We made the trek out to the Los Angeles County Fair this weekend to check out "Scare at the Fair," a single walk-through haunted house maze that bills itself as your chance to "get your Halloween fix all month in September." The haunt's webpage also says that in 2006 they dropped the "safe for the whole family" tone in favor of an "enter at your own risk" attitude, suggesting you "bring someone to clint to." Despite the hype we found the haunt disappointing - definitely not worth a special trip for the committed Halloween fanatic.
Scare at the Fair is presented by Shipwreck Productions, the company that does a fine job of haunting the annual Queen Marry Terror Fest (and also presented Scareplex at the Fairgrounds for Halloween 2004 and 2005). Without the environment of the shadowy, labyrinthine corridors within mammoth ship's aging hull, the Shipwreck crew deliver a fairly standard haunt experience of the sort that you commonly see set up in a parking lot during the Halloween season.
The haunt has an impressive animatronic skeleton over the entrance, which comes to life in a cloud of billowing fog and strobe lights while hisisng in an echoing voice at the crowd below, but this is the most elaborate effect of the entire presentation. Inside, the maze consists of a series of corridors constructed out of wooden flats painted in glow-in-the-dark colors - this is one of those 3D mazes, where they give you glasses that make the colors seem to pop out from the walls. The effect, as always, is eye-catching, and many of the designs - skulls, spiders, and cloaked spirits - were quite nice, but the effect was not nearly so elaborate as you see in similar mazes at the Queen Mary or at Knott's Scary Farm.
There are a couple of mechanical effects that spring on you unexpectedly, and there's a tunnel where you cross a bridge while bright lights flash in your eyes, blinding you, but there are only two or three rooms designed to suggest specific scenes, like a graveyard. Other than that, you just walk down the corridors, waiting for someone to jump out and scare you.
On the night we attended - a Friday - it seemed that there were only two or three actors occupying the entire haunt. One in particular tried to make up the low numbers with aggressive enthusiasm, pursuing us and appearing at several different junctures, but despite the effort it was impossible to disguise the fact that the maze was underpopulated and lacking in scares.
Our final assesment is this: If you're going to the Los Angeles County Fair anyway, and you just cannot wait for the Queen Mary to launch its annual Halloween haunt, you might as well spend the extra $5 for an admission to Scare at the Fair. But don't make a special trip just for this maze. It has a couple of nice touches, but overall you can enjoy superior scares at many of the amateur yard haunts that proliferate during Halloween.
ONE FINAL NOTE: The Scare at the Fair webpage exhorts you to pick up "your big discount coupon to Shipwreck 2006" when you visit the haunt. The only coupons we saw at the box office window for Scare at the Fair offered no special discounts; they simply noted that the "preview nights" for the Queen Mary Terror Fest (October 6-8, opening weekend) are $16 instead of the usual $30.
UPDATE (9/2/08): Shipwreck Productions' Scare at the Fair maze and their Halloween "Scareplex" attracton were replaced in 2007 by Fearplex, an attraction produced by the people behind the long-running Spooky House.