Halloween Review: Fright Fest 2016

For Halloween 2016, Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest continues the upward trend it has been following the past few years, offering more than enough quality mazes and scare zones to stand comfortably among the titans of terror in the field of Halloween Theme Parks. Though additions are few, the returning attractions are worth revisiting, and as always, Magic Mountain's combination of seasonal scares and year-round roller-coasters yields a distinctive Halloween experience.

New for Halloween 2016
harley-quinn at Fright Fest 2016
Harley Quinn haunts the new Suicide Squad scare zone.

Magic Mountain's most heavily hyped new attraction for Halloween 2016 is Suicide Squad: The Six Flags Fright Fest Experience, inspired by the recent film featuring DC villains enlisted in a Dirty-Dozen type mission. Obviously not a traditional Halloween scare zone, this one eschews low-key shadows and cobwebs for more vibrant comic book colors, as digital imagery and pyrotechnics portray a recreate destruction from the film, projected on a building facade, while live-action incarnations of the Joker and Harley Quinn cavort on the street, harassing unsuspecting visitors.

The peak of this year's Magic Mountain Fright Fest is Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising, near the Apocalypse roller-coaster. Set in a year-round venue (for a superhero stunt show) loaded with crashed helicopters and belching flames, this outdoor walk-through offers large-scale production value - an overwhelming sense of disasters above and beyond the usual jump-scares. The post-apocalyptic feel (you may find yourself expecting Snake Plissken or Mad Max to show up) is familiar from the old Aftermath maze, but the layout has been revamped, creating a new experience as you wind your way through the twisted metal, abandoned cars, and ravaged corpses, encountering who-knows-what kind of deformed mutants lurking in the shadows.

The word "shadows" may be misleading: though there are indeed pockets of darkness, they are defined by bright blasts of light. This is not a dark and spooky attraction; it virtually blinds you with a strobe-like effect, adding to the disorientation fostered by blaring sirens, shouting, and other audio effects. This yields demented dividends in a maze-like structure of chain-link fence, which would probably be simple to circumnavigate while in one's right mind but becomes a manifest challenge under the chaotic circumstances - leading to a nice payoff when you realize you have doubled back to the start and have to begin again.

There's a wonderful Pandora's Box type prop near the end - apparently the source of all the turmoil - green and glowing with arcs of electricity and looking a bit like the Lamont Configuration from Hellraiser. Elements like this make Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising feel like something more than another spooky house - a bit more on the level of the elaborate attractions at Halloween Horror Nights. Though Aftermath 2 is not nearly as vast as the airplane crash scene on the back lot of Universal Studios Hollywood, it is an excellent example of resources well-used, creating a convincing sense of pandemonium.

Returning Attractions
Six Flags Fright Fest Chupacabra entrance
Chupacabra

Vault 666, Toyz of Terror 3D, Willoughby's Garden of Darkness, Willoughby's Resurrected, Red's Revenge, and Chupacabra  are back for Fright Fest 2016. The last three remain our favorites: Willoughby's Resurrected and Red's Revenge are must-see mazes; Chupacabra is recommended for its effective simplicity. Set in what looks like an old mission, Chupacabra a relatively simple walk-through offering a charmingly quaint depiction of the legendary Mexican monster, along with La Llorona and a little Dia De Los Muertos thrown in. Haunt fans seeking high-tech scares may come away disappointed, but we think Chupacabra conveys a spirited type of horror perfectly suited to the Halloween season.

Far more elaborate, Willoughby's Resurrected and Red's Revenge provide more convincing environments. The first is a traditional haunted mansion, composed of large rooms with vaulted ceilings, where all sorts of old-school ghosts and spooks lurk, plucking at a harpsichord or tickling the ivory keys of an organ. The perception of being inside an actual haunted house is amazingly rendered, thanks to fine production design, enhanced with some nifty video effects, and the ghouls are eager to scare.

Based on "Little Red Riding Hood," Red's Revenge offers a wonderful rendition of a fairy tale setting, particularly in its first scene, with miniature building that look as if they were plucked from a children's story book. After passing by a giant spider and malevolent-looking tree-like beings, the path takes through several interiors - cabins, tunnels - for further creepy encounters. The effectiveness of the jump-scares is almost beside the point in his one; the joy comes from the immersive environment, which makes you feel as if you have walked into the world of the Brothers Grimm.

Nightmares scare zone
Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy.

Also returning are the scares zones from Fright Fest 2015: The Ruins (near Aftermath), Exile Hill (near Willoughby's Resurrected), Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy (not far from Chupacabra), TERRORtory Twisted (near Goliath and Scream roller-coasters), Demon's Door (near the front entrance), Zombie Crossing (on the way toward the DC section of the park). All have their fine points, but we enjoy Nightmares and Zombie Crossing above the others. They are almost polar opposites: Nightmares is colorfully demented, with an Alice in Wonderland feel amidst the fluorescent cobwebs; Zombie Crossing is enveloped in darkening mist, which hides not only the living dead but also this year assorted mutant beings of origin unknown.

Conclusion

We love the open, airy layout of Six Flags Magic Mountain, with live shows (such as the musical performances in the Full Throttle Theatre, accessible to anyone walking past or stopping to snack nearby. The lines tend to be situated so that they are visible, not tucked away in some corner, which yields two results: you know what you are getting into when you decide to wait, and you are vulnerable to monsters lurking in nearby scare zones - who will make your longueurs feel considerably less long.

Which is a good thing, because the lines are long: waiting above an hour is far from out of the question. In some cases, even a VIP fast-pass won't completely solve the problem: the wait for Red's Revenge can still be over half an hour. (To be fair, this is a result of the value-added entry room accessible only to fast-pass ticket holders: visitors enter in groups of a dozen or so at a time, to see the back story of the maze projected on a screen - a process that takes a few minutes. It's impossible to have this kind of special feature without some waiting.)

The Joker
The Joker

We would like to have seen Fright Fest make one or two more additions for Halloween 2016, but rather than focusing on what we think the park should have done, we have to say that what the park actually did is more than good enough to wipe away our reservations. No longer the also-ran among Halloween Theme Parks, Six Flags Fright Fest now towers like the Mountain King.*

One last random thought: Is is just our subjective impression, or does Magic Mountain avoid overusing the chainsaw-monster cliche seen too often in other Halloween haunts? Maybe when you have the Joker, you don't need chainsaws?

Footnote:

  • We wish there were a way to cue up Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" to give this last comment the dramatic emphasis it deserves.

Interested in more ways to enjoy Halloween in Los Angeles? Check out our pages of Halloween Haunts and Halloween Theme Parks.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

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