Last Halloween, we did not investigate the Fright Fair Screampark until late in the October season, and we had time to post only a short mini-review of a fine haunted event that deserved much more attention from us. We certainly had good intentions to go back and write a more detailed assessment, but other commitments and other reviews interceded. (Sometimes, 31 days in a month are simply not enough!)
This year, FrightFair is back at the Pierce College Halloween Harvest Festival, with the same line-up of mazes, so we are finally posting our video-review. Although details and cast may change from year to year, a look back at 2010 should provide a good guide regarding what to expect in 2011.
CREATURES OF THE CORN. We have enjoyed this outdoor walk-through attraction since its debut i 2005, but it has sometimes seemed underpopulated. The cast was always clever about this, pacing the scares so that the empty spaces built a sense of dreadful anticipation, augmented by the spooky surroundings. Last year, there were either more monsters or at least more monster appearances (the creatures move back and forth through the cornfield, scaring you at different points along the trail). We're talking about a subjective experience now, perhaps an illusion, but we definitely did not get that old feeling of wanting a little bit more - which had happened once or twice in previous years. There was even a little bit of continuity toward the end, with voices from the dark warning of the characters lying in wait ahead. This sense of connection between some of the later characters (as opposed to isolated instances of shouting "Boo!") smartly enhanced the experience. We wish FrightFar would go even further in this direction for 2011, creating some kind of scenario that would sustain the last section of the corn maze (which always climaxes in a frantic running escape from a chainsaw-wielding maniac).
Note: The Creatures of the Corn Trail has been moved this year, so it has probably been somewhat reconfigured.
INSANE REACTION. It has become a common convention to refer to Halloween walk-through attractions as "mazes," even though the term is a misnomer. ("Maze" implies multiple, branching paths; a single, intricate path is more properly designated as a "labyrinth.) Well, Insane Reaction - which was introduced in 2010 - truly is a maze: its pathways of iron bars suggest a contorted prison. The joke is that you can see through the bars from one side of the structure to the other, which creates the illusion that tracing path from entrance to exit will be simple. Too often, however, what looks, at a distance, like a clear path turns out, upon closer inspection, to be blocked by more iron bars. The constantly strobing overhead lights impair vision, making it harder to discern whether the next curve leads to freedom or another dead end. And all the while, ghouls taunt you maliciously, laughing at your predicament. This walk-through can be short or long, depending on your navigational skills; either way, it offers a disorientingly disturbing experience.
Note: Before expanding into the multi-maze attraction it is today, FrightFair used to include a similar maze as part of its walk-through haunted house. That maze was located outdoors rather than inside, and used chain link fence rather than prison-like bars.
FACTORY OF NIGHTMARES. This haunted house was once the centerpiece of FrightFair, before being augmented by newer attractions. Sometimes in recent years, the Factory of Nightmares has perhaps suffered from divided attention, as FrightFair's cast and crew devoted themselves to Creatures of the Corn. In 2010, however, the Factory was pumping out scares at a record-setting pace. Exactly what was the difference? We cannot quite put our finger on it. A longer labyrinth? New sets? More props and effects? We think it was nothing that tangible. Rather, the enthusiasm level was peaking, and the primary appeal of FrightFair has always been the aggressiveness of its monsters. Especially the first half provided jolt after jolt; you could barely turn a corn without another monster or mechanical effect materializing in front of you. The second half slowed down a bit; as the decor shifted from haunted house to fun house, fewer lunatics were seen overrunning the asylum, yet the lower numbers were compensated by the drooling intensity (and we mean "drooling" quite literally, as you can see by checking out the video). Altogether, the shock level is much higher in Factory of Nightmares than in Creatures of the Corn - providing a nice contrast to that more subtle and moody outdoor trail.
Other Halloween haunts in Los Angeles offer more detailed sets and more elaborate effects, but few if any can match the intensity of the scares at FrightFair Screampark. A simple scream is not enough; these monsters want to get up close and personal, and they don't want to let you go. Since the demise of Spooky House and its related haunts a couple years ago, there are not that many seasonal Halloween attractions offering a good, old-fashioned haunted house horror show. Fortunately, FrightFair still delivers. As always, highly recommended.