Haven of Horror

Pagans, rejoice!

'Tis the scary season once again, and Halloween in all of its ghastly glory is listed as the second-largest commercial holiday, one that's slowly sneaking up on Christmas. According to the National Retail Federation, this year alone consumers will spend an estimated $3.3 billion in their quest for fiendish fun, and South Floridians are no exception.

Situated on eleven acres adjacent to Miami International Mall in Doral, the new Miami Haunted House of Horror is South Florida's largest haunted attraction. This Halloween theme park features Spookyville, a village for the little ones complete with magicians and freakishly small ponies; a fairground with 23 rides, a 40-foot-high bungee-jumping dome, monster truck rides, and a paintball booth; and a PG-13-rated haunted house, a veritable dungeon of doom, with as many as 80 live actors whose sole purpose is to render you a quivering wreck.


Miami Haunted House of Horror

Through October. Miami International Mall, 1455 NW 107th Ave, Doral; 305-971-6444.

This haven of horror is the brainchild of Miami resident Robby Rutter and Jon Herak, owner of a special effects production company, Once Upon a Time Studios — and they're soliciting the cries, and cash, of any who dare enter.

"We're stepping up the game," Rutter says. "South Florida needs a good haunted house, and we're going to provide it."

The house itself features more than twenty spine-tingling scenes and just enough innovative elements to keep the age-old genre relatively fresh, including a scurrying school of live rats and a swamp. Drawing on his years of experience spent producing special effects for some of the nation's largest theme parks, including Universal Studios and Busch Gardens, Herak has designed a devilish diversion filled with hidden corridors, a graveyard encounter, blood-squirting amputees, and a stream of other heart-stopping surprises.

But the success of any twisted netherworld lies in its actors and their ability to terrorize. This group of ghouls, though gruesome-looking, ranges from excited teenagers who probably can't even spell element of surprise to a chainsaw-wielding sadist whose performance made me think a Broadway casting agent was lurking in one of the darkened hallways.

"Some are volunteer students and some are actors that just enjoy doing this stuff, the ones that always come out of the woodwork at this time of year," Rutter explains.

Although the house should reacquaint your ticker with your rib cage, the rest of the attraction is mediocre. The ghoul patrol sheepishly meandering through the park is too timid in its approach; and having the bride of Dracula breathe down your neck isn't exactly shuddersome, particularly once you realize that underneath the badly applied makeup is a petite twenty-year-old.

A surprisingly scary part of the park is the children's inflatable slide — not the ride itself but the bevy of protruding two-foot-high metal spikes anchoring it to the ground.

As I wandered through the near-deserted park (it was a weeknight) — accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a carousel playing ominously in the distance and an eerie shroud of moonlight illuminating the sky — I couldn't help feeling like I was starring in a low-budget horror flick. Having successfully managed to dodge a stilt-walker and a juggler on my way to the exit, I was met head-on by a smirking street performer eager to bid me farewell. By his side sat a small primate in a fancy dress.

"Thanks for coming, folks," he said. "Remember, we're only monkeying around."

I could be wrong, but I swear the animal winked at me.


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