Archive for the ‘Haunt Reviews’ Category

Insidious 4D Experience: Just Step Away ‘Further’ Back

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

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We are very disappointed to share that our experience at Insidious 4D here in Los Angeles did not happen due to the people running it being disorganized, disingenuous, and rude. We pride ourselves at Scare Zone in representing the experience everyday people will have when going to haunts so we don’t push to get special press access, treatment, or freebies as we want to report on the haunt experiences as they really are and not biased with VIP access.

Insidious 4D is a very simple marketing promotion, using virtual reality goggles and some film props set up inside of two connected trucks, designed to promote the upcoming movie Insidious 3. During the stop in L.A. guests can RSVP for a reserved time or just show up and wait in line. All the RSVP times required codes provided by various press partners and all seemed impossible for us to use on the event’s website. Nonetheless, the event was listed on the website as opening at 3pm today (Saturday 5/16) so we went at 2:30 to begin our wait in line and hopefully beat some of the crowds. However, upon our arrival we were told that they don’t open until 6:30p (?). Others had also arrived early to get in line and like us had traveled some distance to attend and were also dismayed to be told they now needed to come back 3.5 hours later. When we checked on our phones the website still had the opening time listed as 3pm so this was a critical error on their part.

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The Public relations (PR) woman who was running the check in line appeared to be nice at first but in a very backhanded and patronizing manner she was also trying to act as if it was our faults for showing up at the time listed on the website; as if we should have known they didn’t have their shit together. She “offered” to “try to” accommodate us if we waited to go in. Meanwhile there was nobody, press or otherwise waiting to go in. However, literally a minute before our other writer showed up, a group of “PR” people (9 total) arrived. I was then told by this Insidious PR woman that “she tried to get us in but since our friend wasn’t there, there’s nothing she can do.” I told her we can still wait, as we came expecting to wait, but to be clear the website stated that they opened at 3 and not 6:30.” The Insidious PR woman then randomly snapped at me and said that she was trying to be nice but my tone is rude (which it was not, I only stated the facts) and I should try at 6:30 and she stormed off. It was a very odd moment. A second later her bipolar disorder kicked in again as she came back over to me and said she’ll see what she can do and then walked off again (WTF?).

Our other writer showed up seconds later and other visitors started to show up as well. The Insidious PR woman started telling them that it wasn’t open until 6:30 and they all looked puzzled since the website said 3pm. She told them it was only open for press. One of us then went over to the group she was telling to leave to validate they weren’t crazy and that the website does say they open at 3pm and can accommodate general admission without a “reservation” time. This is when the Insidious PR woman physically grabbed her and pushed her aside. It was unreal! We told her that it wasn’t necessary to push and the Insidious PR woman harshly said “I told your friend I was trying to make it work for you so why don’t you talk to each and stay out of this.” At this point we were so shocked at the nature of the behavior of this Insidious PR woman we were finished and knew that this experience was not worth it at all. The only scary thing here was is this second class nut job woman who was struggling through her mental issues in public. She actually could have been arrested for assault had we decided to call the police.

We did ask who was in charge and spoke with some other guy “in charge”. He seemed nice enough and seemed to agree what had transpired was uncalled for, but also wasn’t proactive in correcting the situation. While speaking with him, the crazy Insidious PR woman came back and over to us and tried to do more condescending verbal assaults as she apparently was the victim of this situation. Then the guy started to argue with her as well so we were finished with this whole shit show and left.

This is a problem we’ve experienced over the years in the haunt industry. Dealing with the companies, movie studios, and individuals who try to capitalize off of the haunt experience. All these entities do not have the integrity nor the soul to deliver a haunt experience with any real intention to provide people with a good time and scares. They simply want to promote their upcoming moving, sell some goods, and make a fast buck off of dedicated haunters, horror fans, and the general public. It’s really disgusting to think that they’ll be so rude and condensending to the very people who are going to be watching their movies and buying the products that pay their checks. They obviously only have a myopic view of the world in which everyone should simply go along with the rules that they keep changing while they keeping playing games. They don’t see the big picture and know that once the word gets out that their event/haunt is crap, they’ve lost the trust and support of the haunt community, fans, and public.

FullSizeRenderAgain, we want our fellow Haunt Stalkers, Haunters and friends to be treated with respect. No one should ever be verbally assaulted, spoken to in a condescending tone, or physically pushed. It is disgusting to know that the Insidious 4D experience is being carried out by a bunch of emotionally distraught and crooked individuals. Sadly this also taints the overall view and experience of the Insidious brand and studios behind it.

Haunt Review: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood 2014

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

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With an eclectic mix of themes ranging from popular TV series, classic movie properties, and sadistic original themes, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) 2014 fired on all cylinders. Not since 2009, had we experienced such a full line up of terrifying mazes at HHN. The HHN team of John Murdy and Chris Williams managed to create some of the most intricate horror maze designs and effects we’ve seen… anywhere! While other Theme Park haunts such as Knott’s Scary Farm celebrate the spirit of the Halloween season with creepy and spooky styled themes, HHN differentiates itself as being a true Horror Show. Here we take on the leading roles encountering monsters, zombies, and psychos inside a the vast landscape of Hollywood’s top horror settings.

The park operations, which has been a nightmare in the past, were running smoothly in the night of our visit; with great line control, calm crowds, and helpful employees. Everything that has exasperated us in our past visits to HHN were non-issues this year. Even without a front of the line pass, we made it through 6 of the 7 mazes and experienced The Terror Tram with our longest wait being only 35 minutes. The only minor complaint we have is the amount of walking guests had to do with the walk from the front gate down to the backlot mazes being 1.2 miles (we checked on Google Maps) each way. By the end of the night we felt like the Walking Dead ourselves. On the positive side, the spread did help to keep the crowds fairly dispersed throughout the park, especially earlier in the evening. Universal did a good job at making the walk to backlot an entertaining and scary experience with an army of zombies from the “The Walking Dead” populating the walkways themed as the journey to ‘Terminus”.

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We’ll now take you through our maze and scare zone reviews with highlights and opinions from our own experiences in the mazes. Haunts are rated on a 1-5 “skull” system.

** Videos are from our friends at ThemeParkHD see more of their awesome theme park and haunt videos here. **

Mazes

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The Walking Dead: End of the Line 

This is where we follow in the footsteps of the human survivors on the show as we flee the overrun prison and enter a nightmarish landscape searching for a promised new safe haven (Terminus) that may not be all that it seems. After escaping the dark and murky prison sets that were featured in last year’s Walking Dead maze, we find ourselves fighting through even larger hordes of walkers in new scenes inspired from the show’s 4th season.

This year was the best reincarnation of the Walking Dead with the Walkers getting uncomfortably close to us. The makeup on the Walkers was on par with what you’d actually see in the show. Seeing the Walkers in their various stages of decay was very unnerving as the zombie makeup was a little more than realistic. Being in the scenes from the show also created an odd sensation mixed of fear and nostalgia. The infamous scene from the series where the store ceiling is collapsed by the zombies was just as awe inspiring as it was scary. We liked that the walkers were actually running at us and there were quite a few surprise scares that took us off guard, providing some pretty terrifying moments. Towards the middle of the maze we were starting to hope that Rick and Michonne would show up to protect us and guide us to safety. Yet no luck, and we had to bravely make our own way through the zombie infested scenes in a failed attempt to get to the safety of Terminus. 

With a maze of this caliber we won’t necessarily balk at HHN for continuing to bring out the dead, but we also feel that all good things should come to and end and perhaps after 3 years it’s time for HHN let the dead rest in peace.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 skulls

 

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AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Two rival alien species fight to the death with Earth as their battleground. In this menacing maze guest uncover a dangerous alien spaceship carrying a race of hunter aliens known as Predators and a threatening new alien life form that uses human hosts to propagate its species. After crash landing in a remote section of America and escaping to the countryside, the alien and predator become hunter and prey with guests caught in the crossfire.

HHN14_AVP-1-300x240This maze (and an American Werewolf in London) had the most detailed sets and high-end effects we’ve ever seen at HHN. We have to loudly applaud the HHN creative team for bringing the AVP settings and monsters fully to life, to scare us to death. On top of the detailed sets, this maze was just downright terrifying. The Alien and Predator attacks were relentless. Coupled with HHN’s signature lighting and sound scares, every time the extraterrestrial monsters made an appearance, widely swiping and thrashing at us, even the bravest of haunt stalkers were screaming and ducking for cover.

This maze cleverly used it’s spaceship, forest, and suburban house settings to create unique hiding places for the scares. This maze  had diversion and new scare tactics having the Aliens, Predators, and victims appear from some of the most unexpected places. In addition, many of the live and animatronic scareactors were larger than life making every encounter with them even more foreboding. There was a lot to see in this maze and we wish we had time (and nerves) to go through it more than once. If anything, this is one maze we definitly would not mind seeing come back for a second year.


Ratings:

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

 

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From Dusk Till Dawn

We can’t believe that original movie ‘From Dusk Till Dawn” came out 18 years ago (in 1996) and now it has been transformed into a TV series on the the El Rey Network that has become a maze. HHN fans have expressed interest in a maze based on this movie for many years so it seems that the timing is now perfect for this theme as it not only utilizes a very popular horror movie that has a unique spin on the vampire lore; but it also has themes of hispanic folklore (Mesoamerican) that Universal has been exploiting… err exploring, over the past few years (La Llorona and El Cucuy) and it helps to promote the new series. A win-win all around.

This maze was fun and worth seeing but it wasn’t one of the best for 2014. The scareactor makeup was top-notch with the vampire demons looking relastic from head to toe. The sets were also well detailed to look like the forbbidden lair of the blood sucking demons but since the maze tried follow the linear story of the movie/TV show there were a few scenes that were repeated so it started to feel redundant was we went further through. There were a few good scares but the layout with wide open rooms allowed too much time for us to scan and scope out the potential scareactor hiding places.

It was good and fun to finally have a From Dusk Till Dawn maze but it didn’t fully meet our expectations.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 2.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 skull
  • Overall Rating: 2.5 skulls

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An American Werewolf in London

After year’s and year’s of begging, this maze was finally unleashed upon HHN guests in Hollywood. This maze recreated all the legendary scenes from movie using gruesomely convincing props, chillingly authentic music and mind-blowing special effects. Throughout this maze it was hard to tell who was howling louder, us or the wolves.

HHN14_American-Werewolf-4-Copy-300x240In this maze the horrifying journey begins in “The Slaughtered Lamb,” the English countryside pub introduced in the beginning of the movie. After venturing through the overgrown wasteland known as the “Moors,” maze-goers are forced to traverse through dense fog amidst sounds of savage growls and unknown peril ahead. Before long we find ourselves face to jaws of the larger than life werewolves who are fully built animatronic beasts that bite and claw at us from unexpected darkness and corners. In addition to the werewolves, we are further terrorized by the nightmarish zombie nazi soldiers who ambushed us in a forcibly convincing machine gun attack.

Just like AVP, this maze featured the best sets and effects we’ve ever seen at a haunt. With the diversity of sets ranging from the wooded countryside to the underground tube station it’s obvious that no expense was spared in designing this maze. The makeup was also phenomenal as they even included a transformation scene that stopped people in their tracks as they watched David’s painful transformation from a man to lycan. For fans of the movie this maze accurately depicted everything they love about it, scene by scene, making it really feel as if we were being stalked by the wolves all the way from the English country side to London’s red light district.  This maze fully reflects everything HHN Hollywood is about in bringing the movies to life.


Ratings:

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

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Clowns 3D Music by SLASH

This maze was no laughing matter as it seemed to unmask the psychological disorder known as Coulrophobia, a disturbing condition affecting those with an extreme and irrational fear of clowns. The psychedelic 3D maze featured sadistic clowns taunting and tempting victims with terror and treats as they parade through “Sweet Licks Frozen Clown Pops Family Amusement Center” (that’s a real mouthful).

HHN14_Clowns-5-300x200As we all know the killer clown theme is not a unique find at a haunt. Even HHN has featured different variations of killer clowns throughout the years. The uniqueness of this maze was the soundtrack written Slash from Guns & Roses fame. Along with his screaming guitar riffs, his likeness was also featured throughout this dilapidated ice cream factory run by the deranged clown Sweet Licks. The story is Sweet Licks has lured us to his factory only with the intentions to use us as the key ingredients in his ice cream concoction.

The clown makeup was very sinister and widely creative. Perhaps the clowns looked a little too monstrous thus detaching them from the actual fears people have of the traditional looking clowns of days past. These monster clowns were very high strung delivering some of the most energetic performances we saw the whole night. The thing with this maze though, is the fact that it reused a lot of sets and scare tactics we had seen in previous HHN mazes such as House of 1,000 Corpses and Black Sabbath. All in all it was a fun maze but it was pretty typcial as far as clown themed mazes go. We do give thumbs up to Universal for not reducing itself to charge guests $1 for the glasses, which is the practice at other parks (looking at Knott’s).


Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 4 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3 skulls

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Face Off: In the Flesh

This is the last maze that will ever be featured inside the former House of Horrors attraction. This venue has never featured the scariest or best HHN mazes as it has a prefixed set-up that doesn’t allow for much change year over year aside from having new characters running around. However, the Face Off creations were a real nice addition to this maze that usually features Universal’s classic horror monsters.

Some of the Face Off creatures we encountered included insect-human hybrids and creatures from Alice in Zombieland. While we’ve usually been big critics of this maze and its disjointed layovers, we could tell that HHN really went all out to give this maze a final layover that sends off the attraction in gruesome style. Not only were the costumes and makeup incredible, the maze was packed with Face-Off monsters who were very talented at utilizing the tight spaces of the maze to surprise us with new scares we didn’t expect, after going through this maze over and over during the past decade. We were genuinely scared and after the first few scenes it was clear that they were determined to scare the shit out of us and were not going to hold back. The intensity seemed to build as we made our way through the familiar pathways and when it was all over we couldn’t believe that they “got us” so many times. As hard as it may be for for us to admit, we may now actually miss The House of Horrors.

Oh, for you dubstep fans, have no fear as house music DJ Figure was back again to provide the soundtrack for this maze.

Ratings:

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

 

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Terror Tram: Invaded by the Walking Dead

Like last year, the 2013 Terror Tram features The Walking Dead and covers the same ground as all years before. As you exit the tram, a line of chainsaws greets you, ushering you up the path toward the Bates Motel. Walkers stumble around, attempting to scare but moving just too slowly to really cause anyone alarm. The trail takes you past the Bates house, through some zombie sets, through the War of the Worlds sets, and back onto the Tram. There is nothing really new this year, and we suggest that if you’re running out of time in your evening, this is the attraction to skip.

 

 

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 skull
  • Theming: 2 skull
  • Scare Factor: 2 skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 skull

Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood

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Unfortunately we ran out of time to experience this maze. Perhaps we should have skipped the Terror Tram but it was hard to pass the opportunity to sit for 15 minutes while riding the tram up and down the hill. The line for this maze was listed as the longest of the night, which probably had to due with it’s location near the entrance plaza. Early reviews we heard said that this maze was not a hit. The movie wasn’t very good and so we didn’t feel too bad about not being able to experience it.

Here’s how Universal described it: Guests will witness the harrowing transformation of Vlad the Impaler to the monstrous Dracula. We know how the story ends, but what terrifying blood drenched journey brought Vlad into the darkness that is Dracula? This is it — every visceral and feral scare will grab guests by the jugular.

Scare Zones

The Purge: Survive the Night This year, the main entrance into HHN is taken over by The Purge scare zone. This was a fantastic use of a movie as a scare zone, as its placement is perfect at the beginning of the park, where most of the mayhem and disorder take place. This area is always the most chaotic, so The Purge is a great setting for that. The opening “Scare-amonies” feature a line of sinister-looking folks (“purgers”?) with chainsaws, wearing those creepy expression-less masks from the movie. There’s also an actor portraying the “Polite Leader” at the head of the scare zone, and one of these actors looked so much like the guy in the movie, we had to watch him for several minutes to decide whether or not the real actor had joined the ranks of HHN this year. 4 skulls

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The Walking Dead: Welcome to Terminus  With no end in sight for the zombie apocalypse, the only hope for survival lies in taking the road to Terminus, a rumored sanctuary for the living. There may be hope, but it’s a journey fraught with unimaginable horrors as you make your way through a gauntlet of flesh-hungry walkers. This scare zone was a creative way to distract us from the fact that we’re walking over a quarter mile across the backlot. The path is loaded with walkers, show set pieces, lighting and fog effects. It even includes a tunnel where walkers blend in with the crowd and get very close with guests. 4 Skulls 

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Mask-a-Raid featured hordes of blood thirsty cannibals masquerading as French aristocrats. This was a fun scare zone with some great looking set pieces and costuming. The masquerading monsters were very in your face aggressive as well. Worth a stroll through this area, just watch your back. 4 skulls 

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Dark Christmas a Pagan-themed area where demonic creatures hunt disobedient children and drag them to hell. We loved this scare zone! Forget The Nightmare Before Christmas, this is truly the place where holidays collide. Going through this scare zone made us wish for a real Krampus movie or other X-Mas themed horror flick, that is NOT Silent Night Deadly Night.  5 Skulls

Skullz based on the Native American legend of Wendigo, a malevolent supernatural half-beast monster with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. It’s hard quantify this as a scare zone as all we saw were 2-3 scareactors on stilts walking around in the area between The Mummy ride and Jurassic Park. There was no supporting set pieces or anything to further distingiush this as a real scare zone. The stilt walkers did their best an interact with the crowd but there was nothing overtly scary about them. 1.5 Skull

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights Overall Fright Value: 4.5 Skulls

Overall Rating of HHN Hollywood 2014: 5 Skulls

Haunt Review – NIGHTMARE: NEW YORK

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

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Last year, we took our first trip to New York’s NIGHTMARE and experienced Killers 2. We found it be a fun and scary trip through a state-of-the art haunted attraction showcasing some of the most notorious real-life killers in American history. NIGHTMARE also topped our 2013 rankings as ‘Most Unique Haunt Experience’ and “Best Scare-Actors/Monsters” earning our top rating of 5 skulls.

IMG_0556This year marks the the 11th season of New York’s NIGHTMARE haunted house and they’ve brought   to life the urban legends and horror stories of NYC’s history with NIGHTMARE: NEW YORK. While there’s not a cohesive storyline, the journey through the haunted house takes ‘victims’ through a horrific timeline spanning from the time when the island was called Manahatta to Cropsey, Gargoyles, alligators in the subways and to new legends of the super rats created by Hurricane Sandy. NIGHTMARE: NEW YORK sets out to remind us that some of the greatest nightmares are in our own backyard.

While their effort continuous to be ambitious we found this year’s NIGHTMARE not to be nearly as frightening as last year’s. There’s a few reasons why we think this is case. First, just like the fast pace of living in New York city, they’re running the groups through the maze rather quickly. This prevented many of the scenes from having the build up and suspense that made Killers so unnerving. The scare-actors also weren’t as convincing with some over performing and others playing it too nonchalant. There also was a section where you get kidnapped by some thugs and have hood placed over your head. They then tell you to grab rope and blindly follow it down a path. The unfortunate thing is after repeatedly bumping into the person in front of you a couple of times you get to the end of the rope and they take the hood off; no scare or surprises just a 1 min walk with a hood on your head. We were most scared of how many people have had the hoods on their head before us (ebola!). It felt as if NIGHTMARE was just a light version of the extreme haunts such as Blackout.

There are a few cool scenes that provided a few good scares and laughs from our group. One being the subway where we encounter a psycho wielding a gun. Another scene we’re in a dark apartment and as the lights flash on and off different ghosts and maniacs would appear with us in the room. The giant alligator lurking in the sewer also gave us all good surprise.

At $30+, the price point for NIGHTMARE is pretty high given that it’s really just one maze providing a 12 minute experience. There are some deals online and for students which we highly suggest you take advantage of to get the most value out of your experience.

We still like NIGHTMARE and will give it a chance in another year but unfortunately this year’s theme just didn’t live up to the experience we had last year. Hopefully, they’ll find some more imaginative things to scare us with in the coming year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3.5 skulls
  • Theming: 3 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 skulls
  • Fright Value: 1.5 skulls

Overall Rating for NIGHTMARE: NEW YORK: 2.5 skulls

 

About Our Rating System
Scare Zone rates attractions using a scale of 1 to 5 skulls:

5 skulls is exceptional/intense scares
4 skulls is exciting/numerous scares
3 skulls is interesting/a few decent scares
2 skulls is fair/minimal scares
1 skull is weak/no scares

Haunt Review: Knott’s Scary Farm 2014

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

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In our 22 years of going to Knott”s Scary Farm we have never seen as many highly crafted mazes as we did this year. The quality of the theming and the technical design of all the mazes finally (re)solidifies Knott’s as a player in the modern world of theme park haunts. Knott’s team of scare designers, Brooke Walters and Daniel Miller, have sliced up some wickedly interesting and unsettling themes this year as the new additions of Voodoo and The Tooth Fairy feature some of the best thematic environments and storytelling in Scary Farm’s 42 year history.

On the flip side, the quality of the performances of the monsters inside the mazes still doesn’t match the quality of the construction. Yes, there were a few mazes that had some great talent who delivered some big scares and performed cohesively with the environments such as The Tooth Fairy, Pinocchio and Trick-Or-Treat. Disappointingly, in some of the other mazes, we encountered lackadaisical ghouls with bad timing or the mazes were  simply understaffed. It’s likely that the scares are hit or miss depending on when one goes into a maze but now that they have the design process locked in it’s time for them to invest in the talent to keep the scares more consistent. This has been a criticism we’ve shared in recent years.

IMG_0264Another element of disappointment is the conservative nature of the current park management who has decided it’s best to hide the haunt as much as possible, which has resulted in some very sparsely decorated scare zones and a diminished feeling of Halloween around the park. Hiding haunt is like Elvira hiding her boobs – people want to see them! Even Disneyland seems to have more spooky decor. If anything they should recognize that after 42 years the general public expects the park to go all out with haunt decorating and those who may be too sensitive during their daytime visits should just be advised not to visit during these months and wait for “Merry Farm”. We know that this “sensitive” population is very insignificant in size especially in comparison to the crowds and revenues brought in by the Haunt goers. Nonetheless, Ghost Town still dominates as one of the hands down best scare zones anywhere with it’s foggy coated streets, skeletons, and other halloween props.

Okay, enough of our pontificating. Here’s what you really want to read, our maze ratings. This year we decided it’s best save some money so we didn’t buy the Skeleton Key room option and skipped Trapped (we hear it improved after last year’s disastrous presentation).

We do our best not to spoil the mazes for those who’ve yet to experience them, so we won’t provide scare-by-scare reviews, but we will share highlights and our overall opinions from our own experiences in the mazes. Haunts are rated on a 1-5 “skull” system.

 

NEW MAZES

Voodoo

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This year Knott’s said it was doing something new but the Voodoo theme isn’t new or unique, in fact Knott’s had the voodoo themed Blood Bayou maze running for many years in the not so distant past. A few of the other local haunts also have had their own voodoo mazes. However, what makes Knott’s Voodoo stand out is the level of detail they’ve put into the design of this maze. This is a maze that even the folks at Universal could be envious of. The awe begins with the outside facade that replicates a mansion from New Orleans’ French Quarter. The craftsmanship placed into building this set piece is impressive as it looks like they transplanted one of the buildings over from New Orleans Square in Disneyland.

Once, you step into the ‘side alley’ you are then faced with another new element of choosing a path. We were disappointed that we couldn’t pick our way as the maze blackouts were insistent on directing people, which took away from the fun. The path we did take lead us through some interesting and spooky scenes starting inside a voodoo shop, then leading out to some cabins on the edge of the bayou, before ending deep inside the swamp. These environments were accented with music that transitioned from jazzy to banjo music as we went deeper into the swamp. Everything in here looked great from the lighting to the prop pieces but the for some reason the scares were sparse, which is something we felt about most of the mazes. They did employ one of Universal’s favorite scare tactics of using stunning sounds and lights to accent some of the scares but that wasn’t enough to sustain our auras of foreboding. Given how great this maze looked we hope that they can improve the level of fright imposed by the possessed voodoo priestess and swamp zombies.

*Video from ThemeParkHD – YouTube
Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 Skulls

The Tooth Fairy

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This maze was imaginative, unique, grotesque, and scary. This was the first dental themed maze we’ve seen and it reminded us a little bit of the movie Darkness Falls (but scarier). The Tooth Fairy takes over the former residence of Delirium with the beginning of the maze borrowing a lot of scenes and props from the former. The story begins with scenes of children loosing their teeth and once the Tooth Fairy arrives to collect their denture gems, we end up following it deep down inside the nightmarish abyss of a dental torture chamber. The journey to the tooth fairy’s lair is accomplished with an unnerving walk through a dark passageway lined with furry walls.

With some similarity to cannibal and chainsaw mazes; the Tooth Fairy’s lair depicts scenes of depraved root canals, blood soaked coins, monstrous dental apparatus, and deranged nurses. Sounds of drills unnervingly play throughout the maze accompanied by the non-stop screams of patients. What we liked most was how the maze felt as if it was taking us farther and farther away from safety with no chances of getting back. The talent here was aggressive with good timing popping out of some unexpected places. It’s also easy to get distracted by the interesting scenes allowing the the Tooth Fairy and its minions plenty of opportunities to catch you by surprise. This is a maze we can’t wait to experience again. The only downside is that you have to go through Dominion of the Dammed first as these two mazes are connect to each other… talk about dead weight.

*Video from ThemeParkHD – YouTube

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 5 Skulls

Special Ops: Infected

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Knott’s joins the trend of zombie hunting experiences with Special Ops. This attraction covers the Camp Snoopy section of the park making it rather expansive but we’re just not certain if it’s a good use of space. We applaud their effort to create new and innovative experiences but the overall execution falls short of being anything exceptional and it was actually somewhat corny. The group experience also prevented it from having many scares. The story is simple as we’re recruits of a special military troop who are armed with (laser tag) guns and have to navigate to safety through a zombie infested area. There’s some fun effects and scenes but not a lot of opportunity for everyone to fully engage, especially if you get stuck in the back of the group. In addition, there aren’t enough zombies for people to shoot. After all the hassle there’ also no kind of prize or reward at the end making it very anti-climatic. This maze requires an appointment and it’s best to get your time pass as soon as you arrive in order to get a time you desire. There’s a standby line but we’re not sure how that process is. We think that Special Ops was a nice try but the space can be better used as a scare zone and a couple of mazes.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 Skulls
  • Theming: 3.5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

RETURNING MAZES

Black Magic

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Last year we were amazed by the detailed themeing and settings they created around this story. Using magic as backdrop for a maze provides for continuous surprises throughout as there’s more than rabbits popping out of hats inside of here. Unlike last year, sadly this year’s talent was not very magical nor scary as it seemed that most of them had disappeared when we went through. There were a few scary magician’s assistants, victims of tricks gone bad, and an actual magician who did a quick card or handkerchief trick as you passed by. Design wise, this maze had some very interesting set ups such as the water chamber and burning stage (which was sans the flying Houdini when we went through). They also have fantastic lighting effects inside of this maze that create the perfect transitions from light and dark scenes allowing for some good opportuntites for scares (if they were there) as your eyes adjusted. The digital projection on outside of the maze definitely took the facade to the next level  and was entertaining to watch as we waited to go inside. If we had time, we would of gone through this maze twice to make sure we were able to capture back some of Black Magic inside of this maze, but no such luck this year. With such a beautiful maze we hope that next year they increase the scares to match.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4.5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 Skulls

Forevermore

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Knott’s Edgar Allen Poe maze diverts from strictly recreating eerie scenes of Poe’s stories and creates the story line of a serial killers on a murder spree utilizing murder tactics from Poe’s fables akin to The Following. What we liked about it were some of the clever modernization of Poe’s stories into death scenes. The Pit and the Pendulum scene is still incredible. This is probably the most improved maze as they tightened up the story some and it was more clear as to what was going on. The monsters in this maze were also more menacing as they perfected their timing and were quick in resetting and double scaring victims. We found ourselves getting attacked and scared frequently throughout this maze. Still not the best of what Knott’s has to offer but Forevermore did exceed our expectations this year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 Skulls

The Gunslinger’s Grave

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In Gunslinger’s we’re taken through the haunted labyrinths of mine shafts, corrals, and salons. The layout of this maze is mostly outdoors with trails winding in and out of the Ghost Town buildings accented by frenetic guitar music making it really feel as if we are out in the old wild west. It was obvious that the “residents” of this town are less than happy to see us and it wasn’t fully clear but we assume we’re looking for refuge from alive or dead outlaws and towns folks. This maze had a few good startle scares thanks mainly to some of the animatronic set pieces. This was the first maze we went through and it seemed that the talent wasn’t fully in place yet. The ghost town residents were convincing in their roles fully costumed in western attire but for scares they just did a lot of yelling “get outta here” and kept cattle prodding us through the scenes. This was one of our favorites from last year but this year it seems like it’s already headed out to pasture. Since this maze is the epitome of Knott’s legacy we hope they get back in the saddle for next year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 3 Skulls

Dominion of the Damned

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Dominion is a visually interesting showcase the different reiterations of vampires from the Nosferatu to the Anne Rice versions but it was hard to track the story line, in this maze, which seems like a tour of The Natural Museum of Vampire History. This is another maze with a rather cool soundtrack and superb set design. We have to give credit as the talent was slightly more energetic than year’s past. While we’re still not overly impressed with the overall theme we have to admit that this year we received a few more good scares than expected. Nonetheless, we still hope that they’ll finally take out he garlic and open the curtains to let the sunlight in to vaporize these vampires for good.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 Skulls
  • Theming: 2 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

 

Pinocchio Unstrung

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We credit this maze for setting the bar for all preceding mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm. While it’s the same as year’s past, this maze is still one of our favorites. The entire setting feels like walking through a bloody, after hours, version of Disneyland’s Pinocchio ride. Pinocchio successfully twists the popular children’s story in a way that makes its feel as if we were trapped inside a dark storybook nightmare. What’s unsettling about the maze is how the once innocent characters are now placed into scenes of distress, gore, and horror. It’s rather tragic to see Gepetto, Stromboli, and the Blue Fairy meet their fates at the hands of a torturous wooden puppet who instead of becoming a real boy now wants to be a real killer. The monsters in this maze weren’t was high energy as we’ve seen before but they still delivered some surprising scares . This maze is a haunt classic and while they may not string up Pinocchio anytime soon we hope they’ll soon start to think of other fairy tales they can twist and ruin for our childhoods.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 Skulls

Trick-or-Treat

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This maze recreates a night of Trick O Treating gone bad. Once we enter the front door of the Green Witch’s house the journey cascades through a haunted mansion packed with sinister Halloween decorations and ghostly effects. The infamous Tricksters are also back creating mayhem in the various rooms along the way. This maze is shorter than the others, but it’s also has some of the strongest atmospheric environments and an interestingly theatrical finale. This was the last maze of the night but the scares were amped up with the Tricksters behaving worse than ever before and we mean that in a good way. Trick or Treat isn’t overly terrifying but this maze truly reflects the spirit of the season with more emphasis on the fun of Halloween versus the scares.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls

 

Witch’s Keep

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This is a spooky prop layover on the Calico Mine Train. This used to be a very scary attraction but ever since they haven’t been allowed to have live actors inside it’s become a place where you just sit there and see spooky stuff. There are just a couple of interesting animatronic and visual effects but unfortunately there’s nothing much to see here compared to the regular ride. It really is just as they say, a haunt experience. It’s also good place to sit and rest your legs for 10 minutes but not worth a waiting in a long line for especially if you’re looking for a good scare.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 2 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 0 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 1.5 Skulls

SHOWS

Elvira’s Big Top

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This show is two big pumpkins of fun. Of course everyone’s favorite ride at Knott’s Scary Farm is still Elvira. Her big top keeps the crowd alive with musical numbers, tongue in cleavge jokes, and some high level Vegas quality stage production. This time around the Mistress of the Dark brings out some real freakiness with sword swallowing and body contorting which disappointingly isn’t done by Elvira herself… on stage. Elvira does rap and remix some Iggy Azalea songs and frolics on stage with the very talented Academy of Villains dance troop. This is as good as it gets for Halloween shows and seeing Elvira at Knott’s like having the real Santa at your Christmas party with just a little more ho ho ho.

Overall Rating: 5 ‘DD

Knott’s Scary Farm Overall Fright Value: 5 Skulls

Overall Rating of Knott’s Scary Farm 2013: 4 Skulls

Check our ratings guide for further details

Haunt Review: Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor 2014

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor returns for another Halloween season, featuring three all-new mazes, plus the new “Encounters” experience that claims to be a more intense, hands-on experience than your typical maze. The monster midway is back with rides, food, and a hookah lounge. This year, you can also rent a private cabana to have your own little Halloween party among the craziness.

But we know our haunt stalkers care mostly about the mazes, so let’s get to our reviews!

We do our best not to spoil the mazes for those who’ve yet to experience them, so we won’t provide scare-by-scare reviews, but we will share highlights and our overall opinions from our own experiences in the mazes. Haunts are rated on a 1-5 “skull” system.

MAZES

Soul Mate (New for 2014)

Graceful Gale gets her own maze this year in “Soul Mate,” which replaces “Containment,” located on the rear of the ship. The maze tells the story of Gale’s gruesome search for the perfect dance partner, which seems to involve severing the various body parts of different men to create one perfect mate. The narrow corridors of the maze have been covered with fabrics in an attempt to make them feel more lush and also to cover up all the metal siding that runs throughout this area of the ship, but many of the scenes feel too sparse and lacking in detail. One exception is Gale’s dressing room, which reveals a creepy Gale gazing at herself in the mirror. There’s also a very impressive ballroom scene, where Gale’s men surround the entire perimeter of room…but which man will step forward for the dance?

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2.5 skulls

Overall Rating: 3.5 skulls

B340 (New for 2014)

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This maze replaces “Hellfire” at the front of the ship, and features the story of Samuel the Savage, who was “locked away in room B340 after a violent outburst,” where he was later found torn apart. The maze takes you into the mind of Samuel, where we visit scenes from his past, involving nuns, and also scenes from his insanity, featuring a lot of clocks set to 3:40. They’ve thought a lot about creating a back story here, and it’s interesting and relatively easy to follow. However, we didn’t get a lot of scares in here.


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Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 3 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 skulls

Overall Rating: 2.5 skulls

Voodoo Village (New for 2014)

“Voodoo Village” takes over a previous favorite, Village of the Damned, on the grounds near the midway. Gypsies and Voodoo practitioners come out from the shadows to assault guests as they wind through this very long maze. There’s even a Mardi Gras scene with a gross-out actor who almost vomited on us. The Voodoo theme is a smart use of already existing sets here–interior scenes are easily transformed into voodoo sacrifice altars, and outdoor areas that were already swamp/forest-like settings in previous years now fit the story better. But because this is a long maze and probably hard to decorate, some scenes and corridors lacked scenic detail, but this is something Queen Mary could easily improve on in the following years. The actors here had great timing and got us a good a few times, and many inhibited their roles completely.

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Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls

Overall Rating: 4 skulls

Encounters (New for 2014)

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Encounters is Queen Mary’s first up-charge “experience,” following in the footsteps of Trapped at Knott’s Scary
Farm, which requires a separate entry fee and timed ticket. Small groups are led through this maze, where  the story is that you’re on a regular old ghost hunt in the depths of the Queen Mary ship…until something goes horribly wrong. Guests are put through a few sticky situations outside the normal maze experience. We don’t want to spoil the surprises in here, but the waiver you’re forced to sign beforehand will give you a hint that you’ll be put into claustrophobic conditions, you will have to crawl, and a bag may or may not be put over your head. Unfortunately, “Encounters” fell completely flat to us. We didn’t find it scary at all, and the setup was hokey and predictable. And it’s certainly not worth the extra $15 it costs to experience this. Although it’s a good idea in theory, the execution just wasn’t there. Perhaps it’s because we attended on opening night–but based on our experience, we’d suggest skipping this.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 skulls
  • Theming: 1.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 skull

Overall Rating: 1.5 skulls

Circus

This maze is located inside the dome and was Scare Zone’s favorite at Queen Mary last year. We’re happy to say this maze remains on top as our favorite. Small improvements this year have made the maze even more interesting and scary. There are no clowns with chainsaws in here or 3D glasses to wear. “Circus” is Dark Harbor’s take on an old-fashioned, early 20th century circus, which makes it feel right at home in the overall theme of the event. There’s an aged feel to the sets, and the lighting casts an eerie, dirty glow over everything. The entrance is through a clown’s mouth, and from there you encounter typical but twisted circus scenes, such as an actual mirror maze you can get lost in, a spinning wheel of daggers, and a creepy marionette show. The scares were pretty good in here, and they got us good as we were distracted by the awesome sets and detailed props.

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Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 skulls
  • Theming: 5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls

Overall Rating: 4.5 skulls

Deadrise

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Located in the middle of the Dark Harbor grounds, “Deadrise” is a maze that takes you through an old, rotting ship that appears to be sinking right into the ground. The maze winds through the barracks and bowels of the ship, encountering half-dead sailors who loudly bang on metal barrels with pipes. This maze hasn’t changed much since last year, but the actors are enthusiastic and the loud noises of the pipes and barrels is pretty startling. It’s still an excellent maze, with many dark corners for the actors to hide in. It remains a solid maze and fits the Dark Harbor theme perfectly.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 4 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3.5 skulls

Overall Rating: 4 skulls 

Submerged

This maze returns for another year, but a slight twist: it’s backwards! The maze path has been switched around, so the pool room with Scary Mary is now near the beginning rather than serving as the finale. We’re not sure if this was done for logistical or novel reasons, but overall, it doesn’t serve to change the maze much. Scareactors were a bit sparse in this maze overall, and so the scares weren’t abundant. We also prefer the pool room ending, since it’s such an impressive scene to serve as a finale. Submerged is one maze we expect to sink into the sea next year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 skulls
  • Theming: 2.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1.5 skulls

Overall Rating: 2 skulls

Freak Show

This is another attraction that’s an extra charge ($5). This made sense last year (it’s debut year), as each “freak” was located in their own shipping container (some freaks have a maze of containers), and each experience was different. That setup required small groups and didn’t work with the typical line of a regular maze. However,  for 2014, “Freak Show” has been converted into a more traditional maze format, and all freaks are contained in one continuous experience. Line control is still important, though, because the freaks require you to get a close-up and personal view of their individual shows. We found it to be a bit better last year, with some actual scares. It’s still an interesting concept, and we do recommend checking it out.

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Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 skulls

Overall Rating: 3.5 skulls

SUMMARY

“Circus” remained as our favorite maze this year, with small improvements that kept it fresh and scary. The addition of three new mazes is also impressive, and each was a solid experience. We hope Dark Harbor can flesh out a few of the empty corridors and scenes next year, as these new mazes mature. “Encounters” was a big disappointment, although we appreciate the concept and effort made to create something new and different. We will definitely try it again next year, if it returns. Overall, the scares weren’t as plentiful as 2013, but Dark Harbor is still a solid choice if you’re looking for a haunt.

Lines get long as the night goes on, so we suggest going on an off-peak night or arriving early. There is also the option of a “Fast Fright” pass that will get you to the front of the line. With general admission tickets starting at just $20, it’s a good overall value, and you can count on seeing some great mazes and getting scared.

Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor Overall Fright Value: 4.5 Skulls

Overall Rating of Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor 2013: 4 Skulls

Zombie Joe’s Triple Threat of Theater Terror Plays this Month

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

The king of horror plays, Zombie Joe, has a full line up of new creepy productions playing this month for your viewing pleasure and emotional discomfort. 

We recently were able to catch the widely popular and  long-running ‘Urban Death‘ play. While Urban Death did not have a definitive narrative the play presented various intriguingly creepy scenes depicting life and death within the boundless realms of the material and supernatural. In addition, the stage production and performances were all extremely well executed and drew the entire audience into the disturbingly bizarre worlds of Urban Death. By the time the 3rd scene “appeared” on stage we had to check-in with our seat neighbors to reassure ourselves that what was happening in front of us was  “only a play”. With Urban Death we did not need to suspend the sense of reality as it takes control of your imagination and does it for you.

From this experience we can only imagine that Zombie Joe’s three new groundbreaking horror inspired productions will keep audiences captivated and gripping their armrests. Urban Death along with these three new shows are playing now through the end of June so don’t wait to get your tickets!


HAUNTED WALLS AND APPARITIONSZombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group Proudly Presents the Premiere of their all-new late-night horror-fantasy spectacular, diving-deep into the haunted abyss of spirits, demons and phantasms, raking the delicate human-flesh of love and hate over hot coals, rising as an Ashed-Phoenix through the darkest of underworlds!  Original Musical Score by Kevin Van Cott and Directed by Zombie Joe.

SATURDAYS @ 11pm
MAY 24 – JUNE 28, 2014

TWAS BRILLIG – THE NONSENSE OF LEWIS CARROLL:  Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group proudly presents Steven W. Alloway’s hilarious, fast-paced collage of the colorful works of Lewis Carroll, exploring the realms of fantasy and madness, from the Snark to the Jabberwocky, and beyond! Written & Directed by Steven W. Alloway, Produced by Zombie Joe.
(4) Sunday Evening Performances Only:
SUNDAYS @ 7:00pm
JUNE 8 – 29, 2014

Both shows are playing at

ZJU Theatre Group

4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601
Reservations: (818) 202 – 4120
Tickets: $15
Website: www.ZombieJoes.com
Advance Tickets Now Available: www.ZombieJoes.Tix.com
*PRESS TIX NOW AVAILABLE FOR ALL PERFORMANCES.


 

NIGHTMARICOMIOZombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group is proud to premiere our all-new, all-enveloping fantastical production delving into our greatest dreams, nightmares, hopes, fears and ambitions…Celebrating Theatre, Movement, Sound and The Human Spirit! Live Musical Score by Kevin Van Cott, Directed by Zombie Joe & Sebastian Munoz.

(4) THURSDAY Night Perfs. Only – Exclusively at Theatre Asylum for The 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival:

THURSDAY, JUNE 5 @ 8:30pm
THURSDAY, JUNE 12 @ 7:00pm
THURSDAY, JUNE 19 @ 9:00pm
THURSDAY, JUNE 26 @ 8:30pm

THEATRE ASYLUM LAB

6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038

Reservations: (818) 202 – 4120
Tickets: $15
Website: www.ZombieJoes.com
Advance Tickets Now Available: www.ZombieJoes.Tix.com
*PRESS TIX NOW AVAILABLE FOR ALL PERFORMANCES.

The Halloween Experience

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

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The haunt activity is finally beginning to pick back up as we’re now at the halfway point to haunt season 2014. In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more news and rumors from the major and local haunts as they begin to slowly reveal their plans to terrorize us for another year with ghoulish delight.

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Until the gates begin to creak back open at your favorite domains of terror, you can go back and revisit some of the top haunts in Southern California in an all new video The Halloween Experience: Volume 1.

One of our favorite Haunt Stalkers, Phil Crain, was cool enough to share a copy of the DVD with us. It was just what the sadistic doctor ordered as we were able to experience the fun and scares of haunts in the comfort of our living room. The series is hosted by ‘Bloody Jenny’ who introduces the featured Southern California favorites; Sinister Pointe, Reign Of Terror, Chambers of The Mausoleum, The Backwoods Maze, The Haunted Hotel, and Fears Gate.

Unlike the haunt countdown shows on Travel Channel, in this series you won’t have to take a POV journey through a maze behind a group of annoying screaming girls. Instead, the video provides a solitary first person POV of the mazes, operating in full show mode. It’s just the viewer and the scareactors. It’s like going through your favorite mazes by yourself. While it may not have the full production value of a Travel Channel series, it actually provides the most authentic and raw haunt walk throughs available.

We recommend that any true haunt fans and stalkers check it out (which should be all of you reading this post) and we can’t wait to see them make more volumes… 2-13. Copies are available on Amazon and The Halloween Experience Website for only $13.

Now, check out the video preview…

Scare Zone’s Golden Skulls 2013

Friday, December 27th, 2013

As we creep out of the clutches of 2013 it’s time for us to reflect back at another year of Haunt Stalking that seems to of had quickly passed away. To close out 2013 here’s our rankings of the best (and worst) haunts we experienced in our 2013 Haunt Stalking adventures. We truly scared it up in 2013, which materialized into being one of our biggest years of fears yet. We visited numerous haunts across the country from California, to Texas, New York, Philadelphia, and beyond. For a list of all the places we visited and to read our full reviews, please click here.

As you all know, haunt experiences can be a highly individual and subjective experience; what may scare one person might not be frightening at all to another, and what scares you one night might fall flat on a return visit. Nonetheless, we are professional Haunt Stalkers and this year the Terrorspondents have combined our votes for Scare Zone’s Golden Skulls: 2013 Haunt Rankings. So these reflect want we found to be the best from our own 2013 Haunt Stalking experiences.

GOLDEN SKULLS

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BEST MAZE DESIGN/EFFECTS: Insidious: Into the Further (HHN Hollywood) 

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Runner ups:
Chambers of the Mausoleum (Corona, CA)
Delusion: Masque of Mortality (Los Angeles, CA)
Prison of the Dead Escape! (Shocktoberfest, PA)

 

 

BEST MAZE THEME: Black Magic (Knott’s Scary Farm)

 

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Runner ups: 
Insidious: Into The Further (HHN Hollywood)
Delusion: Masque of Mortality
Gunslinger’s Grave (Knott’s Scary Farm)

 

 

BEST SCARE TACTIC: 

Prison of the Dead Escape! (Shocktoberfest, PA) – Too many scares to name
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Runner ups: 
Coffin Creek Manor (Corona, CA) –  eyeball in wall distraction
Reign of Terror (Thousand Oaks, CA)  – best use of animated props
Circus (Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor – hall of mirrors, wall of daggers

 

 

BEST SCENE IN A MAZE: 

Delusion: Masque of Mortality – Children’s bedroom scene
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Runner ups:
 The Purge: Fear the Night – Outdoor park scene
Black Magic (Knott’s Scary Farm) – Burning Theatre
Lock Down (Terror Behind the Walls) – Strobe Hallway of Freaks

 

 

BEST MAZE NAME: El Cucuy:  The Boogeyman (HHN Hollywood)

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Runner ups:
Detritus (Terror Behind the Walls)
Dr. Dark’s Black Spider Side Show (Headless Horseman)
Delusion: Masque of Mortality

BEST SCARE-ACTORS/MONSTERS: Nightmare NYC: Killers 2

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Runner ups:
Zombie Joe’s Urban Death Tour of Terror
The Purge: Fear the Night
The Empty Grave

BEST SCARE ZONE: Ghost Town (KSF)

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Runner ups:
Purge: Survive the Night (HHN Hollywood)
Walking Dead: Dead on Arrival (HHN Hollywood)
The Fog (Haunted Hollywood Sports)

MOST UNIQUE HAUNT EXPERIENCE:  Nightmare NYC: Killers 2

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Runner ups:
Zombie Joe’s Urban Death Tour of Terror
The Purge: Fear the Night
Delusion: Masque of Mortality

SCARIEST MAZE: PRISON OF THE DEAD ESCAPE! (Shocktoberfest, PA)

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Runner ups:
Insidious (HHN Hollywood)
Terror Behind the Walls (PA)
Reign of Terror (Thousand Oaks, CA)

BEST OVERALL MAZE OF 2013:  PRISON OF THE DEAD ESCAPE! (Shocktoberfest, PA)

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BEST VALUE HAUNT OF 2013: KNOTT’S SCARY FARM 

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TOP STAND ALONE HAUNT OF 2013: TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Eastern State Penitentiary)

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TOP THEME PARK HAUNT OF 2013: (TIE)

UNIVERSAL’S HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS & KNOTT’S SCARY FARM

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*We really don’t like having an uncommitted result but this year it really was a toss up for us between both of these parks. Universal’s mazes were full on sophistcated Horror Shows with some of the best effects, makeup, and talent, but we just didn’t find it to be nearly as scary as years past; mostly due to the park being overcrowded. In addition, the pricing has become too high with diminishing returns on our hard earned dollars. Oppositely, Knott’s is a great value and provides the best Halloween season environments throughout the park with unique themes, but the talent was amateurish (at best) and just like Universal the scare factor felt diminished this year. 

BURIED SKULLS

This is where we load up the cracked and broken skulls (the worse of the worse) and drive them off to the crematory. Of course, being in the world of horror, we’re aptly aware that not everything will die immediately or forever, but until they return here’s our call for the worse of 2013.

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WHO MADE THIS (WORST DESIGN)?

The Bog (Coffin Creek in Corona, CA)

WTF IS GOING ON (WORST THEME)?

The Cutting Edge (Ft. Worth, TX)

DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB (WORST SCARE-ACTOR/MONSTERS)

Phobia (Pure Terror Scream Park)

THIS IS NOT SCARY! 

The Cutting Edge (Ft. Worth TX)

WHAT A RIPPOFF (WORST VALUE)

Pure Terror Scream Park (Monroe, NY)

JUST DIE  ALREADY (WORST MAZE OF 2013)

Phobia (Pure Terror Scream Park)

To understand the ratings please see our ratings guide.

Haunt Review: Pure Terror Screampark 2013

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Pure Terror

Pure Terror Screampark, located in Monroe, New York, bills itself as the “Scariest Haunted House in New York,” but like most haunts given to such hyperbole, it falls vastly short of this claim.

We visited Pure Terror on a Saturday night in the middle of October, when haunt season was in full swing, and the lines were very long. The person manning the ticket booth told us the lines were about 2 hours long, and since our time on the East Coast was limited and we had other haunts to visit that night, we opted for the “Speed Pass” so we could get to the front of the lines. And we were very happy we did so, because these attractions are not worth waiting that long for.

This year, Pure Terror moved to “Museum Village,” which is located in a park-like setting containing 19th-century buildings and historical artifacts. It was a cool setting for a haunt, and we were excited when we first stepped onto the grounds. There were a few vendors selling trinkets and things, and the haunted houses are located near the back of the property, their facades (and long lines) mostly hidden from view until after you pay for your ticket.

All three attractions in the Screampark were billed as “all new” for 2013, and the lines are daisy chained. They do let only small groups in at a time, which is a good practice, but the mazes are very small, so that is really their only option.

MAZES

PT CryptThe Crypt

The Crypt – Our brand new attraction will send you traveling underground with the un-dead into a labyrinth of tight, terrifying passage ways.  Your heart will race as you continue deeper into this dark, putrid hell where the restless souls await you.

Although the props and scenery were sparse and simple in this haunt, this was actually our favorite attraction of the night. Low-hanging, hay-like netting hung from the ceiling, forcing us to crouch in certain areas. The scareactors wore the same kind of netted suits, which helped them blend in with the walls and hide them from view. They got us with a few good scares in here. Naked female torsos also hung from the ceiling, and a couple of actors creeped us out by twisting the nipples on these props as we walked by. We’re not prudes, but this kind of lewd behavior isn’t exactly scary, but more eye-rolling,  and we hope they didn’t do this sort of thing to the younger guests.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 1.5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

PT PhobiaPhobia

Phobia – Another all new attraction where the stench of death is surrounding you before you even enter this macabre den of demise.  Be forewarned, this structure is crawling with creature’s everywhere with no chance of escaping. Phobia will exploit all of your senses and make your worst fears a reality.  

If you have a phobia of urine-scented dark passages, then this maze will terrify you! We don’t know what the hell was going on in this maze, but it smelled worse than a port-a-potty on skid row. We guess this was the “stench of death” promised in the maze description. This was stronger than any of the manufactured “haunt scents” we’ve experienced at high-level attractions. It smelled like the real deal. The halls were dark, the floor was just dirt, and there was a lot of black plastic, making the maze feel more like a home haunt than a professional attraction. There were some generic-type props hanging around as well as generic scenes of clowns, etc. The actors were doing their best to scare us, but the set up here just wasn’t conducive to scares. There was nothing particularly memorable about this maze (aside from the smell, that is), and the extreme darkness had us running into the group in front of us several times, which increased the annoyance factor, not the scare factor.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 0 Skulls
  • Theming: 0 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 0.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 0 Skulls

PT House of TerrorHouse of Terror

All New for 2013:  The House of Terror – Bigger & Scarier than ever before; guaranteed to have you on your hands and knees.

This is the most themed maze at the Screampark, and as the name probably implies, it’s an old-fashioned haunted mansion–type of theme, with the addition of some actors in vampire attire. The first few rooms are well done, with somewhat elaborate sets re-creating the interior of a Victorian-era home that has fallen into spooky disrepair. But the floors in this maze are again just dirt, which really distracts from the feeling of being in an actual house. We know that building plywood floors is probably a huge expense, and maybe there’s something about the historic “Museum Village” that prevents this construction, but fully enclosing the haunt from floor to ceiling would go a long way in elevating the experience. Nevertheless, they did a good job with what they had. The hallways were tight, and there were a few good distractions that the actors used to their full benefit for scaring us. We enjoyed this maze until we came to a part we had to crawl through. The actors direct you into crawling inside a fireplace, which is clever at first, but once inside, it’s pitch black, which left us bumping into the group in front of us while on our hands and knees, Human Centipede style.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 3 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

Overall, we were disappointed with our visit to Pure Terror Screampark. Particularly perplexing is the fact that HauntWorld.com called this haunt “one of the scariest screamparks.” We certainly cannot endorse such a high rating. One thing that does give us hope, though, is the fact that as we were leaving the grounds, one of the scareactors asked us how we liked it and seemed genuinely concerned when we told him about our experience.  The fact that they care about guests’ experiences shows that they are trying to make a good haunt and it’s probably not just a money grab. So we hope to hear that Pure Terror improves its attractions next year, and we think they have a good basis on which to build something worth visiting. But for now, we can’t recommend it.

Overall Fright Value: 0 Skulls

Overall Rating of Pure Terror Screampark 2013: 1 Skull

 

 

Haunt Review: Terror Behind the Walls 2013

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

TBTW 2

This year, Scare Zone took a weekend out of our busy Southern California haunt-stalking schedule to visit some of the biggest haunts in New York and Pennsylvania. On our first night, we experienced one of the most well-known haunts on the East Coast: Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is one of those haunts that are always featured on Travel Channel shows in October, and the danger with these sorts of haunts is that they can be all hype and no substance (see our review of Cutting Edge in Texas, for example). But we can easily say that we found Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) to live up to its reputation as one of the best and biggest haunts on the East Coast.

It was a drizzly night when we attended, and the foggy atmosphere helped to increase the feeling that it was actually Halloween season. October in California is usually just as hot as summer, so the rainy weather on the East was a welcome change for us (although we did experience the downside to Fall weather the next day, when the rain closed down the several hayrides in the area). The weather might also have kept crowds to a minimum, as the line was only about 20 minutes long. Outside the prison, zombie swat officers terrorized guests as they got in line. We waited in a small line to fill out a “waiver” (the waiver warns guests of unsafe conditions inside the prison), and then entered another line once inside the gates of the prison. More actors were on hand to scare people in line, and they did a really effective job of entertaining people during the wait.

TBTW 1

Once we got to the front of the line, we were told that we had a choice to make: we could be marked with a red “X” on our face (the “monster tracker”), which meant that the actors could touch us, grab us, and possibly separate us from our group, or we could remain “unmarked” and avoid this extra terror. Of course, we opted for the full, “hands-on” experience. This was the first year TBTW employed this tactic, and we hadn’t experienced this type of thing in a haunt, except at “Gates of Hell” at Freakling Bros. (We later found out that this “touching” feature is popular with many haunts on the East Coast.)

TBTW consists of six separate mazes, but they are all daisy-chained, meaning that you go through all mazes consecutively and don’t really line up for each maze individually. For this reason, we won’t present full ratings for each haunt, but rather a general rating for the event at the end of this review.

GauntletThe Gauntlet

The Gauntlet winds through scenes inside the prison and also outside into the prison yard, where prison guards and deranged prisoners lurk behind chain-link fences, abandoned prison buses, and other scenes. This maze has a chaotic mix of lighting and sound, but for the most part wasn’t that scary. The outdoor scenes were too well lit to really hide any actors, but it was a good first maze to get the blood warmed up.

 

Lock downLock Down

This attraction is the full prison experience, going right inside the old, abandoned prison blocks, which in themselves hardly need any set dressing because they are so creepy anyway. Inmates lunge at you from behind the bars, and sometimes even escape their cells to chase you down. Since we were “marked,” we were grabbed a lot in this maze, with actors touching our legs and ankles. This maze also had a lot of fog and strobe effects, and the disorienting darkness made us easy targets for the actors, and we found ourselves screaming a lot in this one.

 

 

InfirmThe Infirmary

As its name implies, this is the prison’s hospital. Scary nurses and doctors assaulted us, and the corridors were filled with stretchers and archaic, rusted instruments of medicine. The whole thing was lit appropriately in a sickly yellow glow. In this maze, our “monster tracker” really caught up with us, and one of us was forced to lie on a table while a maniacal doctor attempted to inject us using a scary needle. This was one of the scariest and most detailed mazes at TBTW.

 

DetritusDetritus

This maze goes through an original 1800s cellblock that has been completely overgrown with plants. So the maze has a greenhouse-type of theme, with even some actors dressed as bushes and plants. The bush monsters scared us a couple of times, but overall, there wasn’t much terror to be found in this jungle.

 

ExperimentThe Experiment! in 3D

Although this maze uses a lot of standard 3D paint techniques we’ve seen in a lot of other haunts, what sets it apart from others we’ve experienced is the way the scares are set up. TBTW has managed to take simple neon dot rooms or splatter paint walls and make the scares actually work. For example, we passed through a neon splatter paint room, and saw what looked like a painting of a head on the wall, which actually turned out to be a cutout in the wall containing a wig head, which was thrust into our faces as we passed. Yeah, the scares in here are a bit silly, but we kept screaming at the silliest stuff. And to us, that’s a huge success for a 3D maze.

 

night WatchNight Watch

The last maze is very dark and in some parts is pitch black. The lack of lighting means there aren’t very detailed sets here, but the darkness is the scare factor. We thought this maze, along with Infirmary, topped the list of the scariest attractions at TBTW.

 

SUMMARY

TBTW is a great value, with six solid attractions that offer a high scare factor. We suggest attending early in the season or any day but Saturday to avoid long lines and get the best ticket deals. The bonus with having a haunt set in an actual abandoned prison is that even when you’re not in one of the mazes, you still feel like you’re inside an attraction, since the prison grounds are creepy themselves. The corridors in between mazes were also filled with scareactors, fog, and strobe lights, providing a totally immersive experience throughout the night. The addition of the “monster tracker” also made the whole experience more fun, so we suggest you go for the full experience and allow yourself to be marked. Overall, we highly recommend checking out Terror Behind the Walls on your next East Coast haunt jaunt.

Terror Behind the Walls Overall Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4.5 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4.5 skulls
  • Fright Value: 5 skulls

Overall Rating of Terror Behind the Walls 2013: 4.5 Skulls