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 the Tri-Valley.
The Pirates of Emerson has, puns intended, sailed to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, where it has 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 $25 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 do well, 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 p.m., 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 lawn furniture is used both outdoors as furniture and indoors as actual furniture, 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, including:
Dead Time Dreams
This haunted house is open from 7-10 p.m. today through next Sunday at Stoneridge Shopping Center, in the parking lot near Macy's and Sears. Rated PG-13. Cost is $10.
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 at Emerald Glen Park. Cost is $5 with student ID. Snacks provided.
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 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.
'That Old Blackhawk Magic Halloween Party'
Blackhawk Museum will host "That Old Blackhawk Magic Halloween Party" from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday at the museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville. There will be music, dancing, costumes, finger food, cooktails and more! Tickets are available online now at http://blackhawk.ticketleap.com/blackhawk-magic-xiv.
Celebrate Halloween at Blackhawk Plaza
Celebrate Halloween at Blackhawk Plaza with trick-or-treating and a costume contest from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday in the plaza. Wear your costume and bring a bag for trick or treating. This event is free. Visit www.shopblackhawkplaza.com/center_events.
Pumpkin Patch is Open
Moore's Pumpkin Patch at Forest Home Farms Historic Park is open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. today throough Sunday at 19953 San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon. Come pick a pumpkin and enjoy some fun on the farm including hay tunnel, bounce house, inflatable slide, train, hay maze, petting zoo and more. Call 831-2998 or visit www.moorespumpkinpatch.com.
Family Storytime Special Halloween Celebration
Dougherty Station Library will host a special Family Storytime by celebrating Halloween at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the library, 17017 Bollinger Canyon Rd., San Ramon. Wear your Halloween costumes. Call 973-3380.