I had nightmares.

After mingling with lunatic clowns, menacing werewolves and bloody butchers, as well as zombies and other members of the walking dead, I brought them all home with me -- in my mind. And they stayed with me until 4:30 a.m., maybe a few minutes after, when I awoke from a terrifying dream in a cold sweat.

So consider that caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware -- if you're thinking about stepping into the nightmarish world that is Halloween Haunt at California's Great America in Santa Clara.

The ghoulish and ghastly event, which consumes the whole park grounds Friday through Sunday nights through Oct. 28, definitely lives up to its billing as something "not for wimps or children under 13." I definitely don't qualify for the latter, and I now have to reconsider whether or not I'm one of the former.

I never thought I was, at least when it came to "spookactular" productions, especially since horror is my favorite film genre by far. Yet, my recent trip to Halloween Haunt was a fright night to remember -- and, hopefully, someday forget.

Plenty of scares await those brave enough to step through the park gates. In the outdoor "scare zones," costumed creeps in full character walk right up to you and try to elicit screams. Then there are the seasonal live shows, such as the "Shocking Sideshow of Freaks" (which includes 7-foot-3 George the Giant) and the DJ dance fiesta called "Ghostly Glow Party."

However, the biggest scares await in the four haunted mazes, each one seemingly more intense than the previous. Once you enter, there's no going back.


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These mazes are filled with freakishly costumed actors. At least, I was told they were only actors; it was hard to remember that as monsters of mass destruction kept approaching me in rapid succession. I'm thankful I was also told that these creatures wouldn't touch me -- although they all seemed to take much delight invading my personal space. Fortunately, I was wearing deodorant. Boy, did I ever need it during my time in these mazes.

Each maze boasts an incredibly well-realized theme. There's the Massacre Manor, where visitors enter the world of Madame Marie, a Southern heiress who specializes in the dark arts of voodoo. Then there's the Slaughterhouse Annihilation maze, which is basically akin to stepping into the bloody, meat-grinding world of Leatherface and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

If you still have enough courage left, continue over to the demented Toy Factory; this is truly no place to do your Christmas shopping. Instead, it's filled with maniacal factory workers trying to assemble toys out of all kinds of parts -- including, I feared, my own.

Last, but certainly not least, on the fear-o-meter is Carn-Evil, which lives up to its billing as "the most gruesome carnival." I've always wondered why so many people have an aversion to clowns. Now I know.

Halloween Haunt is certainly a chilling way to get in the proper October mindset. Just don't be surprised if some of those chills stay with you long after you leave the park.

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.