Out of the various haunted attractions in the Inland Empire, Lake Elsinore’s Field of Screams sat overlooked for years. For one thing, Lake Elsinore occupied a sort of geographical No Man’s Land for haunters, far enough south to deter Los Angeles natives, but far enough north that it couldn’t be lumped in with San Diego’s finest.
More notably than that, however, is that Field of Screams just hadn’t been that great for a very long time. Hampered by an incredibly young and unenthusiastic cast of scareactors, plus an increasing reliance on chainsaws to achieve their scares for them, the Haunted Stadium just hadn’t been worth the trip.
Luckily, Sinister Valley has stepped in to salvage the Stadium, not only giving it its best year yet, but offering one of the absolute best hidden gems the I.E. has to offer. The concourse is spectacularly lit, with intermittent flashes of would-be lightning being far more convincing than they have any right to be. The cast of scareactors that this reveals, sparse as it may be, is a truly dedicated bunch, sliding and interacting with very little downtime.
But this all serves as a sort of preamble to the real star of the show: while mazes are arguably the main attraction at most haunts, they never interact or intertwine with the same narrative continuity that they do at Field of Screams. The four mazes offered here make up the fictional town of Sinister Valley, weaving an inventive origin story that enhances a series of already fantastic walkthrough attractions.
The scares begin immediately after entering the front gates, through the Hallowed Grounds of a jungle en route to the Western mining town of Sinister Valley. Simple, yet efficient, it’s more so a means of delivering guests to the main concourse than a full-on maze, but the effects contained therein are no less impressive. Mini-volcanoes shoot geysers into the air as soon as hapless guests walk by, while an incredible animatronic lion comes within what feels like inches of personal space. As a warm-up attraction, Hallowed Grounds sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the experience.
THE ROCKING HORSE TAVERN
Once inside the city limits of Sinister Valley, across from the courthouse is the Rocking Horse Tavern. Guests can stop in at the local saloon, but connected to the watering hole is the nearby butcher shop, where the meat is obviously not entirely on the level. The Rocking Horse Tavern increases the tension by just the right amount, dark and eerie, with highly inventive scares from the locals inside. It’s worth noting that the idea of restraint is not lost on the scareactors here. A less experienced team might have every single actor screaming in the faces of guests, but that’s not the case here. An ominous looking woman sits idly by in a rocking chair, nothing out of the ordinary except for the gruesome wound where her eye should be. She stares with her one good eye, and she leaves it at that, providing a fantastic bit of misdirection for the very next scare.
Once guests emerge from the butcher shop attached to the back of the Rocking Horse Tavern, they can continue their tour through Sinister Valley. After traversing through a bit more dense foliage, they’ll encounter the true highlight of the town, Miner’s Paradise. Being a mining town, the local mine is dotted with corpses and skeletons, immersed in some unbelievably convincing sets. Fog is used more expertly here than any other haunt around, obscuring guests’ vision just enough to provide prime opportunities for scareactors to strike.
SILVER BULLET OUTFITTERS LODGE
Finally, after emerging from the mine, guests will have a chance to visit Sinister Valley’s Silver Bullet Outfitters Lodge. After staying in the lodge for a spell and saying a prayer in the town’s chapel, they’ll proceed through a station loaded with armor and weapons before entering a dense forest in search of a bloodthirsty werewolf. The chapel scene inside this maze is one of the most intense single scenes in any independent haunt, filled with no less than five scareactors in one tiny room, some hanging upside down on the pews, one reading ominously at the front. More amazing lighting is found inside the forest finale, as well, hiding scareactors in complete darkness before flashes of lightning illuminate them for some unexpected scares.
The fact that the entirety of Sinister Valley’s version of Field of Screams tells one overarching story speaks volumes about their attention to detail. They aren’t simply looking to startle people or brag about how they won’t be able to endure the intensity; this is a series of simple, effective walkthrough attractions that, while scary, is meant to transport guests into a different world. More haunted attractions need this level of storytelling enhancing their scares, but until then, Sinister Valley is a crystal clear standout.
Field of Screams runs on select nights through October 27th. For more information, visit www.hauntedstadium.com.