For a while, it wasn't clear whether the East Bay's haunted house industry could operate at full capacity during a recession year. Would those creepy mansions, witch covens, and pirate dens suddenly find themselves under-haunted? Would the ghosts and warlocks have to outsource their labor? Would there be enough personnel left to fill the basements and the attics, and line the rickety staircases? Would they have to find new and interesting ways to optimize revenue (e.g., renting out haunted studio space)? Fortunately, haunted houses appear to be weathering the economic slump just fine, and even expanding their market. Which is not to say they're moving "uptown" like everybody else. The best haunted houses still lie miles away from civilization, usually down a forgotten road or on the edge of an old, brackish tarn. You'll find them in places where foreclosed homes stay abandoned, mist rises from the ground, and elm trees sag in the wind.
Maybe that's a slight exaggeration. For now, let's just say that most of these haunts lie in relatively secluded locations, as befits their character. Take the Cursi House of Screams in Concord (5625 Lewis Way, Oct. 23-24, 30-31, 7 p.m.-10.m., free, CursiHouseofScreams.com), which supposedly belongs to a 19th-century charlatan ("Dr. Satan") and his many assistants. It's actually a cluster of medical torture chambers — including an autopsy room, a morgue, and a curtained dentist's chair — where patients undergo all kinds of ghastly procedures. The Sanctuary of Evil in Oakley (936 Carpenter Rd., Oct. 23-25, 30, Nov. 1, Fri.-Sat. 7 p.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.-9 p.m., $7, SanctuaryofEvil.com) covers about 1.25 acres of haunted land, with such amenities as a spider room, pirate ship scene, and sprawling corn maze. Best of all is its simulated coffin ride in a hot rod hearse. For those desiring a more technological experience, Fremont's eighteen-year-old Pirates of Emerson (45021 Warm Springs Blvd., Oct. 21-31, 7 p.m.-11 p.m., $20-$30, PiratesofEmerson.com) offers animation, robotics, and special effects on five acres of "haunting fields," complete with a fifty-foot vessel. Touted as a "high-level" Halloween experience, it might actually be too scary for children.
Granted, not all of us can cotton to fear-for-fear's sake, much less a dentist's chamber with a bloody sink "to spit your teeth in." For those desiring a more pleasant, but equally thrilling Halloween experience, there's always Thrill the World 2009, a giant simultaneous dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Held on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Oakland's Studio One Art Center (365 45th St.) and an additional location in Alameda (1402 Park St.), Thrill the World will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for, well, largest communal Michael Jackson dance. Additional "Thriller" dances will take place concurrently in other parts of the globe in an effort to break the 2007 record of 1,722 people dancing in 52 cities, on 5 continents. The dance starts promptly at 5:30 p.m. and costs nothing, though donations are welcome, and pre-registration is strongly suggested (KathleenKelley.net for East Bay participants). It's a perfect Halloween celebration for these times: global in scope, with almost no overhead. ThrilltheWorld.com