Attraction of the week: Texas' Kemah Boardwalk Dungeon of Doom
Written by Jacob Sundstrom
Growing up in San Jose, California, I was no stranger to boardwalks. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was just an hour's drive away and my family made at least one trip over the Santa Cruz "mountains" every summer in the early- to mid-2000s. Being in a northern California coastal town, sweatshirts and jeans were required attire in July just as they were in December.Tweet
In Kemah, Texas (located on Galveston Bay, just south of Houston)? Yeah, try 90 degrees and 65 percent humidity in the first week of October. I left my jeans (why did I even bring them!?) and sweatshirt at my new apartment as the wife and I made the trek to the Kemah Boardwalk, home to the Boardwalk Bullet, several flat rides, restaurants and in October, the Dungeon of Doom.
This was my second trip to Kemah, my first since 2011 when I first took a spin on the Boardwalk Bullet, one of my favorite wooden roller coasters. Bullet has not lost a step and appears to be as popular as ever. The boardwalk was hopping Saturday thanks to a large beer festival and many a patron made their way across the way to take a spin on the Gravity Group creation.
But I wasn’t here for the Boardwalk Bullet (okay, okay... maybe a little bit); I was here for a haunted house I knew nothing about. In my experience, these smaller, low-budget mazes have the opportunity to be just as scary as anything you’ll find at a Universal Studios or Cedar Fair park. The brunt of any maze’s scares comes from the actors, so if the scareactors know what they’re doing, you can paint the walls black, pump a building with fog and get the job done.
It also doesn’t hurt when you go through a maze at 4 p.m. on a Saturday when there’s virtually no one in the maze but you. This left me to stumble through the dark passageways, often times needing to feel my way through by putting my hand on the wooden walls, alone. That’s an experience a big theme park can’t deliver outside of an up-charge attraction. You’re (rarely) going to stumble upon an empty maze at Halloween Horror Nights; usually you have to accept that you’ll be plodding along a maze with hundreds of other paying customers.
That was not the case in Kemah.
I entered the maze with a father and son; one of whom was not in any rush to get through this maze. I decided to surge ahead of them, lest I never receive any of the scares I paid $15 to enjoy. So I started walking, and walking and...well, you get the idea. This maze was enormous. I spent 15-20 minutes wading my way through room after room and scare after scare, wondering if there would ever be a respite from the terror. I get scared easily -- which is why I have fun at these events, but there’s something especially horrifying about knowing there is not another soul within five minutes of you in either direction.
The maze was housed underneath an elevated part of the boardwalk and was 100 percent indoors -- a welcome blessing given the oppressive Texan heat. This also allowed the creators to build a maze that felt very permanent. The walls were high and made of wood and the scenes were well crafted both thematically and strategically to give actors places to hide from guests when they did not want to be seen.
Actors jumped up from behind half-walls that separated guests from scenery and many followed me through the dark hallways, which kept me from anticipating what would come around the next dark corridor. I assume this was done out of necessity: It was that or hide behind a wall and wait for the next guest to come, but goodness, it was effective.
Rooms were separated by the long plastic curtains you might find in a freezer, meaning you could not see from room to room. In between themed rooms were long hallways that seemed to end abruptly thanks to keeping the corners poorly lit. Whether that keeps up with some sort of haunted house safety code, I don’t know, but good lord it was terrifying.
Then there were clowns. And then there were chainsaws. Thankfully not clowns wielding chainsaws, though, or I might not have survived to bring you this report at all.
Kemah Boardwalk’s Dungeon of Doom doesn’t have a story or central theme, but it did a heck of a job in scaring me halfway to death. In the quest for great haunted attractions, remember that you don’t always have to spend $60 and drive to a large theme park. Some of the best attractions are set up right in your backyard -- or boardwalk.
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