When considering attractions that maintain a consistently high level of quality from one Halloween to the next, such as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and the Reign of Terror Haunted House, it is perhaps easy to become a trifle blasé: "Oh, another great year - so what else is new?" But even if we expect nothing less than greatness, we should never forgot to acknowledge the greatness. And Reign of Terror truly is great this year.
Yes, the lengthy walk-through is filled with familiar horrors (Blood Manor, the Asylum, etc), but these ancient settings and rotting corridors have been injected with fresh blood in the form of new scenes and effects guaranteed to surprise even the most jaded return viewers. We won't give too many away, but we will say that there's a fantastic new creature in Quarantine and an explosive moment in the caverns of Miner's Revenge when you will feel the floor literally dropping out from under you - an effect as spectacular and stunning as any you will experience at the Halloween theme parks that charge three times as much.
Also, there is a new section that adds a previously a form of horror previously unseen in Reign of Terror; fortunately, it feels right at home.
Reign of Terror lists eight separate sections for Halloween 2016: Infected, Backwoods, The Asylum, the Fun House, Quarantine, Blood Manor, Miner's Revenge, and the Haunted House (a.k.a. the Victorian Mansion). Six of these were listed last year, but of the two new titles only Infected is truly an addition for 2016. Backwoods is more or less a case of branding a previously unnamed section - an ominous (simulated) outdoor area that sets the tone before you reach Blood Manor.
Infected presents zombies for the very first time in the haunt's history. Zombie horror has a visceral bite, setting the section apart from the spooky tone of the haunted Victorian Mansion, and yet the living dead are classic monster archetypes - perfectly suited to the Halloween season. Really, if there are disembodied souls floating around a haunted house, why can't there be soulless bodies walking around nearby?
Infected is brief but memorable, containing one of the nerve-wracking highlights of the haunt: a Scylla and Charybdis sort of situation in which visitors must pass through a narrow corridor with zombies (animatronic) reaching through holes in the walls on either side. Try to keep your balance and walk in a straight line: lean too far one way or the other and you could become zombie chow!
These shuffling, shambling corpses seem to be the result of some glowing green bottled goo, which also appears in the old Quarantine area, smoothly suggesting a thematic connection, as if the military personal glimpsed in Quarantine are trying to clean up the mess that created the Infected. Though Reign of Terror is not in any sense a story-telling experience, it's nice that even with the variety of environments, the maze does not feel disjointed.
Things That Lurk in the Dark
In keeping with its established tradition, Reign of Terror uses mechanical props and spring-loaded mannequins for many of its scares, but these devices are enhanced with a more organic form of frights, thanks to the live cast.
The characters fall into three basic types: the first provides quick jump scares; the second lurks nearby, enhancing the atmosphere; the third offers more interaction, including dialogue, as when soldiers decide whether you need to be de-contaminated before proceeding.*
The placement and timing of these characters is perfectly calibrated to enhance the haunt's best qualities, which is to say: you're given enough time to drink up the unsettling mood of the surroundings and thus to anticipate what's coming next. In other haunts, an empty room is just a missed opportunity; in Reign of Terror, it's a prelude to the fright you suspect await around the next corner.
Our favorite characters were a pair of carnival barkers, who set the tone and offered an illusory choice of paths through the haunt's final section, the Fun House. Circuses, clowns, and fun houses are not our favorite themes for Halloween, but we enjoy this one more than most; the personalized attention elevates it above the competition - and above what we remember experiencing when this section made its debut in 2015. The wild, crazy, and colorful tone provides a bit of an energetic uplift after all the doom and gloom of the previous section, which makes for a nice conclusion: after all the screams of fear, you end up screaming with laughter.
Hollywood Gothique visited Reign of Terror on opening night, October 1. If there were any first-night glitches, they were few and far between: a new chain link corridor that needed a monster inside; a surgery scene accomplished with a mannequin body instead of a live actor, as in past years. Other than those, we enjoyed that haunt as much as we ever have - in fact, more than ever. We feel confident in proclaiming that Halloween 2016 is Reign of Terror's best year yet. If you have seen it before, you need to go again. If you have never seen it, go now.
Final Note: Shortly before closing on Saturday night, crowds were light: Thousand Oaks is the kind of town the rolls up the carpet after 9pm, so there was little waiting even without a fast-pass ticket. We strongly advised our readers to take advantage of this: go early in the season, before things get crazy during the final week of Halloween. The Reign of Terror offers a spectacular 20-25 minute walk-through that is worth the price and worth the wait in line - but why wait if you don't have to?
The Reign of Terror continues on October 7-8, 14-15, 21-23, 28-31. Hours are 7-10pm Fridays & Sundays, 7-11pm on Saturdays and Halloween Night. Family-Friendly “lights on” event 1-4pm on October 22 & 29. Tickets are $19 General Admission, $30 for VIP Pass, and $5 for the Lights-On Tour (parents escorting children get in free). The haunt is located above the Gold's Gym in Janss Marketplace. The address is 197 North Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, California. Call (805) 492-1864 for more information, or visit rothauntedhouse.com.
- These interactive characters serve a practical function: by engaging visitors for a few moments, they prevent groups from moving through too quickly and catching up to previous groups. Reign of Terror works hard to avoid safety in numbers!
More in this series:
- More Halloween Math: Reign of Terror is a better deal than Halloween Horror Nights
- Podcast 10-01-16: Reign of Terror interview
- Halloween Review: Reign of Terror 2016