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Six Flags Magic Mountain unveils Fright Fest 2015 mazes

Six Flags Magic Mountain unveils Fright Fest 2015 mazes
Fright Fest 2015 at Six Flags Magic Mountain runs on select Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from Sept. 26 through Nov. 1. (Six Flags)

Six Flags Magic Mountain will push the pause button this Halloween as it rolls out fewer haunted mazes, a repurposed show and a relocated scare zone along with a host of recycled offerings for Fright Fest 2015.

The last few years, the Valencia amusement park's annual Fright Fest event has shown incremental growth and consistent improvement as Magic Mountain rose up to meet the twin threats of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood and Halloween Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm. But for Fright Fest 2015, Magic Mountain has opted for more of the same.

"Unleashed," Magic Mountain's newest Fright Fest offering, is essentially a repurposed version of the park's regular season cirque-styled "Kwerk" show with aerial acts, trapeze artists, contortionists and a blood-covered ringmaster. The addition of "Unleashed" means Magic Mountain will offer one fewer haunted maze this year, with the show displacing last year's high potential-low payoff Total Darkness maze from the Gearwork Theatre.

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Terrortory Twisted, the other "new" offering for Fright Fest 2015, is little more than a relocation of last year's steampunk-themed Ravenstitch scare zone to the new Steampunk District near the renovated Twisted Colossus hybrid wood-steel roller coaster.

In all, Magic Mountain's Fright Fest 2015 will offer seven haunted mazes, seven scare zones and three shows over 17 nights.

In recent years, Magic Mountain has invested heavily in Fright Fest with the addition of the massive Aftermath outdoor maze in 2011, a renovation of the Willoughby's Manor maze in 2012, a makeover of the Toyz of Terror maze in 2013 and two new state-of-the-art mazes in 2014, Red's Revenge and Vault 666.

After the strong rebuilding stretch, this feels like the wrong time for Magic Mountain to put Fright Fest on cruise control. Although the park has five solid mazes, it has two mazes -- Chupacabra and Willoughby's Garden -- in desperate need of massive overhauls.

It's disappointing that Magic Mountain is not adding any new mazes for Fright Fest 2015 and incomprehensible that the park would offer fewer mazes than last year.

In order to compete with Knott's and Universal, Magic Mountain needs to keep improving and regularly replace its aging mazes. Fright Fest 2015 feels like a step backward that puts the park even further behind the competition.

Other Six Flags parks are not standing still.

Six Flags Great America outside Chicago is introducing Apocalypse Zombie Experience, arming visitors with laser guns for an interactive undead hunting expedition.

Six Flags Over Georgia will have 12 scare zones this season, including one area where visitors can dress up as monsters and scare their friends.

How hard would it be for the flagship park in the Six Flags chain to make similar improvements?

In addition to "Unleashed," Magic Mountain will bring back two shows: A hypnotist act and a DJ with go-go dancers.

Outside of the relocation of steampunk-themed Terrortory Twisted, the scare zone lineup remains essentially the same: Wastelands, Exile Hill, Zombie Xing, Demon's Door, Nightmares and Sinister Circuit (formerly City Under Seige in DC Universe).

What follows is my review of last year's mazes from best to worst:

Red's Revenge

Turning the classic fairy tale on its head, a risen from the dead Red Robin Hood hunts the Big Bad Wolf and anybody else who wanders into the forest.

By far the most popular maze of 2014 and deservedly so, Red's Revenge illustrated Fright Fest's new attention to detail and quality with an array of impressive theatrical sets, thematic props and special effects.

Vault 666

Unauthorized genetic experiments crossing humans with animals unleashes a phalanx of hybrid creatures that roam the corridors of an abandoned secret government research facility.

With beautiful sets and a solid back story, Vault 666 could have used some storytelling tweaks to make it even stronger. Far too many of the impressive rooms featured random scares with generic monsters.

The Aftermath

The post-apocalyptic maze of overturned vehicles, hovering helicopters and fireball explosions in the former Batman stunt-show arena was the turning point for Fright Fest in 2011 and remains one of the event's best attractions.

With the biggest cast of any Fright Fest maze, Aftermath continues to amaze year after year with its near-perfect depiction of a zombie outbreak in an urban environment. Around every corner, the undead crawl on the ground and hop on all fours in a feeding frenzy of doomsday proportions.

Willoughby's Resurrected

Fright Fest’s long-running workhorse haunted house got a complete refurbishment in 2012 with detailed set dressing, imaginative practical effects and inventive video projections.

High-energy monsters have kept this fantastic maze among the best at Fright Fest. Magic Mountain's work will be done when every maze is as good or better than Willoughby's haunted mansion.

Toyz of Terror 3D

By far the most improved maze of Fright Fest 2014 was Toyz of Terror, which replaced the woeful Jokester's Hideout that occupied the location for more than a decade.

The renovation saw a team of scenic artists descend on the maze with Chromadepth 3-D paint and cover every surface with artwork that literally leaped off the walls.

The Toyz of Terror maze looks like a terrifying art gallery filled with graffiti-like satanic tattoos connected by stringy cartilage. The playfully wicked effect is at once mesmerizing and horrifying.

Chupacabra

This unimpressive paint-and-plywood maze is what remains of Fright Fest's woeful past, with a host of terrified Mexican villagers direct from central casting running scared from a werewolf-like beast.

A good idea poorly executed, Chupacabra could be much more compelling and frightening if the mythical creature showed up in nearly every scene rather than just at the beginning.

Willoughby's Garden of Darkness

For some reason, Magic Mountain decided to swap a miserable spider web-filled maze with a horrible ivy-covered maze that proved a tremendous waste of time and effort.

The Garden of Darkness was not scary, interesting or imaginative. In fact, it was downright lazy and embarrassing.

Fright Fest 2015 at Six Flags Magic Mountain runs on select Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from Sept. 26 through Nov. 1.

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