Face it — we’re too old for trick-or-treating. But there are other options around the area. Daily Arts sent three editors to explore the unknown in three different haunts less than an hour outside Ann Arbor.
The Haunted Winery
31505 Grand River, Farmington
Oct. 24-26, 30-31; Nov. 1
Have you ever wanted to see an exhausted Freddy Krueger kick back with a bottle of grain alcohol? Well, look no further than the Haunted Winery in Farmington. Here, no ghoul is too half-assed; no shock is too predictable; no prop is too common; and no performer is too method to take a break and swig on what appeared to be some hard, child tantrum-eliminating liquor.
Yeah, this place is kind of crappy, and it highlights generic examples of nearby haunted houses. Obviously run and operated by locals, this is bargain-basement Halloween. Imagine four twenty-something Michigan students looking for a few cheap thrills, only to be harassed in and out of a chintzy maze.
Throughout 15 to 20 chambers, teens (likely emo kids) jump out of corners in Michael Myers and Jason masks, with plenty of “hoos” and “haas” to spare. When we didn’t react, we were told, “you suck.” In one room, our lack of response merited a claim from one creeper that we should “hump each other.” Little bastard.
OK, it was kind of funny.
At the end, the biggest shock was that we were out in ten minutes and quickly propositioned with coupons to play laser tag by a guy who may or may not have been with the show. He was just that goth. But it was the drinking Freddy near the end that made this one worthwhile.
It’s not the operator’s fault this thing was so hokey. It just paled in comparison to so many other elaborate productions out there. Still, between the garage sale below the house, the backyard vibes and the general cornball nature of the whole experience, it was still kind of fun. Halloween’s all about poor taste, so this was no exception.
Now if only it had actual wine.
Terror in Townsend Forest
4770 Waterford Road, Clarkston
Oct. 24-25, 31; Nov. 1
This was not how I wanted to spend my Saturday night. Then again, this was not how I wanted to spend any night — walking through a dark forest with people in rubber masks jumping out at me from the bushes. But hey, Halloween was a couple weeks away, and what’s the season without a few kitschy thrills, right?
The Haunted Forest is clearly a community event. People come in droves, even though the place is located off a seemingly abandoned back road. Locals sold t-shirts and “monster meals” (a hot dog and potato chips) in the small clearing where we waited our turn. In the middle of the clearing, a small bonfire burned brightly. As groups were called one by one and led, like cattle, into the darkness, a clown named Slappy “entertained” us with a fake severed head. Needless to say, by the time our group’s number was called, we were ready to take our chances in the woods.
Our walk through the forest started quaintly enough. In fact, it was exactly what anyone would expect — lots of flashing lights, ghosts on strings and people in masks jumping out of the shadows. But as we ventured deeper and deeper into the forest, things began to get, well, creepier. Some of the “monsters” became genuinely bothersome. One “goblin” gave me goosebumps. I even jumped a few times.
Maybe it was just the atmosphere of the whole place or the full moon working its magic, but by the time we stepped out of the darkened maze, passed the cackling witches and nearly ran head first into a chainsaw-wielding clown, I was genuinely freaked out.
Alas, we made it out alive. Walking to the car, I turned back to get one last glance at the eponymous forest. Instead, my eyes zeroed in on Slappy the Clown, holding the dangling, severed head, still smiling cheerfully.
Now that was scary.
18 S. Perry, Pontiac
Oct. 23-31; Nov. 1-2
There’s a reason the line for Erebus stretches around city blocks and can take hours to get through. Not only is Pontiac’s warehouse-filling haunted lair certified by the Book of Guiness World Records as the “World’s Largest Walk-Through Haunted Attraction,” but its four floors are packed top to bottom with ornate props, effects and decorations that rival Disneyworld in theme comprehensiveness.
Waiting outside in line, even the façade of the building beckons. Gargoyles, a giant spider and a twitching, hanging dummy that’s so lifelike many patrons are convinced it’s real all loom overhead on the sidewalk of Pontiac’s Water Street. Upon reaching the interior queue, video screens chronicle the botched time travel experiment that gives Erebus its backstory.
After one final video introduction, patrons are divided into small groups and sequestered into cramped chambers before they’re let loose to traverse the gauntlet that is the haunted world of Erebus.
Though the haunted house suffers from an identity crisis that places it somewhere among a sci-fi nightmare, a torture dungeon and “Jurassic Park,” its varied motifs only help to reinforce the unpredictability and suspense that wait around every pitch-black turn.
Charging dinosaurs, green mist swamps, falling floors, collapsing walls — every time Erebus seems predictable, a new fright emerges. From psychological spooks to good old-fashioned sneak-up-on-you gags, Erebus always hits when it’s least expected.
To call it professional would be an understatement. With dozens of moving parts, lighting effects and detailed props and costumes, it could hold its own as a real Hollywood horror set.
At 20 bucks a pop, it’s no neighborhood bargain. But step inside, and it is all too obvious why Erebus is worth the price of admission and the wait in line. Creators Ed and Jim Terebus have thrown in every scare imaginable.
No stone left unturned, no hair left unraised.