If you're planning on paying to scare yourself silly this Halloween season, here's a suggestion: Skip the 23rd installment of the "Saw" series.

Why confine yourself to a movie theater when you can get out there and run wild in a haunted cornfield? While horror movies like "Saw" are stuck on repeat, the metro area's haunted houses are getting bigger and bolder. More than a dozen haunted attractions dot the Twin Cities this year.

Some are suitable for children. Others -- the most infamous being the Soap Factory's Haunted Basement in Minneapolis -- are not. This gritty, terrifying haunt set a new standard when it premiered in 2007. Like many haunts this year, its creators are promising the most intense experience yet.

"It's gonna be diabolical," said co-organizer Gabe Shapiro.

While the Haunted Basement won't debut for another week, many of its competitors already have opened their creaky doors. Three of the metro area's larger haunted attractions were already up and running last weekend, so we ventured off into the darkness to investigate reports of frightening activity. The following represents our findings. Now it's up to you to conduct your own inquiry.


7 p.m. today-Sun., Oct. 15-18, Oct. 21-25, Oct. 28-31. 15400 Buck Hill Road, Burnsville. www.frightmares.com.

Fright site: Just south of Burnsville Center on Interstate 35W. Without the fake snow, the ski hill actually provides some creepy ambience. One of the ski lifts is used in a clever way.

Cost: $18-$25. The Fri.-Sat. price ($25) is on the higher end for area haunts, but Frightmares features four haunted attractions -- three indoor and one self-guided tour through a haunted hollow. There's live music on weekends, plus the chalet bar is open. Make a night of it.

Fear factor: If we were talking movies, Frightmares would be the big-budget studio film. Sound effects and animatronics are used throughout. You're given 3-D glasses to go through the exploded paint factory, which makes for a fun, disorienting experience. The scariest is the Asylum, a pitch-black maze with an intense ending.

Overall: Its newness gives it an edge, but for $25 they should let you go through more than once.


Fri.-Sun through Nov. 1. 1 Valleyfair Dr., Shakopee. 952-445-6500. www.valleyscare.com.

Fright site: Valleyfair has been transformed into a theme park filled with ghoulish amusements.

Cost: $38.99 (adults) and $17.99 (juniors) all-day Sat. $27.95 Fri. and Sun., and after 7 p.m. Sat. Ouch, this is the most expensive haunt in the Twin Cities. But it also features the most haunted houses (seven, plus a variety of shows and activities) and the ticket includes admission to the park's big rides. That's bang for your buck.

Fear factor: While we were expecting something cheesy, they really know how to set the mood. Fog machines engulf the park in a thick haze and many of the smaller rides are shut down, which creates the eerie feeling that maybe you shouldn't be there. All of the haunted houses will make you jump, too, especially the Mangler Asylum. One criticism: The haunts essentially offer the same scares but with different themes (there's the vampire house, the clown house, the pirate house, etc.).

Overall: The transformation to ValleyScare is surprisingly successful, if a little redundant in the scare department.


7 p.m. Fri.-Sat. through Oct. 31, plus Oct. 14-15. 7410 E. Hwy. 212, Chaska. www.screamtown.com.

Fright site: It sits on a winding dirt road, about 5 miles west of Chaska (i.e., the middle of nowhere). If you don't live in the western suburbs, it's quite a trek.

Cost: $15. With five haunted attractions, the price can't be beat. This mom-and-pop operation might not have Frightmares' special effects, but that's part of its charm.

Fear factor: The middle-of-the-woods atmosphere works wonders here. Half of the haunts are outdoors, including a cornfield and a self-guided haunted forest (bring boots). The Hillbilly Motel is great for its tight spaces and "Deliverance"-like characters. The new Rabid Alley is 400 feet of intense pitch blackness. The actors who stalk the grounds are dead serious about their jobs, especially the dead woman who kept stabbing her baby (doll).

Overall: Four scary haunts and one lame duck (the clown maze felt more like a bad nightclub) make for a worthwhile experience, especially at this price.

The best of the rest


Frights: "If last year was about disorientation, this year we're about discomfort," co-organizer Gabe Shapiro said. Located under the Soap Factory, this adults-only freakout toys with your psychological fears. You'll crawl through small spaces, endure nasty smells and survive the dark room. So scary they make you sign a waiver. Want out? Just say "Uncle."

Cost: $15-$20.

Info: 6 p.m. Oct. 16-Nov. 1. 518 SE. 2nd St., Mpls. 612-623-9176. www.soapfactory.org.


Frights: This place is haunted -- for real. Take a tour through the bowels of the historic Dayton's Bluff theater and hear ghosts with audible EVP (electronic voice phenomena).

Cost: $20.

Info: 6-11 p.m. Fri.-Sun through Oct. 31. 1029 Hudson Road, St. Paul. 651-772-2253. www.realhauntedtours.com.


Frights: It's known for its long lines, but the payoff is big inside the haunted maze. It also has a hayride and Club Scream (complete with dance floor). New this year are the 3-D Circus and the Vampire Chamber.

Cost: $12.95-$17.95.

Info: 7-11 p.m. Thu.-Sun. through Oct. 31. Three miles south of Chaska on the Renaissance Festival Grounds. www.trailofterrorfest.com.


Frights: This longtime haunt is about 30 miles north of the Twin Cities in Wyoming, Minn. But it's worth the trip for the milelong haunted hayride, corn maze and haunted house. This year you can meet horror celebrity Michael Berryman from the original "The Hills Have Eyes" (today and Sat.).

Cost: $15-$17.

Info: 7 p.m. today-Sun., Oct. 15-18, Oct. 21-31. 28186 Kettle River Blvd., Wyoming. 651-462-7279. www.nightmarehalloween.com.


Frights: Known as one of the cheapest -- and scariest -- haunted houses, Fright Farm gives its proceeds to the Ramsey County D.A.R.E. program. For ages 13 and over.

Cost: $7.

Info: 7 p.m. Fri. and Sat. through Oct. 31. Intersection of White Bear Av. and Frost Av. in Maplewood. www.frightfarm.org.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909