I visited the San Francisco Dungeon on Fisherman’s Wharf the other day. I was a little disappointed by the lack of spanking, but it turns out it’s not that sort of dungeon.
In fact, “dungeon” isn’t really a good name for it, except there doesn’t seem to be a better one for this sort of attraction. The only other appropriate term that comes to mind is “haunt” which suffers from the same shortfalls as “dungeon” does.
Whatever it is, it’s pretty fun. The basic premise is that you go through creepy rooms inspired by San Francisco history, starting with a mine circa 1849, and moving through such attractions as mid-19th century gang hideouts, a frighteningly overworked & corrupt court system, a shanghai saloon, plague-infested late 19th century chinatown, up to a climactic encounter in early 20th century Alcatraz.
Strangely, there’s also a mirror maze. It was presented as a metaphorical representation of a deep mine nobody has escaped from, but it still felt out of place. I’m not going to complain about that too much, though, because it was probably the most fun part for me. I’ve always been slightly annoyed by these attractions that just herd you from one scene to the next, I want to explore on my own. Just one more reason why I wish so badly that The Night Circus were real, I suppose.
The acting was mostly delightfully over-the-top, except for a few brief instances where it was chillingly understated. There were the sort of cheap jokes you expect at a tourist attraction, several fun moments of singling out audience members to embarrass, and some very, very clever sets. There’s a lot of creativity in there, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into it and that the cast care about their performances.
On the downside, the scene in Alcatraz is seriously too loud, I mean painfully loud. If they aren’t providing earplugs for the cast they’re going to get sued over that, and rightly so. The show also suffers from marketing hype, the promotional images set expectations far above what it delivers, although in that I suppose it’s no worse than any amusement park I’ve ever been to.
(Seriously, I can still remember the first time I went to Disneyland in the fourth grade and I thought it didn’t live up to the hype. Especially Tom Sawyer’s cave; it was just a tunnel with a column dividing it near the middle! Did they even read that book? Anyway, back to the dungeon.)
October is coming up, and with it a flurry of haunts to keep a fear-lover busy. I’m curious if the SF Dungeon will see a drop in attendance due to competition, or a rise in it because it’ll be the season for such things and on people’s minds. Perhaps the two will even out?
Overall, it’s not a bad way to kill an hour. This show isn’t really my type of entertainment, but I still had a good time and even managed to sit through the entire scene in Miss Piggot’s Saloon without making a single “Kermit The Frog” joke, which I feel deserves recognition. If you’re the sort who enjoys this kind of haunted house show it’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen and probably the best you’re going to find in the Bay Area. At $22 ($16 for children) the tickets are a little pricey for an hour’s entertainment, but I’ve seen worse.
Don’t forget to visit the restroom on your way in, you’ll thank me for that.