Halloween haunt makes the most of aging Mare Island warehouse

A Halloween haunt in Vallejo makes the most of its location: a 3-story warehouse more than 100 years old.

"We couldn't have gotten luckier with this building," said organizer Sarah Cain, "and we got the keys September 1st, and were ready to open October 1st."

From 5 to 10 Halloween weekend, visitors to the Mare Island venue can navigate more than a dozen frightfully decorated rooms, with animatronics and special effects, plus live actors who delight in startling as many people as they can.

"Because it's fun and I'm a scary person, I don't even need a costume," said Ava Johnson, stretching out in a mock-coffin for her role.

Added her friend Alyssa Critella, also from Martinez, "I've volunteered here before and I really loved it, I love scaring people."

The event, known as "Halloween's NightMARE Island," is an annual event, but cancelled the past two years due to the pandemic.

Moving inside the former machine shop is a first.

Previously, it was held outdoors, at a waterfront park on Marre Island.

"We love it, it's our time of year to shine," said Priscilla Fisher, the haunt designer.

"We love to do it for the community, we love to do it for the kids, and our volunteers love it too."

For the first hour, younger children can have guided tours, without the noise and people jumping out at them.

Some visitors also come early so they can check out the sets and props up close.

"I design the rooms, so all the rooms are my nightmares and my fears," said Fisher.

"So instead of trying to forget my nightmares, I write them down."

The building is 45,000 square feet and the display occupies only 4,000 square feet.

"This is the best experience because Mare Island feels isolated," said Janessa Ballandre, of Vallejo.

"It was a very haunted house for me and I am kind of out-of-breath."

A cast of abut 30 volunteers puts on the show each night.

"I always get scared in haunted houses, but when my boyfriend jumped that really scared me, because he doesn't usually get scared," said

Katrina Cole of American Canyon.

His explanation?

"We were in the meat  room," said Khalil Tarkington of Vallejo, "and I wasn't expecting  anybody to be in there, but there was a guy hiding on the left side."

"It's certainly not Shakespeare," laughed Cain, who handles the haunt operations.

"But it requires timing and there's humor and it's good if you want to get out some aggressions, pandemic aggressions."

Cain believes the haunt is therapeutic for actors and spectators alike:

"It's literally scream therapy because it has been a rough couple of years and people are ready to scream in a safe environment and have fun."

The event is located at the corner of 9th and Nimitz Avenues in Vallejo.

Admission is $15 per person, age 6 and older, $12.50 each for groups of 4 or more, and parking is free.

A portion of sales will be donated to two Vallejo non-profits that serve people in need.