Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA
We're back with another update from another local haunt. This time, it's up north just a tad to Six Flags Magic Mountain to take another spin through their Fright Fest for this year! You may recall that I took my first ever visit to Fright Fest last year and was actually pretty impressed by their new offerings, mazes, and scare zone line-up. Although the theming and technical quality were noticeably a step or two below the level of Knott's and Universal, the overall quality (especially the enthusiasm and energy of the scare actors) was a lot better than I expected. Whereas, years ago, Fright Fest might have been considered a sub-par haunt not worth one's time, these days, it has definitely established itself in the league of the other major haunts around Southern California.
I returned this year, curious how my opinion would change, because most of what I would be seeing would be repeat offerings from last year. Unlike Halloween Horror Nights, which almost always creates all-new mazes and scare zones every year, or Knott's Scary Farm, which typically debuts three new mazes a year and tweaks some of their existing mazes, Magic Mountain has, at most, one new maze a year, with the others remaining exactly the same as the previous year, because they are permanently installed to stand year round. Would I be just as impressed as last year, because of the trending increases in quality, or would the recycled material prove to be a signifncant dampening factor?
The first maze I visited was the new maze of the season--Dead End, a tour through a portion of the Willoughby Estate haunted by evil Malachai Willoughby. This maze touted the use of the same infrared-controlled flashlights as used in Knott's Scary Farm's Trick or Treat: Lights Out maze, and I was very curious to see Six Flags' take on the concept. It was also replacing the very lackluster Willoughby's Garden of Darkness maze from the previous year, which was minimally themed and instead relied on extreme lack of light and sporadic talent to initiate fear.
Unfortunately, Dead End was little more than a stripping down and rehashing of Garden of Darkness, but with the flashlight technology. As opposed to Trick or Treat, where the flashlight was used as a complement to the storytelling and a tool, Dead End relied upon the flashlights as a crutch. The interior walls were largely blank, with drapery overhead, occasional strobes, and pop-out panels or talent in the darkness for the occasional jump scare. The lone creative feature did involve a couple of moments where guest were manipulated into believing they were at a dead end, which enabled a climactic moment, but beyond that, it was simply a trip through a dark maze with a blinking flashlight.
Compounding things, the experience was entirely dependent on the rate of speed in which the flashlight holder progressed. Only one flashlight was offered to a group (as opposed to one per person at Knott's). But since a group going through a maze may be comprised of pairs of strangers (as was my case), should the flashlight holder proceed too quickly, the lagging party would miss all the triggers and scene change moments--not to mention see a significantly reduced amount of the maze.
A second trip through proved to be a little more enjoyable, as the lighting schemes of the flashlights were at least helpful to properly experience the moments of sight and the moments of blindness. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a bit of a cop-out in terms of advertising a new maze. There was no real attempt at theming or story, and compared to the astounding grandeur of last year's new hotness, Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising, this Dead End maze felt incredibly listless and uninspired. Worse yet, its very low capacity contributed to ever-growing lines throughout the night, to the point where the Express Lane was 30-40 minutes by 11pm! I can't imagine how long the regular line must be, and for a maze that was largely lackluster.
Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising
The most epic maze I've ever seen at a haunt was back this year, pretty much unchanged, but still pretty spectacular. Aftermath 2, located behind the Apocalypse roller coaster, provided a part maze / part scare zone walk-through of a dystopian world that has been ravaged by a mysterious infection. Sprawling through tens of thousands of square feet of real estate, this maze provided a feast for the eyes in addition to a feast for the creatures lurking throughout. Plus, did I mention the fire? There were multiple flamethrowers in Aftermath 2, and they were awesome.
Located among the trio of mazes just to the right of the main gate entry area, Red's Revenge was back for another year telling a twisted version of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Enraged that the villagers had allowed her to be torn to shreds by the Wolf, Red has returned to make the villagers pay.
Visually, this was among the better mazes in the park and represented one of the improved quality offerings the kickstarted this Fright Fest's rise in prestige. The talent could be a little repetitive with their scares (there was much redundant screaming), and a blank, dark corridor with hanging black string was a notable lull in the maze, but overall, it was a solid and enjoyable experience.
Vault 666, located very close to Red's Revenge and telling the story of a human/animal hybrid experimental lab gone wrong, was another newer maze with theming and detail more competitive with the higher quality offerings of Knott's and Universal. Like everything else besides Dead End, this maze was identical to last year, but I did notice the great effort that the talent expended to stay in character and accomplish startle scares. The maze could have used more talent during my trek through, though I was told that I had happened to hit the maze during a break period that saw extended numbers of people out of the maze.
This maze, located near Viper, is probably one of the last of the poorly themed mazes Six Flags used to be known for. A very short and not-particularly-detailed maze, Chupacabra was mostly walls with splotches of paint and a few openings for pop-out scares. However, admirably, despite their disadvantage of minimal designed spaces and theming to work with, the talent was remarkably well timed with their scare attempts and quite enthusiastic with their scares. Even though very few people were going through, the talent seemed to care and direct energy toward the guests who did go through. Although it had every set up to be a very forgettable maze, Chupacabra ended up being a pleasant and amusing surprise entirely on the merits of its cast.
Perhaps nowhere was a maze cast more effective than within Willougby's Resurrected, a maze basically adopting a haunted house theme, continue the story of Fright Fest's resident icons, the cursed Willoughby family. Theming-wise, this maze represents a bridging between the old days of plain walls and unremarkable aesthetics within mazes to today's more intricately designed mazes. The interiors is quite dark--all of my photos were practically hand-held long exposures. But the talent used the dimly lit spaces to their advantage with expertly timed startle scares throughout the maze. Through both of my trips through the maze. I could hear screaming both behind and in front of me, and it came frequently! That's the sign of a great crew, and their excellent patience and scares made this one of my most enjoyable mazes.
Toyz in Terror 3D
Finally, perhaps the most photogenic maze of the set was Toyz in Terrror 3D, about a toy factory gone wrong. Located in the cluster that includes Red's Revenge and Vault 666, Toyz in Terror was a psychedlice, 3D glasses-using, colorful jaunt through the worst toys and stuffed animals in the world. For me, the fun factor of this maze was particularly high, as several monsters provided some spooky and hilarious scares. As with its neighbors, Toyz in Terror 3D represented the new generation of Fright Fest mazes, with improved theming and detail and a consistently reinforced story. I definitely had a good amount of fun in this maze.
Ultimately, I did not feel as excited through this year's Fright Fest like I did last year--a sentiment entirely influenced by the lack of new offerings and loss of novelty from last year's completely brand new experience (for me). The monsters were a redeeming factor through almost every maze, frequently giving it their all, but I could see that there was nothing really unique about this year's event. Dead End was especially disappointing, given the promise of a maze like Aftermath 2 last year and the direction of quality Six Flags was suggesting. It absolutely felt like an afterthought that someone decided could be jazzed up be unique technology, since there was no time to implement other scenes and sets.
That said, for those who either have never attended Fright Fest or haven't come in years and have a very low regard for this park's Halloween offerings, I would encourage you to come up and see for yourself how things have improved. The mazes are simply a wristband upcharge on top of the regular day admission, but Fright Fest offers one of the best values one could pay for an amusement park haunted attraction. For those who enjoy attending regularly--it seems like perhaps once every other year might provide a better pace to build up enough new content to make a visit feel novel again.
Ultimately, though, there's plenty of promise here, and hopefully, the ensuing years can bring more noticeable and more consistent leaps!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.