Anaheim GardenWalk, Anaheim, CA
Now that we’re into October, our coverage of the big name haunts starts to give way to the smaller profile independent operations. Don’t worry, we’ll finish up our Knott’s Scary Farm coverage with a look at the entertainment this season, plus go in-depth to Dark Harbor’s mazes and shows and ambiance. But for now, we’re looking at the “little guys,” be they professional haunters or—eventually—home haunters and yard displays.
Tonight’s update hails from good ol’ GardenWalk—that persistent plot of retail that has struggled to attract a consistent customer base, has gone through multiple bankruptcies, yet continues to persevere and operate. This shopping promenade has long had trouble holding tenants, though last year’s addition of the House of Blues and a greater focus on dining establishments has stabilized operations a bit.
It’s also no stranger to longterm haunts, having housed The Empty Grave for many years—taking advantage of GardenWalks’ difficulty in retaining occupants. So it’s not really a surprise that another haunt has taken up residence at this promenade just southeast of the Disneyland Resort—settling down initially with an autumn iteration with designs for a permanent, year-round establishment opening upstairs in the future. Welcome in The 3rd Eye: Horror of the Orient, a new pro haunt put on by Haunted Men Productions, the rebranded identity of R&CHH (Richard & Christina’s Haunted House).
The story of The 3rd Eye is really a classic American immigrant story. Richard and Christina moved here over a decade ago, settling down in Rowland Heights—a hotbed Chinese immigrant community (“Chinatown #3,” I like to say, after the original Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles and Chinatown #2 Alhambra / Monterey Park / San Gabriel area). Their first foray into a home haunted house came after a neighbor who had done a neighborhood haunted house had moved away. That following Halloween, Richard and Christina noticed how the holiday lacked the energy and community warmth that it had previously retained, and they decided that they would pick up the reins and create their own haunted house the following year.
This partly came from a desire to integrate into American culture by engaging in a popular autumn pastime, but Richard and Christina also saw an opportunity to add their own novel twist to their audience by introducing them to mythology from East Asia. The inspiration was a success, and their haunt became a new community tradition beloved by the neighbors, some of whom urged them to try doing this professionally.
An opportunity came when they moved to Anaheim a couple of years ago, and after a fair amount of planning, design, and construction, they are ready to bring The 3rd Eye to a new assemblage in Orange County!
The 3rd Eye: Horror of the Orient is currently running on the bottom floor on the north end of Anaheim Gardwalk, on the “Sea Level,” right across the porte cochere, next to the Bowlmoor Lanes. This is a temporary location while Richard and Christina are building their permanent haunt in a suite upstairs, but it offers a taste of what guests can expect once the full-fledged haunted maze debuts. We headed over to their first-year commercial location this past weekend to check out what it had to offer.
Now, candidly, out of all the haunts we’ve visited thusfar in the still-early haunt season, The 3rd Eye is the least thematically rich and complex. It’s mostly a series of black walls with props and theming, but limited actual set dressing or furnishings, furniture, or decorations. What little theming is present is mostly made up of props and scare elements, and as a result, this maze is noticeably low on a sense of ambiance.
And yet, we still had a very enjoyable time, owing to several important factors:
The Chinese horror theme presents a novel aesthetic not commonly found in most haunts.
The maze itself is uncomfortably intimate, with tight, sometimes claustrophobic spaces and certain trigger points that include moving walls.
The scareactors are unnervingly committed to their roles and strike with impeccable scare timing.
It is that last part that proves that the most important part of a haunt is its capacity for the scare. A lusciously dressed maze might be a visual spectacle, but it’s not much of a haunted experience if it doesn’t actually deliver in the frights. And while The 3rd Eye may lack visual sophistication and complexity, it more than makes up for its simple atmospheric approach with crisp, cozy startles and misdirection scares, as well as an effective reliance on tag team scares (not always between two live actors either) to keep guests completely on their toes throughout the entire 2000 square foot layout.
Make no mistake about it, this maze is decidedly Asian. It seems to vacillate between having an identity of intense, foreboding darkness and innocent, gleeful kawaii, as evidenced by its mix of eerily violent imagery and adorable blacklit chalk illustrations. As one of the drawings declares, it does bring MUCH SPOOK!!! to guests who venture through in groups of up to two maximum. It’s cute and creepy at the same time.
After a quick and almost prerequisite startle scare-rigged photo op, guests enter a secondary queue, where they meet a host who greets them with emotionless hospitality, pointing out some of the macabre decor while seemingly paying no heed to the more supernatural elements that seem to already be starting to swirl. From there, it’s into the maze itself. Twists and turns abound, not mention plenty of jump scares for all sorts of angles. There are hidden nooks and crannies, distraction props, and even scares from behind walls that consistently hit just as guests walk past. It’s almost as though every move is being tracked by an unseen eye… that notorious 3rd Eye, perhaps…?
Truthfully, there’s a refreshing purity to the scares that occur throughout the maze. They almost feel relentless, giving guests just enough time to reset from one startle before encountering another. This feels in par with the nature of East Asian horror. In Western stories, a ghost or spirit is often associated with a specific place. Victims are haunted because they intrude upon that space, and things eventually settle down once they move away (unless, of course, they become famous enough to invest a franchise in, and then the dark forces inevitably do follow our heroes elsewhere). In East Asian ghost tales, a cursed spirit can wander and latch itself to a person. Possessions and hauntings are more generally influenced by powerful emotions like jealousy and rage. It’s the visceral nature of the horror that makes it memorable, and this parallels the presentation that The 3rd Eye presents.
The result? A fresh and effective haunted house that—even though it’s not the most elaborately pretty out there—is very enjoyable. It’s a testament to how effective a commitment to the scare can be. It’s the pure essence of a haunt, providing joy and fun in the fearsome shocks. I went with Jim and his wife and Gabe from Theme Park Duo, and despite all of us being experienced haunt veterans, there were still moments that took each of us by surprise. And we loved it!
The 3rd Eye: Horror of the Orient runs in its current, temporary location Fridays through Sundays (plus Halloween night) from now through the end of next month. No exact word on when the permanent location will open, but we’ll definitely be back to check that out. Hopefully, they can combine the same raw and immaculately timed scares with additional theming and a more developed environment to provide an even better draw. What they currently have is great for a seasonal run, but a year-round haunt always takes more effort and more frills.
We hope Richard and Christina can find success with this endeavor, though. They clearly have a passion for the craft, and it’s awesome that they’re sharing their relatively unique style of horror experience to the general public. If you’re around Disneyland this Halloween season, stop by and check them out!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.