  I mean, a haunt in a mall is by no means a new concept, but the area just seemed so family friendly that it in no way indicated whether or not this haunted house would be scary.  The first sign that this might be a bit better than the average mall fare was that there were actual scare actors walking around the grounds of the shopping complex.  While this might not seem like a big thing, the actors were walking around other businesses entirely and completely unafraid to scare anyone who had the misfortune to pass their way.

As we got closer to the haunted house itself, there was simulated thunder and lightning to set the mood.  We watched as children were handed a glow stick to ward off the scary actors while the adults were left to fend for themselves.  Furthermore, we observed that they were heavily pulsing the line so that each group got its own, personalized experience.  Taking these things into account, I figured this even if I did not like the house overall, I would at least have an enjoyable experience.

Then, we entered into the garden area of their haunt and everything changed.  Right off the bat I was blown away by the look of this first area.  I realize that some of what they did was easy because it was an outdoor portion, but the lushness of the plants combined with the lighting and fog created a wonderful atmosphere.  As we journeyed through this enchanting garden, there was audio of someone humming that kept me wondering what was going to be next.

Before I could find out where the voice was coming from, I received my first scare from a well-hidden animatronic.  This was to be the first of many cool animatronics within this haunted house and, if I am being honest, this might have been the least impressive of the bunch.  That is not to say that it was by any stretch bad, just that the other robotic work was so impressive that this one paled in comparison.  Without giving anything away, the final major animatronic was my absolute favorite as it set off a special effect that was brilliantly executed.

That was another thing that wowed me within this haunted house; they had some heavy duty effects.  If I am remembering correctly, they had somewhere in the ballpark of eight effects along the path that ranged from the tried and true Pepper’s Ghost to well-timed fog machines.  I was impressed that this independently run haunted house managed to pull off some things that I have only ever seen done at major events like Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights.

In fact, in one major way they surpassed Halloween Horror Nights as they had full on sets without a black wall in sight.  No matter where I looked on my two walk-throughs, they managed to fill every corner with tiny details to make this feel like a lived in space.  From the garden, to the mansion, to the mine, there was adornment everywhere to catch the eye.

Having so much for the guests to look at made it easy for the actor’s to catch us off guard. Sure, there were moments where it was obvious where an actor would come from, but there were also some wonderful hiding places within this house that I only saw after having gone through twice.  Even some of the more easy-to-spot cast members managed to make themselves memorable by their interactions with us as we walked by.  Their commitment to their roles was impressive as most actors just focus on getting a scare and resetting for the next group.

All in all, this haunted house is truly something special and was well worth my ninety minute drive.  From the professional level effects to the committed cast, this was an absolute joy to walk through from beginning to end.  I honestly cannot recommend this enough and I hope to find the time to return again before the end of the season. Furthermore, the owners have already said that they are trying to figure out where to take things next year and, even though they still have a few weeks left this season, I already cannot wait to see what they have in store.

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Haunts

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