Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA
Welcome, boils and ghouls to the second half of our 2018 coverage of Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest event! Yesterday, we looked at the mazes and entertainment options available at the park this year. Though the shows are included with park admission, the mazes do require an add-on wristband purchase. But if you really want to get your haunt spoopiness on for the maximum value at a theme park, Magic Mountain offers the scare zones of Fright Fest at no additional charge above the regular park admission. This means that unlike every other Southern California amusement park that features a Halloween event, guests do not have to leave the park and come back for the haunt-specific event.
It’s a value that is unmatched around town, and even more so when you consider that at Fright Fest, the scare zones actually constitute the strength of the event. Though the mazes have steadily improved overall over the past few years, in my eyes, the most enjoyable and legitimately fun part of Fright Fest is wandering through their scare zones and interacting with the monsters. The park has built up a cache of recognizable faces through the years—similar to the emotional resonance of certain monsters at Knott’s Scary Farm—and crafted recurring worlds that almost act as returning f(r)iends each fall. The energy that the talent of Fright Fest gives is quite commendable, so lets see what monsters were unleashed this year!
Fright Fest begins at 7pm during the nights it operates (Fridays through Sundays this year through the last weekend of October), and it all begins with The Surge—the traditional “running of the monsters” that signals the park’s transformation from friendly thrill capital of the west to dark, haunted abyss, brimming with Halloween spirit.
Though it began over by SCREAM and Twisted Colossus a couple of years ago, The Surge has found its home in the DC Universe area, with monsters emerging from near Batman: The Ride and rushing out to their various scare zones throughout the park. It’s a much-anticipated moment that gathers plenty of fans and a wide audience, and it serves as a high energy kickoff to the evening!
City Under Siege
“Back by popular demand,” the place where clowns rule takes over the DC Universe at night after The Surge. You may recall that this area has been home to the Suicide Squad Experience the past couple of years. But now that that movie fad has evaporated away, it’s back to normal for Fright Fest, which means the clowns are back.
The energy in this scare zone is fantastic, and how could it not be? It’s clowns! They have license to be as zany and belligerent as they’d like, and they utilize those privileges to entertaining effect. Iconic Fright Fest faces like Peaches and Tweak prowl the grounds, while guests might also spot a couple of brothers who formerly called Exile Hill home but have now made the transition to the bright lights.
The talent was on fire throughout the night supplying plenty of scares and interaction. It was a joy just to simply watch these guys operate. With veteran experience, there was no need to warm up on opening night. The clowns fired on all cylinders early and often, making this scare zone’s return a great success.
Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy
Over by the old Rapids Camp Crossing area, between Viper and Roaring Rapids, the woodsy, rustic part of Magic Mountain comes to luminous and perverse life in the form of Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy. Another long-running scare zone, Nightmares features beastly or disturbing versions of your favorite fairy tale characters, all colorfully glowing under the cast of the area blacklighting. Hansel and Gretel, the Big Bad Wolf, the March Hare, the Wicked Witch… these are just some of the folks who dwell in this forbidden forest.
The area is also the most photogenic scare zone in park, on account of all the colors used. Take the 3D glasses from Sewer of Souls and stroll through Nightmares. It’s definitely a chromatic trip, and it’s also pretty cool. The monsters are no softies either. Also composed of talented veterans, each monster has a unique approach to his or her character. Some are bold and intimidating; others are sweetly innocent until they turn on a dime; still others use unorthodox or unexpected props to nonetheless effectively solicit quick startle scares and creeps. Watching the March Hare, for example, unnerve people with the shake of a cabasa (or cabasa-like instrument) was hysterical. But his jerky movements provided a great, unpredictable, and unhinging feeling.
And he was just one of multiple monsters offering some delightful frights.
At Samurai Summit, nighttime falls under the domain of a family of cursed souls. It is here that the Willoughby Manor stands, while the nearby Sewer of Souls waits to consume victims. And it is on Exile Hill that members of the Willoughby family themselves prowl the dark, eerie paths.
As far as an authentic, piercingly creepy vibe, Exile Hill offers the best in the park. While it has a wilderness feel similar to Nightmares, it is much less brightly or colorfully lit. Instead, a somber, cold blue tone marks the dominant hue, filling the space with fog and shadows, and the monsters make good use of these natural “hiding spots” to swing some great slides and scares at inattentive guests.
But lets be honest here. The biggest draw of Exile Hill rests with one exceptionally talented and unflinchingly unnerving monster: Innocence Willoughby. The youngest daughter of the Willoughby clan, Innocence was murdered by her own father, and now, she spends eternity lurking on Exile Hill.
Innocence is one of the most popular monsters in all of Fright Fest, and arguably its best. No monster can regular scare guests of all shapes, sizes, gender, and background as Innocence. Her slow, methodical movements are highly controlled and almost unnatural. Her sense of personal space is completely absent. Her visage is horrifically gruesome, down to those striking yet lifeless eyes that seem to tear straight into one’s soul. Innocence can be recognized by her trademark slow prowls and deliberate mobility, although she’ll also spring forth without warning. She has a tendency for singling out the most uncomfortable person in the vicinity and latching onto that fear. And she has sent many a grown man scurrying up the path or clambering up a wall just to avoid her advance.
Don’t get me wrong, the other monsters commendably provide some great scares as well. Although this time around, there seemed to be a few less talent than last year (perhaps because of the aforementioned move of at least a couple of the monsters to a different scare zone. But in comparison, they don’t quite stack up to Innocence’s prowess. She is an all-time legendary monster.
This is one of two brand new scare zones at Fright Fest for 2018, and I thought it was a fun and well executed concept. Located in the middle of the plaza that fronts Riddler’s Revenge and the Justice League ride, Witches Lair is more of a gauntlet style scare zone—sort of a half zone / half maze concept, not unlike Halloween Horror Night’s The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear area from two years ago.
The concept is pretty self explanatory. This is where the witches gather. The scare zone set has been constructed to look like ruins around a misty bog—precisely the unsightly swamp a witch would want to inhabit. There are, of course, plenty of hags and goblins around, plus vegetative monsters in ghillie suits and even a stilt walker or two. And they had free reign to roam in the immediate area and ambush any unfortunate passers-by who might stumble into this black magic haven.
Though Witches Lair was relatively concentrated and compact, it provided a nice almost mini-scare zone in which to get lost. Certainly, it felt much more atmospheric than most of Six Flags recent new (and typically one-off) scare zones. With some good lighting and nice set pieces, Witches Lair provide a solid debut showing, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it return next year, perhaps with an expanded cast!
Every year, I seem to find myself hitting up TERRORtory Twisted relatively late and unable to adequately observe the monsters interact with guests there. This newer scare zone is located in the Screampunk District, home of Twisted Colussus and SCREAM. With a steampunk aesthetic and sets scattered about, it’s aesthetically nice, but not quite as atmospheric and immersive as some of the other scare zones in the park. The talent does make do with what they have, and they tend to take on more intimidating approaches to scares. The energy seems to be pretty suitable for the area, and I do wish I had spent more time to watch the monsters more.
The other new scare zone for Fright Fest 2018 was The Shadows, which our group actually stumbled through by accident on the way from the area of Apocalypse over to Tatsu. Of all the scare zones, this was by far the least developed, as it seemed that the sets were little more than a series of mobile backdrops rolled into place, with lighting configured to accent the pathway.
The talent seemed to be patterned after bloodthirsty backwoods folks, although their connection to the described theme of this scare zone seemed tenuous. There did not seem to be much talent in total even—just two or three when we passed through, and I’m not sure if the total cast for The Shadows would exceed half a dozen if they were all present.
Magic Mountain has its scare zone staples, like Exile Hill, Nightmares, the returning City Under Siege, and the opening area, Demon’s Door. But it also seems to have at least a couple of randoms every year that seem present to provide an excuse for monsters to congregate, rather than tell a cohesive story. And unfortunately, The Shadows felt like one of those.
Finally, we come upon Demon’s Door, which serves as both the start and the cap of guests’ Fright Fest night. For most of the evening, Demon’s Door is basically the world of Hell, with horrid Satanic creatures, pyrotechnics coming from the Six Flags fountain in front of New Revolution, and some scattered, post-apocalyptic looking props to complete the doomsday ambiance.
However, Demon’s Door really shines at the end of the night, when it becomes the scare zone that houses all the other scare zones. Starting at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights and 10pm on Sunday late evenings, all the monsters throughout all of Fright Fest’s scare zones leave their own domains and come to Demon’s Door. The intermingling creates a high energy and decidedly fun congestion of monsters who crowd the park entrance gate neighborhood and move to and fro in search of victims. And there are plenty of sport to hunt, which makes people watching quite a treat as well.
Although it obviously doesn’t make sense from a storyline point, it’s extremely entertaining to watch the different scare zones’ monsters interacting together on the same stage. Some will use each other to help tag team victims, while others keep to their own devices. But throughout the last hour of Fright Fest, there is plenty of adrenaline and screams and a frenzy of activity coming from Demon’s Door.
It’s a perfect way to cap off one’s night at Fright Fest!
Truthfully, going to Fright Fest and simply taking in the scare zones and watching the monsters work their craft is worth the cost of admission alone. And since that admission is a full day’s pass for rides and such, the cost really is a bonus.
As I mentioned yesterday, the mazes carry a range of quality. I think they are worth checking out, but they nevertheless constitute an upcharge, which might be a consideration of a guest deciding what to do after night falls at Magic Mountain.
But while I certainly enjoyed myself through most of the mazes (again, Sewer of Souls, Red’s Revenge, and Aftermath 2 are all top notch), I had the most fun observing and interacting with monsters in the scare zones. Their quick thinking dialogue, snap movements, and frequent goofing/frightening around were all immensely enjoyable to witness, and they brought that sense of glee that can be refreshing. After all, a haunt may not always be actually scary to certain fans, but if it can be entertaining in the least, it still hauls a grand success.
Fright Fest has certainly shown that they are more than what their reputation used to say a decade ago. With a plethora of talented and often veteran monsters, the best overall make-up out of any of the big name haunts out there, and an improving line-up of haunted attractions, Magic Mountain is slowly changing perceptions. And while some stigma may still take a while to erase, I would definitely tell any Halloween enthusiast that Fright Fest is worth giving a chance. It may not have the slick polish of Horror Nights, the pedigree of Scary Farm, or even the “real haunted setting” of Dark Harbor, but it’s still a strong event in its own right.
Check out Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain this season Fridays through Sundays through October 28th. Note the event will not run on Halloween night. More information and ticket purchasing can be found at the Magic Mountain Fright Fest web site.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.