After celebrating their Silver anniversary last year, Six Flags Magic Mountain has returned for the 26th installment of Fright Fest. As always, it has much to compete with, especially with newcomers like WB’s Horror Made Here Tour, but with three out of six mazes being completely new to Fright Fest, the Six Flags team seems committed to coming out swinging–and they succeed with their best year to-date. With two of our favorite mazes in Magic Mountain’s history and the revolutionary “Escape”, in which all scareactors converge on one location prior to the park closing, this is a great year to visit Six Flags Magic Mountain for Halloween.
CITY UNDER SIEGE
City Under Siege was at one point one of Fright Fest’s most popular scare zones, taking up the entirety of what is now the DC Comics-themed area at the back of the park (taking the place of the now-retired Suicide Squad area). It’s also the location of “Unleashed,” in which Fright Fest officially begins and the park’s scareactors descend upon the masses all at once in an impressive ceremony. But while City Under Siege may be home to some of the more iconic figures of the park, like Tweak the Clown, it’s lacking the chaotic atmosphere it used to boast. The heavy fog and laser lights that used to cast striking visuals in front of Green Lantern: First Flight are missing, and the lack of lighting is more deflating than it is eerie.
During the earlier hours of Fright Fest, Demon’s Door is nothing special; it has some of the more energetic scareactors, but the props and decorations are run-of-the-mill, and too sparse to create anything that feels too immersive. However, one hour before the park closes, Demon’s Door is home to an unexpected highlight of the night, a tradition called “Escape,” where every scareactor from around the park congregates near the park’s entrance to prey on guests as they attempt to leave. It’s an original spectacle that finally and uniquely sets Fright Fest apart from competitors like Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights, and is as much pure fun as one could have at a major haunt. Watching everyone from Innocence Willoughby to Lorraine Lorraine converge is far more fun than it should be, acting like a “crossover event” of sorts, or an encore performance featuring a band’s greatest hits. Ample fog and a thumping soundtrack make for a scene of pure chaos, and something that should not be missed.
Exile Hill, in the upper reaches of the park near Ninja, is home to Innocence Willoughby, the diminutive “icon” of Fright Fest. Her relentless commitment to being as still and as silent as possible has made her one of the most recognizable characters in recent haunt history, inching ever slowly towards hapless guests. The appearance of Innocence alone is worth a trip to Exile Hill, which also includes a fair amount of sliders making use of the hilly terrain.
NIGHTMARES: A TWISTED FANTASY
Nightmares is the strongest of Fright Fest’s scare zones by a mile, combining stunning fluorescent set decoration with a suitably claustrophobic location on the hill near Viper. The gorgeous environment is topped off by the most charismatic of all the scareactor “teams,” so to speak, as park-goers are rarely safe wandering through the heavy fog. MVPs included a demonic Marie Antoinette lookalike, effortlessly dancing and spinning atop stilts, as well as returning favorite Lorraine Lorraine.
The Shadows is a confusing scare zone, easy to miss and not particularly fleshed out thematically. Like other zones, there were only a couple of actors roaming the hill where it was based, and true to its name, it did indeed feature a fair bit of shadows, but it doesn’t seem married to a concrete theme. The map doesn’t give much context, and the props are perplexing, with one looking like a driftwood-crafted version of the Iron Throne.
TERRORtory Twisted was once a must-see scare zone, but sadly becomes a disappointing example of wasted opportunity this year. While it featured a bevy of gorgeous steampunk props and eye-popping projection mapping, on opening night, a total of only two to three actors could be counted within the zone’s limits, over a span of about 15-20 minutes. In its defense, the layout of the park works against the area, a cul-de-sac that’s really only ever experienced en route to Twisted Colossus or Scream, but all the same, a lack of scareactors and ample fog severely hindered the longtime Fright Fest favorite.
Witches’ Lair, taking place in front of Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, is a sleeper highlight of the event. Part scare zone, part maze, most of the park’s fog seemed to be settled within the Lair, making for a fun experience. Witches standing tall with the aid of stilts and gillie-suited monsters made excellent predators, able to peer over the maze’s short walls to track their victims.
HIGH SIERRA HYPNOTIST
While hypnotist Suzy Haner delivers a hilarious show that provides a respite from the relentless hills of Magic Mountain, the show deserves better than what it gets. Hidden away at the Golden Bear Theater with far too much dark, completely empty space in front of it, the show only runs twice a night and, admittedly, isn’t quite on-brand with a haunted event. A Halloween makeover and a reinvigorated focus could make a hypnosis show a more suitable feature of Fright Fest.
Likewise, Voodoo Nights could use a shot in the arm. The performers are talented and do provide a party-like atmosphere, but it’s hard not to wonder if Fright Fest could benefit from its own comedy show, in the vein of The Hanging or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.
Making up for 2017 only seeing a single new maze, Six Flags Fright Fest upped the ante for 2018, with a whopping 50% of their mazes being brand new creations. Retired mazes include perennial also-ran Chupacabra, fan favorite Toyz of Terror 3D, and the long-standing Vault 666, as well as Dead End, which met its unexpected demise after only one season.
Hell Fest occupies the same spot as the former Vault 666, and if guests have been through the latter, they’ll definitely be able to tell. Even being a major movie tie-in, Hell Fest doesn’t change much of what was present in its predecessor, but what it does change is substantially effective. A floating mask room is just simple enough to work, while a hallway filled with outstretched arms makes for captivating visuals. To be fair, newcomers to Fright Fest will be impressed either way.
CONDEMNED: FOREVER DAMNED
A brand new maze with an overly familiar backstory, nobody expected Condemned: Forever Damned to be the best maze of 2018, but it fires on all cylinders. Completely indistinguishable from Toyz of Terror 3D, which previously inhabited its location, Condemned makes liberal use of effects like scents and clever projection mapping to create a classic haunted house. Dedicated scareactors screamed from behind drop panels and even feigned vomiting in the name of creating an unforgettable maze.
SEWER OF SOULS
Yet another highlight of 2018 is the brand new Sewer of Souls, perched high atop Exile Hill in the home of the former Dead End. There are almost two mazes in one within the walls of Sewer of Souls; there are the above-ground portions, dark and gray, using inflatable walls to force guests into awkward positions, and then there are the black-lit underground scenes, with brightly colored graffiti and a much more bombastic cast of characters underscoring the disparity. Chromadepth glasses are optional, and don’t enhance the experience enough to make them necessary, but a pre-maze “VIP-lounge” with toilet seat photo-ops and plunger-shaped lamps is a nice touch.
Back for 2018 is Red’s Revenge, in what remains one of the stronger offerings of Fright Fest. After half a decade, the maze is likely in its death throes, but is just as effective as ever. While the pre-show video is far too faint to be heard, the house’s sets are as gorgeous as ever, featuring a village that makes clever use of forced perspective to transport guests to another world.
It wouldn’t be Fright Fest without the Willoughby family, and 2018 is no exception. Having been “resurrected” in 2012 and having existed long before that, this house is getting a bit long in the tooth, having been bypassed by the rest of the year’s impressive maze selection. A good primer for haunt newcomers, it’s light on intensity, but is as classic of a haunted house as you’re likely to find.
AFTERMATH 2: CHAOS RISING
Aftermath 2 remains a crowning achievement in terms of maze design for Fright Fest. Almost exclusively outdoors, it continues to use the former Batman Stunt Show area to create a convincing facsimile of the end of the world. Heavy, heavy fog inhibits guests’ sense of direction, while the area’s signature pillars of fire shed intermittent light on the wreckage surrounding the guests. All of that being said, however, Aftermath has been involved with the event in one way or another since 2011, so its retirement or re-theming could be drawing near.
On the maze front, there has never been a stronger year for Fright Fest, bar none. Condemned, with its array of scents and classic decor, is primed to be a legend among Fright Fest haunted attractions. Likewise, Sewer of Souls has more personality than any Fright Fest maze has had in years.
When it comes to scare zones, however, it’s a much more inconsistent story. Nightmares is as visually stunning as ever and the nightly “Escape” is an absolute blast, but a severely understaffed crew and a lack of park-wide ambiance kneecapped what could have been a truly game-changing year for Magic Mountain. While it’s an incredibly vast park, which understandably makes creating an entirely immersive experience difficult, if Magic Mountain can rise to the occasion in 2019, it could be a serious contender for major haunt of the year.
Overall, we recommend this year for newcomers and veterans alike. The new mazes are perfectly enticing to people who have gone every year and “Escape” proves to be the perfect end to an already frightening night. Sit down and watch the scareactors shine in their roles, scaring each and every person as they attempt to leave the park. It’s a rare opportunity to watch scareactors work their magic like this, and we are thankful for this addition to the Fright Fest line-up.
Six Flags Fright Fest takes place on select dates through October 28th. Information can be found at www.sixflags.com/magicmountain.
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