Area 52 clown

Aliens aren’t the only friends waiting for you at KLAQ’s Area 52.

With Halloween season in full swing, it was time for me to find El Paso’s scariest staged haunted house.

Before I tell the harrowing tales of these places, I’d like to thank all the brave souls who accompanied me through three eerie nights. When I first attempted this feat two years ago, I quickly learned that I couldn’t do it alone. Reader beware: haunted house hopping can lead to embarrassingly high pitched screams, soiled pants and the instant use of safe words such as “chicken, chicken, chicken,” and “I’m a sissy!”

On the first night of horror, my wife Fernanda and I visited Canutillo’s Terror Trails, KLAQ’s Area 52 and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office haunted house: Paranoia Asylum. Each year, brothers Robert and Billy Crossland don’t disappoint when it comes to the Terror Trails experience.

“The psychology of scaring is everything that is important about haunted houses,” Billy said. “There are the jump scares, but everything we do is hopefully set up by the distraction and then the startle.”

Now in its eighth year, Terror Trail organizers ensure customers keep coming back for more by redesigning the haunted rooms and offering options like chasing zombies with laser guns or simulating the experience of being buried alive. Through misdirection and attention to detail, Terror Trails distorts the senses, allowing visitors to suspend disbelief and be engrossed in fear.

“I tried to do this and I went about halfway – maybe a little more than half – then I had to go,” Marquisa Johnson said after going through the trail. “I just started screaming, ‘I can’t do this!’”

After we enjoyed our zombie-shooting escapade, my wife and I were off to Area 52.

A menacing partnership between KLAQ and Desert Warriors Paintball, Area 52 has a similar layout to Terror Trails’, but with an otherworldly twist that would give “X Files” nerds a field day. The venue includes an outdoor alien abduction-themed maze and a UFO crash site. Attendees can also pay a little extra to take down extraterrestrials with their paintball guns.

“The audience reception has been positive,” said Jerry Castellanos of 915 Live Productions, the mastermind behind the haunted house design.

“That’s our favorite part,” Castellanos said, referring to the planning and preparation. “We put everything on the table and start brewing up ideas. It takes about two and a half months. The experience we give the customers here is different than the other ones because we are outdoors.”

Area 52 aliens

Nooooot quite sure if these guys come in peace...

After going through Area 52, my wife agreed with Castellanos. While Terror Trails also has an open-field concept, Fernanda said Area 52 had better spacing and scare tactics. I wasn’t ready to lay judgement yet, for I knew my fears were only beginning.

The last visit of the night was the asylum at the sheriff’s office.

My experience at Paranoia Asylum further revealed that I’m a sissy when it comes to haunted houses. Seriously – I used my wife as a human shield and pushed her like a ragdoll to avoid being startled.

Two years ago, my experience at the asylum left me confident that I would be unscathed by the end of the journey. Boy, was I wrong this time. Halfway through the experience, my wife and I saw a figure contort like Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in “The Exorcist.” At that point, I pushed my wife out of the way and ran screaming, “¡Eso no es de Dios. Eso no es de Dios!” I was sure we had entered the seventh circle of hell.

Despite my demonic sighting and holy proclamations, the fear factory does use its haunted lair for a good cause. The actors are all high school students trying to earn some community service, and proceeds benefit the sheriff’s office Explorer Post 2005. Be that as it may, there’s nothing friendly about that place.

Chapter 2: (Un)pleasant Surprises

A week later, my wife used the convenient excuse of work to avoid visiting the rest of the haunted houses on our list. I suspect she was tired of being left for dead while I ran for the exits. No matter, when I reached Forbidden Acres, I found new people who agreed to journey with me to the unknown.

This is the third year Forbidden Acres offers its haunted attraction. The owners said proceeds help support El Pasoans suffering from multiple sclerosis. An admirable effort indeed, but it doesn’t offset their sinister desire to scare the living daylights out of you.

As I approached the site, I was greeted with eerie music. The mood is immediately amplified by the pitch darkness of 13161 Tobacco Rd. Its unpaved and uneven road make you doubt whether a person can survive the experience. I didn’t want to go at it alone so I hitched my wagon to anyone who would allow me to join them. I met Julianna Messer, Amanda Rodriguez, Jacob Rodriguez and Rolando Rodriguez. We pushed through as best we could. About a quarter of the way though, I heard Rolando scream, “I’m a sissy!” He was promptly escorted out.

It was surprising how the Forbidden Acres organizers used corners and dead-ends to confuse people. It took every inch of me not to tap out as I endured the endlessly frightful experience.

The next night, I drove to Fort Bliss to review my last haunted house this Halloween season. Much like Paranoia Asylum, The Massacre on Marshall Road had done its homework since my last visit 24 months ago. The rooms are scarier, and they’ve added a camera that captures frightful faces as they travel through the tour. Their prices are also much lower than other haunted houses in the area. Organizers said they wanted to give guests twice the scare at half the cost. They did not disappoint.

“It was so amazing and unforgettable. A definite must go if you are in the area,” said guest Melissa de la Cruz. “It’s a great idea to have pictures because they capture the moment.”

There you have it, folks. El Paso has some seriously scary places to visit. I have my favorite, most improved and most surprising, but I’ll leave it to you to choose which one is best. I will say this, though: the competition for most frightful places is stiffening up. All houses are stepping up their game. This could be good, or then again, bad. Very, very bad.