Video & Review: Valley Fright Nights

A newcomer to the Los Angeles haunt scene, Valley Fright Nights opened Thursday at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, offering a combination of mazes, free-roaming ghouls, photo ops, and food options. Although its claim to be L.A.’s first summer horror event is a slight exaggeration (there have been one or two others), the haunt’s three mazes deliver more than enough scares to satisfy customers lured in by the hype. The construction is about what one would expect from a popup event – lots of black plywood walls – but there is so much to see inside that is scarcely matters: the labyrinths are filled with decorations, animatronics, and a multitude of monsters eager to torment visitors.

There were a few minor hiccups when Hollywood Gothique attended on VIP night (Sunday), but overall this is solid debut, which should please haunt-seekers languishing during the long wait for Halloween to arrive.


Valley Fright Nights Review: Arrival & Entrance

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

First thing’s first: Valley Fright Nights is not a revival of Fright Fair, which operated at Pierce College until 2014. This is a new event, with a different layout and themes, so don’t expect the Creatures from the Corn trail or the Factory of Nightmares. Also, you wont be parking in old, free dirt lot near the corner of Victory and DeSoto; instead, use the main entrance to Pierce College from Winnetka Avenue and follow the signs to the lot designated for Valley Fright Nights, which is only a short walk from the attraction.

Valley Fright Nights officially opens at 8pm, but all that means is that the front gate opens, allowing ticket holders to lineup at the entrance to the mazes, which do not actually begin until after night falls. Sundown is officially 7:59pm at the moment, but twilight lingers till nearly 9pm, meaning that on VIP night the crowd waited nearly an hour for the event to truly commence. Even the monsters, glimpsed through the enormous curtains at the entrance, were obviously growing impatient, pacing nervously and occasionally darting through the curtains to inflict a scare or pose for a selfie.

Finally, a couple of stilt-walking cowboy-ghouls grabbed a microphone to rile up the waiting crowd, and the flood gates opened…


Valley Fright Nights Review: Cave of Darkness

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cave of Darkness is the first of Valley Fright Nights three mazes, which are laid out in a row so that visitors attend them in sequence. The exterior does a fine job setting the scene: enhanced with flickering lights, ghastly skeletal figures pose outside the entrance, which resembles a ruined mausoleum. Inside, the first section simulates stone walls embedded with (electric) candles, creating the illusion of being inside a man-made tunnel, which later segues to netting, foliage, and spiderwebs, setting the scene for giant insects and arachnids. Of the three mazes, this does probably the best job of creating a seemingly real environment.

The basic strategy is to fill the corridors with decorations and mannequins, usually well lit enough to see clearly, while actors hide in shadows or around corners, waiting to deliver jump-scares at frequent intervals. Occasionally, the path widens into a room containing more of a scene, but there is no prolonged interaction – just a bigger opportunity to be distracted by the decorations while the actors sneak up on you.

Overall, a good start.


Valley Fright Nights Review: House of Horrors

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next maze, House of Horrors, presents itself as a creepy old shack, home to god knows what sort of horrible inhabitants. Inside, the walls are more obviously constructed of black plywood, but the spaces are filled with antique dressers, dusty cabinets, rotting tables, and rusty bedsprings to create an effectively eerie setting.

Again, the strategy is to use the eye-catching visuals to attract attention in order to set up a jump-scare, but in this maze it is not just a matter of actors hiding in corners. The elaborately detailed mannequins are so indistinguishable from costumed characters that it is easy for the masked actors to lurk among them, standing perfectly still until unwary travelers wander within reach.

The distraction technique reaches its climax when House of Horrors ends with some flashy effects – literally. Sparks ignite around a mannequin in a cage, holding viewers’ attention while a live monster escapes from its pen and attacks.


Valley Fright Nights Review: 3D Killer Clown House

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you have been reading Hollywood Gothique for any length of time, you probably know that we anticipate clown mazes with little or no enthusiasm. You can imagine, then, our surprise that 3D Killer Clown House turns out to be the best of Valley Fright Nights’ three mazes. We won’t pretend to have kept a running head count while dodging the malevolent jesters, but it certainly seems as if this maze is even more densely populated than the previous two; every inch is filled with something, and some larger rooms contain so many motionless figures it is impossible to track which ones might be live actors playing dead. And just to add to the confusion, the static mannequins are augmented with animatronic figures that move and talk.

As in House of Horrors, the plywood walls are sometimes visible, but that is not such a problem in this case. The first section of Killer Clown House uses hanging drapery to suggest the inside of a circus tent, hiding the walls. Later, the decoration switches to black walls painted with bright circus colors, and 3D glasses are provided for the final section, making the colors appear to pop of the walls. Whatever the approach, there is always something visual to convey the circus setting.

There is also some nice lighting. Typical for clown mazes, the interiors are brightly illuminated to show off the colorful characters and decorations, but at times the lighting grows patchier, with dark swaths where characters can hide while moving circles of light dance around the rooms, spotlighting a colorful detail or a sinister face creeping in your direction.

The only downside is the flimsy, cardboard 3D glasses. They do their job well enough, but at the end of the maze they are collected in a recycle bin, implying they will be reused. The sturdier plastic 3D glasses used in premium movie theatres can be sanitized before reuse, but it is difficult to imagine how this would work for cardboard.


Valley Fright Nights Review: Extras & Amenities

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In addition to the mazes, the official website for Valley Fright Nights offers “scare zones, food, fun, and more.” At least the first of these is a slight exaggeration. The decorated areas before the maze entrances are haunted by actors interacting with people in line, but the decorations seem more like parts of the mazes, not separate scare zones.

All of the mazes are followed by photo ops. The first two feature great decorations – a spooky little cabin, a humungous skeleton; the third offers a nifty 360-degree photo, rather like a Matrix-style bullet-time shot without the kung fu leap.

As for food and fun, Valley Fright Nights reserves a VIP tent for those who purchase more expensive tickets. Unfortunately, Pierce College does not allow alcohol on campus, so no cocktails are available, only soft drinks flavored water, and the snack options consist mostly of bagged chips and crackers. So the VIP experience is more like a nicely decorated convenience store than a cool cocktail lounge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Somewhat better is the outdoor food area, where visitors can obtain refreshments from two trucks, Cinnabon and Rice Balls of Fire. The former offers sweets and iced coffee; the latter offers over two dozen items such as veggie spring rolls, nacho fries, rice balls, and pork belly sandwiches. We found the Veggie Sushi Burrito too fishy for our taste (due to the seaweed wrap), but the grilled cheese sandwich was fine, as were the French fries. It’s nice that Rice Balls of Fire provides something beyond the obvious (pizza, burgers), but we would have preferred at least one more food truck offering a wider variety of options

One other minor note: Because the mazes are laid out in a row, after exiting the Clown House, it is necessary to make a U-turn and retrace one’s steps all the way back to the front entrance before heading to the parking lot. It’s not an exhausting distance, but presumably it is designed to make the food court more appealing, as weary visitors seek a place to sit and rest before returning home.


Valley Fright Nights Review: Conclusion

We approached Valley Fright Nights with a certain amount of trepidation. It was an unknown entity presented by a new company (the misspelled Amazeing Entertainment Group), and its promotional outreach apparently consisted of giving TikTok influencers free VIP tickets in exchange for posting videos. Perhaps Amazeing Entertainment was hoping to tap a younger market, or perhaps they were concerned that jaded hardcore haunt fans would sneer at their humble efforts, which were achieved with a budget that precluded theme-park production values.

Whatever the back story, Valley Fright Nights delivers a good show. Though unlikely to win any awards for innovation, the first-time haunt acquits itself much better, for example, than Halloween 2021’s debut effort, Ventura County Fear Grounds, if you want a point of comparison.  The simple scare strategies may not match the aggressive tactics of Pierce College’s previous haunt, Fright Fair, and the sets may not match the opulence of the Reign of Terror Haunted House, but the mazes are loaded with so many actors and so many decorations (from the Best Halloween Store Ever in Thousand Oaks) that there is little or no dead space; every square foot feels filled with chills.

This is the key thing that Valley Fright Nights gets right: there is always something to see, always another actor around the corner, and seldom if ever is there a missed opportunity for a scare.

Hollywood Gothique's rating of Valley Fright Nights
3

Rating Scale

Fright Nights Skeleton at Entrance1 – Avoid
2 – Not recommended but not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

A new haunted  attraction opening in July – whoever heard of such a thing? Strange as it sounds, Valley Fright Nights offers solid entertainment that should please eager to enjoy Halloween thrills during the summer.

Update: Since posting this review, we have been asked a significant question: Is Valley Fright Nights worth the price of admission? Obviously, that is a question customers must answer for themselves, but we do think that the attraction is slightly overpriced. $49 for general admission and $89 for express pass might not be outrageous for peak nights, but weeknights and Sundays should probably offer discounts.

Valley Fright Nights continues on the campus of Pierce College Thursdays through Sundays until August 28. Official hours are 8pm to midnight nightly, but mazes do not open until sunset. Tickets start at $49 for General Admission, with Express Fright Tickets for $89. There is also a General Fright Ticket (pay once, go as often as you like) for $109. Pierce College is located at 6201 Winnetka Avenue in Woodland Hills. Parking is $10. For more information, visit: valleyfrightnights.com.

Valley Fright Nights Review: Photo Gallery

Photos by Yuki Tanaka and Warren So

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.