The Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks wrapped up its Halloween 2018 season with a special Lights Out event on Saturday, November 3. For the first time ever, frightened victims were forced to find their way through the attraction’s 23,000 square feet in the dark. A bit of an experiment, the concept seemed slightly dubious: much of Reign of Terror’s strength lies in its settings; masking them in shadows seemed counterproductive. Nevertheless, the Lights Out approach worked better than expected. Fully lit, Reign of Terror is a fun sort of scary experience, full of adrenaline and screams fueled by jump-scares. In the dark, it becomes altogether creepier.
There were some patches of light (a few artificial candles, blinding strobes lights in one room, and the “explosion” in the Miner’s Revenge section), but for the most part visitors used small glow sticks, whose omnidirectional light not only illuminated the room but also blinded the eyes (the trick was to clasp the stick in one’s upright palm, fingers tight and hand facing away, to shield one’s eyes while projecting the light forward). This cast just enough light to reveal objects, walls, and doors, while leaving the monsters well cloaked in darkness. True, it was impossible to see the convincing settings of Victorian Haunted Mansion, but it was equally impossible to see what was lurking in every one of the haunt’s 105 rooms.
There was a little bit of stumbling around, and with a slow group ahead of us and a fast group behind, we found ourselves squeezed in the middle more than once. Fortunately, there are several areas in Reign of Terror where a character will block the path, interacting with a group long enough to let the previous group regain its lead. After one of these pauses, a crazy old lady forced us to go on alone, and…suddenly the experience transformed from fun to terrifying.
Without the comfort that comes from being surrounded by easy victims (no monster is going after us when there are screaming teenage girls to target), we found Reign of Terror literally spine-chilling, with our own creeping flesh acting like some kind of primordial warning system of unseen danger about to attack from behind. The most intense experience of this kind we can recall was in HorrorWorld’s Into the Black maze, back when it was at the Pomona Fairgrounds last Halloween. What we felt at Reign of Terror was equally unnerving – maybe more so. It lasted only moments before the group behind once again caught up, but during that time we were not laughing off the scares as we usually do.
Should the Lights Out Night return next year, we would not recommend it for first-time visitors, who really should see what the haunt has to offer; however, darkness is a great way for fans to re-experience Reign of Terror in a whole new light – or lack thereof. But for a truly special event, we would suggest a special “Go In Alone” night. The practical hurdles may be insurmountable for all we know, but if it could be managed, it would be worth double the current ticket price.
Reign of Terror: Lights Out Rating
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
We enjoy viewing the Reign of Terror’s scenery too much to give a full five-star rating to the Lights Out version, but it worked much better than we expected, and we have to admit we were genuinely scared during the few moments when we were alone. If the haunt could find a way to sustain the solo experience for the duration of the 20-minute trek, it would be almost too much to take.