Into the Black: 2017 Review

Fairplex, Pomona, CA

What happens when you partner a renown horror makeup artist with veteran haunters and a talented end-to-end production company to work on a haunted attraction with sprawling scope and impressive vision?  Apparently, a four-prong experience that envelopes the foundation of Into the Black, a new haunted attraction located at the Fairplex in Pomona, otherwise known as the site of the Los Angeles County Fair.

 Into the Black is tucked under the big grandstand building in the middle of the L.A. fairgrounds.

Into the Black is tucked under the big grandstand building in the middle of the L.A. fairgrounds.

The brainchild of Larry and Cheryl Bones of Bone Yard Effects, Inc. (famed for their work with make-up and prosthetics for Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights), Into the Black is a heavy story-driven haunt composed of a short film, a 4D virtual reality attraction, and a walk-through haunted house maze--plus a follow-up documentary to be released after Halloween that explores the whole creative, construction, and operational process.  The story involves the legendarily insidious Black Family, which was rumored to be worshipers of the occult.  Their secluded house was supposedly home of witchcraft and demonic summons, and people had a tendency of disappearing in the woods around the Black property, never to be found.  The film, VR experience, and maze all revolve around this mythos that Larry Bones has conjured up for a most ambitious terrifying experience.

The film supplies the basis for the story.  Guests who plan on visiting Into the Black are highly advised to watch this 25-minute short movie, which tells the experience of a group of researchers and a documentary producer who venture into the forest in search of the Black House and their resulting fate.  Although it's not mandatory to watch prior to experiencing the attraction, it does set a nice background for the plot of the maze and provide connections for little details that are bloodily scattered throughout the physical maze itself.  It's kind of like reading a book before seeing its movie.

Guests who arrive have the option of doing the walk-through maze or adding the virtual reality component for an extra charge.  Those who choose the VR experience--which was developed in conjunction with assistance from Hollow Studios--will be ushered into a room before they explore the maze.  An educational intro film explains that the paranormal lab that guests have arrived at has figured out how to use "Oculus Rift" style virtual reality equipment to allow guest to experience back into the time of the Black Family and better understand the shadowy forces that shaped their cursed fate. 

Similar to the VR upcharge at The 17th Door this year, the Into the Black VR has a "4D" component that is extrasensory.  Unlike The 17th Door, the tactile effects are very tame and so not involve anything that could inflict pain or notable discomfort.  They're more similar to what one might experience at a family-friendly 4D show at a theme park, and even though the content of the VR film carries a grisly sense of horror, the actual experience is nothing like the intensity of The 17th Door.  Instead, it simply unfolds another layer into the Black Family and their hidden secrets.  For those who might be apprehensive about horror VR, this serves as a pretty harmless dip.

 The only known photo of the Black family. (Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.)

The only known photo of the Black family.
(Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.)

The main attraction, of course, is the 8,400 square foot actual haunted maze.  As one might guess (especially after watching the short film), the concept of this attraction essentially involves guests also discovering the notorious Black house and venturing in to confront the horrors inside.  There's a catch, though--rather than enter in groups like just about every other haunt around Southern California, guests must brave the maze alone.  Each entrant must navigate the maze unassisted by any other person, although the dark creatures inside may want to help.

 The entry facade hints at the horrors to come, and if you watch the video, represents the entrance into the Black house itself.

The entry facade hints at the horrors to come, and if you watch the video, represents the entrance into the Black house itself.

The maze itself is sprawling and impressively lengthy.  Being intended to represent a very creepy, formerly fancy cabin in the woods, there are a series of immaculately themed rooms connected by hallways that look old, dilapidated, and barely clinging onto the vestiges of past glory and opulence.  The theming in the rooms themselves gets pretty detailed, which shouldn't be surprise when one considers the experience of the haunters contributing to Into the Black (spoilers, it's a lot of experience running or performing in haunted houses).  Despite being located underneath the fairground grandstands building, the interiors very much looks like a house that has been left unattended for decades and is now being reclaimed back to the elements.

Of course, a maze--no matter how fancy--would be nothing without talent, and Into the Black seems to have assembled a veteran lineup that knows how to target guests and maximize horror for those passing through.  On my visit, most of the talent timed startle scares and pop-out scares to occur right as I was passing through.  A few certainly did a fine job making me feel uncomfortable by slowly and creepily following me down multiple paths.  Yet, while I do think the maze was relatively well stocked with scare actors, I couldn't help but selfishly wish there was even more.  Several moments, I walked into a room with multiple openings and entrances, which would have provided great hiding places for monsters looking for double play or even triple play frights.  Instead, each room was essentially limited to one monster, which seemed to generate several missed opportunities.  This is a subjective complaint though; running a haunt is very challenging, and getting consistent and full cast is one of the biggest hurdles for any haunted attraction, large or small.

On the other hand--especially as the maze continued--the monsters seemed to improve in their variety of scares and commitment to character.  There were even a few atypical scares outside of eye level, while others were hidden so well that they generated completely unanticipated startles.  I certainly heard a fair share of screams coming from the one or two other guests in the other half of the maze during my creep through the attraction.  And, of course, the make-up and prosthetics were fittingly top notch and incredibly well done.  Custom masks and elaborate costume parts were quite impressive (another benefit of the sunlight... making it a bit easier to admire the detailing of the monsters)--all a testament to the quality of Bone Yard Effects. 

 Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.

Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.

The lone significant (but self-inflicted for me, since I selected the time of my visit) issue was the amount of ambient sunlight filtering through the storefront windows and into a significant amount of the maze, slipping through above the black curtains the team installed to minimize the light bleed.  Although the illumination does allow a greater visual appreciation of the details, it definitely diminishes the creepiness value.  And unnerving the Black house is!  Walking solo through the various rooms--especially the darker recesses near the back wall of the space--carries a layer of tension bound to the apprehension of solitary excursion.  I always knew something was coming, but I wasn't sure when or where.  It's unfortunate (but not really controllable--a product of the venue) that some of those spaces strayed away from the darkness.

I would highly recommend visiting in the evening, after things have gone dark, for the most immersive experience.  After all, by early evening, sunlight will have disappeared, and the maze itself will become much more atmopsheric and moody.  I understand why the haunt even operates during the day--if only one guest is allowed at a time, there are natural capacity issues stemming from the inefficiency.  To make up for less persons per hour, Into the Black needs to be open for additional hours.  But the daytime experience is still a great one.  Going through in majority darkness is just a wish list item.

 Larry and Cheryl Bones in front of their excellent haunted creation.

Larry and Cheryl Bones in front of their excellent haunted creation.

All of that said, Into the Black has been produced as a very well done traditional haunted house (that just happens to require guests to enter alone), supplemented with a short film and VR experience.  A laudable amount of work has been poured into this event, and not even build issues has stopped the team.  As reported by our friends at Theme Park Adventure, the Into the Black team only had four days to build the maze on-site (reconstruct, really, since the set pieces were designed an created in a different setting).  They managed to accomplish this insane endeavor, but unfortunately, a Fire Marshal objection to some aspects of their maze resulted in their being unable to obtain their building permit, which delayed Into the Black's opening from its original first weekend to Friday, October 13 instead.  Yet, they pushed on, and they've constructed a good ol' haunted devil house filled with blood, guts, and gore. 

This haunt is certainly worth a visit for haunt fans.  Going by oneself really does make a difference!  And the timed entries definitely allow guests to take in all of the detail and craft that has lovingly gone into the maze.  Kudos to Boneyard Effects, Hollow Studios, and the entire team involved with this production.  Most impressively, the commitment to the storytelling and establishment of a background narrative really sets this haunt above the crowd.  It'll certainly be an attraction I look for next year!

 Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.

Photo courtesy of Bone Yard Effects.

Guests who wish to visit Into the Black should enter through the main gate, gate 17, located at the intersection of Fairplex Dr. and W. McKinley Ave.  Unfortunately, there is a $10 parking fee per vehicle.  But once inside, head toward the grandstands, located in a direction ahead and to the right of the parking lot entry stalls.  Tickets are available online for the maze component and the virtual reality--which each allowing separate purchase if that's desired.  Or guests can buy on-site.  I'd recommended checking online first to make sure that tickets are not sold out for a desired time slot, since the solo venture nature of this maze means it needs to run on a tight schedule.

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.