Rob Zombie, musician and film maker, is no stranger to horror. His special brand of macabre metal and theatrical staging are an iconic element of the rock and roll landscape. It makes perfect sense that Zombie, with such an eye for stylized gritty goth, crossed into horror films. It was also a logical progression that he stretch further and reach into the seemingly boundless Southern California haunt market.
Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare opened its doors this Halloween season in a small portion of the Pomona Fairplex. Part music festival, part haunt event, Nightmare blends music and scares in a way that only Rob Zombie could possibly attempt, much less make sense of. But if you have seen any of Zombie’s films, you will instantly recognize the same familiar mix of brilliance and half-cocked execution.
Nightmare is situated among two exposition halls and central thoroughfare between the buildings. One hall acts as the rotating concert venue, while the other hall houses the three mazes. Between the two is the area where guests can roam, check out the vendor tents, or pick up a bit of fair food. There is also booze…lots of it.
This review focuses mainly on the three mazes that haunt goers will be eager to hear about, along the venue itself. The musical acts rotate nightly, and there is a schedule. Keep in mind that your experience will depend greatly on what you are going to Nightmare for; Haunt or Music. This review will discuss the three mazes and the haunt event as a whole.
All three mazes are in one singular building, whose paths are linked to one another in this order: Lords of Salem, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, and Haunt of 1,000 Corpses. You cannot choose one maze to go through; you must tour all three mazes in succession.
Lords of Salem
Entering the roped queue outside of the nightmare hall, we noticed a messy, spray painted banner hanging from the arch above saying “Nightmare Entrance.” Entering the actual structure, we are confronted with a rather brilliant facade for this first maze. Painted in earthen tones of red, black and grey, it sports a wild, inflated devil skull, and a platform on which the lead character from the film stands, terrified at her hallucinations.
We entered the first room and a nice mood is set. A creepy hallway is bathed in dancing shadows as an overhead light swings on their own accord. An eerie monster rounds a corner past guests. Then, suddenly, we are in an open space, the crowd being funneled into narrow, black passageway. At the entrance of said passageway are two robed figures. One attendant stops each person, the other throws a black, cloth hood over your head, and then you are pushed into the darkness.
The rest of the maze is what is known as a blackout maze. This is a type of maze in which your vision is impaired and you are left to feel your way through the dark, winding passageways. Occasionally there are shock strips on the walls, zapping the grouping hands of hapless visitors. You might encounter a monster that shakes a rattle can at you. But, basically, that’s it.
Well, no, there is one final scene. After your hood is removed you wander through a final room in which Heidi Hawthorne, the lead character from the film, stands atop a pile of female corpses. Then, the end.
This maze is terrible. Aside from the simple fact that a blackout maze is a dumb idea, this is an experience that has no scares but a series of annoyances. What’s more, it is a criminal use of an intellectual property. It was a lazy decision to simply call something Lords of Salem and then give it virtually no connection to the film. They could have easily played source audio from the film during the blackout portion of the maze, which was what most of the maze was. But they decided to just use cheap rattles, generic fog horns, and the like. The worst part of all is that in order to see the other (arguably better mazes), one has to wander aimlessly through this train wreck. Very very disappointing.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 3D
The second maze on the maze chain is a 3D, chroma depth maze based on Rob Zombie’s film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. It is a wild, garishly colored walk through of bawdy humor and dirty jokes. The entrance itself defies civilized description and is about the only notable thing about the maze.
Once inside, guests are handed their glasses and enter a spinning tunnel of fluorescent colors. Then the rest of the maze happens. I will hand it to the designers of the maze; they certainly got the look of the movie down. They also struck an accurate tone, pulling directly from the film.
That being said, there isn’t a single inventive scare to be had. In all fairness, this is not supposed to be a scary maze. The intent, as we saw it, was simply to be silly, dirty, and fun, with the occasional startle. But how many times can you have air blasted at you? How many times can you laugh at a naughty reference? Why in god’s name is the title character just dancing around in every scene?
While certainly not my cup of tea, one can at least appreciate what it is trying to be done. But there was hardly anything to this maze. The art direction was perfectly executed, it felt exactly like the film. But aside from the aforementioned entrance, there was nothing innovative happening here. There was nothing else to take away from this. Not a terrible maze, just not that remarkable.
Haunt of 1,000 Corpses
Based on what is arguably the quintessential Rob Zombie film, Haunt of 1,000 Corpses is the best maze of the lot. After exiting the psychedelia of Beasto, the line leads you straight to the tattered, roadside attraction entrance of Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen.
The first room is the main entrance and secondary queue used to meter the traffic in the maze. As guests wait, Spaulding himself taunts the crowd, his pastey, white clown make up creepy as heck. Then we are let loose. A pair of flap doors indicate that we are now supposes to be on the actual Serial Killer ride depicted in the film. The illusion is further enhanced by the mechanical figures depicting nasty figures like Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes and so on.
It is about halfway through the maze that the maze becomes tragically inconsistent. Suddenly, the serial killer scenes are being portrayed by actors. Are we still supposed to be on the “ride”? Then we are outside. Then back to an interior setting again. The conventions become choppy and uneven as we begin to simply try to find our way out. The biggest crime was the final scene, in which the major villain of the film, Dr. Satan, is then portrayed by a mechanical prop. Why would they throw away such a wonderful opportunity that could have been enjoyed by a capable actor? There are real actors, mumbling and cavorting about the room, but the main scare, the centerpiece of the entire maze, is handled by a machine. A very disappointing climax.
I would like to argue here that Rob Zombie is a brilliant talent. He is a kind of modern, Gran Guignol of horror and music. He has an uncanny visual sense that many attempt to imitate and few ever succeed at. So what happened? Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare is not a good haunt. It might play better as a music festival featuring haunt-like elements, but this is not on the level of the other, more accomplished Halloween activities.
Also we offer fair warning. This is an event intended for those 18 years of age and older. That, and it is Rob Zombie. Anything goes at a Rob Zombie haunt. But don’t worry kids, you aren’t missing anything. American Nightmare is a discordant mess that feels more like the county fair than it does a Halloween party.