Six Flags Magic Mountain has kicked off Fright Fest 2013 in the hopes of scaring up some fun this Halloween season. With an ambitious line up and a multi-year plan to enhance the event, they are hoping to grow the yearly adrenaline surge to the levels seen only by Knott’s, Universal, and Queen Mary. While they certainly seem to be giving it their best shot, is what they have to offer enough to lure more business their way?
First, a few things that differentiate Magic Mountains’ Fright Fest from the other haunts in the area. Fright Fest, while part of a major amusement park, does not require a separate ticket. In fact, The park never closes, it simply switches from regular day operations to Fright Fest at 7pm nightly. While the park remains open to all guests, there is a nominal up charge to gain access to the 8 mazes offered (A reasonable $15 for 8 mazes). If you want endless front of the line access you will need to cough up an additional $25. Still not a bad price.
Let’s take a look at what the park has scared up for you this year. Eight mazes/haunted houses, ten scare zones, and roller coasters in the dark.
This year Six Flags is offering an all-you-can-eat buffet at the top of the mountain. Similar in vibe to Knott’s Pre-scare boofet dinner, this buffet features actors from the nearby Wliloughby’s Resurrected maze interacting with guests. But, as an extra added value, this dinner features a stage show that includes magician Michael Turco.
There are two seatings per evening for this buffet. For what is offered this is actually a great little deal. Dinner and a floor show for $20. Not bad at all.
But now onto the mazes. We will focus mainly on the new mazes as the other returning mazes haven’t changed much since we reviewed them last year.
Weepy Hills INSANEtorium – NEW
This new maze opens with such promise. Guests enter a first room in which a TV plays a welcome video to the sanitarium. The video paints a very Forest Lawn, sun drenched, vision of stability and peace. It is this video that hints at a wicked sense of humor. But then the rest of the maze happens.
A door opens leading to a dark passageway and the journey begins. What remains are long, dark hallways with very little talent. The actors in this maze do seem to understand how to deliver the scares and really give it their best try. But about two thirds through the maze gives up and we are left to wander dark hallways with little else going on. As disappointing as this maze turned out to be it does offer hope of improvement in the future.
Toyz of Terror – NEW √ Don’t Miss
A defunct toy factory is the setting for this maze in which a celebrated toy maker has gone into a psychotic fit and has added demented spirits to his beloved toys. In a scene near the middle of the maze, we encounter the toymaker. He is an apron-clad maestro of mayhem. Frizzy hair, black glasses and a fiendish hand with toy creation. He is a psychedelic Geppetto that has peppered the halls with tools and such.
The idea of a freakish toy maker actually works a lot better than the old Jokester hide out idea What this maze needs to really make it great is a final punch at the end in the last room. Before, there was a holding room and final scare. Now guests just filter through the last room filled with stuffed animals. A minor qualm but one worth noting.
Total Darkness – NEW
Guests enter in groups of 6 and are given a length of rope to hold on to in order to keep their tiny group together. Ushered into the first room you are in a “pitch black” environment. Patrons are then made to wander through endless hallways in which actors are waiting to startle. While the maze is a lot longer this year, it suffers from an excess of light.
Sensory deprivation is key in this type of walkthrough. But when the key element is missing there is no scare to be had. It’s not the concept that is flawed, it is the execution. Let’s hope that they tweak the lighting and bring it down to as close to pitch dark as possible.
This expansive maze returns this year in the old Batman Stunt Show Arena. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where nomad warriors rule with an iron fist and the dead stalk the living. This maze can technically make the claim that it is one of the largest in Southern California. But the expanse becomes its downfall when there are long stretches along the route where there are no actors to be found. The spectacle and size is still there for sure. But, at year three, it seems this world has been abandoned. An interesting stroll at best, this maze needs to either be reworked or abandoned altogether.
Black Widow – √ Don’t Miss
The Black Widow maze returns, identical to last year’s incarnation. Wandering through a spider-infested tomb is a scary prospect on its own, but this maze struggles greatly in trying to overcome the identity of the maze that had the space before.
The talent in this maze truly knocks it out of the park in delivering effective scares. They use the spaces in the maze to deliver startling distraction tactics that surpass anything else at the event. This maze is a stand out for this alone. They have the combination of a nice layout and talented actors. This is one maze you should not miss.
Chupacabra – Average
Last year the Chupacabra maze was a knockout. Detailed scenes and impressive Dia De Los Muertos costumes and makeup made this a must-see. However, this year they have removed much of the colorful lighting and details. Instead we have more extended halls, extensive darkness and a lack of real scares. One up side is the increase in the titular character and its appearances. The actors portraying the creature really shine and they make up for some of what’s missing.
Wiloughby’s Ressurected – √ Don’t Miss
Willoughby’s is an old-fashioned, spooky, creepy haunted house. Located on the top of the mountain, adjacent to Black Widow, Wiloughby’s is always one of the top mazes at Fright Fest. This isn’t a maze that pushes the startle scares. Instead they go more for traditional, atmospheric scares.
This is an excellent example of Six Flags getting it right.
HORRIBLE!!!! Located in the queue of the Tidal Wave boat ride, this long pathway is nothing but Camo-netting and fog machines. That is literally it. We did not encounter a single scare actor, no sound effects, and no special lighting.
Next up are the Scare Zones. Six Flags has expanded on many of the pockets of terror throughout the park and the effect is admirable, if not always successful. Here’s the upside, the scare actors in these zones are uniformly amazing. The clowns in the DC Universe attacked the crowds with an appetite to scare. Of note are the costumes and makeup with the exception of the Zombie Crossing zone. Here are some highlights.
City Under Siege
CIty Under Siege was amazing. By far the best scare zone in the park, it is located in the DC Universe area of the park. Green lasers span the zone and wickedly talented actors engage park goers. Do not miss this area of the park. It’s a fun, kinetic zone of chaos.
The actors in this area were dressed in normal street clothes and had minimal makeup. The effect may have been to try to have them blend with the crowd for sneak attack scares. But it is essentially lost and comes off looking unfinished.
Should You Go?
Fright Fest is still struggling to find its footing in the heavily saturated Southern California Halloween Market. Six Flags seems to have improved in many areas but the event still doesn’t reach the sophistication of the many other haunts it competes with.
The maze talent, with the exception of Willoughby’s, Weepy Hills, and Black Widow , is poorly trained. They seem to lack the direction needed to really deliver the scares. When the most they can offer is a shaker can or snarl accompanied by an ill-timed lunge, there really isn’t anywhere to go but up. They simply need to be given the proper direction to know how to do their job. This is an easy fix and one that can be applied quickly.
Do not take our observations as a slam to the event though. There is quite a bit of good here. Six Flags takes a very interesting approach to handling the way the event is run. Keeping the park open to day guests and simply selling wristbands to those that want to take part in the mazes really seems to work for them. The crowd control through the mazes themselves is also another thing they handle very well. By interspersing the flow into the houses it allows for a more spontaneous feel to the experiences. They are disciplined in this approach and the crowds really seem to appreciate being allowed to experience a maze rather than just being part of a conga line.
Many parks offer a pre-event dinner. But none offer a themed all-you-can-eat buffet with a floor show. It’s worth the money if for nothing other than the convenience of getting the night started inside the park.
Notable too were some of the street talent. The costuming and makeup on these individuals was very, very good.
This is not a haunt totally lacking in merit, but one that needs a tremendous amount of work to be on par with Knott’s, Queen Mary, or Universal Studios. Neall Thurman, Director of Park Operations, promises that they are in the middle of a multi-year Fright Fest expansion. Aesthetics is the focus as they try to transition to more makeup and less masks. They are also trying to incorporate new technology. But we have heard this promise many times in the past. Please let it be true this time. There is plenty of room for good haunts and we would love to make Fright Fest a regular part of our Halloween tradition.
Still, this event is a great starter haunt and a good value. If you are intimidated by Knott’s or Universal, Six flags might be a good place to cut your monster teeth.
PARK HOURS FOR OCTOBER
4,5,11,12,18, 19,25,26 – 10:30am to 1am
6,13, 20, 27 – 10:30am to 11pm
October 24 – 4pm – midnight\
Fright Fest runs each night beginning at 7pm