By Aaron Cowan
If Halloween is your time of year, then you will not be disappointed by the ample entertainment opportunities that await you at haunted houses in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The city is fortunate to have several high-quality horror-themed attractions that are all within 40-minutes driving distance of the University of New Mexico campus.
Dragon’s House of Horrors
First on this reporter’s list was Dragon’s House of Horrors, at the State Fair Grounds, which boasted the title of “the world’s longest walk-through horror house.”
“We made this the world’s longest haunted house, a record we got in 2015,” co-owner Jeff Lepori said. “When they got the record, it was 7,185 feet.”
From a convenience perspective, it was almost certainly the most centrally-located horror attraction, with ample free parking and facilities including food vendors and a beer garden. There was also a live carnival-themed “thrill show,” which included knife throwers and fire eaters performing every hour.
“It’s my favorite time of the year,” primary owner Ron Gideon, who was born on Halloween in 1966, said.
The estimated time for most people to complete the walk-through is about 40 minutes, though Lepori said some will finish in under 30 minutes if they are “just plain scared,” while other patrons may take about an hour.
Starting at $25, this is probably one of the better values for your money, and operators will text you rather than requiring you to wait in line so that you can do other things while waiting for your turn.
The props and makeup were reasonably high-quality. There were evil clowns galore, some with light-up faces, pandas with glowing teeth and plenty of creepy denizens armed with all manner of weapons — from meat cleavers to chainsaws — who will jump at you, but not touch you.
“We don’t grab people,” Gideon said. “If a haunted house needs to grab you to scare you, it’s not the right way. That’s what makes us professional.”
Dragon’s House of Horrors has approximately 60 rooms and uses around 30 actors, who have to get there several hours before opening to don costumes and makeup.
So real is the illusion, that Gideon and Lepori estimate that at least 25 people have been too scared to make it through this year.
“Last night we had a gentlemen get about 10 feet and he quit right away,” Lepori said.
McCall’s Haunted Farm and Haunted Corn Maze
The next stop on the tour was McCall’s Haunted Farm and Haunted Corn Maze, dubbed the “Field of Screams.” Located on 2 McCall Lane in Moriarty, New Mexico, it is a bit of a drive. But judging from the long lines and packed parking lots, it is probably well worth the effort.
During the day, for almost 20 years, Kevin McCall and his wife, Kirstin, have operated McCall’s Pumpkin Patch, which is a daytime attraction targeted toward families and children.
“The haunt probably started on the 15th year,” Kevin McCall said.
Between the haunt and the pumpkin patch, McCall estimates that he now employs about 450 people, with 120 to 140 of those being actors in the barn and the corn maze. Many of the actors are drawn from local high schools, so they try to accommodate their schedules by mainly operating on Friday and Saturday evenings.
McCall said that Cosmopolitan Magazine named his horror attraction No. 1 in New Mexico, and he believes there are a couple reasons for the distinction, beyond the sheer size of his operation.
“I think we invest a lot. We spend $30,000 to $40,000 annually just on props and also have a full-time employee, Charlie Reagan, who works on nothing but haunts all year round,” McCall said. “The other thing is that you are in the country. When you come out of the haunted barn and corn maze, you’re not on a black top. The scare starts from when you park to when you leave.”
On a busy night, McCall said they may have somewhere around 2,500 people come through. For that reason, visitors are encouraged to consider the VIP option in order to bypass the lines. McCall conceded that lines can be long and said they are always looking for ways to minimize that, but he also thought the long wait comes with the territory.
“Any quality haunt in this USA is going to have a long wait,” McCall said. “To get a good quality haunt, we like to space you at least 30 or 45 seconds between groups.”
Once you see the props in all their gorgeous, gory details, the lavish costumes and the investment in animatronics, strobes and fog, you will almost certainly agree that you are getting close to a movie-quality horror experience for a very reasonable price.
There are also other attractions while you wait, including a mechanical bull ride, zombie paintball and shops selling food, sweets and merchandise.
Realm of Darkness Haunted Asylum
Last, but certainly not least, on the review list was Realm of Darkness Haunted Asylum, located at the I-25 Studios. While smaller than the other two houses, it has a more intimate feel and a more elaborate back story that actresses like Ash Miloean, an El Dorado High School thespian, help to weave for participants. She said that at least five people have quit in the first room where she greets people, and some people have gotten lost in the maze of rooms.
Manager and occasional fellow actor Wendy Stell, a retired high school teacher, said she has been working in haunted houses since 2008 and likes the smaller scale of their 22-room operation.
“We have actual movie props,” she said. “It’s more aesthetically pleasing. You’re going to have different stuff that you’re not going to see anywhere else.”
Actor Allie Swift, who doubles as the makeup artist, said it can take a couple hours for her to get all the actors ready, since she really puts on the gore. However the effects are outstanding and worth all the effort.
Given all of these choices, you should have no trouble getting your fill of scary entertainment this holiday season.
Aaron Cowan is a volunteer reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers sports including women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s golf and also writes for the culture desk. He can be contacted on Twitter @AaronTCowan.