Off the side of the I-15 freeway in Ontario, impossibly thick fog rises from the heart of the Scandia Family Fun Center. The Nordic-themed amusement park is typically home to miniature golf and go-kart racing, but each Halloween season, it becomes home to Haunt, a simply named series of traditional walkthrough mazes which marks its 25th year in 2018.
The proper mood is set immediately: when night falls, the park is bathed in a seasonally appropriate orange. Classic horror themes like John Carpenter’s iconic Halloween score creates tension while loads of fog obscure the neon signs overhead. These touches, plus the relatively small size of the park, create a genuinely foreboding atmosphere, enhanced by enthusiastic scareactors venturing into the parking lot.
One of Scandia’s favorite things to do during Halloween is to keep count of their “wusses,” their term of endearment for guests who walk in to their infamous Wussmaker haunted house, but exit prematurely. While the park is touting three mazes this year, Wussmaker funnels visitors almost imperceptibly into its second maze, House of Clowns, making it two in practicality.
Wussmaker and House of Clowns
Wussmaker and House of Clowns effectively serve as two halves of one big house, and as such, are subject to much the same pros and cons. The mazes are packed with scares, for one thing. Being so small, there’s a feeling of claustrophobia inside the narrow hallways that bigger haunts don’t typically offer, which allows the large cast of scareactors to be much more efficient. Scandia’s own icon, Butcher Bob, gets his own gory scene inside the Wussmaker, while the House of Clowns features a clown-infested mirror maze, a well-worn classic that’s no less effective.
Where the Wussmaker and House of Clowns suffer, however, is a reliance on cheap scare tactics. Nearly every scare is punctuated by ear-splitting alarms or sound effects, which can easily overshadow the talent of the scareactor or make guests completely forget about what might have been a clever use of misdirection. Overly enthusiastic scareactors love to reach out and grab guests’ ankles, despite no prior warning from Scandia of physical contact. It’s disappointing that lazy methods of scaring can mar such otherwise impressive houses.
Scandia’s third and final house is Blackout, and true to its name, is absolutely pitch black inside. A few disorienting effects are employed throughout the maze, from a steeply slanted room to a deeply cushioned floor in another, and the railing that guests must use to find their way through gives the occasional shock, a trick whose mileage may vary depending on the guest.
Once again, though, what could be a truly incredible dark maze is set back by an overuse of blaring sound effects. The maze’s photo-op takes a picture of guests as they’re startled by what sounds like a deafening train horn, with the resulting print given away for free at the exit. While this is a novel idea on paper, the effect is unfortunately triggered by proximity, which means that haunt-goers who find themselves lost could be subjected to the same painfully loud horn and the same blinding flash ad nauseum, sending it from a fun jump scare to a seemingly endless exercise in frustration.
The most disheartening thing about Scandia is that they’re so close to being a true hidden gem of the Inland Empire, with a cast of talented scareactors and some eye-popping scenery throughout their mazes. If they could place more of an emphasis on creative misdirection, unique theming or a few more original scares, they could be one of the best local haunts around, but for now, they’re simply the loudest.
Scandia’s Haunt is open on select nights through Halloween. For more information, visit www.scandiafun.com.