Hollywood Gothique continuously seeks terrifying new attractions in Los Angeles. This year's big debut at the Pomona Fairgrounds is a free-wheeling rock-and-roll freak show, but how does it stack up as a Halloween Haunt? Read on to find out...if you dare!
Well, this sure as hell ain't your ma and pa's Halloween Haunt! Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare is targeted at a teen and young-adult audience that wants to raise hell and have a good time. More than a handful of walk-through mazes, this is a destination spot - a place for fans to enjoy the scares, listen to live music, have a drink, and hang out on the board walk. The atmosphere feels more like that of a mini-music-festival than a Halloween event, but whatever you call it, this nightmare should be eagerly embraced by Zombie's fans.
As for everyone else...well, Halloween horror afficianodos expecting traditional ghosts and goblins will not be pleased, but that's partly the point. Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare is clearly intended to be aggressive in a way that may be too disturbing for some, and part of the appeal is that the haunt doesn't compromise to reach a wider audience; it's pitched straight at the fans who know and love Zombie's work just the way it is.
The Bloody Boardwalk
After you enter (expect a long wait in the security line, where you will be asked to empty your pockets and open your bags for inspection), you may wander The Bloody Boardwalk, a scare zone with booths selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. There are also some snack food places, and a screen showing clips from old horror movies (such as Nosferatuand, more appropriately, White Zombie) while music blares in the background.
Ghouls of various sorts wander the area. On the night we visited, there was a woman with a pair of snakes who would pose for photographs and a crazy guy who would let you staple money to his bare torso (he kept the dollar bills of course - he certainly earned them).
There are some nice mechanical monsters here and there. The trick is that they look like static photo ops, but when you pose for your pictures, the creatures start moving - instant photo bomb!
Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare features three walk-through mazes situated in a single building, allowing you to go straight out of one and into the next without another wait in line.
The first is The Lords of Salem in Total Black Out. Despite the title and a wonderful exterior, with a Sheri Moon-Zombie look-alike dancing out front, this one has nothing to do with the eponymous film. Instead, it is a straight-forward maze of undecorated black flats. The catch is that you must walk through with a hood on, so that you can find your way only with your hands. The effect is unnerving - perhaps most so when you are waiting outside and wondering what it will be like.
Once inside, it is fairly easy to navigate as long as you keep both hands out. Whenever you loose touch with a wall on either side, you know you have found a turn in the corridor and need to walk in that direction - with one possible exception. We are fairly certain there is only one turn that involves an actual choice of whether to go right or left: we think we ended up going in a circle the first time and returning to the spot; choosing the opposite direction the second time, we found our way out.
Also, we found that the hoods were not quite light-proof: by looking up, we could detect a dim rectangle of light above the edge of the walls, which helped keep us going in the right direction.
Eventually, the experience wanes. Sound effects provide some distraction, but there are only one or two monsters lurking inside. If you are unlucky enough to be following someone who cannot find his or her way (as we were), you will end up stuck in a traffic jam, with people piling up behind you.
This maze needs a little bit more happening inside - or at least some "guides" who will get the cowards and slow-pokes out of the way.
Next, you find yourself inside the weird and wacky world of Rob Zombie's The Haunted World of El Superbeasto in 3D. With its bright colors and cartoony costumes, this one feels like an R-rated Ralph Bakshi animated film brought to life.
The gags are a bit lewd and lurid - this one is probably not for young kids - but the whole thing is so outlandish that it's hard to take it seriously enough to be offended. You immediately know what's in store for you when you see the entrance: one of those passageways that force you to squeeze in between two rows of inflated balloons. The joke here is that "birth-canal" is literally situation in between a pair of giant legs, and as you approach, costumed characters order you to "Get inside that pussy!"
Inside, the tone is more carnival fun house than Halloween horror, although there are certainly a few surprises and shocks along the way, including a massive mechanical devil who lurches forward as you pass and a laughing bungee-jumping girl.
The final maze is Rob Zombie's Haunt of 1000 Corpses, which incorporates elements from the film House of a 1000 Corpses along with the exploits of real-life serial killers and mass murderers, such as Charles Manson. If nothing else, this maze captures the white-trash sleaze aesthetic of Zombie's cinematic oeuvre. There's nothing subtle about it - just crude exploitation excess - but it works if you have the stomach for it.
The sets are very impressive. A few interconnecting corridors are simple flats, but the rooms make you feel as if you are within the sordid scenes taking place. There was a House of a 1000 Corpses maze in Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios for a year or two, but the impact here is much stronger, more authentic, as if Zombie had the nerve to take things father on his own than Universal Studios would let him.
Our only objection (besides the questionable taste of turning real-life misery into entertainment) is that the actors were trying too hard to be extreme. Their in-your-face confrontational approach at times became less frightening than annoying, and you got the feeling they had only one ace up their sleeves, which was to shout the word "Fuck!" as often as possible. A little more variety of performance would help - perhaps an occasional lull to fool visitors into dropping their defenses. Otherwise, the maze feels a bit too much like being in a car with a bunch of obnoxious drunks.
When we attend a Halloween event, we prefer to experience a supernatural sense of the uncanny, which is nowhere evident here. Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare is going for a more visceral form of horror, and the fans in attendance seemed to be eating it up. The crossover appeal to non-fans is probably minimal, but as noted above, that's probably a plus for fans, who will likely prefer the Haunt of 1000 Corpses to the tamer version seen at Halloween Horror Nights in the past.
One more note: Be careful about parking. The usual lot on White Street, across from the Pomona Fairgrounds, is being used for an RV show; the entrance to the tunnel that takes you under the street and to the fairgrounds, is locked. We managed to circumvent this problem on the night we went, but you probably should probably save yourself some shoe leather by finding a parking lot closer to the buildings that house the haunt.
Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare will continue at the Pomona Fairplex (1101 W. McKinley Avenue Pomona, CA 91765) on October 17-20, 24-27, 31; November 1-2. Hours are 6:30-11pm Thursdays & Sundays; 6:30pm-1am Fridays & Saturdays. To find out which acts are scheduled, visit the official website.