Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA
Welcome back to another Halloween season update! If you aren't used to this yet, you'd better settle in. Westcoaster has been hitting up and will continue visiting a plethora of haunts around Southern California, so we're bringing plenty of spoopy to your ghoulish faces!
Yesterday, we visited Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fright Fest and looked at their maze line-up for this year. Today, we do the same but check out the scare zones and their Voodoo Nights entertainment line-up! Fright Fest carried six scare zones this year, down one from 2016 (two were removed, one was added). That's still the most scare zones of any haunt around Southern California, which is pretty unique. Lets go and see what they were like!
Fright Fest evenings officially kick off at 7:00pm with "The Surge," the emergence of all the street talent from backstage as they rush out toward their respective scare zones. This year, The Surge was relocated from its traditional location near the entrance to SCREAM! to the main promenade of the DC Universe land. Emerging from near the entrance of Batman: The Ride, the Fright Fest creatures marched down past throngs of excited fans. First came the regular street monsters, then masquerade attendees part of the new Damned 'N' Disguise scare zone, and finally, the characters of the Suicide Squad Fright Fest Experience--Katana and Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, and Joker himself. It was a fun way to kick off the evening festivities.
Damned 'N' Disguise
This scare zone, announced during Midsummer Scream, was advertised as the first-ever dynamic, changing scare zone. Throughout the night, guests would see this haunted masquerade transform before their very eyes! The concept art shared a couple of months ago suggested some sort of projection mapping setting that would provide some cool eye candy, scenically, along with the scares themselves.
Unfortunately, the reality fell a little short of those expectations. In effect, Damned 'N' Disguise is a scare zone with minimal theming that could be located anywhere and relies simply on a varying lighting package and soundtrack to "transform." The scare zone operates on an approximately 15 minute loop. Dancers first enjoy their time at the ball, but a poisonous gas seeps in, and clowns invade the party and reveal the masked attendees for what they've become--monstrous deformed beings! Then chaos erupts as the creatures pounce upon any guests nearby, all to the tune of Guns 'n' Roses or Lady Gaga.
Much like Dead End, this scare zone, though intriguing in its concept, did not feel well executed. The lighting was no different than what might be featured at a banquet party (as opposed to having something , and though the blacklight scheme made for a very photogenic ambiance, nothing about this really screamed "scare zone," other than the killer clowns running around. With minimal sets and props to really highlight, the changing lighting schemes--though perfectly fine on their own--never had anything to accent. The monsters themselves seemed to be having a blast, and they interacted wonderfully with the guests. I only wish they had been given a more immersive setting to play with.
Up on Samurai Summit, this scare zone functioned as the land of the Willoughby family, housing the Willoughby's Resurrected and Dead End mazes. The area itself has a nice, creepy vibe, and the sliders take advantage of the terrain and slope to boost their scares. Exile Hill is also home to Innocence Willoughby, one of the most committed scare actors I've ever seen. Though I missed her this time, I still remember how haunting she was last year, with her very slow, methodical movements and lifeless white eyes piercing through guests' souls. Also missing was the monster I called "the tree guy" from many previous years. He has become a fan favorite over the years for his unique, acrobatic scares, but it didn't seem like he was back this year. Unfortunate.
Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy
Perhaps the prettiest scare zone was this fairy tale gone wrong. Occupying the pathway near Rapids Camp Crossing, this scare zone featured plenty of demented versions of popular lore. The March Hair, Pinocchio, Hansel and Gretel, and more wandered the zone. I would have liked to have seen more talent out during the two times I passed through, and I might have just drawn poor luck both sides. However, the characters I did see were really fun to interact with. They weren't necessarily scary, just sardonic and trouble making. But while the frights were low, at least the entertainment remained bumped up.
In contrast, the talent over at the steampunk themed TERRORtory Twisted were very focused on their work of scaring guests. This area had a nice, dark, fiery ambiance, sort of like how the Camp Snoopy scare zones at Knott's Scary Farm have traditionally been. Though similarly small to Nightmares, TERRORtory Twisted felt like it had more scaring energy. The talent maintained character at all times, even when briefly pausing to let me snap a few photos of them, and they nicely enhanced the area.
Throughout the night, there were also monsters that moved around the park, unrestricted to any single scare zone. I happened to run into them near Apocalypse, on my way to Aftermath 2. I'm not quite sure of their thematic significance, but it was certainly nice to see bonus monsters on the prowl.
Suicide Squad Fright Fest Experience
The Suicide Squad scare zone was pretty much exactly the same as last year, though the popularity seemed reduced, with the novelty factor gone. Guests could still have meet and greets with Killer Croc and Katana, Harley Quinn, and the Joker. And though the later attracted lines, they seemed noticeably less than last year.
The scenic elements of the scare zone remain strong, though, with cool projection mapping, fire effects, and hundreds of string lights. Blobby slider monsters roamed the pedestrian walkways throughout, keeping the area a scare zone. However, aside from the visuals of the area, which were recycled from last year, I can't say I found anything particularly memorable here this year.
The entrance area to the park ended up being my favorite scare zone, mostly because that's where most of the activity seemed to be centered. Demon's Door was modestly themed with geologic-looking set pieces, and the monsters skittering around had some pretty fantastic prosthetics and make-up. A flamethrower at the central fountain added to the ambiance, and the area really came alive during the last hour of park operations, when the talent from every other scare zone was sent to the front gate to greet dearly departing guests. The monster intermingling meant for some fun dynamics to observe, and the concentrated cluster of scare actors made for some fun interactions with the guests.
Located on the stage next to Full Throttle, Voodoo Nights is a rotating variety show that provides entertainment to guests passing buy or just looking to groove. Half of the show features a cover band (that counts a couple of former Mad T Party members among its ranks) belting out pop and rock hits of the past few decades. The other half features dancers who show off their moves to a choreographed EDM sequence. It's a fun, high energy show that offers a nice break from the mazes and scare zones, for those who enjoy it, and a nice feature for Fright Fest.
In addition to Voodoo Nights, Fright Fest also offered a comedy hypnotist show, which I was not able to attend.
The nifty thing about Fright Fest is its value compared to the other theme park haunts. Unlike Knott's and Universal, Magic Mountain doesn't kick guests out before Fright Fest begins. Instead, guests can just stick around for nightfall and take in the scare zones and entertainment line-up for no extra charge, or buy a maze wristband (with or without an Express Pass front of line access) for a comparatively low upcharge. This means that even guests who come to the park during the daytime can experience spooks at night by walking through the scare zones, and the talent certainly provide some great entertainment and bang for the customer buck.
Fright Fest certainly has improvements it can make, of course. Coming back this year after my first time last year showed the relatively low return value the event has, since most features were repeats from the previous year. This meant that there weren't very many original experiences, though the energy of the scare actors certainly compensated for this. For the average guest, however, the current trend won't bring them back year after year. Given that the park has pushed up its quality for Fright Fest over the past few years, and that Magic Mountain will be open every day next year, it certainly seems as there is a desire to start more actively competing with its more popular SoCal theme park brethren. Though events like Fright Fest have made great strides, the park's lofty goals will demand even higher quality and greater incentive to return.
It will be interesting to see what sorts of changes and new offerings the park will provide next year. This year was a bit of a down year for new creative endeavors, which could be forgiven a bit because of how monumental last year's Fright Fest capital expenditure--Aftermath 2--was. But Go more than a couple of years with nothing substantively new in the Southern California Halloween market, and that's a recipe for struggle.
If you've a haunted attraction fan who has never been to Fright Fest or haven't gone in a decade, I highly encourage you to attend this year, if the trek up north isn't too inconvenient. I still think it's a very fun event, and the production values for the mazes and theming have certainly improved (make-up of the monsters has always been the park's strength and continues to shine). The monsters themselves are pretty committed in their roles, and they put in a great amount of effort into their scares and entertainment. Though the event still has a ways to go before it can parallel the likes of Knott's and Universal, I think it's definitely on the right track. Here's to continuing that way!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.