Impending nuclear annihilation; near-constant natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires; and a shit-for-brains president fanning the flames of a race war: The world is a frightening place at the moment.
Still, it's almost Halloween, the time of year when we can delight in scary things that cannot literally kill us. For many people, that means haunted houses. And South Florida has some properly sphincter-tightening experiences for even the most macho of macho men and women.
1. Fright Nights at the South Florida Fairgrounds. For more than a decade, Fright Nights has been Palm Beach County’s answer to Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. With multiple haunts, scare zones, sideshow performers, midway rides, food vendors, and more than a hundred actors and volunteers lurking to jump-scare the piss out of adults and soon-to-be crying children, Fright Nights has all the charm of a demonic carnival. This year sees the venerable event hosting four new haunts — Occultus, Metamorphosis, Shutter, and the Cuckoo’s Nest — which offer witches, Frankenstein’s monster, serial-killer filmmakers, and an asylum run by the crazed patients, respectively. Thursday 6 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight through October 28 at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-793-0333; myfrightnights.com. Tickets cost $30.
2. X-Scream Halloween at G-Star School of the Arts. Billed as “Florida’s third-largest haunted house” (after the ones at Universal and Busch Gardens), the X-Scream Halloween is in its 13th year, an impressive run considering it’s effectively a yearlong school project. As might be expected from an institution combining the arts and the more traditional elements of education, the two haunts this year come with their own background stories. Tale of the Dragon Witch, where a witch invades your dreams, sounds like a cross between a gypsy curse and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Meanwhile, the Void is a dark maze meant to drain any hope of escape. 8 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday through October 28 at G-Star School of the Arts, 2030 S. Congress Ave., Palm Springs; 561-967-2023; xscreamhauntedhouse.com. Tickets cost $10 to $13.
3. Demented Haunt Escape Room. Not a haunted house per se, the Demented Haunt Escape Room is a Halloween-only adventure meant to both challenge your courage and survival skills. Most escape rooms provide a scenario in which participants have 60 minutes to win the game, but the Demented Haunt creates a situation in which it’s a matter of life or death: A "demented scientist" has used a biohazardous chemical to poison you, and you must find the formula that can reverse its effects — and destroy his work so no other villains can weaponize it. Expect a few surprise scares along the way. Noon to 10 p.m. through October 31 at 2515 State Rd. 7, Margate; 954-465-0666; dementedhaunt.com. Tickets cost $25. Reservations are recommended.
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4. Enigma Haunt. The tag line “Death is always an option” makes clear that the nefarious shadow figures behind Boca Raton’s Enigma Haunt are deadly serious about Halloween. The names of the trio of haunts are also imposing: Pandemic, Into Oblivion, and Realms of Terror. All are housed in one massive indoor location and seemingly build upon one another. Each has a backstory rooted in some sort of fictionalized, Florida-based horror lore that doesn’t include any Swamp Apes or Chupacabras but instead involves demons and zombies. 7 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 7 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through October 30, and 7 to 11 p.m. Tuesday, October 31, at 1751 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton; 855-99-HAUNT; enigmahaunt.com. Tickets cost $20 to $45.
5. House of Horror Haunted Carnival. In terms of overall entertainment value, the House of Horror Haunted Carnival might be the most comprehensive experience in South Florida, on par with and in some ways surpassing similar setups. Although it contains only two haunts — the 1455 Asylum and Gates of Phobia — the latter of which promises to test the fortitude of those unnerved by clowns, reptiles, spiders, and enclosed spaces, House of Horror also boasts a variety of attractions for attendees after they've escaped the clutches of the demons within. Included in the price of admission is the Freak Emporium, which houses a gallery of oddities such as Siamese-twin baby skulls and an alligator boy. There’s also the Hellzapoppin’ Circus Sideshow Revue, a "rock 'n' roll stunt show." 6 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sunday through November 4 at Miami International Mall, 1455 NW 107th Ave., Doral; houseofhorrorcarnival.com. Tickets cost $10 to $29.