The best free Halloween haunted houses in the East and South Bay 2022 – The Mercury News

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Some people take Halloween decorations way too seriously — much to the delight of the rest of us.
Take this quartet, for example: a Redwood City insurance salesman, a Martinez DJ, a Livermore electrical-engineering estimator and a San Jose contractor. For most of the year, these people have non-spooky jobs. But come Halloween, they’re at Level 10, creating the Bay Area’s most ghoulish destinations. With the pandemic waning and trick-or-treats rising, the holiday spectacles are more jaw dropping than ever, with a creepy shooting gallery, a murky “laser swamp,” a strange “Draven” and flurries of skeletons delivering frighteningly bad stand-up comedy.
For Bob Schiro, Halloween begins in January. That’s when he and his “Boo Crew” start brainstorming their annual San Jose haunted house, which launched construction in early August. This year’s three-story structure is the highest in Schiro’s 22 years of making large-scale haunts. And, the professional contractor says, “It’s to code, as far as beams and joists and rafters and everything, for the safety of the public.”
As a 10-year-old, Schiro made his first haunted house in his garage with newspaper-stuffed dummies swinging from pulleys. Since then, his “Boo Crew” has fabricated a cursed carnival with a nearly full-scale roller coaster, a spectral riff on San Jose’s Hotel “Dead Anza” and an Indiana Jones tribute with a boulder latched to a garage-door opener. Helping out is Schiro’s 85-year-old father, who plots a grid with computer-aided design, several carpenters and an honest-to-god historian, Mike McCormick.
“Our model is kind of like Disneyland. We’re not shock and horror. We’re about setting moods, and to set the mood, you have to get the details right,” says McCormick. (When asked if he ever imagined he’d be using his history degree this way, he responds: “Oh god, no. Are you kidding?”)
The San Jose contingent isn’t the only one to take Halloween haunts to spectacular degrees. Growing up, DJ Stallion worked in movie theaters and plastered his childhood bedroom with horror posters. His fascination with slasher flicks evolved into a yearly display off Milano Way in Martinez with replicas of Freddy Krueger, Jason, Hannibal Lecter and the “Scream” franchise’s Ghostface.
“It’s got to be horror,” he says. “Halloween’s about scaring people.”
DJ Stallion typically dresses as Michael Myers for the occasion, wearing risers that make him 5 inches taller and gruesome masks and prosthetics styled by special-effects pros. And he never breaks character, standing silently with a fake knife and only moving to swivel his head — or when people’s backs are turned, to sidle alongside.
“I’ve had people scream, fall over,” he says proudly.
As for the Sullivans of Redwood City, “we picked the skeleton theme early on and have stuck with it,” says Brady Sullivan, who runs the Turnsworth Cemetery with his wife, Kaitlin. The haunted house boasts nearly two-dozen skeletons playing poker, barbecuing a head, tending a bar where glasses mysteriously slide around, plucking the “Deliverance” song in a laser-activated shooting range, watching a movie about skeletons and… well, you get the idea.
Halloween preparation begins with Brady retrieving all of “dad’s skeleton friends,” as their young daughter calls them, from a storage shed.
“They have to get driven over in the back of a truck. That’s really when you get a lot of the stares,” he says.
Mechanical wizardry makes his characters move and – fittingly for a former “Funny or Die” intern – spout lousy puns. “One of the new skeletons this year says, ‘Welcome to Turnsworth Cemetery! The band would play a proper funeral march for you, but we don’t have any organs.’”
Steve Profumo, who operates Livermore’s long-running Frightmare Home Haunt, one of the exalted few that’s partnered with a big-time candy company, is especially excited about a new feature.
“This year we’re doing a laser swamp,” he says. “You set up a laser light and a fog machine, and it will almost look like water. An actor can duck down, and (visitors) won’t be able to see you until you pop up through the fog.”
Adding to the atmosphere: Characters in black robes and masks which might be mannequins or actors (gotta keep people guessing!), including a spooky “Draven” with a crow’s skull for a head.
Don’t ask for decoration details for the Boo Crew’s project, though. Schiro keeps things under wraps until Oct. 31. “For me, it’s kind of like Christmas. It’s all about that build-up and hitting it hard,” he says.
Photos reveal a towering, ramshackle mansion with ancient-looking fixtures and vintage wallpaper, disturbing animals, a bowl of intestines and – perhaps in a nod to Schiro’s day job – the OSHA violation of a human leg with a screw driven through it.
The crew plans to work right up to the wire. “I have probably the best neighbors anybody could wish for,” Schiro says, “because not many people will let you be invasive for three to four months, you know?”
“When you show up the night of, you’re like, ‘Wow, when I drove through two weeks ago, this was just Bob’s front grass. Now it’s been turned into a graveyard,” says Erik Levine, a veteran crew member.
How’s that lawn doing, anyway? “Every year I look at the poor grass and go, ‘Oh man, we’ve killed it off for the last time,’” Levine says. “It’s pretty trampled down. Then eight months later, it’s back for more.”

The Boo Crew’s Haunted House: Open Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. (no scares) and 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. (scares) at 1441 Church Drive in San Jose; facebook.com/HauntedHouseChurchDr.
Turnsworth Cemetery: Open through Halloween from 6:15  to 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends at 224 Iris St. in Redwood City; facebook.com/turnsworthcemetery.
Frightmare Home Haunt: Open Oct. 28-29 and 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. at 697 Sonoma Ave. in Livermore;  facebook.com/frightmarehomehaunt.
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