Shiver Haunt: 2018 Review

Shiver Haunt, Santa Clarita, CA

Our home haunting spree continues tonight with a trip up to a part of Southern California that we heretofore have never visited for amateur haunted attractions. But it turns out that the Santa Clarita Valley has its own little hotbed of home haunts, including a quartet that we visited last Friday evening that has partnered together to cross-promote and help each other. The four of them—Shiver Haunt, Coffinwood Cemetery, Club Fear - Nightmares, and Beware the Dark Realm—are all located 10-15 minutes driving from each other, making all four conveniently doable within a single evening (a fifth Santa Clarita home haunt, Pumpkin Jack’s Haunted House, was not open on Friday night, and we couldn’t make it on Saturday or Sunday evening when it was).

Our focus in this update is the first of the aforementioned foursome: Shiver Haunt. The product of Gwen Zimlin and David Rosenthal, Shiver joins the Southern California home haunt community this year in its inaugural season. Gwen and David have always been huge fans of Halloween, but this is the first year they’ve decided to construct an actual, full-fledged haunted attraction to share with the local neighborhood and community. In addition, Shiver is taking donations that will go to the local Hart H.S. track team. Scaring and caring? You know we love that! But besides the generosity facet, Shiver turns out to be a very entertaining and enjoyable haunt that mixes a variety of animatronic props with some spirited live actors to bring a sort of haunted fun house menagerie to its visitors!

 Stabby zombie granny is one of many elaborate figures found around Shiver Haunt.

Stabby zombie granny is one of many elaborate figures found around Shiver Haunt.

It’s not hard to spot the Zimlin/Rosenthal house. The entire front yard is almost literally crawling with zombies and ghouls and an assortment of Halloween knickknacks and decorations. A table out front serves as the donation desk and information booth, but guests looking to explore the actual maze navigate the the entrance pathway, then turn left before the front door and head into the side yard before arriving at the maze itself, sprawled across the backyard.

The footprint is a generous amount, occupying the bulk of the backyard space. An assemblage of props is readily visible, including a lot of store-bought effects and animatronics. They work well together, and some of them—like a door ringer that reveals a monster’s eye—are even downright cute.

On our trip last Friday, our experience got off to an incredible start when we came upon the front door of the maze and were greeted by a very pregnant zombie mama with an undead baby clawing its way out of her belly. “Who my baby daddy?” her first greeting cut through the air with no pretense of pleasantries. My haunt buddies for the night, Jim and Jenny O, immediately pointed to me. And without missing a beat, Zombie Mama began riffing to a hysterically funny routine about how the baby must have gotten all of its terrible characteristics from me, how it liked twerking, how I still owed her alimony, and how she would see me on Maury. We were doubled over in laughter before we had even stepped foot inside the maze!

 Yes, those are Bible pages that have been torn and burned. According to Gwen, it was actually more difficult to add the char to these sheets than expected. Which, I guess, is appropriate: try to burn the Bible? God won’t let you!

Yes, those are Bible pages that have been torn and burned. According to Gwen, it was actually more difficult to add the char to these sheets than expected. Which, I guess, is appropriate: try to burn the Bible? God won’t let you!

The interior features more Halloween prop items and animatronics, but densely packed and layered in such a way as to feel unique. There are also areas where Gwen and David have come up with creative theming elements—such as a wall lined with torn and partly singed Bible pages. How sacrilegious! As guests navigate the maze, which features a variety of themes connected through a single course, they pass by numerous sensor-triggered effects and startle scares, including some that are normally hidden from view. But just before the maze starts to feel over-reliant on props and bare on live talent, we come upon our first scareactor, a nun who starts shouting gibberish (and occasionally topical exclamations).

 This nun was a riot each time going through.

This nun was a riot each time going through.

We proceed into doll-themed room next, and then a green, fog-filled swamp (using the laser sweep effects that apparently pretty much every haunt has incorporated this year—professional or residential), and finally a den of carnivorous and maniacal clowns. These spaces repeat the formula of mixing in live actors with animatronics, giving a nice false sense of security before the statue scare. The swamp in particular features daring scareactors risking prone positions to scare guests seemingly out of nowhere. And the clowns provide a psychotic high note to send guests smiling out of the maze.

 Want to play with her dolls? Or become one?

Want to play with her dolls? Or become one?

It’s always tough to gauge a new haunt, and we honestly weren’t sure what to expect from Shiver, especially considering it was a first year attraction. But what we found pleasantly surprised and exceeded our expectations. Shiver Haunt carries a fantastic mix of entertaining and innocent scares, eschewing blood and gore and keeping things straightforward. It’s not trying to terrify guests into trauma or create outrageous and visceral fear and distress. It’s just trying to have fun—a fact strongly exemplified by Gwen’s initial greeting of our group and her loose and bold sense of humor.

At the end of the day, Halloween is mean to be fun, with some spookiness involved. And that’s exactly what Shiver Haunt delivers. This was a labor of love for David and Gwen, who spent September and October building this mainly by themselves. That sort of effort shines through in the end product.

 Free hugs from the scary clown! What could go wrong?

Free hugs from the scary clown! What could go wrong?

Shiver Haunt is located at 26154 Montolla Ln, Santa Clarita, CA 91355, and will be open from 7-10pm tomorrow (Halloween) night. It is an exceedingly fun home haunt that captures the passion and joy of scares, and is a little milder than some of the more intense haunts out there, while still providing its share of startles and frights. The fundraising adds a great charitable dimension to the haunt, and Gwen and David serve as wonderfully entertaining and passionate Halloween hosts. Go visit Shiver! This is one rookie debut worth checking out!

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