One of the spookiest attractions in Southern Arizona, Old Tucson’s Nightfall celebrates 25 years of frights this month. Some 30,000-40,000 souls are expected to wander through the haunted western town. This year it’s been nominated as a contender in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards for National Best Theme Park Halloween Event.
Star apprentice Callie Kittredge calls herself the “ultimate horror seeker.” She slipped into a preview night at Old Tucson and subjected herself to the live shows and hideous characters so you would know what to expect. Here’s what she found.
There is “blood” everywhere.
A man in overalls bleeds from his head and waves around a chainsaw. He’s coming right toward me and doesn’t look as though he’s going to stop. I freeze. Somehow I make my escape.
Screams are heard as girls who look like terrifying, bloody dolls, with stitches around their faces, weave around the crowd. They make eye contact for far too long. I look away when it becomes too much.
Discomfort promises to be a constant companion at Nightfall.
There is someone on stilts with no face, and people in creepy baby masks laughing. It’s a nightmare brought to life.
Everything is intensified thanks to Old Tucson’s isolated location west of the Tucson Mountains.
The scariest attractions beckon, though it seems the scare quotient is already pretty high.
One of those, the Psychomania is a dark, twisted corridor.
We are given to understand it replicates a psychotic human brain. Heavy metal music blares. The pounding makes me feel as though I’m going crazy. As I walk through the Psychomania, things grab at my feet. I pass through heavily-fogged rooms — fractured memories, we are told. They are filled with empty car parts, broken equipment and complete filth. People reach out at me through barricaded windows. I turn the corner and find myself in a bedroom where a mother holds a zombie baby and smiles up at me. I can’t wait to get out.
The Bunker is the safe place if there is an apocalypse. Who knows how safe, though. It’s interior is pitch black save for a dimly lit flashlight handed to me before I set foot in this horror pit. It’s eerily quiet and at times I have to feel to find my way through. I walk into a room filled with bunk beds with what looks like rotting corpses in them. Instinct tells me not to trust these figures to stay dead.
Suddenly, a blanket moves. One of those bodies and I make eye contact. It’s alive and coming for me. It’s definitely time to hustle out of the Bunker.
The Twisted Circus Train leads me out into the desert and ends in a sort of maze. I squeeze my way past as clowns run at me.
One, with a frown and red eyes, stares me down. I have to pass by him, but he blocks my path. He doesn’t move. He keeps staring. I inch my way towards, him, slowly, cautiously. Just when I think I’ve made it, he leaps toward me. And I scream. This attraction is not for the claustrophobic — or the coulrophobic (the fear of clowns).
The full moon — as well as some lights — help me navigate Old Tucson’s dusty streets. I walk slowly. With each step, the sensation of being watched increases. I eye what looks like a nonthreatening machine perched on a bench. I decide to take a photo and slowly inch toward it. I think I’m safe, but am still apprehensive. Just as I pull along side the object and am ready to snap a photo, he leaps up. I run and he chases me. Heart pounding, I elude him, but just barely.
The walking dead. Menacing clowns. Lots of pretend blood.
It will be a happy Halloween indeed.