In hopes of keeping up with the twin beasts of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood and Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest has added a spectacular new haunted maze each of the past two seasons that significantly raised the bar for quality at the Valencia amusement park.
This year sees Fright Fest doubling the number of monsters in the mazes and scare zones while upping the amplitude of the scares. Next year promises the introduction of several new mazes equal to the quality standard of the recent additions.
But that sluggish yet persistent progress means many of the onerous and erroneous missteps of the past remain painfully on display at Fright Fest.
The highlight of Fright Fest 2013 wasn’t in any of the mazes but rather the scare zones scattered throughout the park. In fact, several of the scare zones were far better than half of this year’s haunted mazes.
The new Demon’s Door scare zone near the entrance to the park set the stage for Fright Fest’s greater attention to detail and increased monster count. The Gates of Hell-themed scare zone featured some fantastic new stilt-walking creatures in a towering trend that was repeated throughout the park.
A trio of glow-in-the-dark stilt-walking demons emerging from the forested darkness of the Nightmares scare zone near the top of the park created the most indelible moment of the evening.
And the City Under Siege area in the DC Universe section of the park remains the best scare zone at any Halloween event in Southern California. The impeccable makeup on the Cyrano de Bergerac-like escaped lunatics along with the amazing laser-lighted and fog-enshrouded setting simply can’t be beat.
Here’s my review of the Fright Fest 2013 mazes, from best to worst:
Willoughby’s Resurrected — After more than a decade of service, Six Flags gave the venerable haunted mansion a complete overhaul in 2012 with a slew of technological and scenic upgrades that made Willoughby’s the new standard for haunted mazes at the park.
The hefty investment was deemed worthwhile because Willoughby’s is located in a permanent space otherwise unused throughout the year — a practice Magic Mountain plans to repeat with forthcoming Fright Fest mazes.
This season saw the lighting reduced by half inside Willoughby’s manor, which improved the scares but literally took the spotlight off the much-improved set dressing. Six Flags needs to find a way to maintain the show lighting for these theatrical scenes, which in turn will help set up the misdirection tag-team scares.
Largely unchanged from last year, Willoughby’s could use a few tweaks from season to season to keep the maze fresh.
Aftermath — This amazing apocalyptic maze in the former Batman stunt show theater marked the turning point for Fright Fest when it was introduced two years ago.
I wouldn’t change a thing about this fantastic use of space with its near perfect blend of sights, sounds and scares. This year’s zombie overlay in an unspoken homage to the current craze over “The Walking Dead” was just the tweak the maze needed.
The atmospheric fog-filled entry tunnel could use a bunch more monsters in Aftermath’s only missed opportunity of the evening.
Total Darkness — The most improved maze of Fright Fest 2013 has a new name and location along with more monsters and in-your-face scares.
As the name implies, this walk through a pitch-black maze delivers on the promise of a simple yet intriguing premise that fell flat in 2012.
While much improved, Total Darkness could still get better. I would drop the idea of having eight to 10 people hang onto a rope as they navigate the blacked-out maze behind a leader with a tiny, dim flashlight. I don’t know about you, but I never walk through the dark holding onto a rope.
I would arm everybody entering the maze with one of the little flashlights and let them make their way through the dark alone. Spotting someone or something in your fading flashlight beam seems far scarier to me. Who cares if they get a little lost? That’s part of the fun.