Fear Overload & Ultimate Terror: Differentiating Haunts

Ultimate Terror

Fear Overload in the Bay Area and Ultimate Terror Scream Park in the Sacramento area are both owned by the same two brothers, and while they seem similar, they have vastly different approaches coming up we’ll hear how two attractions in overlapping markets differentiate themselves. Here’s a little back story to this interview, I recorded this actually before the Halloween season, but held onto it because Ultimate Terror was unable to open the season, so you may be wondering why am I airing it now? Because Fear Overload is open for their Valentine’s Day event today and on the 14th. Although we don’t discuss that event specifically in this interview, we do get background on the attraction and its development. 

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What is Fear Overload Scream Park?

Nathan: Hello, my name is Nathan, my brother’s name is David, and together were the owners of Fear Overload Scream Park and Ultimate Terror Scream Park. So, Fear Overload is definitely the scariest haunted attraction in Northern California. Basically, when you show up, it’s a miniature scream park that you enter, and inside there’s different booths to buy things from, as well as a whole lot of scenery, photo OPs, and things like that. We have live actors who are scaring you and you can take photos with. 

Then when you are ready to enter the attractions there’s one line that enters you into both of the two attractions there. Once you get to the attractions, you’re handed a very dim flashlight that sometimes you have to shake to make work, and you’re off on your own to survive the haunted houses.  

We’ve got two attractions this year. One of them is Descend the Basement and the other one is called The Demon. Descend the Basement basically takes you through the underneath of a house. The premise is that there was this old man who lived in the house on the hill, and he had children in the basement, and sometimes he would feed them, and sometimes he wouldn’t. Basically, one day he ventured down into the basement and these kids with sharpened scissors all over their mouths came and attacked him, and basically have taken over this home. 

The next one is the demon. There’s this demon with long black hair who has taken over this realm. As you’re walking through the mazes, the maze you have to be really careful not to look he in the eyes because something horrible might happen. 

Philip: So, in 2013 you gave a quote and you said, “we want it to be so scary it’s not even enjoyable. We’re not going for families.” So, talk to me about that.

Nathan: This haunted attraction is definitely geared towards being the absolute most horrifying. So, a lot of attractions are more about like scenery and detail and things like that, and you walk in and there’s a whole lot of stuff to look at and it’s very theatrical. This one, we wanted it to be absolutely horrifying in every respect possible to even hardcore horror fans. So, you walk in and it’s extremely loud, like extremely, extremely loud. It’s so loud that it’s actually hard to even hear where people are coming from, and so we really get them psychologically like this. In addition, it’s very dark, almost pitch black, there’s almost no lights throughout it. So, you’ve got your flashlight. Basically, you gotta shake this thing, it’s dim, it’s fading, and that’s what really makes it so horrifying. That’s kind of the demographic that we’ve gone towards with that event. 

fear overload
Image Credit: Fear Overload

One Of The Rooms Nathan Likes The Most

Nathan: So one of my favorite, and definitely most iconic sets, is our green bathroom. You walk in and there’s, you know, big rows of sinks as you’re passing. It’s a lot of just like black oozes coming from the sinks. You walk down and you realize that there’s actually no escape, it’s just the end of the bathroom, and it’s a women’s bathroom. So you’re wondering, “well where do I go?” So there are about 12 different stall doors and you have to figure out which stall door to go through to get out, because all of them are dead ends or leads to something horrible and horrendous, except for one. So, guests walk through and they creak open the first door, and by the way these doors are made to creak. So, you creak open the first door, maybe there’s an actor behind it, maybe who knows what horrible scene, but I would say this is one of our scariest scenes. 

fear overload
Image Credit: Fear Overload

What Is Ultimate Terror Scream Park?

Nathan: Ultimate Terror Scream Park is a gigantic flagship of ours. It takes place in a really big 40,000 square foot facility. There’s three different attractions inside, it’s very highly detailed, extremely high sets that are reaching up to 16 feet in height. It’s definitely our flagship attraction. 

Philip: It sounds like you like built a dream location wave to be able to have larger sets and to be able to have more space. 

Nathan: Yeah, definitely. When we opened up Ultimate Terror Scream Park, we knew we wanted to go all out both with budget, with the size, and just with the performance and production quality. So with the budget, we knew we need to go big or go home. We’ve invested well over $1,000,000 into the set design. As far as the location, we have 40,000 square feet. We knew we needed it to be a lot larger and we also have a 20-foot ceiling, so we have a lot of wiggle room to go upwards. That’s where we really thought we could expand. So these sets are very towering and tal, some of them go up to 16 feet in height. On top of that, we used a good amount of our budget really to train our staff and invest in the people who are making this actually happen. 

Image Credit: Ultimate Terror Scream Park

What Makes The Two Scream Parks Different?

Philip: And so it seems like the differentiator between these two is that Fear Overload is the original, but it’s also stuck in San Francisco. It’s in a much, I guess, more accessible area, but it’s also like a tighter area, right? So the scares are a little bit more intimate because you’re in this tighter environment, still very scary but tighter, and it seems like in Sacramento you’re able to kind of build a dream location that has room a whole street that you would walk down. 

Nathan: Ultimate Terror Scream Park is not as claustrophobic. It’s not quite as intimate as just how horrifying Fear Overload Scream Park is. But Ultimate Terror Scream Park has something for everyone throughout the whole market. So, some people are coming there for the animatronics, some people are coming there to see the actors and to get really scared, some people are coming there to view the sets and just see these massive sets that they’re walking downtown, some people are there because they really love the outdoor environment and the fog and everything that’s outside during the midway. So, we really have something for everyone. So, our demographic there is 18 to 55. 

Philip: What have you learned about how each area is different? 

Nathan: I think what we learned by doing all this is the San Francisco Bay area market was missing interaction that was really horrifying. A lot of them are really small, the attractions around, or they’re gigantic like Six Flags Fright Fest, or something like that, where you get there, and it’s not that scary, it’s really cool to look at but it’s not that scary. So, for Sacramento, we realized there’s really no big attraction here for people to enjoy. The market was really missing something for people to really enjoy, something that could reach everyone and have something for everyone. 

Philip: So, it sounds like you’re kind of encouraging people to hang out more at the Sacramento location. 

Nathan: Yeah, because we’ve got a really cool area in the front where people can hang out, as well as videos playing on the side of the building and fog going and all sorts of cool stuff so.

ultimate terror
Image Credit: Ultimate Terror Scream Park

How Did Nathan And David Start Scaring People?

Philip: Fear Overload opened in 2008, but that was definitely not your first foray into scaring people. I’m reading from an interview here, it said, when David was 13, Nathan was seven they started building their own houses inside their mother’s garage and you plastered the walls in plastic, which I’ve also done, and you create a course for your friends to walk through. You spent all your money, all your extra money on the props building, a strange collection of evil-looking clowns, and blood-soaked rags. 

Nathan: Yeah, that’s funny that that interview says my mother’s garage, when that’s my parent’s garage. In fact, it was our dad that inspired, us because my brother’s birthday is November 3rd. So, he had a birthday party that was a haunted house when he was really young and then after that it was like, well we love this so let’s do it every year. But anyway, yeah I think we really grew a passion for these attractions at a really young age, it kind of ingrained in us because we were so young and then we just kept building them. 

It’s funny thinking back because in our early ones they were so pathetic, but at the time they were everything. So, every year we’d grow it, and every single year we’d say, “this is it. This is the best it can possibly get.” Then, after that season was like, “Oh no, that was horrible. This is this year is going to be way better.” 

I remember investing all my savings every year, everything I ever made every single year back into the haunted houses, so it’s something that we just loved and would plan for all year. 

Philip: I read that you gave up trick-or-treating and also that you didn’t wear costumes. You focused on building these experiences for people to just walkthrough. 

Nathan: Yeah, and I think I’m the same way today. My girlfriend said, “hey, we should maybe decorate around here, some Halloween decorations.” I’m like, “no I get out my creative outlet plenty with these haunted houses. I need no more creative outlet.” So, yeah, I put every single drop of energy into these attractions. I think that’s why I probably didn’t wear costumes or go out trick-or-treating. 

Philip: Your brother, who’s five years older, he would come back from college to help you build when you were a home haunt? 

Nathan: Yeah, he would. It was that big of a deal. So, yeah, he would come home. It was like a tradition for us. He was always someone I looked up to when I was growing up, of course, he was always making all these adventures for us. To be honest, it wasn’t just this. We were always the house that had the most ridiculous Christmas light sets. We were always the house that I would decorate my room for summer with full of Oriental Trading decorations. So, we were always the family that kind of went all out for holidays. That’s what we’re really passionate about.

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