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Blind Scream Haunted House a real nightmare in Santa Rosa

It was all in good fun. Scary — but not too scary — fun.

The Blind Scream Haunted House is back through Oct. 31 in Santa Rosa after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, as well as a previous season cut short by wildfires.

It was worth the wait. The new expanded haunted house, which is said to be two houses in one, is located in the old Sears building at 1st and South A streets at Santa Rosa Plaza.

It has many new characters following the 12-year story of Doc Hunter, his daughter, Mary Annette, and son Horrus, as well as other relatives.

New this year is the Witch House, with all three of Doc’s horrifying sisters, the Voodoo Witch, the Black Witch and the Gypsy Witch.

“Each (witch) is evil as hell itself,” according to Blind Scream’s promotional material. “They have poisoned the surrounding lands and cursed anyone who dares enter ... .”

Other witches are scattered throughout, including the potion-making Apothecary Witch, and La Llorona, “the Weeping Woman,” who wanders along canals and rivers crying for her drowned children.

“We don’t claim to be the scariest; we want to be Halloweeny,” said co-owner and designer Drew Dominguez, who used to work for Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park. “Over the years we have dialed it down to that sweet spot.”

COVID protections won’t stop attendees from getting a good jolt of fear, as live costumed actors playing everything from werewolves to creepy brides to assorted ghouls pop up out of nowhere.

Some features were changed to avoid contact with that demon delta variant, however.

There aren’t a lot of faux spiderwebs hanging down to touch each face trekking by and the 3½-minute coffin ride was put on ice this year.

Most of the experience is touchless except for the spinning vortex, where guests will definitely need to hang on to a rail. Face masks are required. Self-contained groups go in separately and hand sanitizer is available throughout.

The house is divided into rooms connected by a maze of hallways, making it seem “almost like a movie,” co-owner Judy Groverman Walker said.

Beware: You never really know what’s going to be around each corner.

There’s the Spider Room, a Gypsy Camp and a Fortune Teller Room with three-eyed Rosa and her crystal ball. “Would you like to put a hex on your ex?” she asks as wary tour-takers try to hurry through.

Bloody half-bodies hang from clothes lines; a creepy dummy is strapped into an electric chair and there’s a startling squawking crow.

In some places an eerie fog greets you and an alligator threatens from a swamp.

Actors playing Wolfman and a goat-like demon pop-out at guests. Still, most of the screams from startled kids and adults are happy screams of short-lived terror.

A Crypt Room pays tribute to dead musicians with gravestones on the wall inscribed with “RIP” and a musician’s name, such as Bob Marley or John Lennon.

With the haunted house intact, and not torn down in November as usual for more than two years, Walker and Dominguez had a chance to create and add more props, projections and animatronics.

Dominguez and Walker work as a team on all aspects, but Dominguez brings the animation and creativity to the house and Walker uses her skills on the fine details, logistics and marketing. During the time off the couple, who met 12 years ago at a haunted house convention, scoured garage sales and thrift shops for pieces that add that perfect touch of gore or creepiness.

Blind Scream promises “13 nights of heart-thumping, blood-pumping pure exhilaration, featuring ferocious frights designed to inspire nightmares and years of therapy!” And though the couple, who met at a haunted house convention, say they and their Scream Team aren’t out to scare you with violent slashers, they recounted how actors like to brag about terrifying adults who may have been nonchalant about the whole thing.

“I made so-and-so pee her pants,” they brag, according to Walker. There was talk about how some guests have tried to run through a wall to get away from a creature. On Saturday night, one little girl who was just too scared to go in, got her money back.

“Usually we say if we scared you, we did our job, but we made an exception in her case,” Dominguez said.

The 20-minute experience isn’t recommended for anyone under the age of 7.

Blind Scream originally opened in the old Hunter Steakhouse in Santa Rosa in 2009. It was called the Hopper House of Horror. The seasonal event has entertained 80,000 to 100,000 guests and hired 800 to 1,000 actors over the years.

Blind Scream allows nonprofit groups like 4-H, equestrian clubs and the Sonoma County Roller Derby to participate in the haunt or put up tables in the lobby to sell T-shirts, candy or other items.

This year Blind Scream is featuring the Sister Sweet Shoppe, which has a booth selling assorted goodies with Halloweeny names like Bewitched Blondie brownies and Mummy’s Favorite white chocolate Marsh Pops. It will be open there every night but this Sunday.

Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online with a credit card fee or in-person for cash only. The house will be open Oct. 15-17, 22-24 and 28-31. Times are 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. except on two Sundays (Oct. 17 and 24) when it’s 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Go to https://www.blindscream.com/calendar/ for more information and to buy tickets.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

Editor’s note: The story was changed to add Oct. 17 and Oct. 24 as open dates.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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