From deep within the alien spaceship that crash-landed in a south Mesa dirt lot, a teenage girl’s piercing shriek escapes, perforating the cool night air. Deborah Molique breaks into a wide grin.
“That’s a good scream,” she says.
There’s something distinctly Americana about haunted-house attractions like this one — the prolix but pretty scary Alien Extreme Haunted Adventure 2005, which Molique and her husband, Rob Borucki, have been running here the past two Octobers. (Even more Americana: The corn maze that runs alongside it.) Across the country, every year around Halloween, do-it-yourselfers whip up freaky fun houses webster using little more than a few garish costumes (leftover Freddy Krueger gloves and “Friday the 13th” hockey masks, what have you), access to an abandoned grocery store or vacant farmland, plus a few bored teenagers for actors.
Many of them, like Alien Extreme, are natural extensions of Halloween buffs whose lavishly macabre trick-or-treating displays outgrew their homes.
But because they draw huge numbers of people (thousands of visitors a year, mostly an adorable but vast contingency of teenage boyfriends and their fright-feigning girlfriends, like 16-year-old Gilbert denizens Kylee Landrum and Michael Popatia) these spook houses can get big-budget. And big-ticket: Expect to pay about $1 a minute for the privilege of getting the willies.
The biggest haunt house, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare in downtown Phoenix, bowed out this year. But even the modest Alien Extreme — which features some snazzy special effects, a chilling whopper of an ending and a relatively bloodless scare (“Our goal,” Molique says, “was to not have a chain saw.”) webst. 2 wds. — boasts corporate sponsors Del Taco and Harkins Theatres.
Similarly, the corn maze, which uses high-tech Global Positioning System equipment to etch images into the maze, has gone from illustrating stuff like Sparky — the Arizona State University Sun Devils mascot — and the Statue of Liberty to, this year, an image promoting Disney’s upcoming “Chicken Little.”
Arizona’s Scream Park, a larger alternative to Alien Extreme in Scottsdale with four separate attractions over 4 acres, takes a cue from major theme parks like California’s Magic Mountain in offering “speed passes,” a $10 add-on to the existing $15 to $23 ticket price (not including $1 for 3-D glasses and $3 for parking), letting attendees skip to the fronts of lines.
The 5-year-old Scream Park is certainly the more frightening of the two East Valley haunt houses: Visitors to the “Alice’s House of Nightmares” feature navigate pitch-black hallways, through rooms sporting ghastly vomiting statues and spooky fairy-tale waifs only to be met at the exit by a pair of chain saw-wielding Leatherfaces (from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”).
It was enough to shock sisters Anna, 17, and Angela Connelly, 20, and their friends into taking off into a full-tilt fearful sprint at the exit.
“You know it’s not real,” Angela said, patting her heart, “but it gets in your head.”
Alien Extreme Haunted Adventure 2005
Where: 4011 S. Power Road, Mesa
When: 7 to 11 p.m. nightly, through Monday; corn maze also open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday How much: $15 for Alien Extreme, $7 for corn maze, $20 for both
Our take: A somewhat family-friendly “X-Files” riff with some standard-fare costumes and scares — but a trippy doozy of a surprise ending; meanwhile, the corn maze is old-school fun (and standing on the central lookout tower, gazing onto the field in the moonlight, is pretty darn tranquil).
Arizona’s Scream Park
Where: Loop 101 and McDowell Road, just west of the freeway, Scottsdale
When: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily, through Monday
Tickets: $15-$23 ($15 per attraction, $20 for two, $23 for all four); extras include 3-D glasses for $1, “speed pass” admission, $10, and parking, $3 .
Our take: Blood-curdling, dust-swirling fun in this 4-acre spook park that, with its courtyard bull rides and concessions booths, feels like a Gothic version of a county fair. We feel a bit gouged by the ticket prices, though, and being enticed to buy a $10 “speed pass” is irritating. But the scares are solid.