After terrifying a generation of young thrill-seekers, Scream in the Dark spooked its last trembling customer in 2002. But one mad genius isn't about to let Bakersfield's original haunted attraction rest in peace.
Scream in the Dark will rise from the dead on Oct. 4 (cue maniacal laughter).
But there's more than one way to get in the Halloween spirit this year, with activities ranging from wholesome pumpkin patches for the wee ones to spine-tingling chills, courtesy of Talladega Frights, which has taken up residence at the Kern County Museum, and its chief rival, Scream in the Dark, being reanimated by haunt impresario David Enloe.
Run by Campus Life, the original Scream went dark more than a decade ago, after 30-plus years of terrifying fans. Enloe purchased what was left of the haunted house in 2006, but decided this was the year to bring it to life.
Timing worked out for Enloe, who is taking a year off from The Chamber, a time-traveling haunt he started in Bakersfield in 2001. Last year, he planned to take The Chamber to Los Angeles, but ended up establishing it as a touring show in Las Vegas. What he didn't count on was the personal toll of his professional decision.
"Being on the road without my family was the main reason to return home for this season."
With a plan to bring The Chamber to Los Angeles in 2014, Enloe decided to use his local crew for a new attraction that would stay in Bakersfield. (This year, it will be near the Golden State Mall, but Enloe said he will seek out a permanent location in the future.)
The decision to revisit Scream in the Dark stemmed from Enloe's history with the haunt.
"Scream is where this haunt thing entered in my blood. I worked at Scream for a few years from '79 on. ... I was 13 the first year that I worked in Scream. The first year I was just out of my league. The kids were older; I was intimidated by the place.
"My favorite memory was that I was the caveman in the cave one year. I had to be 2 foot 1."
Before getting started, Enloe reached out to the original Scream team.
"I went to Jim (Lewis) and the guys at Campus Life early this year and told them my ideas for this event. It was important to have their blessing before we went forward with the idea. ... I promised them I would not let our reboot of the original down."
Enloe and his team have been hard at work developing the new haunt: "The Chamber, we're 100 percent original. We want Scream to be the same way."
As for details, Enloe kept most under wraps aside from saying the attraction will entail a maze that will take about 15 minutes to navigate.
"Is it a house, hotel, hospital, mansion? Who knows yet? We are letting the house write its own story. We're working on all-new monsters with our makeup department for this event. We are going back to our beginnings with traditional haunted houses and monsters."
Keeping some secrets will allow Scream to become what it organically can be, Enloe said.
"I like to allow time. The Chamber, it took us three or four years to become what we are. I would rather let the event become something on its own. Look at Walt Disney; he just started with a train. He didn't have Tomorrowland from the beginning. He allowed it to become that."
While remaining open-minded on the creative side, Enloe was a stickler on a one point: the cost, which he set at $10.
"It's tougher to go out and do things when it's more than you going. There is a fine line between keeping the cost down and the production up. We've really taken all our knowledge of being pro for the last 10 years."
Enloe values all he and his crew have learned along the way, but there's one essential element to the venture he'd like to bring back.
"I'm trying to have fun again. When we first started this, we had so much fun. Over the last few years, it became more business-oriented. When we stopped having fun, the event suffered."
The return to Bakersfield should help.
"Bakersfield crowds are great! We not only like to scare, we enjoy having a show. We love to dance, joke and have a great time. Fans here get us and dance back, joke back. It makes for a fun time for everyone."
Halloween at the museum
Over at the Kern County Museum, Talladega Frights creator Mike Wilbur has already spooked up some attention with this year's show. Along with moving his core attraction to the museum grounds, Wilbur is keeping things interesting by adding the all-ages Halloween Town and bringing back fan favorite Zombie-X, a paintball shootout of the undead.
Wilbur couldn't be more thrilled with the new venue, which allows more freedom than Talladega's previous location on Rosedale Highway.
"We have a location where we are able to expand and grow our attraction, which is what we've wanted to do for years. It's set up perfectly for the type of attraction that we want to do."
That plan includes Halloween Town, the starting point for all the museum's fall events, offering a pumpkin patch and cannons, sledding hill, pedal karts, carnival games, bounce houses, 3-D photo opportunity and gemstone and fossil mining (both for additional fees).
Of the activities, Wilbur expects the big draw to be the pumpkin cannon, which guests each get one turn at firing (additional turns available for $5).
"Once they've shot it, they're not going to leave. ... Every kid of every age, up to 99 or 100, we will fascinated by these guns. They are a lot of fun."
With cannons, big sledding tubes and karts sized for adults as well as kids, Halloween Town offers something for guests of all ages and encourages sticking around.
"That's part of the reason we decided to come up with the Halloween Town idea. I had premium attractions, but once you did those, there wasn't much to do. We thought, 'Let's create an atmosphere where people can hang out and not have to pay for every little thing.'
"You can bring the family or a date or friends and stay for hours. I hope people come out and give us a try."
Of course, Talladega's heart is its living tableaus of terror, which also benefit from the locale.
"I'm actually excited for people to come through the house this year. We have scenes that will take you outside, with trees and things to take advantage of, an indoor and outdoor combination. My favorite is one of the outdoor scenes. We built a swamp and waterfall set for the Hillbilly Hell. It's where I go back to and hang out. We try to bring a little bit of the theme park magic into it each year, and that's where we did that."
Wilbur and his crew also brought their expertise to adapting Zombie-X, formerly housed in a cornfield, to the new location.
"Now it's like a big arena. We set up buildings, multiple scenes. This time around, you're a lot closer to the scenes. There are more zombies. Our zombies look really good this year, put on a good show.
Dressed in suits that offer "full 360-degree protection," actors face the firepower of 20 riders, armed with 100 paintballs each. (For $5, guests can buy an additional 100 paintballs.)
Three tractors will keep things moving -- one leaving the station every five minutes -- but seating is limited, meaning there will be a cap on the number of daily riders.
"It was simply a matter of mathematics. It's physically impossible to move people through that attraction. They need to get here early or buy tickets online. Buying online guarantees a wristband."
Although everyone is required to buy admission to Halloween Town ($10), the cost for the haunt and Zombie-X have been reduced ($10 each, or $27 for admission to all three attractions).
Wilbur pointed out that part of the proceeds from the attraction benefit the Kern County Museum Foundation and that he is excited about teaming with the museum.
"The opportunities are endless in terms of growth. (Museum Executive Director) Roger Perez and I talk about ideas."
The month of fun culminates with the museum's Safe Halloween on Oct. 30 and 31. Along with the traditional safe trick-or-treating, guests will have access to the activities of Halloween Town.
"Our goal is to be the biggest and best Halloween or fall attraction for people," Wilbur said. "Moving into this location allows us to keep growing."
Search for the great pumpkin
Along with the scares, this month offers opportunities to get out in the cool weather and find a pumpkin to decorate. Unlike Charlie Brown, sitting around and waiting for one amazing pumpkin to come your way, people can turn to Murray Family Farms and CASA of Kern County for seeking out a gorgeous gourd.
For CASA's second annual Pumpkin Patch Extravaganza, fun and fundraising are the ultimate goals. The organization returns to Country Sweet Produce for a morning of pumpkin painting, homemade tacos and a costume contest, with all of the proceeds going to support the nonprofit's juvenile advocacy programs.
"This is a great way to spend some time on the farm with the kids," said Amy Raddatz, resource development manager for the organization.
"Most people out there are getting pumpkins for Halloween anyway -- this is a way for you to get your pumpkin while also supporting CASA."
If you can't make it to CASA's one-day extravaganza, never fear -- Murray Farms' October Fun Fest runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 31.
Hay rides, pig races, duck races, pumpkin decorating, face-painting, a three-acre corn maze, corn cannons, and a recently redesigned petting zoo are just a few of the ways families can spend their fall afternoons.
And let's not forget the food. According to Vickie Murray, the farm is gearing up to unleash the sweet counterpart to its famous, savory Okie-Fry Pies this fall.
"It's a buttermilk crust stuffed with apple, blueberry, blackberry, or lemon filling, and it's deep fried," she said. "Then, we're serving it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It'll be so good, you can't possibly feel good about it."
-- Ashley Fischer contributed to this report