Fright Fest Stumbles at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
By Marc Ricketts
Saturdays in October draw a crowd at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. By late afternoon when I arrived last weekend, cars were being diverted to park across the street in the Fairgrounds lot. Looking at Roar as I approached the turnstiles, some work was apparent, but still a way to go in its hybrid conversion to Joker. (For those that missed the announcement, some concept art can be found here: MiceChat Discussion HERE.
Inside, a long line was filled with those wanting wristbands for the Fright Fest starting at 6PM. Unlike the Halloween events I’d been attending at other parks, Six Flags does not do a hard ticket Halloween event. Instead, all ticket holders can stay until the late night close. Those wishing to visit the six mazes let’s see how that works out.
Corn stalks ringed the palms outside the turnstiles, and the ubiquitous spider web and blood red fountain lent an air of promise to the proceedings.
With time to spare and hunger to satiate, I joined a lengthy wait for Panda Express. As I ate, it was clear that the day guests were in no hurry to leave. In fact, many were clearly hunkered down with their dinner before a long night. It was also clear that there were some bandless wrists. Most wrists, in fact fell into this category.
Fright Fest officially begins each night with The Awakening. The space was already pretty full 15 minutes before it began. Security was sworn and packing; a little heavier than normal for a constant presence.
The park website describes an elaborate backstory for this, none of which seemed remotely connected with the proceedings at the Harbor Stage. A leather clad zombie singer took the stage, and was ultimately joined by a variety of singers and dancers.
Before we knew it, the group was off the stage, surrounding the fountain, a burst of flame and it’s 6:13 (get it?); time for some fun in the park in the dark.
Or, not quite yet. Not yet dark. Found a seat for Drench Rocks, but instinct told me it was not going to have any spooky connection, so the decision was made to go ahead and check out a maze. (I actually returned for the show before dark; more on that later)
Slaughter House Pig Farm was the closest, and there were only a few dozen people waiting; none were in the VIP line, so I breezed straight in. You can figure the drill, butchery that goes from animals to humans. The maze did involve some outdoor segments, and I grabbed a couple of photos before being informed that electronics were forbidden in the mazes.
There were a couple of interesting animated objects. One victim was tied to a table as a circular saw closed in, and at one point a hog poked its snout out of the shadows. And while this was hit or miss throughout the park, some of the actors were well into character.
Do you sense a “but” coming? Here ’tis. The sets were positively anemic, and that may be overly kind. Although Universal had some blank connecting hallways for Horror Nights, the majority of the mazes I saw at Discovery Kingdom were just walls with an occasional scene constructed.
Even if things seemed to hold promise as the entrance was approached, such as the sign & well appointed windows (they decorate windows well; I guess that’s something) at Captain Bloat’s Shipwreck of Horror, inside there was a lot of blank.
OK, it May be a textured wall. There were some in that one that looked like part of a wooden ship. They obviously got a good deal on a bulk purchase of cage wall segments since they were usually encountered. But there were also many cases of a black cloth covering a wall. Or a flat painted black. Or, in some instances, nothing but bare plywood. At that point the chain link fence covered with mesh at Scrapyard of the Dead looked like creative genius in action. There was a guy with a chainless saw at the latter that was pretty good, but I really don’t recall much of the former except when we walked by the shark tank, and a big one swam by the glass. There was always a mob at the one new offering, Carnevil Clowns, including the clearly oversold VIP entrance, which I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But please tell me that it did ultimately get dark.
OK, progress. Let’s go see what’s going on with that foggy green glow below.
Our first Scare Zone of the night is Zombie Quarantine, and it is clear that most of those “cage” wall segments were destined for this locale. Basically they constructed two walkways, one in each direction. Within and without these walkways were the zombies posing threats. Well, two of them were standing off to the side having a chat and adjusting costumes despite being onstage. It would be like Eric Clapton pulling out a cloth to polish his guitar during a performance of Layla. Bad Show!
Arachnid Alley consisted of a walkway lined with cloth web and a giant spider that periodically would come out of his house. This would look great in your front yard; folks probably wouldn’t even care that the wheels were clearly visible unless the fog was too heavy to obscure everything. That is pretty much the entirety of Arachnid Alley.
There was a discernible effort made for the Mt Rotting Cemetery; the hill along the path was dotted with tombstones (mostly plain slabs) and other decor that looked nice. That illuminated advertising sign is arguably out of place, and I know where your humble narrator stands for that argument.
Actors were far and few, but the path was packed. The whole park was packed, really. Food lines never looked smaller. Since anyone with a ticket could stay there were tons of kids in an environment with the normal park ride crowd, the Fright Fest crowd and less space since the animal areas close at dusk. The park as a whole didn’t “feel” like Halloween the way other parks on my tour have managed. Beyond the scare zones it was standard white lights with some spooky music. Every now and then a prop would be plopped down with no theatricality in the lighting nor integration with anything else in the vicinity. Windows may have been well dressed, but windows alone aren’t sufficient.
Two shows were presented throughout the event: Drench Rock and Monster Mash Bash. As I feared, there was nothing different than one would see on any other day at Drench Rocks (the lights did lend a mood). The 6FDK website has some cock and bull backstory about an old roller rink being on this site, but it never figure into the production. I realize Disney has backstories to every little shop that the average guest never thinks or even knows about. But at least if you stood in that shop and told the story to somebody, they would be able to see the connection; that’s what I’m on about. Still, hard to hate a dolphin, and they do clearly designate splash zones.
Settling in for the Monster Mash Bash, the stage was awash in color bathing the backdrop of inexplicable gears and sprockets. Music rose, and it was soon filled with, hmm, some familiar singers and dancers. That’s right; the gang from The Awakening didn’t clock out and were back with another round of modern pop music.
Now to be fair, they were actually singing (a mike dropping out for a second or two confirmed that), and they were good singers, with several taking the lead during the show. Sure, it often seemed like advanced Karaoke with choreography, but there was effort and ability on display. However, other than a line “the haunt me like ghosts”, the connection between Elle King’s “Exs & Ohs” and Halloween is a bit tenuous in the dream world I inhabit.
As I reflected upon the five theme park events I’d seen within the past month, I wondered if Fright Fest may have been more satisfying if I’d seen it first instead of last. As it was, I felt that what I was experiencing was rock bottom in the world of Halloween Haunts. While I don’t think I got my money’s worth at Disney, I still never thought anything they did was poorly executed. Here? Well, I really can’t get past bare plywood on display. Didn’t bother with The Aftermath, which closed the park. Probably just the same singers again. At least they didn’t play “that” song at the MONSTER MASH Bash, man am I done with that one. Instead, they were singing Imagine Dragons’ “Roots” with it’ repeated refrain of “Rock Bottom”. Indeed.