Coffin Creek: 2018 Review

Coffin Creek, Corona, CA

Happy #ShriekySunday, boils and ghouls! We’ve got another weekend update, because we can’t stop visiting haunts all around Southern California. No, seriously. We can’t stop. We need help. But we won’t accept help, because haunts are fun.

Our wanderings today take us out to the boonies of Corona. No, that’s not a joke saying Corona is the boonies. After all, the Inland Empire has been rapidly populating over the past couple of decades, and it’s pretty much an extension of suburbia these days. No, we’re talking an actual middle-of-nowhere part of the city on the outskirts of residential development, where we find Coffin Creek, a cult classic that is operating in its 11th year.

We reviewed this expectations-shattering event last year, when it was coming back from a hiatus after a transfer of ownership. What we found was a high quality, old school haunt with dedicated and passionate actors providing excellent scare experiences. Coffin Creek wasn’t as slick and fancy as the Universal Studios and Knott’s Scary Farms of the world, but it had heart and charm and effective frights, and plenty of potential for growth. A year later, we returned to the Creek last weekend, on its opening night on Friday, to see how it had evolved from the previous season.

The Catacombs and the Raven Cult

The Catacombs is one of two longtime (some might even say legendary) mazes that have been at Coffin Creek for as long as I remember. A descent into a series of dark, sinister, haunted chambers of graves, the Catacombs has been re-envisioned this year as the secret lair of a twisted society. Clad in creepy raven masks, they lurk in this labyrinth of bodies, searching for new sacrificial victims.

 A member of the Raven Cult stalks the corridors of The Catacombs.

A member of the Raven Cult stalks the corridors of The Catacombs.

The Catacombs, like all the attractions at Coffin Creek, is far from a slick, shiny, ultra themed maze to the standards of today’s sophisticated, technology-laden productions. But when Coffin Creek first opened, this was a very immersive, scenic, well themed haunted attraction, and though the layout and sets have largely remained the same over the years, the ambiance remains very spooky and atmospheric. The lighting is selective and theatrical, mixing select areas in casts of illumination and shadow and providing some great hiding spaces for the monsters. The soundscape isn’t quite as fully enveloping, but there are moody sound effects and low, ominous tracks in certain rooms to boost the drama factor.

 This laser tunnel probably doesn’t totally fit the theme, but it  is  cool looking!

This laser tunnel probably doesn’t totally fit the theme, but it is cool looking!

The most impressive aspect of the Catacombs, and really with all of Coffin Creek, are the actors. Even though it was opening night, we found the talent to be working smoothly in great concert, often coming at us with tag team scares timed perfectly to our turn of a corner or pass-by. The scareactors never break character, and they craft a heightened and tense state throughout the maze, really imparting the peril of wandering through the domain of a sinister cult.

The Catacombs was the first maze we did, and it set the tone for what would prove to be a terrific night of spooks.

 Another Raven Cult member, waiting for a prey.

Another Raven Cult member, waiting for a prey.

 The members of the cult lurk everywhere.

The members of the cult lurk everywhere.

The Haunted Asylum

My personal favorite maze from last year returned with a similarly strong performance this year and a tweaked storyline that better fit the constraints of the maze. This year, the Haunted Asylum was presented as the institution of one Dr. Bracken, who was infamous for his controversial and cruel treatment methods. One night, however, one of the patients reached a breaking point, and he set the entire asylum on fire, burning it to a char and killing everyone within it—himself included. The remains of this haunted hospital stand, though, and the cursed spirits still wander the halls, still agonized in their madness. And in the modern day, a team of ghost hunters has come in to investigate the stories and old hauntings. Unfortunately, they’ve gone missing, and it’s up to the guests to find them…

 One of the many deranged patients at The Haunted Asylum.

One of the many deranged patients at The Haunted Asylum.

The new story, narrated to guests before they enter, provides a fitting and explanatory framework for the progression and set of the maze itself. I noted last year that the first half of the maze was largely sparse and devoid of actors, and the same remains this year (though there are a couple more talent stationed early on). The reworked story, hinting at the dark past and its fiery demise, better fits the aesthetic and calm of the opening act. Fortunately, just as was the case last year, the second half picks up the pace and action, as the “inmates running the asylum” (or least their spirits) really come out of the woodwork.

 “Shhhhhh… don’t wake the baby…  DON’T WAKE THE BABY!!!”

“Shhhhhh… don’t wake the baby… DON’T WAKE THE BABY!!!”

 Dr. Bracken and his nurse will see you now.

Dr. Bracken and his nurse will see you now.

Just as with The Catacombs, the scareactors throughout the asylum provide fantastic energy, invested character, and creepy mannerisms and timing that contribute to the unhinged feel of the maze. There were plenty of memorable moments throughout The Asylum… the woman cradling a jar with a fetus inside, whispering, “Don’t wake the baby…”; the gruesome looks of Dr. Bracken and his frightening nurse looking for new patients to experiment upon; the arsonist himself, come out to re-enact his fiery deed. But the scene that stuck most with us was a nursery room where a little girl—the daughter of one of the people involved with Coffin Creek—greeted us with a teddy bear, asking us to pet it, then backed away slowly as an axe murderer was revealed behind us. As we passed by, she slowly, deliberately, and eerily remarked to me, “You’re going to die.” It was both disturbing and adorable at the same time. I know that some people object to the use of children in haunted mazes, but from my trips through The Asylum, it was clear that she was very much enjoying herself and her acting role.

With a high energy closing half and some noteworthy characters, The Asylum once again delivers a quality experience that belied the run-down looks of the maze itself!

 The little girl was absolutely adorable.  The axe murderer monster made this an especially creepy scene.

The little girl was absolutely adorable. The axe murderer monster made this an especially creepy scene.

The Prado Witch Trail

Unique among most haunted attractions in Southern California, Coffin Creek features a haunted trail through a rustic, wilderness area that is creepily atmospheric and more than a little nerve-wracking just through its sheer secluded nature. The Prado Witch Trail tells the story of how Coffin Creek came to be in the first place, and the coffins containing a malevolent witch that was unearthed during floods that also brought up coffins from a nearby creek (in real life, the Santa Ana River).

 Welcome to the Prado Witch Trail.

Welcome to the Prado Witch Trail.

 The story of the Prado Witch Trail.

The story of the Prado Witch Trail.

 Missing children’s posters.  The one on the left is hilarious.

Missing children’s posters. The one on the left is hilarious.

As executed, the trail itself mostly diverges from the theme, bringing guests face to face with a very entertaining backwoods family and encampment, some haunted shrubbery, and winding and twisted trails that are scarcely (but mostly sufficiently) lit. It isn’t until the finale that the witch makes her appearance. Effects-wise, last year’s version provided a dramatic and scenic finale that is missing this round, but that is made up once again by enthusiastic, committed talent that provides plenty of entertaining quips and sudden startle scares (sometimes even while in plain sight).

 The trail is dimly but sufficiently lit almost all of the way, but this is one of the few places where it’s brightly lit.

The trail is dimly but sufficiently lit almost all of the way, but this is one of the few places where it’s brightly lit.

The nature of a haunted trail means that a fully immersive built environment isn’t very realistic. It relies mostly on the suspense of being in the woods in the dark. That set up also means limited opportunities for high intensity and continuous scares, due to safety concerns. So to that end, what does occur on the Prado Witch Trail needs to be lasting and impactful. The actors in the central backwoods family encampment do just that, playing upon traditional tropes of that theme but doing so in a comedic manner that still manages to sneak in some startles here and there. The improvisational flexibility of the talent is particularly impressive, with one of the actors in particular mixing in a bit of topical humor with his banter and leaving us in stitches as he followed us and harassed us. The level of fun on the Witch Trail was quite high during our visit, and we continued on our way, we were left further impressed with the overall cast of Coffin Creek as a whole!

 A fiend from the wilderness.

A fiend from the wilderness.

 Uh oh, looks like the witch has claimed another victim.

Uh oh, looks like the witch has claimed another victim.

Uncle Zed’s Zombie Safari

Last year, the clear weak point of Coffin Creek came in its haunted hayride offering, which was middling and felt uninspired. With a dark pathway and limited interaction points that comprises the nature of these sorts of haunted wagon attraction, it just never built up any momentum.

 Brother is going to wrestle a zombie.  Whoooweee!!

Brother is going to wrestle a zombie. Whoooweee!!

This year, that issue has been wonderfully resolved for the most part by a new theme that is tongue-in-cheek and works more like a horror-comedy than a serious, straight-faced horror experience. Guests are invited to Uncle Zed’s Zombie Safari, a tour of a hillbillly family’s farm, where they breed and raise zombies for various useful tasks (what those tasks might be, I’m not sure… perhaps brain harvesting?). A regular automotive van tows a caged enclosure in which guests sit, with fencing stretched around it so high that it scrapes the tree branches that the vehicle drives under. From there, it’s a tour through the farm grounds (which takes place in the Koroneburg Renaissance Festival area) before an unscheduled stop and walk through a mini-maze component, and then rejoining of the “hayride” component back to the safety of the village. This format is similar to the way the L.A. Haunted Hayride sequenced its main attraction two years ago, and we found the execution to be pretty wildly entertaining.

The family of Uncle Zed showcased a delightful mix of stereotypical quips and remarkable self-awareness. “Meet my daughter, Daughter,” the family patriarch says. “She’s named after her mother!” We see the son climb into a pen to wrestle a zombie (and lose), and then it’s off to the rest of the attraction to catch similar sights.

 Zombies trying to get through.

Zombies trying to get through.

 There are a few scenic effects on the ride.

There are a few scenic effects on the ride.

The light hearted tone ends when we disembark, and we’re confronted by an agitated staffer who is tired of guests being dropped off in the wrong place and navigates us through a gauntlet of the undead to get us to the rendezvous point. But even here, through the “serious” portion of the ride, the annoyed tone is clearly ironic in nature, and the fun that everyone is having—right down to the theatrically corny dramatic deliveries—is pretty entertaining.

 Making one’s way through a gauntlet of zombies in the mist.

Making one’s way through a gauntlet of zombies in the mist.

 And encountering cannibalistic cooks.

And encountering cannibalistic cooks.

We eventually make it back to the waiting wagon and hitch a ride back, where more zombies are encountered. There’s also one particular scare created by the placement of light and a monster coming out of nowhere that really had us agape and impressed with how it was pulled off—especially once we could see the clear silhouette of this uniquely designed creature!

Overall, Uncle Zed’s Zombie Safari provided a much welcome improvement to the attraction. In fact, given that I had visited the L.A. Haunted Hayride earlier that night, this provided a much more enjoyable and spirited experience on a medium that often struggles to effectively deliver scares and memorable moments!

The Dark Realm

Our final maze was The Dark Realm, a fantasy, role-playing based attraction into a cave of goblins and through a medieval village of cursed souls. Last year was the first year of its reimagined iteration, and while the promise was there, the execution fell a little short on account of a lack of cast members in general and time to spruce up the theming and effects. This year does show markable improvement, with monsters better distributed throughout the attraction, more lighting, and more engagement.

 Legions of wicked goblins lurk within The Dark Realm.

Legions of wicked goblins lurk within The Dark Realm.

The tour begins—like last year—with guests guided through a series of chambers crawling with hostile creatures. But at a certain point, the guide falls victim to a monstrous horde, sacrificing himself to save the rest, and guests must proceed on their own. Of all three mazes, The Dark Realm had the lowest density of monsters, but they were scattered about in enough locations that no particular stretch ever really felt unacceptably empty, and the talent themselves gave a pretty good effort.

 Our guide boldly sacrifices himself to help our group escape.

Our guide boldly sacrifices himself to help our group escape.

The highlight that really made this maze a memorable send-off, however, came from one particular monster looking for a “companion.” In fact, as we rounded into a village scene, she targeted me in particular (see as the other two members of our group were coupled up), asking if I could be her “companion.” When I asked what was in it for me, she merely gestured to herself—all the while keeping a blank, empty-eyed expression and slow, singsong melody in her voice. A moment later, she decided to take more aggressive measures of procuring a companion, and she proceeded to advance with arms open, as though looking for a hug… or perhaps a soul to keep forever. Fortunately, I was able to evade her clutches and move onto the next scene.

Or so I thought.

 “….companion?”

“….companion?”

Coming out of the maze, we walked toward the exit, when I heard to my right a familiar voice: “….companion?” It seems that my scareactor had found me once again, and she had a partner to help with the endeavor. I couldn’t turn down a hug this time, and we even got a photo for memory’s sake. But as we turned to depart, the two decided to follow us. And as we amusedly went along with it and quickened our pace, so did they. And soon, they were flat out chasing us.

We raced out of the faire grounds, stopping a few dozen yards down to stare back, only to catch them come to a sudden halt at the entrance to this side of Coffin Creek. Then, looking at an invisible barrier and then at us, our new friend let out a forlorn wail, “…..gate…!” And both she and her partner stood there, dejected, waving at us as we walked away, maintaining character until we were actually out of sight.

 Maintaining character even after the maze—and the operating night even—had ended.

Maintaining character even after the maze—and the operating night even—had ended.

Suffice to say, it was a hilarious, entertaining, and unforgettable experience.

Our experience at Coffin Creek was easily the surprise of the season, for thought we had fun and enjoyed ourselves last year with its solid attractions, we had no idea just how much we would love our evening at Coffin Creek this year. It was honestly one of the most flat out enjoyable two hours I’ve had a haunt, period, in recent memory. The commitment and energy of the talent was very impressive, and although each haunted attraction showcased a different appeal of the cast, they all put on a fantastic show.

Coffin Creek proves that a haunt need not be laden with multiple layers of theming, state of the art lighting and technology, and special, fancy effects to be successful today. “Old school” atmosphere and a passionate cast can really take a haunt a long ways. And Coffin Creek has just that. We highly recommend this Corona spook. It may be a bit of a drive for some, but we think it’s definitely worth it. And in fact, it makes for a good haunt combo partner for relatively nearby Halloween attractions, such as Horrorworld at the Puente Hills Mall or Pumpkin Nights in Pomona or the haunt at Scandia Ontario or even the Field of Screams in Temecula!

Coffin Creek runs select nights from now through Halloween night. Additional information is available on its web site. It is truly an exceptionally fun, thoroughly entertaining haunt, and right there among our favorites of the season!

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.