As the Winchester Mystery House turns 100 years old, it brings a proper Halloween haunted house experience to the Bay Area’s favorite supposedly haunted house with Unhinged: Housewarming, a two-hour parade of installations and sight gags that are an absolute scream.
The Bay Area is proudly home to the “creepiest mansion in the U.S.” San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House became the Winchester Mystery House 100 years ago this year, when firearms industry heiress Sarah Winchester passed away, and the place was turned into a tourist attraction for its famed stairs to nowhere, hidden rooms, and doors that open into walls. It is said that Sarah Winchester had these curious features added to escape the ghosts of people killed by rifles that were haunting her, though an excellent new KQED podcast pretty much debunks all of that.
But who cares if it’s a crock? It’s still a fun story, and it’s part of the Bay Area’s historical DNA. And Winchester Mystery House continues its 100th anniversary celebrations with the new haunted house attraction Unhinged: Housewarming. The Winchester Mystery House has actually been running autumn haunted house events for years, but this one’s all-new. And if you’ve never been to the Winchester Mystery House before, there is perhaps no location on earth more suitable for a haunted house.
The above trailer gives you the impression that there’s a 1920s-themed storyline here. And you’ll certainly get that in the initial front courtyard experience, an immersive-theater strolling character array written and directed by Barron Scott Levkoff, whose design work you may have seen at Poesia Cafe and the SoMa arcade Thriller Social Club. Arrive early for that, for there is much in that courtyard to take in any day, and this experience creates a 1920s party with creepy card tricks, haunting hosts, and Jeffrey Weissman’s terrific Charlie Chaplin routine.
But once you’re inside the Winchester Mystery House, that plot line pretty much goes out the Victorian windows. It’s not so much a storyline as it is a rapid-fire parade of about 80 scary-fun gags, installations, and set pieces. The interior of the place is already spooky, but this haunted house jazzes it up with graveyards populated with interactive characters, hayloft monsters, apparitions, projection mapping, and things that jump out at you.
And Unhinged: Housewarming really takes you into the depths of the Winchester Mystery House, to areas not usually open to the public. One particularly hilarious segment takes you into the basement and requires you to put on a hard hat, as you will absolutely, positively knock your head against things. (That said, this experience is not well-suited for people with mobility issues, as there’s a lot of crouching and squeezing through small spaces involved. People, that’s just how the Winchester Mystery House is.)
Yes, there are cocktails served in blood bags, and jello shots served in syringes. And we would definitely recommend upgrading to VIP (they call it “RIP”) for an extra $25: you get a free cocktail, a sweet Winchester Mystery House t-shirt, and you get to take two separate tours. The tours are about 80% the same, but your second trip through will be less crowded, so you can spend more time marveling at the meticulously crafted scary ephemera.
Unhinged: Housewarming is a very different haunted house experience than Peaches Christ’s Terror Vault: The Initiation at SF’s Old Mint. This Winchester Mystery House attraction does not stick to any kind of story arc, it just throws a kitchen sink of spine-tingling sets and wild visuals at you. It’s more laughs than scares, but throws a modern pop-art specter over the old black magic for which the Winchester Mystery House is known.
Unhinged: Housewarming runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (and Thursdays starting October 19) through October 31, at the Winchester Mystery House, 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose. Prices vary by date, Tickets here
Top Image: Winchester Mystery House via Facebook