New multi-haunt attraction offers old-school Halloween frights at Pomona Fairgrounds
With Lights Out, the Fairplex in Pomona is offering its first full-blown, multi-haunt Halloween attraction since Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare in 2013. Appropriately enough, Lights Out offers an old-school vibe reminiscent of popup haunts from decades past, when plywood and paint were used to fill empty retail spaces with funhouse style thrills. Don’t let that description fool you into thinking the new attraction is cheap; it is loaded with creepy decorations, eerie lighting, ominous sounds, animatronics, and a multitude of menacing monsters eager to inflict scares.
The full title, Fearplex Presents Lights Out, recalls the Fearplex attraction of Halloween 2007-2008; however, the new event actually grew out of the Zombie Escape maze at the Los Angeles County Fair’s Halloween exhibit in 2019. Although a few elements have been recycled, Lights Out offers much more: three mazes haunted by live actors, a walkthrough graveyard display, a zombie shooting gallery, carnival-style games, a stage pumping out DJ music, vendors, esports, and conveniently located food and drink options (including cocktails). Not a bad return on your investment, considering the reasonable ticket prices.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Arrival
Lights Out is located on the fairgrounds near Fairplex’s Gate 17 on McKinnley Avenue. The Grandstand event venue, housing the mazes, can be seen from the parking lot, near the Avalon building. Passing through the entrance brings you to an area with an outdoor stage, some carnival games, and a couple places to eat and drink (rebranded for the Halloween season, of course).
Signs indicate the path to the mazes, which leads past decorations, including a Rotted Pumpkin Patch haunted by animatronic scarecrows with glowing Jack O’ Lantern heads. A marquee above the building entrance announces “Fearplex Presents Lights Out,” while a sign on the road enumerates the attractions inside: Zombie Escape, Carnival of Evil, Nightmares, and The Graveyard. (Sharp-eyed haunt-goers will note that the name of a fifth attraction was blanked out. On opening weekend, Waxworks was not open.)
Through the entrance, a large room acts as a sort of reception area, decorated with giant skeletons, a dragon, and a convict in an electric chair. A sign indicates two attractions to the left and two to the right, forcing visitors to choose which direction to take. This provides an opportunity for the live ghouls haunting the area to scare witless visitors so focused on picking their first maze that they don’t realize the scares are already coming at them.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Zombie Escape
Moving left takes you toward Carnival of Evil and Zombie Escape. We started with the latter, because the layout is arranged so that the exit leaves you near the entrance to the former.
As its name suggests, Zombie Escape is about zombies on the loose. The maze is set in a zombie research facility that has suffered a containment breach. Signs indicate the staff was studying ways to identify and dispose of zombies (including a furnace), but most of the staff is dead, and the ones left alive make little distinction between zombies and humans in their eagerness to continue their work.
The maze begins in what looks like an improvised control room with quarantine warnings and the Emergency Broadcast Network on a TV screen, followed by rooms full of slabs with zombie bodies. Hovering over them are the equally dead doctors (mannequins) studying them, presumably victims of the outbreak. It takes a while before you encounter an actor, but the the voices and sounds of commotion amplify anticipation for what is coming. When they do appear, they are either demented doctors trying to draft you into their experiments or stumbling zombies looking for a bite. They deliver a jump-scare or two, but they seem more interested in extended pursuit.
Later there is a brightly colored toxic waste room, where mechanical zombies vomit water into barrels covered in crud, and live actors pursue you. It ends with a zombie feeding area, presumably as a way to stop the living dead from searching for live victims.
Actors variously wear pullover masks or minimal makeup, but they all look reasonably convincing beneath the deep-hued blues and reds of the lighting. The sets are mostly decorated plywood walls, but this works, creating the sense of walking through a makeshift facility hastily assembled to deal with the outbreak.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Carnival of Evil
Carnival of Evil is another Killer Clown maze, and in keeping with the theme it is loaded with color. Red and white striped walls glitter beneath illumination that strobes through the phases of a color wheel: green, orange, blue, red. And of course the clowns are all brightly bedecked, their eye-catching appearance a prelude to the scares.
Of the three mazes, Carnival of Evil has the most sights to see. It is loaded with decorations that obscure its plywood origins: scarcely an inch of wall space is not covered in circus posters or leering faces, and the rooms are packed with so many clowns of different shapes and sizes that it is difficult to pick out the strategically placed actors among the figures, especially when several of the later are moving animatronics with voices (such as Pennywise at the end of one corridor where lighted letters scrawl across the wall warning, “You’ll float too!”). It is hard to be sure how large the cast truly is, but they seem to be around every corner or silently lurking among the mannequins until you get within scaring range. Your best bet for identifying them is that the actors are wearing elaborate makeup and prosthetics, so if you see a plastic face that looks like a grinning mask, there is probably not a real human behind it.
Like the zombies in the previous maze, the clowns may or may not be satisfied with a quick jump-scare, so keep moving if you don’t want them to catch you. They also roam a bit, so you may encounter them more than once, and if you go back through the maze again, your experience could be very different, depending on where your attackers decide to strike.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Nightmares
Nightmares has the most interesting concept, featuring several sections whose horrors inspire nightmares. It begins with a trip through the back alleys of Whitechapel, where Jack the Ripper is afoot, and evidence of his work is apparent in the form of slashed, skeletal victims, one with visible entrails. Here, the red rick walls, bathed in garish red light, provide the most convincing environment in any of the mazes, enhanced by slow and eerie musical tones.
After that, the maze depicts different fears: arachnophobia, astroxenophobia, dentophobia, religiophobia. You almost wonder why the maze is not named “Phobia.” Presumably, each of these fears causes nightmares in those who suffer from it; certainly, the depictions are nightmarish in nature, with giant spiders and demented dentists eager to inflict pain.
The cast have a lot of fun in this one. Saucy Jack accosts you in the Whitechapel alleyway, mockingly informing you that a killer is nearby. In the Arachnophobia section, someone wearing a hazmat suite screams in confusion at lookie-loos taking selfies: “Don’t just stand there! Why aren’t you running for your lives?” In the Astroxenophobia room, a robotic figure with a red laser eye draws your attention to an autopsy table – which distracts you from the live Predator ready to jump. The dentist really wants you to keep your appointment, but judging from the faceless corpse of his current patient, that is not a good idea. A towering demonic figure springs to life in the church, providing a powerful finale.
Nightmares is probably the best of the mazes, because its broad theme allows for a wide variety of environments and characters. The Whitechapel scene does not exactly fit with the phobias that follow, but it gets things off to a great start, and it is nice to find something new and unexpected around every corner.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: The Graveyard
Nestled next to the entrance of Nightmares is this walkthrough display of tombstones, skeletons, and animatronic figures. Essentially, it is the equivalent of an elaborate Halloween yard display. Several of the pieces can be seen in Los Angeles home haunts (the giant blinking skeleton, the shivering caretaker from Disney’s Haunted Mansion). One we had not seen before is a tombstone with a digitally projected skeleton rising, gazing, and then sinking back down – very impressive.
Lacking live actors, The Graveyard is not frightening, but it is worth a look before waiting in line for the next maze.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Zombie Shooting Gallery, Waxworks & Amenities
After navigating the mazes at Lights Out, you can visit your favorite horror characters in Waxworks, ranging from classics (Dracula, Frankenstein) to contemporary (Leatherface). Next, grab something to eat and drink, listen to music, and – best of all – shoot zombies in the Zombie Ball shooting gallery. This is similar to Zombie Splat Gelly Ball at this year’s Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. but with a better set and weapons. The “ballistic rifles” fire in three different modes: single shot, short bursts, and continuous rapid fire; this allows you to conserve ammo until you really need it. After a couple minutes firing single shots at static targets, including glow-in-the-dark skeletons posed atop vats of toxic waste, live zombies emerge, and then you unleash hell with continuous fire. It’s silly but fun.
While the Shipwreck Stage pumps out dance music, you can grab a bite and swill a cocktail at Devil’s Diner or Tavern or Terror. We stopped in at the latter establishment, where the bartender improvised a concoction simulating a Bee’s Knees but without the traditional ingredients. The result was so satisfying we suggested making it the Tavern’s seasonal signature drink, preferably named “The Jack Torrance” in honor of the Jack Daniels whiskey used as the foundation of the recipe.
Fearplex Lights Out Review: Conclusion
Lights Out at Pomona Fairplex is the kind of Halloween attraction seldom seen in Los Angeles these days: a professional popup haunt that provides a reasonably priced alternative to the major Halloween theme parks. Although no match for its more well financed competition in terms of expensive production values, Lights Out does feature an abundance of decorations, lighting effects, and animatronics that disguise any shortcomings. The closest comparison is to Valley Fright Nights at Pierce College last August, which also assembled store-bought props and effects to create striking results.
In short, you will not find famous intellectual properties executed with custom-made sets and costumes, but the generic themes at Lights Out are handled well. More important, Lights Out has a little bit of that David-and-Goliath vibe, with the smaller event putting in the extra effort. In particular, without the conga-line crowds that strangle the scares in big theme parks, the cast has a little more leeway to engage their visitors, eliciting nervous laughter along with screams.
Lights Out is a bit like an indie horror flick that lacks the budget of its Hollywood competition yet nonetheless manages to scare its audience. Ultimately, what matters more than expense is whether audiences scream with laughter. At Lights Out, they do.
Fearplex presents Lights Out
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Lights Out should please Halloween fans seeking good scare value for their money. Its old-school approach is definitely not innovative, but it is more elaborate than the popup haunts of a decade ago. Definitely worth seeking out for those living in Pomona or San Gabriel Valley and anyone seeking a pro-haunt without the baggage and expense of a theme park.
Lights Out continues at Pomona Fairplex on October 13-15, 20-21, 27-31. Hours are 6pm to 11pm. Recommended for ages 13 and over. The address is 1101 W McKinley Avenue in Pomona. Tickets are $31-33 in advance, depending on date, $39 at the gate. Parking is $17 online, $22.00 at the gate. Admission, parking and alcohol sales are all card only; some food stands may accept cash. Get more info at fairplex.com/lightsout.
Fearplex Presents Lights Out: Photo Gallery