Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA
Happy Monday! We’re rolling right along with our Halloween season coverage by going back to our in-depth focus articles, and this edition takes us back to Six Flags Magic Mountain and this year’s Fright Fest event. We gave our general impressions last week, and today, we’re looking at Fright Fest’s maze line-up.
This year, Six Flags returned six mazes for their Fright Fest event. All of them were repeats from previous years—or so we thought. It turns out that one of them—Vault 666—was actually rethemed, resulting in a different story and maze experience. And though the remainder of the mazes were the same as last year, the takeaway from this year’s Fright Fest is that the overall quality is slowly going up. Yes, Fright Fest still has quite a ways to go to reach Knott’s Scary Farm levels or Halloween Horror Nights levels (even though Magic Mountain’s scares are at least far less repetitive and predictable), but gone are the days when a Fright Fest maze was considered a joke. It’s an upward trend, and we hope to see it continue in the future!
Vault 666: Unlocked
When I first read about this maze this year, I thought that it was simply a changeover from last year’s Hell Fest overlay back to the original Vault 666 asylum theme and storyline. Imagine my surprise upon entering to find that a good 70% of the maze had actually been rethemed (not remodeled—mind you—the layout, walls, and “built-in” elements all remain the same), meaning new paint, decorations, and furnishings to craft a wholly different feel for the maze. Instead of the psych ward motif, Vault 666 has been reinvented as a museum of cursed relics and antiques. The various artifacts stored within this “vault” contain demonic spirits and treacherous beings, and they’ve escaped to prey upon any unfortunate visitors!
Guests who have gone through Vault 666 before will find themselves in a completely different ambiance, even though the elements and procession of the maze will feel very much feel familiar. The Fright Fest crew actually did this transformation entirely in house, providing new paint and theming elements to craft a rich environment of oddities and curios with a dark tinge. A new mini-preshow at the start of the maze helps set the tone, and going through each space shows a certain cleverness in taking the bones of one maze and turning into something very different looking. The various artifacts and paintings gave the maze a fresh and moodier vibe—to the point where the three or four rooms that were not redecorated actually stood out sorely. The chainlink room of strobes and zombies was one glaring example, though the room of dolls was a little less overt.
Ultimately, though, this reimagining of Vault 666 has breathed fresh life into a now-six year old maze, and we commend the park for their efforts in plussing one of their better Fright Fest attractions.
Condemned: Forever Damned
Part of the front gate trio of mazes that includes Vault 666 and Red’s Revenge, Condemned was part of last year’s new maze line-up, taking over for Toyz in Terror 3D. The maze is generally unchanged from last year, taking guests through what is basically a modern haunted house, with eternally cursed souls residing within.
Our trip through Condemned this year showed some of the adjustments and improvements made to the maze through last season, including some better lighting highlighting certain key moments and more visual and photogenic contrast in a lot of the scenes. Boundary-pushing elements, such as the closet hallway, and technology-based effects like a projection of roaches or a shower scene gone morbidly murderous returned.
But one continued conspicuous absence was the complete lack of any sort of audio for the maze. Soundscapes can enhance a haunted maze so much, but Condemned is almost deathly silent on the matter, which feels so jarring because we’re used to places like Knott’s and Universal providing intimate and immersive audio scores and effects. It’s one area that could greatly improve the maze without necessarily requiring that much comprehensive work.
Sewer of Souls
Last year’s surprise hit is back this year and also essentially unchanged. Fortunately, the maze is so strong that a repeat experience is entirely fine. The use of color and visual effects mixed with the Chromadepth 3D glasses make for a spectacular and fun maze to go through.
One minor different this year is the elimination of last year’s VIP portion that took guests through a “secret room”—namely a literally sh***y bar. This year, that is part of the singular path that all guests go through, which is kind of nice for those who were not able to see this last year. Beyond that, Sewer of Souls has some fun talent and interesting effects—including a faux bridge that is unnervingly convincing at first glance from behind those glasses. If this is the threshold of future mazes, the event is definitely heading in the right direction.
Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising
The big hotness of 2016 is still kicking, even though it is located in what is now a dead-end pathway leading to the Apocalypse roller coaster (which also recently reopened and is running great). Because of construction on West Coast Racers, the pathway between this area and the DC Universe is closed, so guests must ascend Samurai Summit / Exile Hill and then come back down to this back area.
In the past, Aftermath 2 has been a little hit or miss due to how much talent was within. Scenically, it remains the most incredible and spectacular set that a haunted maze has ever featured. But without sufficient cast (and this maze does sport the largest cast of any maze at Fright Fest), the experience can be a little lifeless.
Fortunately, our time through this maze on opening night was fantastic. The maze was crawling with talent, from victims to troops and officials to creatures infected with the contagion. Admittedly, a lot of the cast did seem to abuse the “hurry hurry hurry go this way or that way” pattern of trying to incite urgency by role playing the emergency situation, making it feel almost meaningless and eventually turning people off because of how redundant it became. But our experience was still a solidly positive one. And plus—there was fire!
This holdover from the 2014 front gate trio was part of what has sparked Fright Fest’s current Renaissance and surge in attraction quality. Unfortunately, it’s also been relatively unchanged since then. This isn’t bad, because this dark retelling of the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood is wonderfully creative and scenically beautiful, showcasing a cogent and consistent narrative that is lengthy and easy to follow. But six years is a long time for any maze to continue without any enhancements—even the best mazes.
We’d love to see something new happen here next year—either a partial retheme or adjustments similar to Vault 666 or an entirely new maze completely. As it was, Red’s Revenge was still a strong and solid maze that packed in some of the longest lines of the night.
The oldest maze in the park has definitely seen better days. With Chupacabra gone, this is now the latest vestige of the old days when Fright Fest haunted houses lacked the sophistication and technology use of today’s mazes.
The maze is significant in its role, telling the legend of the Willoughby family that surrounds and encompasses the lore at Exile Hill. But this maze is both dark and quiet (save the actors, who continue to be very passionate and among the most enthusiastic), and it has lost any luster it may have gained when it was revamped nearly a decade ago. It would be great to see a wholly new haunted house that can tell the next chapter in the Willoughby story but utilize the technological, animatronic, and tightly immersive developments of today’s mazes.
Overall, despite room for improvement, Fright Fest’s maze are a surprise for anyone expecting the Fright Fest quality of a decade ago. The line-up is growing increasingly sophisticated, and the company’s willingness to outsource to some pretty innovative and thoughtful creative design firms has definitely benefited the mazes and their increasing level of refinement.
Fright Fest has generally been benefiting from an increased level of investment every two years, so by trend, 2019 was supposed to be a more down, less overwhelming year. But what the park has done has exceeded the modest expectations for this year. Lets hope that the park can continue to raise their own bar in order to compete with and push its SoCal haunt brethren!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.