There’s no shortage of haunted houses in Utah. But which ones are most worthwhile?
I traveled to the top haunted houses between American Fork and Farmington at the beginning of this year’s Halloween season to find out. (Side note: Why are there no full-blown haunted houses south of American Fork? You’d think Provo or Orem would have one.)
Let me just start off by saying that the state has a great selection. I wouldn’t consider my ranking to be from worst to best … I’d say it’s more from good to great. I had a splendid time visiting each of the eight houses this year and would revisit any one of them next year.
8. Lagoon Frightmares (Farmington)
During Lagoon’s Frightmares season from the beginning of September to the end of October, it opens five shorter haunted houses spread out around the park each evening. The park’s pamphlet rates the scary houses from “3 out of 5 spiders” to “5 out of 5 spiders” (with other more family-friendly Halloween areas rated 1-3). But I felt like each of the five haunted houses were about equal in scare factor -- which is not too scary.
The main reason Lagoon is last on the list is because of quality issues. In comparison to other houses around the state, it’s pretty obvious less work and money went into Lagoon’s. Additionally, most of the actors inside the houses were younger teenagers who weren’t exactly the best actors -- it took away from the experience a bit when I had a small 15-year-old with braces in my face playing an adult Western outlaw.
That being said, it was fun to hop around from house to house, each with its own theme, while walking around the park. My favorites of the five were Nightmare Midway, with its illusions, and Fun House of Fear, with its carnival theme and 3D glasses.
While some may argue that Lagoon’s single day passes are a bit pricey, it’s nice that the haunted attractions aren’t an extra add-on.
More info at http://lagoonpark.com/what-to-do/frightmares
7. Strangling Brothers’ Haunted Circus (American Fork)
“It” fans -- this one’s for you.
As the name denotes, the majority of this walkthrough is clown-themed, making it stand out from the rest, which have more general haunted themes.
While I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing this haunt, I was a little put off by the setup. You basically walk up into and down out of a bunch of trailers set up in a winding path. There were also a lot of stretches of walking in switchbacking, narrow hallways in the dark without any decorations or actors.
However, I did appreciate the walkthrough’s longer length -- I hate it when you get to the end of a good haunted house sooner than you expected and think, “That was it?”
The most impressive part of the whole walkthrough was near the end, when It, or Pennywise the clown, made his appearance after we made our way past a jumble of bikes and into a large cement pipe. Also, without giving too much away, the part that made me jump the most was the unexpected train section.
More info at https://stranglingbros.com/haunted-circus
6. Dead City Haunted House (Murray)
This house was actually one I’d never heard of before I started researching for this article, and so I didn’t go into it with very high expectations. The outside of the place doesn’t exactly boost hopes either -- nothing really to see. But then you get into the line queue inside. With a video setting up the house’s spooky storyline and a large amount of impressive animatronics, among other things, the line was actually quite enjoyable.
This house had a hands-on option, which I chose (participants are identified by the actors with a glow-in-the-dark necklace). While it wasn’t nearly as scary as Castle of Chaos’ hands-on experience (see No. 3), it still upped the fear factor quite a bit. Of course, to keep things appropriate, actors only touch your head, shoulders, arms, and below the knees. The scariest part of the hands-on experience for me was when hidden actors low to the ground brushed my ankles and calves. There were also a lot of jump scares from things other than actors, including objects that swept down at you and sudden, loud noises.
While the video in the line queue set up a whole storyline for the walkthrough, I felt like that narrative pretty much fell apart as we got deeper into the haunt. While most of the house is one long, winding path, the end is a large, difficult maze in a circus setting. After a while of getting nowhere, actors dressed up as clowns acted as if they were helping us through, when really they were just driving us further away from the exit, which was amusing at first but then just got annoying.
More info at http://deadcityhauntedhouse.com/
5. Cornbelly’s Insanity Point (Lehi)
Don’t let the fact that this haunted house is on the lower half of the rankings deter you -- I was quite impressed with this one, especially with it being just one of many attractions at Cornbelly’s. Most others are standalone houses, but Insanity Point’s main attraction, Hayloft Horror, is up at their level in quality, length and scare level.
In addition to Hayloft Horror, Insanity Point also consists of three more shorter attractions: Big Top Terror, The Creature and Chaos Castle.
In The Creature, you walk through the mouth of a large, inflatable reptilian animal, where you encounter its anatomy, loud noises and actors playing the creature’s last meal. It’s a unique and fun experience in the haunted house world. In Big Top Terror, you walk through a maze inside a clown fun house, complete with freaky actors and strobe lights. Chaos Castle is my least favorite of the four, as the whole thing is just a very dark hay bale maze that was a bit difficult to solve in a frustrating way (with a handful of actors lurking around corners, of course).
In Hayloft Horror, you experience a farm setting where the animals have gone mad and other horrors are waiting in the cornstalks and inside haunted structures. I especially loved the well-done sets and the freaky yet playful elements. One of my favorite elements, as a staunch line-hater, is that Cornbelly's now has you pick at the ticket booth a half-hour period of time you want to go through Hayloft Horror that night, which is its way of crowd-control for smaller lines.
See more at https://cornbellys.com/insanity-point
4. Nightmare on 13th (Salt Lake City)
This haunted house is a definite standout in quality. Right when you walk into the outdoor area from the parking lot, you can tell you’re in for a Halloween treat. The atmosphere sucks you in before you even get in line, with both devilish creature animatronics and actors walking around, intimidating guests. And it just gets better and better once you get inside.
It was quite difficult to decide which haunted houses got the honor of the top three spots. Nightmare on 13th was a tough contender, but just missed it because of its shorter length.
The walkthrough includes several sophisticated electronic creatures that will make you pee your pants, along with some pretty dang amazing optical illusions that make monstrous actors seemingly appear out of thin air. There are also many sensory experiences, such as different smells for different areas, and a part where the ground falls out from under you.
Nightmare’s sets are varied and quite impressive -- I felt like I was walking into movie sets of mining shafts, Egyptian tombs, circuses, bayous, fairy tales and more.
In addition to the main attraction, we gave the shorter X Scream experience a try. The line queue implies the walkthrough is alien-themed, and going in, we were told to expect sensory overload for all of our senses, which sounded highly intriguing. But what we didn’t expect was for it to be absolutely, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face pitch dark nearly the entire way, and nothing really relating to extraterrestrials.
We were left feeling our way around slowly and frustratingly, and the only additional “sensory experiences” were occasionally feeling different textures on the walls, a few people lightly touching our feet and heads, and a couple of loud sounds. I personally wasn’t very impressed and wouldn’t do it again, so unless that sounds like your idea of a good time, I'd skip that add-on but would definitely recommend the main attraction.
See more at https://nightmareon13th.com
3. Castle of Chaos (Midvale)
The most unique thing about Castle of Chaos is its scare levels. The haunt offers four: Level 1, where the actors steer clear of you; Level 2, where actors scare you but don’t touch you; Level 3, where actors can touch you; and Level 4, where actors can pick you up, move you, restrain you, separate you from your group, threaten you, etc.
Guess which level I did? Yep, Level 4. I was hesitant, but I just had to do it for the article, or else what kind of haunted house reviewer would I be?
I got taken away from my group many times, with the actors doing all sorts of things in all sorts of different rooms. I’d say the scariest part of the night was when I had almost gotten through, the end lobby area in sight, but was stopped by an actor putting a sack over my head from behind and pushing me backwards back into the winding maze. When he took the sack off, I was closed into a tiny, dark sort of closet with no apparent way out. Feeling around the four walls surrounding me, I realized there was someone else in the small space with me — a zombie woman who acted crazy and played with my hair.
That, and the overall nerve-wracking anticipation of the next time someone was going to grab me from behind and take me away again, were the scariest parts.
I’ve gone to Castle of Chaos a previous year without doing Level 4, and without that unique experience, the haunted house by itself is fun but not as scary or impressive as others on the list. But Level 4 Castle of Chaos was the scariest experience for me of all the haunted houses I experienced.
More info at https://castleofchaos.com
See my full review of experiencing Castle of Chaos’ Hands On Level 4 at http://heraldextra.com and pages 15-16 of the Ticket in Thursday's Daily Herald.
2. Fear Factory (Salt Lake City)
Fear Factory’s scare factor goes beyond actors, animatronics and fake blood. The atmosphere itself is the spookiest thing, especially when you know the history of the building, including many gruesome factory deaths over the last 100+ years.
Winding your way through the haunted house is an unmatched experience, climbing up and down through several old factory buildings from areas underground to several stories up. Yes, there are a lot of stairs, but it’s more than worth it. The suspense seemed heightened when walking up or down into a new scary scene instead of just walking into it on flat ground.
The most spectacular part, in my opinion, is when the path takes you up to the top of a vast, open building, into a rickety metal bridge that allows you to see down into the haunt as you walk. And the most fun part was the pitch dark slide.
There also seemed to be a high number of well-trained actors throughout the haunt, more so than other haunted houses, which heightened the level of fright.
More info at https://fearfactoryslc.com/
See Doug Fox's full review of experiencing Fear Factory at http://heraldextra.com and page 14 of the Ticket in Thursday's Daily Herald.
1. Haunted Forest (American Fork)
Here we are -- the No. 1 spot. Though some will disagree with me, I believe the Haunted Forest deserves the first place award for several reasons.
First off, the haunt is through a literal forest. Walking through a forest late at night would be creepy on its own, but then imagine that with the fear and suspense of someone or something popping out at you at any moment. The atmosphere wasn’t manufactured, as most other haunted houses are from one degree or another. I felt like an on-edge Red Riding Hood traipsing through the woods, meeting terrifying creatures and sights. The walkthrough took us through many different areas, including a Salem witch trials stretch, a twisted fairy tale area, a section run over by evil pirates, a medical experiments gone wrong tent, and many more.
Additionally, the forest contained a good amount of animatronics, some highly impressive in their smooth agility, some stunning in size. Especially noteworthy animatronics include a headless horseman on a rearing horse, one that I can only describe as a giant, devilish creature, and a dinosaur fossil come to life.
And finally, as I’ve previously mentioned, length is a highly important factor to me, and though I didn’t set a timer or anything on each of my haunted house ventures, the Haunted Forest felt the longest to me.
More info at https://hauntedutah.com/haunted_forest_index.html
See my full review of experiencing the Haunted Forest at http://heraldextra.com and pages 11-13 of the Ticket.