What’s that strange foreboding moving in across the waters near Long Beach California, causing a sudden chill to fill the air at sun down? It means Halloween can’t be far away, and area locals have an added reason to anticipate the days of diminishing sunshine. That’s when “The Queen Mary”, anchored there since 1967, takes on a festively funereal atmosphere–so much so that perhaps a better name for her would be “The Queen Scary“. This year however, the Long Beach landmark’s annual autumn tradition enters a more nightmarish dimension with “The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor”.
Totally new for 2010, the crew expertly manages to ‘flaunt their haunt’ having given the old ship and surrounding grounds a masterfully morbid makeover with the help of several “fright masters” who have conjured their macabre magic for some of Southern California’s most notable scare-fests. After all, how many other locations can boast a reputation for actually being haunted? During World War II, when this luxury liner was pressed into service as a troop transport, even the name it was given temporarily proved eerily prophetic–“The Grey Ghost”. This is one spot where such an attraction is as natural a fit as a Jack-O-Lantern on the front porch if any were, and you may ‘requiescat’ assured that the creature creators here take full advantage of this rich and colorful history. Playing up all the legends and stories, they’ve crafted a back story that flows like an unsettling undercurrent through each otherworldly offering.
“We wanted total emersion at the point of entry,” says General Manager Uwe Roggenthien, and right from the start, foolish mortals are lured into the whole haunted happening via a twisting tunnel constructed entirely from cargo containers. Standing a top this doorway to damnation, they’ll find hideously-costumed characters beckoning them on to all the sinister surprises that lie in store for them. Once inside, the challenge is to avoid all the ’dearly’ and ’nearly’ departed attempting to impede the way. Upon emerging, those among the living find themselves in a peculiar post-apocalyptic seaport plagued with demons, zombies, mutants and every manner of walking ’dread’(–imaginable or otherwise!) Meanwhile, at the center of this diabolical “Landing of the Lost” is the mesmerizing “Hell’s Bell Tower”, similarly constructed from an additional eleven containers that rise up a breathtaking thirty-three feet with flames piecing the night sky (at jolting intervals) for a full twenty feet more.
Everywhere, tremendous attention to detail has been paid to each creak, groan, and even the slightest shadow! “We wanted the kind of haunts that you don’t see all the time,” Roggenthien adds. In this regard, they have succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest (and most feverish) dreams. Presenting a “scare-iety‘ of mazes, each makes a ghastly statement all its own with two on the grounds and three located on board the ship.
Set inside the vessel’s actual isolation ward, “The Containment Ward” is located toward the rear of the ship behind the emergency generators. Historically, this is where anyone on board diagnosed with a potentially communicable disease was isolated from others during long ocean voyages. As depicted here, we’re sent to witness as a mad ship’s doctor has taken possession of the passengers and crew–mercilessly experimenting on them in the most gruesome ways, thus revealing a bone-chilling trail of torture and suffering that’s sure to leave you wondering whether you’ll make it out in one piece.
Next you’re invited to feel your spirits dampen in “Submerged“. This one is sure to leave you green around the gills with 23,000 gallons of recycled water coursing through some truly terrifying water effects which confound your efforts to flee a quickly sinking ship. Again making the most of one of the boat’s creepier legends (concerning the indoor pool area being perhaps the most haunted place on board,) look closely and you just may catch a few swimming phantoms gliding through water that doesn’t exist! It’s exactly these “Did I really see that?” moments that make “Dark Harbor” first-class.
Next door, there’s “Hellfire” which sets fear ablaze as visitors meander helplessly down a doomed path to escape a burning ship, by navigating its darkest walkways and secluded corridors. Awesome special effects include a fiery boiler room that unwary visitors must cross directly over via a catwalk perilously suspended over the inferno below (if they want to see daylight again that is!)
Back on shore, horror takes a more homespun turn as “Village of the Damned” takes you through a cursed shanty town with a guaranteed shock around every corner. Beware though–even the furniture may reach out and grab you in this one! In addition, entirely new to this surreal seaside netherworld is “The Cage“, located in the very dome that once housed the “Spruce Goose”. Never before utilized in all the years The QM has been producing Halloween celebrations, debuting such prime space required something especially perplex and mystifying. After making their way through a misty haze, hapless travelers are taunted and jeered at by giant projections of devilish faces who warn of the madness yet to come. Let’s just say you can expect an experience right out of a psychotic breakdown–so mind blowing, there is absolutely nothing else like it anywhere else out there! (Just be sure to watch out for any ’dead ends’ you might run into along the cavernous trail that winds through this genuinely ominous labyrinth.)
Also on land, guests can grab a bite at any of the many food stands, or slake their thirst at the “Night Mariner’s Bar“ where all manner of spirituous potations can be obtained (for those whose nerves could do with a little liquid bravery.) Here is also where you can pick up a souvenir picture of yourself with a corpse or in a graveyard. Across the way lies the main stage on which local bands like indie favourite “Acidic”, are featured every night.
Skater/sliders too, are a fairly common way to work up a fright and appear throughout many similar events–and here is no exception. Blending into the background just waiting to zip across the paths of the unwary, they’re always a ‘terror-ific’ way to throw a good start into a crowd. Yet while “sliders’ usually work their talents outdoors, this is also where many of the mazes at “Dark Harbor“ make themselves distinct. To encounter a slider anywhere out on the grounds is startling; to do so in the close confines of a darkened maze can be positively heart-stopping! Likewise, from scorched to scaly, mutated or mutilated, the make-up effects sported by these merry fiends stalking “Fiend Mary’s” innermost sanctum are nothing less than…well, “Dead-On”.
This ‘spirited’ event occurs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings until October 31; starting October 21, the scares ignite on Thursday nights as well with an additional Wednesday night on October 27. The tricks and treats begin at 7:00 PM sharp and carry through until the ‘witching hour’ of midnight. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.com or can be purchased each night of the event starting at 5pm. General Admission is normally $35.00, while a special “Fast Fright Pass” granting immediate access to the front of the line “frightfully“ quick can be obtained for $55.00. On the weekends of 10/8-10/10 and 10/15-10/17 however, General Admission is only $29.00; also during this time, Southern California students with a valid student ID, can take advantage of an additional discounted price of $25.00.
For more information log onto: www.queenmary.com , and (burial) plot your next course for Long Beach Harbor. There’s no better place to ‘make a ghoul of yourself’ than to pay a visit to this completely revamped adventure. Come on–they’re ex-‘specter‘-ing you!
(Special Thanks To Ted Ragsdale, Chance Shay, Erika Testo, Uwe Roggenthien and everyone at “Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor”)