There aren’t many commercial-size haunts in Ventura County, but there is a little upcoming gem that we’ll be looking forward to in the years to come.
We’ve talked about Dead Zone 805 before, but even after speaking with owner and founder, Nelson Cooper, we were only teased with the prospect of a fun new haunt that was really local.
Of course, there are other haunts in the area, the largest and most famous being, Reign of Terror Haunted House led by Bruce Stanton and his team. Then, you have one of the largest home haunts located in Simi Valley, Mourning Rose Manor. The popularity of both in the home haunt and haunt-goer community is high because both of these have been operating in the haunt game for a long time.
Yet, Dead Zone 805, located this year in a building that shares a space with Halloween Planet, has been drifting under the LA haunt scene radar. While new haunts pop up yearly in LA, some successful and some doing quite poorly, Ventura is considered for some, just too far north for many people to go. Yes, the conejo grade—we call it the “hill”—is daunting and those of us who don’t live in East County feel the same way about traveling south, but, if the current surge of popularity in haunts and Halloween-driven events has told us anything, Dead Zone 805 will be luring those LA haunt fans further north in the years to come.
First of all, Dead Zone 805 is a family and friend endeavor. When we finally got some time to check it out, we arrived early to look at the maze with the lights on, and watch the process of Nelson and his team getting scare actors ready for the night. The balcony above both the maze and Halloween Planet was bustling with volunteer scare actors, wardrobe, and tables where folks were doing makeup for their monsters. Not only does Nelson’s wife, Kim, apply prosthetics and makeup the patient and dedicated volunteers, but his team of like-minded individuals who are deeply passionate about making DZ805 a unique haunt experience.
However, unique doesn’t begin to cover it. When the doors open, guests wait on the other side of the building, lined up beneath a canopy, anxiously awaiting what they’re about to experience. Each group is escorted to the main door; the walk is dark and through an older part of the parking lot. Already, guests are spooked by the distance between the line and the door. Guests are then notified of the rules, of course there are a few morbid jokes in this spiel, but when given the all clear, the patrons make their way into the interior façade: a home that is marked with a 666.
Then, it’s all downhill for the faint-hearted from there. Even some steely-individuals will find themselves jumping from some of the subtle scares. Actors aren’t screaming in your face or ears. Some of them are really big dudes, only using their imposing stance to provide that moment of uncertainty that makes one want to walk through the room at a little faster pace. Best of all, scare actors aren’t tied to one scare alone. They’re shifted throughout the story you experience, and when you may encounter one scare actor in the beginning, there is a good chance you may experience that same actor with a different scare somewhere else. While the scare actors are only paid with an awesome spread of food and unending gratitude of the show owners and operators, they were unwavering in their desire to scare and were all about giving one another constructive criticism and designing cooperative scares both with careful planning and rehearsal, as well as situation intuition. Actors know when to back off when patrons seem too frightened, and they know when to safely amp it up if an individual seems a little tougher than usual.
The set design and detail for a haunt that does not have the luxury of keeping to one location was fantastic. Especially great was what they call the room of ‘Dr. Red Eyes,’ the haunting character who you may become victim of if you don’t make it out; the room has bubbling experiments, a gore-covered operating table, and the most recent victims of the psychotic doctor. Upon exiting, you find yourself in the back, where one of his experiments squeals around in its pen.
There are many great details and good scares that make Dead Zone 805 a fun experience and knowing that the team who puts it together are all about putting everything they’ve got into the event really makes it all that more special. Better yet, the team is happy to admit that they’ve learned some of their tricks through attending haunt workshops, and listening to feedback.
No haunt can escape criticism, however. While it was really awesome to see groups go in spaced out as they were—just about no more than two groups were in the maze at a time—when DZ805 grows in popularity, they could be facing anxious patrons in a huge line. We wanted the maze to be a little longer. The haunt doesn’t over stretch itself, in fact, it sells itself a little short. Of course, one has to make due with what is available, we think with more space, Cooper and his team could definitely amp up the great work they’ve already done.
If you’re not convinced, one of the stories we were told about this year’s opening night was that an individual was so frightened by the first scare that they shit their pants and didn’t experience the rest of the maze. While we were there, we not only witnessed a family taking hands in the parking lot to pray, but a mother and her girls came racing back out the entrance of the building after making it just to the second or third room. The haunt isn’t extreme by any means, so the actors don’t touch you, they don’t cover you with weird stuff that won’t come out of your clothes, and they certainly don’t do or say anything really degrading. Instead, the haunt provides you with the dying art of well-designed and acted scares: something of a rarity in the age of the extreme.
Check out Dead Zone 805 on their site, on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter for more information and support upcoming haunters!
Dead Zone 805 has a few days left in the season: October 23rd, 24th, 29th, 30th, and 31st
5353 Walker St., Ventura, CA – Tickets are $13 at the door, opening from 7-10pm
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