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Festival & Funhouse Review: The IT Experience Chapter Two

A word to the wise: The It Experience Chapter Two is worth every penny.

Hardcore Halloween junkies have to wait a few more weeks for the big Halloween theme parks to open their gates, but those who need a fix now can head over to the “Derry Canal Days Festival and Funhouse, featuring Pennywise the Dancing Clown” – which is the actual name you see on the billboard at Hollywood and Vine, where Warner Bros Pictures has set up The IT Experience Chapter Two.

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Like 2017’s The IT Experience (reviewed here), the new attraction is a free event promoting the upcoming theatrical release of the Stephen King adaptation: IT: Chapter Two opens on September 6 nationwide. Whereas the original IT Experience was a guided tour through a haunted house, the current iteration offers a few carnival-style games and a walk-through a fun house. The result is worth the price of admission; whether it is worth the wait in line is another story.

The It Experience Chapter Two Review: Festival

True to its name, the “Derry Canal Days Festival and Funhouse” is set up to look like a traveling carnival that propped itself up on a vacant lot, surrounded by plywood to hide what’s inside, with multiple posters teasing the attractions. After waiting on the sidewalk, passing through metal detectors, and signing a liability waver, there is a holding area where you wait while the previous group (perhaps two dozen people) pose at photo ops or try their hand at ring toss. The wait takes longer than it should because the attendants are trying extra hard to make sure nearly everyone wins a ticket (at the end of The IT Experience Chapter Two, ticket holders spin a wheel to win prizes, such as a copy of the Stephen King novel on which the films are based.)

After the previous group enters the funhouse, it’s your turn to enter the festival. Besides ring toss, you can throw bean bags at cardboard cutouts of Pennywise’s face or play “Drown the Clown (i.e., shoot a water gun into a clown head until it fills and pops a balloon). There is a Ferris Wheel (for show only,not for riding) and a bunch of red balloons whose thread you can hold while having your picture taken.

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That’s about it. You could finish everything in a few minutes, but you’re given more than enough time to try every game twice or thrice until you win a ticket. After a little more time to take photos (a sign encourages visitors to share their experience via social media), the attendants line you up to enter the funhouse – through the mouth of a giant clown face. Even getting inside the funhouse takes longer than it should; the usual rules (“don’t touch the characters and they won’t touch you”) are padded with repeated jokes (“it’s not only scary inside – it’s air-conditioned”).

The It Experience Chapter Two Review: Funhouse
The Derry Canal Days Funhouse Entrance
Funhouse Entrance

When you finally enter the giant maw of the (presumably carnivorous clown), you find yourself in a vertigo tunnel, the cylindrical walls painted in barbershop stripes of red and white; the effect is enhanced by a transparent plexiglass floor. Deeper inside are dangling bodies that seem to bounce around much more than one would expect from being jostled by you and the other guests – perhaps there is an invisible tormentor giving them a push?

Later rooms take on the form of a guided tour, with an attendant ushering the group inside a room in order to make sure that everyone sees the scare inside. The attempt to build anticipation is stretched more than a little thin, and the quality of the payoffs are variable. In one instance, a guest is “volunteered” to turn a hand-crank the powers the only dim light bulb in the otherwise pitch-black room. The result is a bit like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” with a series of small jack-in-the-boxes opening. In the shadows, the impact is negligible; when a bigger scare arrives, it’s a little bit past the point of peak tension.

Another mitigating factor is darkness: much of the funhouse is too dark to see anything unless you are looking through the lens of a night-vision camera. Even when there is light, it is not always enough to make the scene work as well as it should. A tableau in a dining room has some clever effects with cockroaches on the walls and rats on the table (physical models, not digital projections), but again, the payoff is slow to arrive, because the scene requires guests to read a message from a fortune cookie – the tiny writing is virtually illegible in the darkened surroundings.

Fortunately, The It Experience Chapter Two delivers a reasonably spectacular finale, with some stadium seats jostled with earthquake-like ferocity by an unseen force before Pennywise makes a grand entrance. It’s the kind of moment that makes you sad to realize Warner Bros Studios will not be doing Horror Made Here: A Festival of Frights this Halloween, where they could have re-purposed the scene for all those who couldn’t see it at Hollywood and Vine.

The It Experience Chapter Two Review: Conclusion

The Derry Canal Days Festival and Funhouse is billed as a “40-minute experience with 10 immersive, interactive spaces based on the film,” but that makes the attraction sound like much more than it is. Two of the three festival games are of the virtually unwinnable variety; only “Drown the Clown” is really fun. There are a couple photo ops outside, but other than that and the decorative Ferris Wheel, the “festival” has trouble living up to its name. The funhouse has a few good moments, but the ratio of build-up to payoff is out of whack. The experience feels padded as if stretching to meet the advertised run time.

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A few other notes: The IT Experience Chapter Two had been running for a week when we attended, but it felt a bit like opening day. The Ferris Wheel was not spinning while we were in attendance, and there was a delay getting the first group into the funhouse. There was misinformation about what could and could not be brought inside the attraction (metal objects like inhalers were allegedly verboten but in fact were allowed).

Since admission is free, complaining about The Derry Canal Days Festival and Funhouse is a bit like looking a gift horse in the mouth. People lucky enough to have reserved entrance times in advance should find the experience worthwhile. Everyone else should judge how much time they want to spend waiting in the summer sun (shielded by shade trees and umbrellas, fortunately). If you get into the standby line around noon, it is possible to enter with the first group when the attractions opens at 2pm; otherwise, you wait is could be four hours or maybe more.

Suspended somewhere between being a promotional event and a popup attraction, The IT Experience Chapter Two generates more buzz than scares, raising awareness of the movie sequel’s approaching theatrical release. It offers a tolerably amusing amusement park and a mildly frightening funhouse, but compared to The IT Experience from 2017, Chapter Two feels like a movie sequel that falls short of the original.

Click the links for more haunted houses and Halloween Events.

The It Experience Chapter Two Review: Photo Gallery
The IT Experience Chapter 2 Rating

Bottom Line

Halloween junkies who can’t wait till September can their fix at this mildly frightening funhouse, but The IT Experience Chapter Two generates more buzz than scares, like a movie sequel that falls short of the original.

The IT Experience: Chapter Two (a.k.a. “The Derry Canal Days Festival and Funhouse, Featuring Pennywise the Dancing Clown”) runs from 2pm to 11pm daily, through September 8, at the parking lot on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Admission is free. All reserved times are booked, but walk-ups are welcome. Get more information at theitexperiencechaptertwo.com.

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.