Holiday attraction scares up a crowd in southern Merced County

10/30/2013 8:49 PM

10/20/2014 1:57 PM

If you’re looking for a little extra thrill this Halloween, the small farming community of Plainsburg in the southern part of Merced County might have just what you’re looking for at Frightmare Farms.

“We really love the fall. We love the harvest. Actually it’s more about that than Halloween,” said Kelly Brown, 51, who organizes the holiday harvest attraction. In its fourth year, the attraction drew about 3,000 visitors Saturday night. “We’re farmers, so when we get done harvesting we have fun.”

The event was born more than 30 years ago when the Brown family – Kelly, husband Warren and sons Greg, Dan, and Josh, would celebrate with other farming families.

“We’d have harvest parties every year. From the time they were little, we would always do pumpkin carvings, and we would do a hayride. Then as our kids got older, they started haunting out the barn,” Kelly Brown explained.

After the Browns “haunted out” the barn in 2010, word of their chilling autumn creation spread and the crowd grew. A year later they decided to obtain permits to allow them to create a large-scale horror-themed attraction leading up to Halloween.

It features a house of horrors called Barnyard Slaughter, a labyrinth of floating heads and contorted ghouls. The Frightmare Express, a hayride through 10 acres filled with zombies, is another staple of the Halloween celebration down on this farm. The Browns have added attractions such as a pressurized corn cob cannon, and the Zombie Raid.

It plays off the popularity of the hit zombie apocalypse TV series “The Walking Dead.” Guests are strapped into bucket seats on a flatbed trailer and can use mounted paintball guns to take down onrushing zombies as they weave through the cornfield.

“Zombie Raid is like a roller coaster in the Valley. It’s a rush. You feel like you’re actually at an amusement park. We strap you in and we fly you through that cornfield,” Brown said.

Le Grand High School principal Javier Martinez was there with his family and went through Barnyard Slaughter with his son Javier, 9. “One word to describe it: intense,” said the educator said.

Besides being popular with Merced County residents, Brown said Frightmare Farms is attracting people from Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Reno. Families from as far away as New England and even New Zealand have paid visits to their farm, Brown said, a sign of the growing agritourism industry in Merced County.

Brown said Frightmare Farms employs 125 people, mostly older teens and college-age people. She prepares a big home-cooked meal for all of them every night Frightmare is open. It started this year on Oct.11 and goes through Halloween night.

Mackena Dean, 17, a Golden Valley High student, said she loves working at Frightmare and the Browns take care of them. Last year she attended with her FFA chapter, and as theater student, she was amazed by the characters and make-up.

“It totally fascinated me, and I thought from then on, I gotta get a job here,” Dean explained.

Brown emphasized the family-friendly nature of Frightmare Farms. “We are just entertaining people,” he said. “There’s nothing demonic or evil. It’s clever and thought out, and really fun.”

To get to Frightmare Farms, take Highway 99 to the Childs Avenue exit, head east and follow the signs to 8964 E. Gillette Avenue. It opens at 7 p.m. The cost is $10 per person for Fightmare Express, $10 per person for Barnyard Slaughter and $25 per person for Zombie Raid. For more information, go to frightmarefarms.com.

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