Category: Haunt Reviews (page 1 of 12)

The Pyramid: Escape Room L.A.’s Exicting New Room

Escape Room L.A., Southern California’s largest escape room experience, adds yet another adventure to their already exciting roster of four escape rooms with The Pyramid, inspired by the secrets and rituals of the ancient Mayans. The Pyramid offers participants a fully-immersive journey through a series of rooms as they solve puzzles, challenges, and even must offer sacrifices to the gods. Upon entering, players realize they have been summoned to save a Mayan civilization by restoring the mask of the jade warrior.

“This game is loosely based on histories and traditions within the Mayan culture. I started by researching the civilization and then taking a few creative liberties to give the game a well-rounded, fully-realized experience,” says creator and founder John Hennessey of Escape Room LA. “We’re combining new technology with ancient and authentic Mayan elements to create a thrilling game full of many surprises!”

The epic adventure takes participants on a journey into an undiscovered Mayan pyramid, where players solve puzzles involving cryptic Aztec calendars, battling the elements, and fighting indigenous creatures—to name a few. The mysteries deepen as players advance to the ultimate challenges in the final tomb. Unlike other puzzle-solving escape rooms, The Pyramid takes players through a multi-sensory journey. The set of the game was designed by Jeff McLaughlin, who has won numerous LA Drama Critics Circle Awards and LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards, accompanied by Industrial Designer Mazin Dajani and Construction Coordinator Kyle Rettinger.

 

The Scare Zone crew was able to preview the new experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The settings are reminiscent of being inside a live version of the the popular Uncharted Game or being able to walk through the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. The puzzles are challenging as this room is rated higher in difficulty. However, the intricate sets and mysterious atmosphere will keep you excited and actively involved throughout the adventure.   There are also a few creepy moments inside the attraction with skeleton filled catacombs and the lingering  threat of an unseen adversary that’ s in pursuit.

Located in Downtown LA, Escape Room L.A. brought over 25,000 people to the neighborhood last year, offering more than 80 games per week. Visitors range from escape room connoisseurs; corporate employees seeking unique team bonding experiences; celebrities like Billy Crystal, Conan O’Brien, Neil Patrick Harris, Seth McFarlane, and Emma Stone; and folks looking for unique and out of the box activities. Prospective players can try their luck at any of the five rooms Tuesday through Friday evenings (every 30 minutes from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), and weekend afternoons and evenings (every 30 minutes from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.). Tickets range from $32 to $37, depending on the date and time. For bookings and additional information, visit www.escaperoomla.com, or call 213.689.3229.

 

HAUNT REVIEW: Into the Black

It’s safe to say that Into the Black was one of 2017’s most highly anticipated haunted attractions   Not only because it’s brand new and was created by legend Larry Bones (of Boneyard Effects), but also because of its twist: You must go through alone.  Now, there have been a few haunts with this premise before, most notably, Alone and Blackout. But those are always characterized as “extreme” haunts with a particular tone bordering on torture—or at least focused on making you extremely uncomfortable. But Into the Black promised something else: a truly scary experience with an extensive back story and overall theme. We can easily say that not only did Into the Black deliver on this promise, but it blasted past our expectations to become our favorite haunt this year.

The attraction is split into two different experiences: A virtual reality experience and the walk-through haunted house. We review both here.

The VR Experience

This short VR film provides the back story for the attraction where we learn the origins of the evil inside the Black house. The film is really well done, and a few added “touches” during the experience make it fun and scary. We think it’s definitely worth purchasing the separate ticket for this. However, if you’re on a really tight budget, the film isn’t necessary to enjoy the haunt; it just makes the theme a bit more understandable.

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The Haunted House

First, let’s get this question out of the way: YES, you will be alone the entire time in this haunt. Although people are let in only about 1 minute apart, the actors are superb in making sure you’ll never catch up with the person in front of you. You can try to run, but the demons will find a way to block you. If you hesitate and linger, they will not-so-gently nudge you along. All while terrifying the crap out of you, of course.

The haunt itself takes you through the darkened, decaying rooms of the Black house, the disturbed family we meet in the VR experience. Along the way, there are also long, dark corridors and bricked passageways to break things up. While the rooms of the house are elaborately detailed, the corridors are more sparse, and this is mostly where the demons lurk in the shadows. We liked the way this works to create a true transition between the separate worlds of the living realm and the underworld. All of the actors are demons in some form, with full body suits and impressive masks. Of course, we’d expect no less from Larry Bones, whose studio has been supplying masks and makeup for Halloween Horrors Nights since its return in 2006.  But the facial details of the monsters are even more impressive than we’d anticipated, adding an extra layer to the scares.

The haunt is long, with a labyrinth-like layout that seems to never end. The scares are thoughtful and well orchestrated, which means you don’t always see them coming. There’s an extreme layer of darkness that’s used to create a sense of dread that permeates the entire walk-through. You never quite know what you’re looking at in the corners and shadows of the rooms. While you’re attempting to gain focus on a barely illuminated scene or prop, the actors use the darkness and your distraction as an advantage in their scares. With their howling and snarling vocalizations coming at you from the blackness, the haunt achieves a level of suspense that puts you on edge the entire time.

We were truly scared in this attraction in a way that we haven’t been in a long, long time. For this reason, we’re breaking our usual 5-skull rating and giving Into the Black a well-earned 6 SKULLS for scare factor!

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Final Thoughts

We loved this haunt and have our fingers triple-crossed that it returns next year. It wasn’t particularly busy the night we attended, and we’re worried that the “go it alone” concept is scaring people away. Going through alone does take it to another level, but we feel most haunt fans would be able to handle it. To increase business, they could consider offering a 2-person or group option, maybe only on certain nights. We just think it would be a complete shame if this haunt isn’t successful.

Yes, this haunt is scary, but we wouldn’t characterize it as “extreme.” There’s some light touching by the monsters, but it’s innocuous for the most part. There’s no crawling or eating bugs or any of that. This haunt strikes the perfect balance between suspense, fear, and a good theme. So if it usually takes a lot to scare you and you’re looking for something with a bit more to it than the typical haunted attraction, you should definitely put Into the Black on your list.

Into the Black runs through October 31 and is located at the Pomona Fairgrounds. Tickets are $13 for the VR experience and $29 for the haunted house.

 

Into the Black Overall Fright Value:

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Check our ratings guide for further details

 

HAUNT REVIEW: Knott’s Scary Farm 2017

With some chaos Knott’s Scary Farm‘s 45th Halloween Haunt brings back many popular mazes, revamps others, introduces a couple new ones, and gives a final send off to the first Mistress of Haunt.

Well, we decided to forego the early season visit (and our own advice) and went to Knott’s Scary Farm on a mid-October Saturday night. You know, a night when everyone else in Southern California typically visits. Actually we just couldn’t find another time to go this season as we’ve been prioritizing haunts that are offering newer experiences. We also wanted to mix it up a little and report on what it’s like for real-everyday guests (with Fright Lane) and not a press media outlet that has the red carpet rolled out for them,  to which there’s a significant difference in the experiences.

So after 45 years one would think that Knott’s would have it’s haunt operations running smoothly but sadly chaos ensued from the moment we arrived at the front gates. We lucked out a little on parking but even that was a mess (so was our car after paying $20 to park in a dusty lot). The process to get through the turnstile, using their mobile tickets, and getting a Fright Lane wristband was frustratingly slow. It makes no sense as to why they don’t just hand out the fright lane wrist bands to guest who’ve purchased them as they enter the park as the system for the getting the passes at designated stations within the park is aggravatingly slow and disorganized. It completely diminishes  the value of the Fright Lane’s triple admission price and causes a big crowd of confused and angry people form right inside the park’s front gates.

In addition, many employees we encountered seemed clueless as to what they were doing, where things were, and what was going on in general. Line control and crowd flow was confusing and chaotic all over the park. These things matter just as much as having good mazes. The fun spirit of the evening can be quickly killed for guests if they have to endure what seems to be unnecessary frustrations. It nearly killed it for us. Being “sold out” is not an excuse for guests to have a shitty experience.

Perhaps they need to reduce the cap on the number of nightly admissions. Or maybe they need to hire more operations employees and if they’re hiring a lot of seasonal help during haunt they should take the time to properly train ALL of them. This would really make a difference on how efficient everything is ran inside the park. Compared to Universal, Magic Mountain, and Queen Mary,  Knott’s lands in last place for its operations this year… a solid buried skull. Just go onto social media to see the never ending guest rants about this year’s operations.

Now on to the good stuff. While most of it is the same things we’ve all seen and loved before at Knott’s Scary Farm, part of the charm is the Halloween tradition that carries on year-after-year at the park. The new maze themes and the traditional Halloween ambiance that’s showcased across the foggy landscape is actually even more captivating this year with top notch park decorations along with high caliber and some truly scary maze designs. What distinguishes Knott’s in the Southern California theme park market is the originality of their mazes that are not confined to structured movie themes like Universal’s.

In particular, the new Dark Ride maze is probably one of the best themed and designed mazes we’ve ever experienced at  Scary Farm in our past 25 years of visiting! Paranormal Inc. also continues its reign as the most terrifying maze at KSF with Shadowlands, Pumpkin Eater, and Trick or Treat: Lights Out rounding out the slate of our top mazes this year. We’re very happy that they brought back an overlay to the Timber Mountain Log Ride, even if it’s just “family friendly”. Now we hope they can get the Calico Mine Train back on board. Finally, rounding out the festivities, the anything but family friendly Elvira goes out with a (double) bang for her final season at Knott’s… sad so sad.

Now here’s our full Knott’s Scary Farm maze reviews featuring some incredible full maze videos from our friends at Theme Park HD.

 New Mazes and Attractions

DARK RIDE

Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel characters still linger in the shadows in the NEW maze, Dark Ride. The carnival attraction has become a refuge for sideshow freaks and now those shunned performers have created an ominous world where they plan to unleash terror on those who enter.

This is the Scary Farm maze everyone has been screaming for! Dark Ride looked spectacular and is probably one of the most imaginative and well designed mazes we’ve ever seen at Knott’s. Paying tribute to the old school carnival haunted – fun houses, Dark Ride takes guests on a twisted pathway through and behind the scenes of one of the most elaborate mazes in the history of Scary Farm. There are some fun scares but this maze is more about the story and design. It’s almost ironic how a maze based on a simplistic carnival haunted house ride features the most incredible special effects we’ve seen featured in a KSF maze. The scale of the sets, use of animatronics, music, and craftsmanship is definitely Knott’s warning shot back at HHN and others who have tried to run off with the  haunt  maze blueprint that they originated.  A few more scares might have made this maze beyond perfect but we’re almost glad it wasn’t any scarier as we may have then missed seeing the full glory of this awesome maze by trying to cover our eyes (lol). All in all this maze definitely earns the trophy for haunt theme of the year and for the first time in our Knott’s Scary Farm history, it earns our top 666 skull rating for Haunt Design.

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PUMPKIN EATER

Daring guests will attempt to survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in this year’s NEW MAZE, Pumpkin Eater. The notorious creature is on the prowl, hidden within the dark confines of the haunted town he once terrorized. To escape the sinister Pumpkin Eater’s wrath all who enter must go on a quest through the silent town of victims, face a cave of crawling insects and solve the labyrinth of thorns that blocks the only way out.

The nursery rhyme of Peter Peter Pumpkin eater is brought to life (and death) in this very imaginative maze concept.  It reminded us of a mix of 1992’s Mother Noose and the more recent Cornstalkers mazes. Just like Dark Ride, Pumpkin Eater demonstrates that Knott’s has really graduated up into a new level of immersive maze theming, storytelling, and design. This maze also had quite a few good scares throughout with a high energy cast that really knows how to work within the maze’s long layout. The makeup and costuming were also well done with monstrous  pumpkins and people with carved faces lurking about. There’s also some grotesque scenes but nothing that’s over the top like in the the Red Barn maze. The spiraling journey through the rotted pumpkins that requires guests to push through dripping wet passageways was a highlight of the maze. Due to many of the outdoor sections this maze is much scarier at night but all in all it really is a fun and fright inducing Halloween maze adventure.

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TRICK OR TREAT: LIGHTS OUT

Are you afraid of the dark? You will be. Armed with only a faulty flashlight, explore the creepy house at the end of the street, in the upgraded Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out maze. Face the terrors  of the house in complete darkness as your interactive flashlight reveals the horrors hiding in the shadows.  Featuring new state-of-the-art effects, unexpected scares and other eerie surprises, Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out will terrorize you like never before.

When we first heard about this maze we thought that it was going to just be the same old Trick or Treat maze where all they’ve done now is shut off the lights so that they could promote it as something new. While this is somewhat true, it works really well with the result being more than just a gimmick. ‘Trick or Treat’ actually has never really been a scary maze to us but the “lights out” element adds a new layer of suspense and scariness to the maze this year. Each guest has their own flashlight so the rooms and settings are somewhat illuminated as the groups walk through but now the ghouls and monsters have the full advantage of seeing  you before you get to see them. They also added some fantastic looking new characters and set redresses. Trick or Treat has established itself as one of the most popular Scary Farm mazes that doesn’t seem to get old. With the new lights out Trick we expect it continue to be treating guests for more years to come.

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TIMBER MOUNTAIN LOG RIDE HALLOWEEN HOOTENANNY

This season the Timber Mountain Log Ride becomes the Halloween Hootenanny. This is a family friendly Halloween overlay to our classic Timber Mountain Log Ride. This attraction will be open every day during the Halloween season and features a brand new original song sung by Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies.

After a hiatus that lasted for a few years, it’s so good to finally have the haunted log ride back at Scary Farm. For us this was always one of the quintessential and unique haunt experiences. This new version isn’t designed to be an overly scary experience but the upgraded props, effects and soundtrack make it one of the funnest things to do at Scary Farm and a nice break from walking around. We also appreciate that in spite of the stricter OSHA regulations they still managed to get a handful of live monsters to lurk about in the dark corners around the flume.

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Returning Mazes

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HAUNT REVIEW: Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood 2017: The Remix Year

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) 2017 is fun, scary, and still the best haunt in town. But is there a limit to how many different ways they can repackage Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface?

In our HHN review last year, we wondered whether Universal was running out of different ways they could reuse the same properties and still sell their mazes as “new” experiences. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Saw, the Walking Dead—all of these well-loved and familiar faces have made multiple appearances over the years. And these characters are some of our very favorites, too. But when would the tide turn and see HHN Hollywood bring back more original concepts, like HHN Orlando does? Well, the answer is not 2017.

Once again, HHN Hollywood brought back fan favorites Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface and repackaged them as the “Titans of Terror,” this time combining their stories into a single maze and Terror Tram experience. Jigsaw returns to HHN for the third time in a “best of” maze featuring popular kill scenes (as well as some scenes from the new movie). Blumhouse has a huge returning presence in their mashup maze of three of their movies, as well as an additional standalone maze based on their next installment of the Insidious franchise. Ash vs. Evil Dead reprises some of the themes of the 2013 Evil Dead maze (although most is brand new.) And American Horror Story is back for a second year, in Roanoke form. The only brand new property we hadn’t seen before was Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining maze.

Now, each of these mazes  can definitely be considered “new.” But the properties are getting a little worn and predictable. In fact, we’re already predicting that 2018 will bring back Michael Myers, since he’ll be slashing up the screens in a new movie next October. But if you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience HHN Orlando’s original concept houses, you know how amazing they are, and they usually blow the existing property houses out of the water. We got a glimpse of that in Hollywood with previous mazes such as La Llorona and El Cucuy. So each year, we hold our breath a little bit during the maze announcements in the hope that John Murdy will get a chance to put his amazing creative talent to use on a wholly original maze idea. Because we know what he can do when given the leeway, and it’s brilliant.

But as much as we’d like to see it happen, there are a couple of signs that HHN might not be changing course into more original territory any time soon. A guest survey sent out this season is asking people for their opinions about what they consider to be a “new” maze and whether having a maze return the next year is acceptable or not. In the early years of HHN, this was just standard–a maze would be around for a couple years before being replaced with something new. This happens at all the theme park haunts. But somewhere along the way, HHN began differentiating itself by being “completely new” every year. And that’s hard to sustain if you’re going to base your event solely on existing horror movie properties. So it seems Universal is considering “returning mazes” as an option. We’ll see what happens in 2018.

Now, on to our maze reviews featuring videos from our friends at ThemeParkHD!

Reviews

First, we need to tell you about something that may change your life. Or at least your HHN experience: EARLY ENTRY. If you don’t buy a front of the line pass, you MUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EARLY ENTRY.  There is no charge for this. It’s free with your regular ticket. This brilliantly simple solution to the excruciating lines at HHN absolutely made our night and saved us tons of money. Not willing to fork over 200 bucks for the FOL pass, we decided to try out early entry. Here’s the deal: Get there EARLY, duh. On the night we were there, they opened the gates at 4:20 pm, and from what we understand, they closed them again at about 5:15.  Everyone who enters the park in that window gets a wristband. You have to show your wristband to enter the mazes. The mazes in the lower lot (5 of 7 total mazes!) began opening at 5:15. By the time the park officially opened at 7 pm, we had done all 5 of the lower lot mazes, and we never waited longer than 20 minutes. These wait times jumped to 60-90 minutes once the park opened, so you can see what an advantage this is. We pray to the haunt gods that early entry will return next year.

Mazes

Titans of Terror

This maze combines the stories of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, but don’t expect to see them interacting with each other. Their stories are completely separated, using swirling colored lights to transition from one horror icon’s section to the other. The opening scene is the outside of a house on Halloween, perhaps a tribute to home haunters. We see a boy’s bedroom decked out in worship to these characters, and the boy himself is watching a triple horror feature on TV. So that’s how they they’re tying these stories together. The scenes for each of the icons are similar to what we’ve seen before: boiler room stuff for Freddy, campground scenes for Jason, and depraved butchery for Leatherface. The Jason sets do change it up a bit by focusing a lot on his “underground lair,” which was a big feature of the 2009 remake film.

These icons return to HHN year after year for a good reason: They’re scary. And the actors didn’t disappoint here. We had some great scares. However, this was the last maze of the night for us, and the longest line, and there were several spots inside where the “conga line” was in full effect.

 

Haunt Design4-skulls
Theming: 4-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

The Horrors of Blumhouse

This is the other maze on the upper lot, and it takes you through scenes from The Purge, Happy Death Day, and Sinister.  The Purge section begins with an outdoor portion that’s very similar to last year’s Purge scare zone. Urban depravity and creepy creeps terrorize from behind barrels, busted police cars, and illuminated American flags. Although not too scary to us, the imagery and lighting is effective.

After a short indoor section of hanging bodies, etc., you leave the Purge and enter a movie theater for “Happy Death Day,” Blumhouse’s horror offering in theaters this October. Because the movie hadn’t even been released yet when we went, we had only vague knowledge of the overall story line. But even so, we found this part of the maze to be scariest, with more suspense and jump scares than the other portions. Freaks in baby masks were coming at us from all sides.  However, the maze didn’t really make us want to see the actual movie, as some of it just reminded us how annoying college students can be.

The Sinister scenes are darker, and there are a couple of well-known moments from the film re-created in disturbing detail. This had a more atmospheric feeling and not a lot of scares for us.

Although we did get one of the best scares of the night in here (involving a projection screen), and although it’s exciting to get three themes for the price of one in this maze, we felt that the overall tones of the films were too different, leading to transitions that were too jarring and not allowing us to get that build up of suspense that makes a maze successful.

Haunt Design: 3-5-skulls
Theming: 3-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-5-skulls

Insidious: Beyond the Further

Insidious-Beyond-the-Further Insidious returns to HHN this year, this time featuring scenes from the new movie…which won’t be released until January 2018. But if you’ve seen the other Insidious movies (or have been through the mazes), the general story will be familiar enough. We’ve always enjoyed the Insidious mazes, and this year was another impressive incarnation. With its creepy atmosphere and excellent scareactors, we got quite a few scares in here. The addition of a couple of video screen effects was interesting but felt a little jarring  in a maze with a traditional “haunted house” feel.

Haunt Design: 3-5-skulls
Theming: 4-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

American Horror Story: Roanoke

Full disclosure: We never got through the entire season of Roanoke last year. But it turns out that didn’t matter much, because this maze tops our list as the best HHN maze of 2017! This maze also uses video screens, which seems to be a growing haunt trend this year. But its strengths are in the impressive attention to detail, theming, and well-positioned scares. The maze begins with a stroll through depraved outdoor scenes in the colonial village, followed by an entrance into the house, where we were assaulted by a diverse cast of ghoulish characters. The actors were relentless when we walked through, seemingly coming within centimeters of our faces with their axes and knives. This maze really caught us off guard, maybe because our expectations were somewhat low. But we love the pleasant surprise of an absolutely terrifying and well-done maze.

Haunt Design: 5-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 5-skulls
Overall Rating: 5-skulls

 

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

This was probably the most highly anticipated 2017 maze, as fans have been clamoring for something from Stephen King for years, and The Shining has certainly been on the top of that list. With Stephen King ruling all aspects of the media this year, it was the perfect time for HHN to take advantage of his popularity. This maze was an impressive adaptation of the Kubrick film, representing all the most crucial scenes. Key audio components were re-created, and scents were added. The Jack Nicholson masks were just a tiny bit “off” in their resemblance, but it totally worked in providing an uncanny feeling to the scareactors. Once again, this maze used a few video screens, and this might be our only complaint. The much-touted “Blood Hallway” scene was a complete failure. We were hoping there was just a glitch with the effect during our walk through, but alas, online videos show otherwise. The close-ups of the twins on the video screen completely ruined the illusion of walking through the actual hallway. There are no close cuts in real life; using clips from the movie here was just an instant reminder that you were looking at a video screen. We know this was a highly ambitious maze and appreciate the attempt to incorporate projection technology. But overall, we feel that the projections only detract from the mazes and hope they don’t return next year.

Haunt Design: 3-5-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating:  4-5-skulls

 

Ash Vs. Evil Dead

Ash-Versus-Evil-Dead-Halloween-Horror-NightsWith a lot of sight gags and goofy characters, this maze was a little more fun than scary. You enter the maze through Ash’s trailer, where the evil dead begin attacking immediately. Instead of being scared, we found ourselves consumed by looking at all the crazy details of the scene. After making it past Grandma Dead, the maze opens up to an outdoor scene, followed by an entrance into the notorious cabin. This maze has a lot of standard HHN “door” scares and few dark passageways that also seem to be used more frequently in HHN mazes as transitions between scenes.

Haunt Design:  4-skulls
Theming:  4-skulls
Scare Factor: 3-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

 

Saw: The Games of Jigsaw

Jigsaw returns to HHN this year in a maze showcasing the best “games” of the series. Since we’ve seen the other iterations of Saw at HHN, much of this maze looked familiar to us, from the pig-faced creeps, to the face traps, to the water torture, to the bathroom scene and the return of its unholy stench. If you’re a fan of Saw, you’ll probably love this maze and its “greatest hits” feeling. Also included is a trap from the new movie, which was probably the best, visually. We didn’t find this maze too scary, but its gore and “ick” factor are enough to put you on edge.

Haunt Design:  4-skulls
Theming:  4-skulls
Scare Factor: 3-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-5-skulls

Titans of Terror Tram

Terror-Tram-Jason-Halloween-Horror-Nights

Chucky is back to hijack the Terror Tram and, of course, promote his new Netflix movie. The tram also features appearances by Jason (Bates Motel scene), Freddy (War of the Worlds set), and Leatherface (sheet maze area).  There’s not a whole lot to say about the tram that hasn’t been said in previous years, but one thing that stood out to us was the fact that there were no chainsaws in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenes! We can easily guess this is because of noise complaints from nearby residents in previous years. But chainsaws are used earlier in the tram (which is farther from the homes on the hill), so perhaps they should’ve had Leatherface swinging the chainsaw as you get off the tram rather than Chucky. The tram is fun, but it’s never scary to us. But it’s a good way to get off your feet for a few minutes.

Haunt Design: 2-skulls
Theming: 2-skulls
Scare Factor: 1-5-skulls
Overall Rating: 2-skulls

Final Thoughts

We had a blast at HHN this year, and a lot of that was due to Early Entry. Without having to pay the exorbitant price for Front of the Line, the Fright Value for this event has gone way up this year. The mazes were well done, and some were terrifying. On the downside, the scare zones were scaled back (and not worth a review this year), and the return of several properties (which themselves date back to the 1970s-1980s) made the event feel a bit stale. We hope to see more original concepts next year, but we know that whatever the maze theme, the attention to detail will be unmatched by any other haunt out there.


HHN Hollywood Overall Fright Value:

4-skulls

Overall Rating of HHN Hollywood 2017:

4-5-skulls

 

HAUNT REVIEW: CREEP LA’s LORE

Creep LA, the masters of haunt experiences in LA, have teamed up with Amazon Prime Video to create a truly unique immersive theater experience this Halloween season.

Past Creep LA experiences have been highly rated  here on The  Scare Zone and this year continues the tradition of the well produced interactive theatrical haunt experience.  Unlike the previous years  (“Creep Los Angeles”, “The Willows”) , this year’s CreepLA is closely tied to an intellectual property. Derived from Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast, Lore is  an Amazon Prime Exclusive’s new six-episode anthology series that presents the frightening and often disturbing tales based on real people and events that have led to our modern-day myths and legends. Celebrating the origins of the horror genre, Lore explores the real-life tales behind pop culture’s most legendary horror myths, such as vampires, changelings, werewolves, séances and possessed dolls.

Creep LA: Lore takes small groups of eight inside an imagined universe where they’ll travel through a fully engaging, multi-sensory, 1-hour walk-thru experience. At Creep LA: Lore, everyone is part of the experience whether they intend to be or not. To be clear this is not one of those torture and humiliation haunt concepts.  Guests may get touched (or kissed) but it’s all within boundaries.

This year’s show has definitely taken the production to a new level (having the corporate partnership is always a good thing). The size and scope of the venue is huge and each scene is  intricately  designed. The settings create dynamic and diverse environments. The talent is also top notch. Some of the highlighted performances include the nurse that recites a spooky bedtime story to the group and room of disturbed orphans, a woman looking for her son that has disappeared with a rather creepy looking doll,  and a lobotomy doctor with his disembodied assistants.

One of the challenges of performing a haunt show is that the actors do have to rely on the audience actively participating, which can lead to some unpredictable outcomes from show to show. We strongly suggest that you don’t try to hide or act too smug as you will then be the person who is picked on. During the show everyone can expect to be separated from the group at some point.

Being honest, there were a few WTF moments in the show as some of the scenes didn’t seem to flow smoothly or provide a satisfactory finale. Perhaps it’s because we weren’t fully familiar with Lore yet. We remember the previous years having more suspense and scares built into the experiences. Nonetheless, this year’s show is able to compensate with it’s overall higher quality of production and is a high caliber Halloween theatrical haunt experience. Plus, with the themed bar at the end, it’s setup as the perfect Halloween season date, friends, or all to yourself night out.

Scare Zone Rating

DETAILS

Creep LA: Lore is taking place at Mag1ic Box LA in Downtown LA on select dates from October  5th  through November 12th. Creep LA has continuously sold out their previous event series almost immediately upon going on sale. So be sure to get yours quickly or you may just end up reading about it here on The Scare Zone.

Tickets for Creep LA: Lore are for ADULTS ONLY. Ticket prices start at $65. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: www.CreepLA.com.

Engage with and follow Creep LA on social media at: #creepla @creeplosangeles

HAUNT REVIEW: Zombie Joe’s Urban Death – Tour Of Terror Year 5

Unless you’re holding your breath while waiting for a maniacal killer to leave the room you’re hiding in, time goes by fast.

We can’t believe it’s already been 5 years since Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater Group premiered Urban Death: Tour Of Terror. Since day one this has definitely been one of the most unique and unnerving haunt experiences in Los Angeles.

The number 5 is the most dynamic and energetic of all the single-digit numbers. Just like the ‘Tour of Terror’ it is unpredictable, always in motion and constantly in need of change. Although it is molded from an almost equal mix of masculine and feminine qualities, in general the 5 is slightly more feminine — albeit a daring, tomboyish kind of feminine, with nothing demure or submissive about her.

For its fifth Halloween season the darkened doors of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater Group have reopened with a production that sustains all the bizarre, frightening , and fun elements that we’ve come to love from ZJU. It also adds in even more freakish mayhem that continues to push the boundaries of terror and morality.

The show begins with a unique and surprisingly long maze through a pitch black corridor. A tiny flashlight provides only a small beam of light that illuminates the depraived creeps lurking about. This grand entrance to the theatre made us both scream, laugh, and cringe.

After surviving the mini-maze the audience settles into the theater and the lights go out again. From here the show classic’s format plays out with unsettling scenes that capture quick horrific slices of life and death. What we appreciate about ‘Tour of Terror’ is that each year they creatively blend previous scenes with new and even more over-the-top sequences that make the show both familiar and fresh. Five years in and it’s still thrilling.

After the show we’re again given flashlights to venture back through the maze, where a new set of creepy performers and haunted surprises materialize. The intensity of this second trip back is even higher than the first.

Zombie Joe’s has some of the most dedicated, bold, and talented performers we’ve seen at a haunt show. While it can appear simplistic, the complexities of the production can’t be overlooked.  They actors’ ability to hit their marks in the darkness and the full reset of multiple scenes in a matter of seconds has us in awe.

We concur that the fifth year is the best yet, as co-directors and creators Zombie Joe and Jana Wimer keep pushing the show to new heights. Just like the number five, it is an unpredictable mix of masculine and feminine qualities. This haunt show is definitely for bold and brave adult audiences. Leave your inhibitions at the door.

 

Scare Zone Rating

 

DETAILS

Urban Death: Tour of Terror Haunted Theater Attraction, ages 16 and up.

WHEN: Friday and Saturday nights, October 6 – October 28, Monday, October 30 and Tuesday, October 31st, 8:00 pm, 9:00 pm, 10:00 pm, 10:45 pm and 11:30 pm. Special Haunters and Press-Performance Thursday, October 6th, 9:00 pm (please reach out to Zombie Joe at ZombieJoes@gmail.com or 818-202-4120 for comp press tickets).

WHERE: Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater Group: 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

 

TICKETS: $15, can be purchased at the door, online at: ZombieJoes.Tix.com, or by calling 818-202-4120 (NOTE: Due to the popularity of the show, we highly recommend purchasing tickets early).

WEBSITES: www.ZombieJoes.com and www.UrbanDeath.com

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/ZJUTheater/

TWITTER: twitter.com/urbandeath_zju

INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/urbandeath_zju

Theaters of Terror: Stephen King speaks about ‘IT’

(Photo: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.)

‘Pennywise’ the clown finally arrives in theaters today in the new theatrical version of ‘IT’. The movie is already shaping up to be a blockbuster with projections that it’ll make over $85 million this opening weekend.  They’re also talking about doing a sequel already (wait, he doesn’t die in the end?).

This movie has been heavily marketed over the summer with fun promotional tactics that included “The IT Experience: Neibolt House Hollywood” haunted house.

We recently visited the Neibolt House and it was a pretty fun haunt experience (especially being for free). There were one or two startling moments and some nice special effects used. It was somewhat tamer than the haunts we’ve experienced elsewhere but we should keep in mind that this is setup to try to appeal to the more general public and out of town tourist who stumble upon it while walking down the streets in Hollywood. It’s also a great way to promote a horror movie and we would hope to see more of these kind of promotions.  We rate the “The IT Experience: Neibolt House Hollywood” with a solid 2 and half skulls and think that it’s worth seeing if you’re going to be in the area.

Getting back to the movie ‘IT’self, our friends at Yahoo Movies recently had the opportunity to speak with the master of modern horror himself, Stephen King, about Andrés Muschietti’s cinematic adaptation of ‘IT,’ as well as his thoughts on Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation of ‘Pennywise’ versus that of Tim Curry’s, and what he thinks of Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ and his work being an inspiration to the Duffer Brothers. King even divulges on his real overall feelings towards clowns – He says “…clowns are scary. There’s just no way around that.”

Here are a few highlights from the Yahoo Movies interview:

Stephen King (Photo: AP)

King on Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation of ‘Pennywise’ versus that of Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 ABC miniseries:

“I thought Tim Curry made the miniseries. He did. If Pennywise doesn’t work, obviously the thing doesn’t work at all, you know?…Pennywise is scary in the book, he needed to be scary in that miniseries, and he needs to be scary in the movie. And he is. They’re both good. I wouldn’t pick one above the other. I would just say that Andy [Muschietti] had more to work with in terms of modern technology and, for all I know, budget too. I’m sure he must have had more; I can’t remember what the miniseries cost — at one time I knew — but it wasn’t that much. It was a TV thing.”

 King on his feelings about the new ‘IT’ adaptation of:

“There are a lot of movies where, it seems to me, they bought the rights to something because they’re excited about a central situation or some of the visuals that are in the books. And then they do things to it that don’t really have that much to do with the book. I feel like they’re buying the launching pad but putting their own rocket on it — and a lot of times, the rocket blows up. This is not that case. They’ve stuck pretty close to the book, and where things have been changed, the changes make sense. They work.”

 King on his feelings towards ‘Stranger Things’:

“I loved that show. The Duffer brothers have pretty much said that I was an influence on their show, so I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. This is something that they’ve said. But they obviously internalized the idea that the characters count. And they also found that sweet spot in American life, which is sort of middle class, and small town, and there’s a textured feeling to those characters.” The small-town bumbling sheriff who stands up for all the things that are good. And Winona Ryder was so goddamn good in that show as the mother. So all those things work, and the kids work.”

 King on his true feelings on clowns and being blamed for last year’s rash of menacing-clown sightings:

“I shrugged it off. Because clowns are scary. There’s just no way around that. Clowns can be as angry as they want, and that’s their right — they’re clowns! I mean, obviously they love kids. I came out in support of some clowns in Europe who asked me to say something nice about clowns because they go to hospitals and try to cheer up sick kids. I mean, if I were a sick kid and I saw a f–king clown coming, all the red lines would go off on my gear, because I’d be scared to death! So kids are scared of clowns.”

‘IT’ is in theaters now. You can find the full interview with Stephen King from Yahoo Movies here.

Haunt Review 2016: Creep LA

creepla-logo

About three-quarters of the way through 2016’s incarnation of Creep LA, we wondered, “Is this performance art disguised as a haunt, or is this a haunt themed to a piece of performance art?” And we also wondered, “Does the fact that we’re asking ourselves this question mean that Creep LA has elevated itself to a higher level than a standard haunted attraction?” And the answer is Yes. Yes, it does.

For 2016, Creep has moved from Downtown to Glassell Park, a better location with better parking. The exterior this year is once again a simple warehouse, with the words “CreepLA” projected on the outside of the building serving as the only indication there’s a haunt inside. Tickets are sold by time slots, and our group had only 5 people. When it was our turn, we were taken inside and lined up against the wall, where we met the first few creeps.

In this room, we signed a waiver, were strongly urged to use the restroom, and then were given a bit of the backstory by the actors. This year’s attraction features the story the “controversial artist” Erebus Burwyck who sought to explore “the dark side of humanity.” The first part of the haunt feels part prison, part art gallery, as Burwyck’s art is hung around on the cinder block–style walls. The actors portray creepy hipster artist types, which is perfect fit for this part of town.

The first part of the experience is a stop in a lounge–a medium-sized room containing works of art, couches, tables, and chairs, and different performers wandering around and interacting with the guests. While some might see this as an attempt to grab more dollars by offering alcoholic beverages before the actual haunt begins, we really felt that the lounge was part of the show and helped set the mood and tone. The performers fantastically engage every single waiting guest with their slightly uncomfortable and invasive conversations, all while providing small details of the backstory.  We actually wished our stay in the lounge could have been a bit longer, but our group was soon called, and we proceeded to the main attraction.

*Note: Slight spoilers ahead, but we never give too much away.

After receiving a bit more of the backstory and some of the standard pre-haunt warnings (for example, “You’re about to lose your mind, and by the way, don’t touch the creeps although they WILL touch you”), we were led to another warehouse where we entered the first scene. Here we were told to face the wall with our backs to the room. After a minute or so, each of us was led by the hand to a chair, where a lace cloth was placed over our heads. An audio recording of Erebus Burwyck was played while two cult-like Burwyck fans performed a strange ritual in the center of the room. Eventually, the lights go out, and we’re in the darkness. The scene builds suspense, closely follows and elaborates on the backstory, has some freaky performance art to witness, and even manages to get in some traditional scares. It was a very good opening to the attraction.

The rest of the haunt was similarly eerie, interesting, thoughtful, suspenseful, and even scary. We were extensively touched by the actors, and some of it includes very close contact that could make many people uncomfortable, so be warned. However, if you enter with an open mind and don’t take it too seriously, we definitely think you’ll have a good time. Each scene is a small vignette that varies between creepy and uncomfortable. The overall story of being immersed in a piece of performance art really shines through in the way CreepLA has structured the haunt, as each room feels like an individual piece of an “art” show while also serving the overall theme. Additionally, every single person in our group ended up participating in at least one (and for some of us, more) scene. Each person was also led away at some point to be alone with a “creep.” These experiences were unsettling but not overly intense.

We won’t detail each scene, but to give you an idea: we traveled through a demented, impressively choreographed dinner party; a creepy child’s bedroom; a couple of different erotic dance vignettes; a sparse room with a giant pile of sand; and the dressing room of an unhinged beauty queen. The level of detail in each set was different depending on the purpose of the story of the scene, but almost every room felt complete and well thought out.

SUMMARY

Over the years, we’ve come to recognize that the mark of a great haunt experience is whether or not you think about the haunt the day after you experience it. If it stays with you, and if your mind rehashes the experience in the following days, that haunt has achieved a rare level. This is definitely the case with Creep LA. We also witnessed a lot of people standing around in the parking lot after they had gone through the haunt, just talking and detailing their experiences, because the attraction will be different for each person. This is what has truly elevated Creep LA from being not  just another haunt but rather its very own work of art.

We’re lucky that in Los Angeles, we have the option of a few of these different types of haunt-theater events: Delusion, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, and Creep LA. Each has its own merits and is worthy of a visit. Although Creep LA is not as lush as Delusion, and it doesn’t have the same level of set detailing and stunt work, we think Creep LA is a little bit more interesting and intense. Creep LA feels like Delusion’s dirty little sister: she might not be as pretty or sophisticated, but in a lot of ways, she’s just more fun.

We’re also spoiled in Los Angeles by the level of acting talent here. In some other cities, when a haunt says they have “real actors,” they mean alive human beings rather than animatronics. In L.A., it often means the actors can actually act. There is no way working at Creep is easy, and the actors in the lounge are especially impressive in the improvisational way they interact with guests.

Altogether, we think Creep LA is a unique, demented, special experience that should be on everyone’s list during the Halloween season.

Ratings

Haunt Design:  5-skulls 

  Theming: 4-5-skulls

Scare Factor: 4-skulls   

Fright Value: 4-5-skulls

Overall Rating: 

4-5-skulls

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On a brisk October night—well, it was kind of warm, actually—we traveled into the dark of night guided by the light of a full moon, and the oncoming traffic headlights on the 5 freeway, to get to the far reaches of Griffith Park, where the L.A. Haunted Hayride resides.  When we arrived at our destination in the dark side of town, there was a parking lot filled with cars and a long line of people waiting anxiously to get in. From the size of the crowd, it was obvious that the L.A. Haunted Hayride has managed to become one of the more popular haunts in L.A..

It’s been a while since we’ve come here, as the hayride experience had started to become redundant and not very scary to us after going for a couple years in a row. So we decided that this year it would be fun to go back and check it out, since they now have two additional mazes and a new walk-through segment during the hayride itself. They also happen to be only a few miles away from another haunt we really wanted to see, CreepLA.

The atmosphere across the grounds of the hayride, which they call “Purgatory,” feels like a Halloween festival with food vendors, roaming performers, a “Boutique,”  pumpkin carving, light shows, psychic booths, and a “Sacry-Go-Round.”  It’s all well organized and fun. You’ll really feel the spirit of the season after spending a little time here.

We were surprised that they didn’t take credit cards anywhere, not even at the ticket booths, and guests were forced to used portable ATMs in order to get cash if they didn’t bring any. This was a little annoying and inconvenient. It seems that they’re trying to make every last dollar they can by not paying credit card fees and getting kick backs from the rented ATMS. Another interesting thing is all the food served at the venue is vegan, which for us isn’t a problem. In fact, the pumpkin donut holes were delicious.

Of course, before we spent any more time in “Purgatory,” we hit up the hayride and the two mazes.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: Secret Society

img_6900This year’s hayride was promoted as being “brand new with the most innovative theme to date”. The story is we’re now part of a Secret Society of Halloween, and they’re going to take us, in our hay-filled cart, down a dark road where we’ll witness scenes of power and sacrifice, all to bring the night of Samhain to life. Before taking this journey, guests get rounded up like cattle in a chain-link fence holding pen and then corralled into the wagon. The wagon isn’t very comfortable, as instead of sitting on comfy bales of hay, you sit in a thin pile of hay that’s spread across the bed of the wagon.

We did notice a few minor changes in the hayride since we last visited but nothing that was truly “innovative”. Most notably is the section where you leave the hay wagon a few minutes into the ride and walk through an outdoor maze that has one or two startling moments. After the maze section, we were quickly crammed back into the wagon and continued on with the tour.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t experience anything else that was particularly scary on the rest of the hayride. There are some interesting and elaborate sets along the route and some talented performers who give it a theatrical edge, but we had a hard time following the storyline and understanding what was happening in some of the scenes. The overall theme was lost on us, as the ride begins with a giant Mayan statue telling us we’re doomed and then finishes in a tent where we get attacked by patriotic Purge-like  goons.

cu3gspwvuaaruk_-jpg-large  img_6902

All in all, the hayride is like a riding though an outdoor Halloween store, where you’ll see some cool costumes, makeup jobs, and props on display. It’s all fun, but we wouldn’t want to wait in a long line to check it out.

Haunt Design: 3-skulls
Theming: 2-skulls
Scare Factor: 1-skull
Overall Rating: 2-skulls

Ouija Origin of Evil: House of Shadows

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This is a true maze composed of black walls in almost complete darkness. From the name, it’s obvious that they’re promoting the new Ouija movie, so they also included a few rooms that feature scenes from the movie.  These scenes are not at the same quality of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights mazes, but they still were fun. In the rest of the maze, you have to find your way through  dark corridors with dead ends and monsters lurking in the shadows. This maze was actually pretty fun, and we found it to be a little scarier than the hayride. Overall, this was a fun attraction, but note that the line can get REALLY long. We suggest hitting this maze early in the night (before the hayride) to avoid the long lines.

Haunt Design: 2-5-skulls
Theming: 3-skulls
Scare Factor: 2-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-skulls

Trick Or Treat

img_6913This has to be one the best maze concepts we’ve experienced this season. This maze takes interactivity to another level, where guests have to walk through a spooky neighborhood and literally go trick-or-treating door to door. Each house has its own personality to match the forbidding residents inside. It’s suspenseful and fun when you walk up to a house and have to ring the doorbell or knock on the door, waiting for an encounter with what’s on the other side. If you’re lucky, the resident will award you with some candy before sending you on your way to your next frightful encounter.

This maze was so much fun. We liked the feeling of not being confined to a path and the ability to pick where were wanted to go to get scared. We also liked the different themed homes, which featured just about every kind of Halloween character you could imagine. Getting candy made the experience all that much more fun. For us grown-up haunt stalkers, this maze allowed us to re-create the nostalgic memory of going door to door on Halloween night and the nightmares we had afterward.

Haunt Design: 4-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 2-5-skulls
Overall Rating:4-5-skulls

 

L.A. Haunted Hayride Overall Fright Value:

2-5-skulls

Overall Rating of L.A. Haunted Hayride 2016:

3-5-skulls

*Videos courtesy of Theme Park HD

Haunt Review: Sinister Pointe(less) 2016

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During its prime, Sinister Pointe ranked near the very top of our annual haunt ratings list. With themes ranging from Saw to Silent Hill, and an elaborate haunted house with annual Xmas and Valentine’s Day haunts, this was one of the premier haunted attractions in Southern California. The mazes were superbly designed with movie-quality sets, interactive elements, and suspenseful scares that had us screaming to go back year after year. In addition, the talented team behind Sinister Pointe were also the masterminds behind the creation of Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor and one of our favorite haunts at the Winchester Mystery House Fright Nights. So after they left their permanent location in 2014, we anxiously anticipated their return in 2016.

Earlier this year, Sinister Pointe had a Seance event that we found to be fun. With a few tweaks, it could have been a pretty epic experience. With that said, it seems that public opinion was that the Seance event was a waste of time and money. Making good on their commitment to customer satisfaction, Sinister Pointe sent out special invitations to all the Seance attendees, welcoming us all back as VIP guests to experience their new 2016 haunted maze.

cuypulkuiaaqgys We couldn’t wait to finally return to Sinister Pointe and see the next level of terror and fun they promoted. The maze is themed as a dark journey through a decrepit world where victims must choose different paths to get through four demonic dimensions. Unfortunately, the description is the most exciting part. The maze we went through (3 times) is mainly constructed from black painted plywood walls and hanging sheets.  There were hardly any props and limited effects. There actually was one section of the maze where we got stuck with other guests because we thought that the path through a curtain was taking us out of the maze and behind the scenes. It looked like an emergency exit. However, an actor told us to keep going and called us idiots for not knowing that was the correct path. We’re sorry, but when going through a maze, we’re not used to going behind the walls and walking over light cords, fans, past stacked chairs, and behind the audio speakers. We couldn’t believe it was part of the maze.  We all did feel like idiots for taking the time and paying to go through this maze.

We went through three times and didn’t find any of the paths to be significantly different. Every time we went through, none of the other people in the maze seemed to be impressed either.  It was really disappointing to realize that Sinister Pointe has regressed into being nothing more than an overpriced junior high school haunted house. We think that this was the first time that a haunt has left us feeling depressed, as it had very little redeeming qualities about it.

cuyrqpzueaqmv57What seems to have gone wrong is that the overall set design and talent has fallen far below the quality that Sinister Pointe has spoiled us with before. We give credit to a few scareactors who were giving it their all, but the rest seemed just as lost in the maze as we did. We understand that the haunt business is a tough one and requires haunters to make a big investment to produce a quality maze. Given their tenure and established name in the industry, we expected that Sinister Pointe would have both the creativity and resources to produce another high-end experience. Alas, all we got was a cleverly marketed but ill-conceived haunted house experience.

Our hope is that this year was just a fluke and due to circumstances beyond their control, they weren’t able to produce the haunt they had initially intended to make. However, we can’t make excuses here, and since they’re taking people’s money, we can’t in good conscience give them a good review.  Sad to say that this a a first-class haunt that has gone all the way back to coach. Sinisterly Pointless, indeed.

 

Ratings

Haunt Design: 1-skull        Theming:  1-5-skulls

Scare Factor: half-skull     Fright Value: half-skull 

Overall Rating: 

1-skull

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