We regret to inform you that Halloween is canceled.
No, the Great Pumpkin didn't tweet anything problematic—the Oregon Health Authority, following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has recommended against trick-or-treating in 2020, because global health crisis. Sorry, but you'll have to dress the little one like Dr. Fauci for your own amusement alone.
That said, some traditions are going forward. Many pumpkin patches are still operating with attendant safety provisions in place. And there are even a few walk-through haunted houses giving it a go.
But for those who consider leaving home to wander through any foreign building with strangers a scare too far this year, there is an alternative.
In the Portland area, two "drive-thru haunted houses" opened this past weekend, looking to frighten visitors without asking them to get out of their cars and confront the actual terror of life in a pandemic. Here are our reviews.
Oaks Park Haunted Drive-Thru
7805 SE Oaks Park Way, 503-233-5777, scaregroundspdx.com. Through Nov. 1.
What's the story? A series of three-act mini-plays take place inside detached car garages on the grounds of the Sellwood amusement park, with actors mouthing prerecorded dialogue played through a Bluetooth speaker mounted on your dash. In "The Condemned"—the second-most frightening of the five "theatrical experiences," according to the skull-based ratings system on the website, and the one that still had a few slots available opening weekend—a group of soft scene kids from the city make the mistake of going outside the Portland bubble and get kidnapped by a family of cannibalistic country folk.
Cost: $79.99. Tickets must be purchased in advance at scaregroundspdx.com.
Biggest scare: The scares are pretty much entirely derived from the performers menacing you from outside the car then suddenly thwacking amputated foam body parts against the windshield. For what it's worth, the lead baddie really went for it on my poor little Prius.
Lamest moment: The speakers have to get swapped out between scenes, which is a bit awkward when it's one of the actors trying to stay in character while making the handoff through your driver-side window.
Blood spilled: Most of the splatter is suggested by offstage sound effects, but a fairly gnarly severed head makes an appearance at one point.
Worth the drive? The effort and production value are there, but 80 freaking dollars is a steep bar for any haunted house to clear. The first act plays out on a video screen, meaning there are only two segments with live actors, and the whole thing ends abruptly after about 25 minutes. It's fun, but unless eight of your most stoned friends are willing to cram into mom's minivan and split the cost, it's hard to imagine driving off satisfied given the price. MATTHEW SINGER.
Clackamas County Scare Fair
694 NE 4th Ave., Canby, 503-266-1136, clackamas.us/fair/clackamas- county-scare-fair. Through Nov. 1.
What's the story? A cooperative effort by a few Portland-area haunting groups, the Scare Fair has four distinct zones snaking through the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. Each area has it own theme: a well-done cemetery full of clever jokes and touching shout-outs; a creepy farm inhabited by an evil redneck cult; a "CarnEvil" run by clowns with a penchant for torture; and a post-apocalyptic wasteland of mutants and malformed creatures.
Biggest scare: No spoilers here, but let's just say there's a wonderfully twisted kumbaya moment around the midpoint and some effective surprises toward the end—keep your windows at least cracked for sound.
Lamest moment: Seems like they're trying to cram a few too many cars into each viewing window so you end up looking at a line of brake lights ahead, which diminishes the atmosphere somewhat. There's also a disappointing lack of sonic scares—the "soundtrack" for the attraction (via FM radio) is underwhelming.
Blood spilled: The Scare Fair isn't gory at all, save for a couple of tableaus in the CarnEvil section that feature some (potentially) disturbing carnage.
Worth the drive? Pointy witch hats off to anyone working to make Halloween a little more fun during a pandemic, so the bar for entertaining scares is a little lower than normal this year. The attraction's different zones keep things interesting, and most of the scenes are well executed, with a few standout visuals that will stick with you. The Scare Fair won't give you nightmares but it will provide 20 to 30 minutes of PG-13 spookiness that will definitely scratch a bit of your Halloween itch. GREGG HALE.
Gregg Hale is a film director, writer and producer best known for producing The Blair Witch Project. See a video interview with him here.