California's Great America, Santa Clara, CA
Alright, kiddos, I know it's almost Turkey Day, but if you've checked the weather forecast in Southern California this week, the temperature is actually going to be like the photos below on actual Thanksgiving, so that's what I'm using to justify one more Halloween update for the year. This one picks up at California's Great America, where we finish off our recap by looking at the scare zones and shows. If you missed our first part, click here to see our thoughts on the mazes.
We start at--appropriately enough--the entrance of the park, where a blazing Halloween display was set up this year all around the beautiful entry fountain and double decker carousel of Celebration Plaza. Flamethrowers around the perimeter and a bevvy of heavy rock music lent a Halloween Horror Nights-esque feel to this area, and while it wasn't a scare zone (it should have been), the ambiance was pretty fantastic.
Great America had three scare zones this year, all billed as new. As we went through them during the night, one very obvious aspect of these scare zones was their portable nature. Pretty much all theming elements appeared to have been rolled out into place after daytime operations (I'm not actually sure if that was the case; it just seemed that way), or at least rolled into place for the season. So there was very little integrated or built-in theming similar to what Knott's does with Ghost Town or Camp Snoopy. This seemed to detract from most of the scare zones, which felt more like "areas of monster encounter" than actual scare zones.
This might have been supported by the fact that Great America sells a "no scare" glowing necklace that guests can wear to greatly reduce or eliminate the chance of monsters scaring them. This is a fad that I first heard about around the haunt community last year, and I really don't understand it--except as an easy way to make money on people's foolishness. After all, why go to a haunted attraction if you don't want to be scared? There's a pretty simple choice of just not going. But to go and be unhappy at being scared? That's a bit self-contrary, and it puts the monsters at a role of defense if they have to gauge who they can target and who they must avoid.
Located in the Planet Snoopy area of the park, Feary Tales ended up being the most solid scare zone in our witness. It was also the most developed and themed. Even though the sets each looked obviously temporary, this fairy-tales-gone-wrong scare zone at least had a large quantity of them to help build some form of atmosphere. In addition, the talent here seemed to be the most active and energetic out of all the monsters we saw, maintaining character (they were also the only ones with actual characters) and really engaging with all sorts of guests.
This clown-themed scare zone occupied a relatively small space in the Orleans Place themed land of the park, primarily in front of Chaos House. We had raised expectations here, since we love clowns, but the area wound up falling mostly flat, because we didn't encounter that much talent, and those we did see didn't seem too focused on actually scaring. Instead, we saw several more content to pose for photos or just act strangely. It was a far cry from the aggressive clowns at, say, Scary Farm's Carnevil area (the natural comparison, of course). Perhaps they had already gone insane from the relatively short (couple minutes at most) musical loop playing all night.
I'm not too well versed in the history of CGA's Halloween Haunt, but it seemed like Underworld Alley was a classic scare zone of old that made its return this year. This was an interesting scare zone, because it felt the most mobile out of all the zones. Essentially, Underworld Alley was a camo netting tunnel with black lights everywhere, plus a few tomb stones for monsters to use as hiding. It was certainly nothing immersive--though the talent here did seem to make attempts to use the sets to their advantage as hiding places or screens for scares. And they did put forth a solid amount of energy during the times we passed through. It's just a shame that this couldn't be more permanent feeling.
California's Great America did a cool little feature for Halloween Haunt this year by bringing back an old roller coaster overlay with some new theatrics. Demon Reignited was a nighttime variation of the venerable Demon roller coaster, but with projections on the rockwork that forms a tunnel for the roller coaster and flamethrowers providing a hellish interlude for one of the ride's drops. It was a great way to reinject some popularity into this old roller coaster, and based on the crowds we saw, it certainly worked!
Unlike Knott's Scary Farm, California's Great Adventure had a pretty nice entertainment line-up for their Halloween Haunt, offering four different shows of various assortments for those tired of waiting in line for mazes or being scared on the streets. These shows ranged from acrobatic fetes to fun stage shows, and we were able to check out three of them during our night.
This acrobatic troupe of the bouncing dead provided a host of zombies performing exciting tumbling and gymnastic maneuvers at a stage located right behind Carousel Columbia and in front of Celebration Swings, in the Celebration Plaza area. With pulsating energy and booming activity, it was quite an attention-getter, and some of the stunts and maneuvers were pretty impressive!
Veterans of Knott's Scary Farm will remember this musical troupe at the original Halloween Haunt in Buena Park several years ago, before Knott's cut the shows down to two when Elvira returned. They were at CGA this year, performing their same show of pyrotechnics and percussion. It's sort of an ethereal experience, with plenty of bass and flashy fire, and a nice option for guests to enjoy.
Ed Alonzo's Psycho Circus
Another blast from Scary Farm past was Ed Alonzo's Psycho Circus, which has been touring the Cedar Fair haunt circuit each autumn ever since Ed was evicted from the Charles Schulz Theater at Knott's by a returning Elvira. This year, he was at Great America with a show that... was pretty much the same as what he last put on at Knott's. Still, his Psycho Circus was a fun, silly, wildly entertaining extravaganza of magic and illusions. Ed is one of our favorites and just a goofy showman and genuinely nice guy, and his act was great for casual crowds looking to just be entertained. Will he be back at Knott's next year? We'll see...
There was also a fourth show called "Sideshow" consisting of a group of "misfit performers" roving and providing some carnival entertainment. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to see it.
And... with that... finally... we are done with our 2017 Halloween season coverage. 31 haunted attractions, 40 updates (more if you count Midsummer Scream and press release type posts), and haunts all across Southern California--and even to the Bay Area! This has been the most ambitious Halloween season yet, and we've had a blast doing it. Hopefully, you've enjoyed it too.
Halloween and all things spooky are very near and dear to our hearts here at Westcoaster, and we've been working to expand past just the big haunts we used to cover and show love to the larger haunt community. There are so many people out there pour their hearts and souls (and often real blood, sweat, and tears) into the craft. Be they actors, make-up artists, painters, carpenters, electricians, writers, promoters, or a combination of all of the above, they are people with a love of the thrill and the scare--but all in a safe environment, and often for a great cause. To all of you who put in this painstaking and often thankless work, we thank you. You make the autumn season a more wonderful place.
Until the fog returns next year...
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.