"Excuse me," I said while maneuvering around a haunted-house employee masked in a bloodied, wide-cheeked visage, visible only under the half-light of a flickering incandescent bulb. Even when confronted with an ominous six-foot ghoulish figure, I was pleased to find my southern mannerisms still remained largely intact.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love the way half-dead drag couture graces the stages of gay nightclubs; the way blood-stained regalia floods downtown streets; how cocktails transform into potions and poisons. But haunted houses have always eluded my attention, failing to compel me in any meaningful way. I have never been interested in spending $20 or more for a few minutes of subjective spookings. But in the name of journalistic research, I decided to cross the threshold of terror.
"How many tickets will you be needing?" a steady voice broke through the vain chatter megaphoned by a gaggle of 17-year-olds beside me. As I began walking slowly toward the cloaked passageway, I stood mere feet away from the veiled entrance of Fear Overload's Bay Area installment—handing over my single ticket to a creature I could only presume resembled that of a stillborn centaur.
I was struck by just how dark the haunted house was. But what glow did manage to emanate from the few dim light fixtures revealed objects and props and actors that were best kept behind the shadows they once occupied.
Murdered mothers-to-be, adorned in flouncy white, yet stained maternity wear, jumped from behind unused cots in the "dead nursery," soundtracked by a continuous loop of shrill cries from would-be newborns; once-living men wielding chainsaws and other squealing power tools danced up and down the halls, brushing the backs of my ears. Androgynous beings, speared by horns and fangs tried to grab the appendages of all those who passed within striking range.
A "plastic surgeon" passage was a lattice of a dozen sharp, pitch-black corner turns where I hesitated to pivot, whether my flashlight was either on or off.
On, if my child-like curiosities overcame my fears of staring down evil; off if they hadn't.
Had my imagination been bound by seraphic demons, I'm not too sure they could've confabulated a more surreal or hellacious experience.
But, alas, I saw a luminous rectangle. It read, "Exit Here." What felt like an hour-long fight-or-flight episode was, in fact, only a mere 15-minutes in length. Soon after finding myself in the warm radiance of a black-light room, I came to the realization that it was time that I would not care to repeat anytime soon. The final send-off had done me in: An eery UV-activated portrait of Donald Trump. // Tickets ($25-$50) can be bought either online at Fear Overload or at the door; hours are 7pm-10pm, Thur.-Sun. till October 31st; 15555 E. 14th St. (San Leandro), fearoverload.com