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The Already-Creepy Winchester Mystery House is the Perfect Halloween Setting

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 Nick Dickson (left) and Slater Penney (right) as the tonic salesman and Hobo Clown. Photo credit Kenny Hoff

The Winchester Mystery House’s annual Halloween Haunt is back after a two year hiatus, and the Bay Area could not be more excited to welcome its return. If you’re not familiar, the Winchester house was built by Sarah Winchester who, ridden with guilt over her family’s role in producing the rifles that killed many people, thought she had to continuously construct her house to confuse their evil spirits. This resulted in the weirdest house ever, with stairways to nowhere and doors that open out to the sky and more. That’s the story anyway (popularized by none other than Harry Houdini), and it’s the one most people choose to believe. It’s worth visiting San Jose to take the tour and hear all about this wacky lady, who was also allegedly a Spiritualist who held regular seances, and whose house inspired Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. There could not be a more perfect location for an immersive haunted house show on Halloween.

The already-creepy Winchester Mystery House is the perfect Halloween setting. Photo credit Kenny Hoff

One admission before I go any further: I’m a huge wimp when it comes to anything scary, especially haunted houses. I forced my husband to come with me so I could hold onto him if anything jumped out, because I will literally scream and cover my eyes if anything unexpectedly comes at me. So keep that in mind when evaluating whether this experience might either be too scary, or not scary enough, for you.
The biggest thing I will say about this experience is: effort was made. The overall decorations are plentiful, and the spooky carnival when you enter is just the right amount of janky, decked out with performers walking around and fun banners everywhere.

This is not your mother’s little haunted house in the garage, it is large scale and immediately draws you in. 15 minutes after you are let in, there is a fun show on a rickety stage that starts off trying to sell you a magic tonic and ends with… well, I don’t want to ruin it, so you’ll have to trust me that it’s worth sticking around until the end. The actors were all super committed and seemed to be having a great time. I especially enjoyed the titular character of Madame Nightshade, played expertly by Bruxa Palmeiro. Like I said, effort was made and it pays off.

Nick Dickson (left) and Slater Penney (right) as the tonic salesman and Hobo Clown. Photo credit Kenny Hoff

The haunted house experience itself is what I was most nervous about because I get really uncomfortable in dark places where things could jump out at you. Luckily, this was not the Terror Vault or anything designed to actually make you pee your pants. The scares were just enough to make you startle and then giggle, nobody ever touches you, and the rooms were very cleverly staged. So if you’re a wimp like me who’s ok stepping a little out of your comfort zone, you’ll be fine. If you really want to pee your pants, then you’ll probably still enjoy it for the crafty use of the space, but know that you’re not gonna get your scare fix.

Perhaps the most brilliant thing about it is the use of the house itself. The walk-through feels incredibly labyrinthian to the point where I could not have told you which direction I was facing at any point. There was no need for cheesy pipe-and-drape or constructed sets because the house is already creepy and strange. Combined with the plethora of added decorations, walking through makes for a very full experience. Despite feeling a little uncomfortable the whole time, I was sad when it ended.
Sean Lee as the Banjo Player. Photo credit Kenny Hoff

The one annoying thing was waiting in lines. We gave up on the bar for that reason, and the transition between the show and actually getting into the house was slow (I suppose we could have left earlier to get in line, but I wanted to stay until the end of the show). This is typical and unavoidable with this type of attraction, but for the fullest experience, my advice would be this: don’t go to the bar when you come in like we did, instead watch the whole show, then go hang out with your drink while you wait for the haunted house line to get shorter. There’s plenty to see in the backyard area and my guess is that you’ll probably have a better experience doing it that way.


Overall, this was worth the drive from SF and a fun way to see the Winchester house. Harry Houdini would be proud!

Unhinged: Nightshade’s Curse will take place on 13 select evenings from Friday, September 30 through Monday, October 31, 2022.

General admission tickets start at $64.99 and are available here.

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Genie Cartier is a San Francisco native. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in English/ Creative Writing and earned an MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry from SFSU. Check out her novella Fog City Summer on this website. When not writing, she is also a professional circus performer of 24 years and will be directing Dark Side of the Circus, a circus choreographed to Pink Floyd, in April 2020. Find out more at