2014 Halloween Haunt Award Nominees: Best Professional Haunted House Walk-Through

The backbone of any Halloween theme park is its walk-through "mazes." Scare zones, rides, and shows are all part of the package, but nothing can beat a terrifying walk through a dark labyrinth haunted by all manner of eldritch horrors. Of course not all of these labyrinths are located in theme parks; there are other haunts that consist of two or three mazes, and even a few single-maze attractions.

When Hollywood Gothique enters one of these cavernous portals to hell, we seek imaginative settings and enthusiastic ghouls. Atmosphere, theme, and even a back story are important, but mostly we want a high density of scares delivered in a variety of ways, to keep us off our toes. This category celbrates the haunts that have achieved this goal.

Note: The excellent Reign of Terror Haunted House is out of competition because it won last year. Also missing from competition are Sinister Pointe, The Empty Grave, and Chambers of the Mausoleum, since we did not visit any haunts in Orange County of Riverside this Halloween.

And the nominees are...

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Fright Fair Factory 2014 B copy

Factory of Nightmares Haunted House at Fright Fair Scream Park

This extensive labyrinth features numerous environments (asylum, funhouse, bog, etc.) with numerous cleverly concealed jump-scares (hidden panels and so forth), but mostly it is notable for the wild enthusiasm of its cast, who realize that a single scare is not enough. The monsters here are confrontational: they don't simply jump out and say boo; they block your path, interact with each other and you, and continue to harass you as long as you remain within their field of influence. They're really the best at what they do, anywhere; they're only competition comes from more interactive, story-driven attractions, such as Delusion. Factory of Nightmares lived up to its name, manufacturing bad dreams to trouble restless sleep for many weeks to come.

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Halloween Horror Nights 2014 From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn at Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios Hollywood offers the best makeup and special effects of any Halloween attraction in Los Angeles, but their mazes of late have felt a bit like sequels to earlier hits - the same old thing, redone, with a slightly different cast of characters. An exception this year was the From Dusk Till Dawn maze, which felt like an imaginative departure even while fulfilling the now obligatory need for a Latino-themed haunt. Instead of Dia De Los Muertos or Chupacabra, Halloween Horror Nights served up the sexy female vamps from the titular movie and television series, along with a variety of demonic bloodsuckers. The setting was great, and the vampires were packed in tight - one around every corner, always reading to pounce (more than once if necessary). From Dusk Till Dawn did more than impress with technical expertise; it delivered an exciting scare experience.

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These and other ghouls await you.

Raymond Hill Mortuary

This stand-alone haunted house was in its second year this Halloween. Like Factory of Nightmares, Raymond Hill Mortuary was lengthy, with a variety of settings, both inside and outside the Fremont Theatere (in which it was located). More important, there was a good variety of scares: though much of the walk-through consisted of the traditional labyrinthine corridors with monsters lurking around corners, there were several junctures at which visitors had to stop and engage with the characters. Besides the entry room mentioned in a previous category, there was a morgue where the doctor squirted formaldehyde and nurses forced us into storage spaces meant for corpses. Best of all was an encounter with an agitated French Monk, spewing instructions that needed to be followed to prevent evil from awakening. Unfortunately, since he was speaking French, it took us too long to do what was necessary, and so the monster awakened, emerging from an unexpected direction to grab us by the ankles! Raymond Hill Mortuary is a brilliant new addition to our list of favorite Halloween haunts.

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Six Flags Fright Fest Red

Red's Revenge at Fright Fest

This riff on the "Little Red Riding Hood" benefited from some amazing sets that immersed visitors into its fairy tale world - particularly the opening miniature houses, which made us feel as if we were walking into a storybook. After the introductory room, in which the back story was conveyed via a video, the maze was filled with one thing after another: a walk through the woods, an encounter with a giant spider, numerous escapes from werewolves, and the final sight of the angry Red Riding Hood herself, risen from the grave and out for revenge. Red's Revenge was an amazing excursion into another world.

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Voodoo at Knots Scary Farm

Voodoo at Knotts Scary Farm

This Halloween, Knotts Scary Farm transported visitors to a haunted bayou, filled with supernatural horrors. It began with an amusing Skeleton Key Room, which forced victims to climb into an upright coffin, which shook to the tremor of a demonic voice while red light glowed through the lid. Emerging through the other side, we found ourselves walking past huts, cabins, and trees that created the perfect semblance of a genuine swamp. There was also a maze-like element, with visitors at one point choosing which path to take, prompted by a devilish figure (Baron Samedi) and seeing different sights as a result. This maze was definitely worth a second walk-through, so that both paths could be walked. Voodoo was an absolute triumph of atmosphere.

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Willoughby's Resurrected retouch

Willoughby's Resurrected at Fright Fest

Willoughby's Haunted Mansion was long the highlight of Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain; more recently it was refurbished into Willoughby's Resurrected, which retained the haunted house theme but augmented it with some incredible special effects. With its elaborate decor and high walls, Willoughby's Resurrected conveyed convincing sense of being in a cavernous mansion, but as big as the place seemed, it was nonetheless too overpopulated to allow for single-occupancy: every room and corridor was haunted by two or three ghosts, who attacked with almost military precision - from the flank, from behind, from wherever you weren't looking. Big haunted houses often seemed a bit thinly populated, but not this one - the PKE valences went off the scale and buried the needle.