It's Halloween season, the traditional time of year to get your scare on, and the 13th scariest attraction in America (yes, there are apparently people who keep track of these things) has come to Pleasanton.
The Pirates of Emerson has, puns intended, sailed to the Alameda County Fairgrounds, where it's weighed anchor until Halloween night.
What do pirates have to do with Emerson? Not much, according to Chief Bogeyman Brian Fields, who runs the show.
Fields said the whole idea came from his Halloweens growing up in Fremont, when he and his friends on -- you guessed it -- Emerson Street started a tradition of scaring neighborhood kids. One thing led to another, and 19 years ago, Fields and his parents, Karl and Patty, opened "Pirates of Emerson -- Haunting Fields." It's a bit of an inside joke: Are the fields the location or the family?
At $20 a person at the Fairgrounds, more for add-ons like a speed pass or munions (coupons for side attractions like a misfortune teller's booth and "carnevil" booths), along with $8 for parking, it's not cheap. Discounts are available online at PiratesofEmerson.com, which, by the way, has some cool animations.
The haunting fields are actually six separate haunted houses and other attractions, including a maze and the carnevil booths, and there's a lot to do to get it all ready on any given night. In addition to making sure everything is working right, Fields said, "I've got 60, 70 people I've got to get into costume and made up every night."
Fields has another worry -- the Giants. While he wants them to win, he's concerned that people may end up staying home to watch the post season games and not come out. So far, he said, "Pirates" is doing well.
While it nominally opens at 7 pm., there's usually a short delay while Fields runs around doing a final check. The crowd gathers, waiting in groups outside. Someone inside bangs on the wooden entrance doors, drawing some nervous laughter.
There's a technique to getting the most out of a haunted house: Put the person most easily scared in front. This accomplishes two things -- first off, it's funny to watch, plus it makes everyone else in the group look fearless by comparison.
It worked really well on a recent Friday night with a group of three wending their way through the "Dig of the Dead." Teera Abernathy, the screamer of the group, had to literally be pushed along, face in hands, while Ty Abernathy and Diane O'Shea pushed, watched and tried not to laugh too hard.
Another group, a bunch of 14-year-olds from Livermore, was having fun at the expense of one of their friends, Tristan Knuth.
"I like it, but the main reason I come out is so I won't get called a chicken by my friends," Knuth said. He managed to keep his eyes closed the entire time he went through the Pirates of Emerson attraction, led along by Devin Badger, who said he comes for the adrenaline rush.
It's tempting to give away the details about what's inside each of the haunts, but that's best left to the imagination. It's worth noting, though, that there are people who actually get paid to stand along the way and scream at the top of their lungs. One can only imagine their job interviews.
Then there are the pirates -- people with hooks and eye patches -- who get paid to walk around and say things like, "Avast there, ye salty dogs."
The real question is: What draws people to things designed to frighten them?
Jason Dunn, who came all the way from Benicia, may have had the best answer.
"There's probably something deep down inside that wants to be scared," he said.
If "Pirates" isn't scary enough, there's a whole crop of movies almost guaranteed to make you leave the lights on all night. George Romero's classic black-and-white "Night of the Living Dead" may top the list, although some zombie purists suggest "Dawn of the Dead" -- also by Romero -- is better. Rent them both and decide for yourself.
It may be of note to zombie movie fans that Romero didn't actually start the genre, which can be traced back to 1932's "White Zombie." If you prefer your zombies with humor, "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead" may be worth your while.
The humorous horror movie -- intentionally humorous, not like Ed Wood's infamous "Plan 9 from Outer Space," where the same lawn furniture is used both outdoors and indoors, and flying hubcaps on strings are the invaders -- include "An American Werewolf in London," "Arachnophobia," its twisted sister "Eight-Legged Freaks," "Tremors" and "Evil Dead II" although only the latter is leave-the-lights-on scary.
If you prefer classic horror, there are always the classics like "The Blob," (both the 1958 and 1988 versions are good -- the same goes for both versions of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") and the original "Halloween" along with modern favorites like "The Thing."
Vampire movies are hot right now, but for the best fear factor, forget "Twilight" and consider "Lost Boys," from 1982, which is both fun and scary (plus it has the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman), or Quentin Tarantino's "From Dusk Til Dawn" or "30 Days of Night," arguably the scariest vampire movie ever.
That's not to mention the enormous number of slasher films out there. Tops among them is probably "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but "Scream" and all of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies -- except part four.
Then there are the haunted house movies, with the 1963 classic "The Haunting" still standing tall, so to speak, despite remakes and adaptations like "The House on Haunted Hill." "Poltergeist" is still scary as ever, as is "The Amityville Horror," and, yes, despite getting blasted, both the "Blair Witch Project" and "The Shining" are enough to draw goosebumps.
The best thing about renting a horror movie is that you can always hit pause if things get a little too intense.
There are tons of scary books out there, too, and although Stephen King gets a bad rap, he does creepy really well. "The Shining" and "Pet Sematary" and the short story "1408" may be his scariest. Also worth a mention is the graphic novel series "The Walking Dead," which is as much about what happens to people when the world they know is over as it is about zombies.
If getting the bejeezus scared out of you isn't your cup of nightshade tea, there's a graveyard full of other events in the area..
Halloween in Pleasanton: Parties, Pumpkins, Poetry
Dead Time Dreams
This haunted house is open from 7-10 p.m. Oct. 21 through Oct. 31 at Stoneridge Shopping Center, in the parking lot near Macy's and Sears. Rated PG-13. Cost $10.
Downtown Pleasanton Ghost Walks
Stop at the Museum on Main and learn the fascinating stories about Pleasanton businesses that once harbored ethereal beings. Or learn that maybe, just maybe, they haven't really left their haunted locales. Walks take place starting at 6 p.m. and run every 30 minutes Oct. 22, 23, 29 and 30. Costumes are welcome. Tickets are $18 for adults; students, $13.
Halloween at Alviso Adobe
Imagine the ghosts of Francisco Alviso or milkmen-past from the old Meadowlark Dairy. City Naturalist Eric Nichols will talk about nocturnal animals and some of the eerie myths that surround the site, and participants will make a Halloween craft. All ages welcome; 20-minute tours begin at 6:30 p.m. and end at 9:20 p.m., Friday, Oct. 22, and Saturday, Oct. 23, at the park, 3465 Old Foothill Road. Cost $5 for residents and $8 for non-residents. Call 931-5340.
Alviso Adobe Community Park, Oct. 23, 2-3:30p.m. Ages 4 and up. Pumpkins and tools provided. Cost $15 for residents, $18, non-residents
Creepy or cool? Meet special Halloween guests -- a bat, a tarantula, a snake and a great horned owl with Sulphur Creek Nature Center Naturalist Diane Lang, 2-3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 24, at the Pleasanton Public Library, 400 Old Bernal Ave. Best for ages 5 and older. Call 931-3400, ext. 8.
Trick or Treat!! Dublin
Have a safe and fun Halloween experience at the Tri-Valley Adoption Center in Dublin, featuring a scavenger hunt, time to meet some animals, fun activities, and of course - candy! Costumes strongly encouraged from 1-3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 24, at 4651 Gleason Drive, Dublin. Free.
Livermore Downtown Halloween Carnival
The second annual Downtown Halloween Carnival will take place from 4-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct, 27, for families with children in fifth grade and younger. A $5 Fun Pass will give children access to downtown activities on J Street and K Street between First and Second Street or at the Livermore Valley Plaza and the Flag Pole Plaza. For information, call 373-1795.
"Nightmare," a terrifying night of improv as presented by the Creatures of Impulse, Pleasanton's own teen improv troupe, will begin at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 28; Friday, Oct. 29; and Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Firehouse Arts Center, 444 Railroad Ave. Participants can help create the story, setting and characters for fun, interactive and completely unscripted theater. Tickets are $5-$8. Call 931-4828.
Harvest Valley Church Harvest Festival
The festival is from 6-9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29, at Harvest Valley Church, 3200 Hopyard Rd., with food, games, inflatables, puppets and live music. Call 484-2482.
Bark & Brew and Howl-o-ween Costume Contest
Tricks AND Treats! Enjoy beer or wine while you help select winners in numerous canine costume categories, from 6-9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29. Visit Murphy's Paw, 410 Main St., for details. Donations benefit Valley Humane Society.
Tennis Halloween Fun Night
Tennis buffs of all ages can bring their frightening forehands, scary serves and gruesome ground strokes to the fifth annual Halloween Fun Night from 6-8:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29, at the Pleasanton Tennis Complex, Hopyard Rd. and Valley Ave. Kids and adults who attend in costume can tour the Haunted Hallway of Horror. Enjoy treats and tennis games for all age groups. Call 931-3446.
RADD (Recreation Activities for the Developmentally Disabled) Halloween Dance.
DJ, dancing and a light snack from 7-10 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29, at the Pleasanton Senior Center, 5353 Sunol Blvd. Cost is $16.
Capture the Cauldron
Put on your camouflage and join other Dublin teens as you lurk around Emerald Glen Park in the dark, searching for and capturing the cauldron. It is recommended that participants wear clothes that can get wet and dirty. From 8:30-10 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29, at Emerald Glen Park. $5 with student ID. Snacks provided.
The Second Annual Fall Fest in Downtown Pleasanton
Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring a Spooky Scavenger Hunt. Kids can come in costume and register at the Museum. Every location they find will reward them with a Halloween treat or toy. Find all the downtown locations and win a surprise goody bag! The Fall Fest will also have a Sweet and Savory Tasting Contest, with restaurants and bakeries participating. Tasting cards are $10 apiece and limited to the first 200 participants. Also, bring your pumpkin to the Museum on Main for a carving contest. The pumpkins will be divided up by age groups and categories. Public votes will determine the winners.
Halloween Comedy and Costume Contest
Fifteen comedians will perform in costume, each of them doing a five-minute set, from 7:30-9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 30, at Bunjo's Comedy Lounge, 6513 Regional St., Dublin. The audience will vote for its favorite comedian and favorite comedian in costume. Cost is $10. Call 264-4413.
An old time autumn festival with fun for all ages, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 31, at Valley Community Church, 4455 Del Valle Parkway. Food, activities, games and entertainment. Free with canned food donation. Call 846-6622, ext. 10.
Spooky poems read by teens followed by a special reading by a guest poet from 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 31, at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. Open mic to follow (spooky poems welcome); Halloween costumes optional. Cost $5; students free with ID. Call 931-4848.