Magic Mountain increased the number of monsters this year from 200 to 400 and the talent investment shows in the eight mazes and six scare zones that seem to be delivering twice as many scares as last year.
The high-energy crew of monsters in the mazes and on the streets never rest, relentlessly pursuing frightened visitors with a passion that borders on manic. The life-like look of the monsters, each wearing complete prosthetic makeup, adds an intensity to the scares that can't be achieved with the store-bought masks found at other Halloween events.
Fright Fest features one of the top scare zones in Southern California that ranks up there with the best the competition has to offer. The comic book-themed DC Universe (formerly Gotham City Backlot) overrun by escaped insane asylum lunatics remains one of my favorite places to hang out during the Halloween season.
New for 2011, Fright Fest also features a live pop music stage show blending "Rocky Horror" antics with "Glee" quirkiness that delivers just the right amount of rock 'n' roll spectacle and sexual innuendo for the PG-13 crowd.
Now that Magic Mountain has made a commitment to upping the quantity quotient, the Valencia amusement park needs to address the quality issues that continue to separate it from the competition.
While two of this year's new mazes added stronger back stories, several older mazes continue to recycle generic themes that need to be completely retired or entirely rethought.
Likewise, all of the older mazes lack any set dressing and contain few if any props that make for more involving and atmospheric environments.
Still, Fright Fest remains a relative bargain, with the mazes costing just $10 over the price of an all-day admission as compared with the $50-plus evening-only, separate-admission ticket price demanded by other Southern California theme parks.
The mantra remains the same: You get what you pay for. And if Magic Mountain wants to compete with the big boys, the park will have to be judged against them. Fright Fest isn't there just yet, but Magic Mountain made tremendous strides in 2011.
Here's a look at each of the haunted mazes at Fright Fest 2011, ranked from best to worst:
The Aftermath (new in 2011) - Head and shoulders above any other Fright Fest maze, confirmed by the extensive line stretching from the entrance. The post-apocalyptic maze turned the former Batman stunt show arena into a dystopian world of overturned vehicles and nomadic creatures. I loved the fog-filled entry tunnel that left me unable to see my hand in front of my face, uncertain which way to turn and unsure what to fear. (Stunt Show Theatre)
Bite II - The best returning maze of the night featured a solid set design and undead hordes determined to make their scares stick. My only request: more vampires. (Samurai Summit)
Willoughby's Haunted Mansion - By far the best monsters in any maze of the night, with scares coming from unexpected places and a slider ghoul that made me leap with fright. The worn-out haunted house maze is scheduled for a much-needed complete overhaul in 2012. (Samurai Summit near the Ninja coaster)
Chupacabra (new in 2011) - Plenty of great scares in a maze consisting largely of painted plywood corridors. The legendary Latin American creature makes for a compelling back story, although the spandex-clad beast portrayed in the maze was almost laughable. (X2 plaza)
Jokester’s Hideout 3D - The scares never change in this tired and entirely predictable clowns run amok maze that needs a complete makeover. (former Flashback coaster location)
Cursed (new in 2011) - Even with triple the monsters of last year, there was nothing that could save this werewolf maze that amounted to little more than a long walk through a fog-filled tunnel of camouflage netting. Magic Mountain needs to retire rather than re-theme these ride queue mazes if the park hopes to improve the quality level of Fright Fest. (Tidal Wave queue)
Lector’s Slaughterhouse - A deranged butcher maze consisting of little more than red paint splattered on plywood after a prop-filled opening room. The individual rooms need separation curtains to keep visitors from anticipating upcoming scares. (DC Universe Backlot)
Warehouse 13 - Another ride queue maze location that should be retired as soon as possible. The lone saving grace: a leaping toxic mutant that gave me the best scare of the night. (Logjammer queue)