Lament for Fright Fair, Part 2

Fright Fair is off my list.

Two years ago, I wrote a "Lament for Fright Fair," when it became known that the haunt would be sitting out the 2004 Halloween season in Los Angeles. The FrightFair Screampark returned in 2005 in a radically revised form (with a Halloween Harvest Festival, a corn maze, and a Creatures of the Corn haunted trail), but at least some of the old magic was retained in the Factory of Nightmares haunted house, including the chain-link fence maze (a literal maze, with false paths leading to dead ends) and the giant Tesla coil that shoots sparks like something out of Frankenstein's laboratory.

Well, all that's gone now. What's left has its points of interest, but it's a pale ghostly shadow of what used to be. So I am writing a new lament, about the disappointing levels of dread available at my once-favorite haunt.

In the past, the highlight of Fright Fair's presentation was the high-scare quotient, thanks to quantity and quality of actors, whose ghoulish glee always served up an extra dose of chill to their screaming victims. This year, the attraction seemed seriously under-haunted. Thanks to the Harvest Festival, it's still a worthwhile destination for families with children looking for fun, but for the hard-core Halloween addict, looking for scream-inducing scares, it's a washout.

The Creatures of the Corn trail was memorably spooky when it made its debut last year, but in 2006 is seems considerably diminished. Perhaps our memory is playing tricks, but it seems much more well-lit and consequently much less sinister and threatening. Most of the half-dozen or so ghouls lurking within seemed content to deliver a single scare, instead of pursuing their victims, and there were several clearings that seemed designed to to be inhabited by spooks who simply were not there, creating a vacant, empty feeling. Also, we did not see any of the rundown shacks that dotted the trail last year, which added to the ambience and made the experience something more than just a walk through the corn rows.

Up next was the haunted house, which turns out to be completely different from past years - a fact that is not made clear when you buy your ticket and which is only briefly (and not very clearly) suggested on the haunt's official website.

From the outside, it looks as if the old Factory of Nightmares has had a new wing added to the structure. This addition is, in fact, Sinister Dreadford's Mansion of Lost Souls - a haunted house created by a Nevada company called Haunted Visions, Inc. - and it is a completely distinct entity from the old Factory of Nightmares.

Unlike many Halloween haunts, this one makes a reasonable attempt to create the impression that you are in a haunted mansion of some sort. The decor is not fabulous (it's one of those plywood-wall places), but the layout is effectively structured to hide the lurking ghouls within. The haunt's most notable touch is that it is divided into discrete rooms, separate by closed doors, which you must open to proceed. This adds a turn of the screw, boosting the tension as you reach for the doorknob, wondering what might be waiting for you on the other side.

Sinister Dreadford's captured some of the spirit of the old Factory of Nightmares. The lost souls within its walls did their eerie best to make our journey an unpleasant one, and there were only one or two hiding places that were missing inhabitants (including a bed with a slit in the middle of the mattress, where something was obviously supposed to pop up like a demented Jack-in-the-Box). Overall, it was a nice, new experience that would have made a spectacularly spooky addition to the familiar frights of the Factory of Nightmares.

In fact, there was really only one problem with this otherwise delightfully demented haunted house: it was too short - five minutes at most.

You leave Sinister Dreadford's Mansion, feeling as if you have experienced a brief but wonderful Prelude, which leaves you hungry for the opera to follow.

And then...nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero.

The structure for the old Factory of Nightmares is right there on your right as you come out the exit from Sinister Dreadford's - but the Factory is not in operation! The huge facade out front is nothing more than an enormous piece of false advertising, promising - in addition to the new Mansion - all you got last year. But it just ain't there.

No Tesla coil, no chain-link maze, none of the fun stuff I've been recommending for the last two years on this website.

The disappointment might not have been so frustrating if Fright Fair had simply advertised that it was presenting an all-new haunted house. But nothing at the location indicates the change; the tickets prominently mention "Factory of Nightmares" on the front. Even the official website still proclaims "Fright Fair, Featuring Factory of Nightmares," and the haunt description suggests you will be getting a combination experience ("Sinister Dreadford's with the Factory of Nightmares").

The only tiny hint anywhere that the Factory of Nightmares might not be open comes if you try to order tickets online at TicketWeb.Com, which lists date and time information only for Creatures of the Corn and Sinister Dreadford's mansion. But even there, the actual ticket description exactly duplicates the one at the official website, promising "Sinister Dreadford's Haunted House with The Factory of Nightmares" (my italics).

So, the whole thing is a deceptive rip-off. It pretends to offer you the old Factory of Nightmares, plus something new. Instead, you get only a new haunt - a good one, but too brief to justify both the ticket price and the long wait in line.

What went wrong? I don't know. Perhaps Fright Fair has decided to focus its energy on the Harvest Festival, which seems to be doing well, drawing large crowds of kiddies too young to go on the more intense haunts. Maybe the new Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios sapped the talent pool of actors eager to haunt the halls of the Factory of Nightmares.

Whatever the case, Fright Fair used to be one of my top recommendations for people who actually craved an intense haunt experience, filled with blinding strobe lights and deafening sound effects, which left you bewildered and confused, stumbling through twisting corridors as you desperately sought surcease from the aural and visual assault. Now, it's just another Halloween attraction with a few good scares. I hope next year sees a return to former glory, but for the moment I have to say it was probably the most disappointing experience I've had this Halloween.

NOTE: To be fair, people who have never experienced the old Factory of Nightmares may find this haunt a perfectly satisfactory one. I took along a couple of newcomers this year, and on the way home, when I tried to apologize because Fright Fair had not live up to my endorsement, they insisted that they had a perfectly good time, especially in the haunted house.

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