REVIEW: Haunt S.B. 2013

Last Halloween season, rather than travel out of state to experience non-local Halloween events, Theme Park Adventure drove up the California coast to beautiful Santa Barbara to check out Haunt S.B., that city’s only haunted house attraction for the second year running. Haunter Matt Dorado and his creative team of talented spooksters took it upon themselves to blaze the trail and give the seaside community something to scream about during October. The Haunt S.B. team went to work on a theatrical concept that didn’t pull any punches; in fact, guests had to sign waivers stating that they understood it would be an interactive experience, and that there’d be physical contact involved along the way by the haunt’s actors!

HAUNT_SB_2013_5879Haunt S.B. made a big splash at last summer’s ScareLA convention, where the team not only was on hand to greet fans and answer questions about their own event – they actually constructed a small haunt on the show floor that guests eagerly stood in huge lines to experience! In fact, the Haunt S.B. production was the only little haunt on the entire ScareLA floor, and it generated quite a bit of buzz for this out of town attraction. In addition to being amazing at ScareLA, Matt and his team have been regulars at our monthly TPA mixers at Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel, often driving down from Santa Barbara to spend a few hours with us and their fellow TPAers before hopping in their cars and heading right back up the coast! That’s a really long drive! Considering the amazing dedication to TPA and ScareLA this team has shown, there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to take a couple days and support them in turn as part of our Halloween 2013 tour.

One of the things that we were very curious about was the theatrical aspect of Haunt S.B. and its story. Matt and his group were determined to create something far more interactive and different than a standard boo-scare haunted house. Given the artsy community that this team found itself serving, they felt that Haunt S.B. had to deliver a chilling, out-of-the-box experience and that it had to be really unsettling to appeal to those in the theatrical social circles, as well as the college students in town looking for something genuinely terrifying during the Halloween season.

HAUNT_SB_2013_5864The story of Haunt S.B. was original and sinister: a one-time roadside haunt attraction called The Nightmare House turned into a chamber of torture and murder to satisfy the Santanic beliefs and desires of a cold blooded killer, Damian Bloodworth. Venturing through the haunt, guests stepped into the killer’s mind, and were greeted and assisted along the way by Mara Summers, both one-time lover and then victim of Bloodworth’s maniacal lust for violence. Trapped in limbo somewhere between death and Damian’s living psyche, Mara’s final mission was carried out – to save one final group of would-be victims and end the killer’s terrifying existence once and for all.

Matt launched a Kickstarter campaign to assist in the team’s vision of Haunt S.B. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successfully funded (we have found that most haunt endeavors wind up unsuccessful on Kickstarter or other similar sites) and so, the team switched gears and relied on the resources they did have at their disposal. In addition, they needed to re-envision aspects of the haunt that could work within their budget. We’d have loved to see Haunt S.B. hit its Kickstarter goal, of course. However, there is something to be said about the way not getting the requested funding forced them – and other haunts – to look inward and draw on their own strengths, budgets and skills to make their event happen.

HAUNT_SB_2013_5838Haunt S.B. was a fairly lo-fi experience set within a year-round theatrical space in an industrial section of Santa Barbara. The good news was that right off the bat, the team would have at least an indoor, powered space to work within; that’s half the battle for haunters right there! Rather than elaborate sets and animated props, Matt and his team went for a very dark motif throughout the haunt, with proper sets and dressing when and where needed to tell the key points of the story. Because of the structure of this particular haunt and its theme, we felt that it worked very nicely. Never once did I think that it was cheap or overtly understated. Where there were blank walls or heavy duvetyne hung, the actors took over, completely and legitimately distracting guests’ attention away from the lack of physical details of a hallway or room, and it was brilliantly done.

Without question the strength of Haunt S.B. was its cast. The men and women knew they were not simply boo-scare monsters in a maze, but rather, part of a dark production with a really heavy-duty storyline. And I’ve got to hand it to Matt – straight up saying this is a killer with direct ties to Satanic rituals, etc. in a small community the size of Santa Barbara was pretty ballsy; I for one, was surprised with how blatant the story was at the onset the minute we arrived at the attraction. Projected on the facade of the building was a short film loop explaining Bloodworth’s crazed legacy in no uncertain terms. The video served as both introduction to the show as well as something for guests to watch as they waited their turn.

HAUNT_SB_2013_5868As stated, the actors throughout Haunt S.B. were tremendous – some with fairly heavy duty narrative to remember, which can be seen and heard on our complete POV maze flow-through of the attraction. Huge props first to the writing. In addition to Matt serving at Haunt S.B.’s Creative Director, he also wrote the script for the event; and it was solid. The ladies and gentlemen that carried his vision through and recited the lines each night did an outstanding job; just about flawless execution and absolutely right up there with any dialogue we witnessed at various interactive haunts here in Los Angeles. Kudos to the team for delivering a pristine, freaky and downright chilling performance!

The only snags we witnessed while visiting Haunt S.B. were issues with guest capacity and flow. Due to set fire marshall regulations and codes, the team could not run multiple groups through the haunt at once, as most theatrical-type productions do. The result was long periods of waiting, which the group countered with a lounge area outside (couches and chairs) as well as a photo kiosk. Still, no one likes to wait longer than a short while for these types of attractions, which must have made for a few headaches along the way with impatient guests. Pulsing groups through any haunted attraction is an artform, and is very challenging, so my hat’s off to the team for giving it a go and doing the best they could; I sincerely hope it worked out decently most of the time.

So here’s the biggest curve ball of the story – Haunt S.B. was really well done and we enjoyed our visit completely. I’d venture to say the haunt was overall successful in Santa Barbara. However, immediately following the Halloween season, Matt moved to Los Angeles, which pretty much takes him out of the picture. Haunt S.B. is set for a planned return for the 2014 season with new leadership, new theme and new location. We wish Matt as well as the rest of the crew huge success in 2014 wherever their spooky journeys take them. Theme Park Adventure was thrilled to be part of their 2013 production and loves the on-going friendships that have come from working with this group between TPA and ScareLA.

Did you visit Haunt S.B. during the 2013 Halloween season? If you did, we want to hear what you thought! Share your own experience below and keep the discussion going with fellow TPAers!

– Rick West

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