I like to think of Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain as the "introductory level" for Halloween theme park events, a chance for the curious but cautious to dip their toes into a bloody pool filled with haunted mazes, scare zones and maniacal monsters.
If you think of Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt as PG-13 and Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights as R-rated, then Magic Mountain's Fright Fest would carry a PG-rating.
While every kid's fear factor varies, it remains up to parents to determine what's appropriate for their children. In my experience, kids let you know when they're ready.
I took my then 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, to Fright Fest last year after she expressed interest, much to my surprise. Hannah passed on returning to Fright Fest this year, telling me she planned on hitting Knott's when she was 13 years old and Universal when she was much older (or maybe never).
Magic Mountain's Fright Fest, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in October, is included with the price of admission with a $5 fee for maze wristbands.
For true horror fans it should come as no surprise that Fright Fest's eerie offerings can't compare to the buckets of blood, guts and gore offered up by Knott's or Universal.
What follows are my reviews of the seven Fright Fest haunted mazes, ordered from best to worst:
Willoughby's Haunted Mansion – The granddaddy of Fright Fest mazes remains the best. Monsters drop out of the ceiling, pop off of walls, leap out of coffins and bungee jump out of the shadows to fantastic effect. Easily the scariest maze of the night. (Located near the Sky Tower)
Jokester's Hideout 3D – The returning clown maze changes little from year to year but remains a stalwart, well-oiled operation. Clowns drop from the ceiling, jump out of the wall and pop out of boxes. The gags still surprise even when you know they're coming. Especially effective was the spinning tunnel effect that left me wobbly at the knees. (Located in the former Flashback coaster location)
Bite II – Vampires team up for plenty of great startle scares in this well-themed but sporadic maze that missed many opportunities to terrify. Far too often, it felt like break time in the graveyard. (Located near the Ninja coaster)
Lecter's Slaughterhouse – Blood is the constant theme in this butcher-gone-mad maze to the point of immunity, with the blood-splattered walls losing their effect when they became nothing more than red wallpaper. The maze was marked by empty spaces, missing scares and annoying strobe-lighted passages. (Located near the Batman coaster)
Escape of the Zombies – The camouflaged undead all too often proved unintentionally funny rather than scary. Any faults were more than forgiven by the truly inspired final zombie that sprinted after terrified visitors, chasing them out of the maze and around the amusement park. By far the best of the "ride queue" mazes, which follow below. (Located in the Tidal Wave queue)
Warehouse 13 – None of the seven screaming mutants banging on barrels of toxic waste managed to muster a single scare in this woefully boring maze. (Located in the Log Jammer queue)
Asylum – This ill-conceived insane asylum maze amounts to nothing more than straight-jacketed lunatics amid a maze of chain-link fences. The relentless barrage of strobe lights was enough to make you vomit. Well deserving of worst-maze-of-the-night dishonors. (Located near the Mooseburger Lodge)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times