In the middle of a San Diego parking lot, an imposing figure stands outside the entrance of a dilapidated structure. Denim overall straps are slung over his broad shoulders, while a big red beard decorates his face. In his hands is a banjo that he not only deftly plucks, but also is where he writes the names of particularly unruly victims. Part pre-show entertainment, part security guard, his cheerful smiles are diametrically opposed to the horrors within his home: The Backwoods.
It’s been several years since Savage House established themselves as the new alternative for San Diego haunters. The one-two punch of the Haunted Hotel and Balboa’s Haunted Trail is still as effective as ever, but with Savage House’s 2018 presentation of Backwoods (not to be confused with the Burbank home haunt of the same name), Savage House shows off a strong suit that the house’s would-be “bouncer” embodies: An unlimited supply of personality.
The cast employed by Savage House is comprised of intense and varied scareactors. The more effusive of them may joke with guests and offer photo-ops before sending them further into the run-down labyrinth. Others, meanwhile, are stoic and menacing, like one manning the kitchen, beckoning guests to stick their hands down the garbage disposal.
While effects like the garbage disposal are tried and true interactive haunt elements, they fit perfectly into the narrative of the Backwoods due to fantastic set design. Even from the safety video warning guests of what they’re about to experience in the very first room, absolutely everything is on-brand, as rusted through as it is decrepit. One of the house’s most effective scares comes in the form of a wood chipper, and the enthusiastic hillbilly operating it. The finale of the Backwoods has multiple branching paths, a disorienting effect enhanced by one final, heart-pounding scare.
The Backwoods isn’t the only attraction drawing guests to Savage House, though. Also on the premises is an extensive museum, showcasing everything from Stuntman Mike’s Death Proof car to the horrific masks worn by The Strangers. The props on display provide either a relaxing respite or a tonally appropriate warm-up to the scares featured in the Backwoods.
Elsewhere, guests can also browse the various bizarre mixed media projects created by Savage Productions. Dioramas paying homage to films like My Bloody Valentine and A Nightmare on Elm Street are far more creative than what could be found in the average haunted attraction gift shop.
A rare southern California downpour flooded the haunt early in the 2018 season, sending things like prop axes floating through scenes. From all accounts, it was a dire situation, but the very next day, guests turned out in droves to see the haunt functioning in full effect, as if nothing had ever happened. It’s this passion for haunting that is evident in every square inch of the Backwoods and its surrounding attractions, and what makes Savage House a necessity for Southern California haunt fans.
Savage House: Backwoods runs on select nights through October 31st. For more information, visit www.savageproductions.org.