The Sinister Pointe Halloween attraction erupted from the grave like a screaming banshee two years ago, scaring Orange Count residents as never before; at least, that's what we heard, second-hand. In 2008, the haunt proprietor had earned a reputation for an officially licensed SAW maze; that reputation grew with the 2009 debut of Sinister Pointe, which offered two mazes, an original named "Fear" and another, based on "Silent Hill." Unfortunately, Sinister Pointe went on hiatus for Halloween 2010, as its creative team contributed to the Diner of the Dead in Garden Grove and to the Queen Mary Dark Harbor event in Long Beach. Fortunately, Sinister Point is back this year, in a new location with a new maze. On Thursday, October 13, we made it out for our first visit. Did the haunted attraction live up to its terrifying reputation? Read on to find out...
Not to keep you in suspense too long, the screams of fright and spooky delight justified out long trek down to Brea. The haunt itself did not fully meet our expectations: judging from photos of the 2009 version, this year's Halloween haunt seems somewhat scaled back; nevertheless, there were several innovative gags we have seen at no Halloween events in Los Angeles. Our overall impression was that the current incarnation of Sinister Pointe is something of a work-in-progress - imaginative in concept but not quite fully realized yet.
This year's event offers a single walk-through, without a tie-in to an established franchise such as SAW or SILENT HILL. The location is a large warehouse in a somewhat industrial looking area - i.e., there are no neighbors to complain about the screams echoing 0n the night air. The exterior is decorated with flashing lights, leading you down a side street toward the box office. There is no street parking, but there are several lots that are empty after dark.
The scares begin as soon as you approach to buy your ticket, with music and sound effects giving the impression that you are already entering the haunt. Free-roaming monsters dart in and out harassing you as you try secure your admission; then they follow you as you head around to the side of the building, where the line leads inside to the eagerly awaited terrors within.
The monsters are nothing if not persistent. If they don't "get" you on the first attempt, rest assured that there will be a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and on and on - until they succeed in catching you off-guard, preferably more than once. Even the event staff are not immune; the monsters felt free to attack the girl working a both for a local radio station promoting the haunt, sending her screaming through the parking lot!
Expect to wait outside, even if the line is short; eventually, a large group will be allowed to enter. Camo netting, fog, and eerie blue lights create an ominous tunnel-like path into darkness. Inside, camouflaged bog monsters suddenly separate from the surrounding netting as if materializing from nowhere. Dim light, punctuated by lightening, falls upon the facade of a haunted house, with a dilapidated backwoods feel, combining with the accents of the characters to suggest a swampy Southern setting.
Rather like Disneyland, Sinister Pointe makes you wait a second time one you have entered the building. This wait is used to separate larger groups into smaller, more vulnerable units of two or three. Also, you will receive some instructions about how to navigate the haunt,which is somewhat interactive in nature and qualifies as a true maze.
The "exterior" of Sinister Pointe's backwoods manse impressed us almost as favorably as that of the Reign of Terror haunted house in Thousand Oaks; both offer the pleasing illusion that you are entering a truly spook structure. Unfortunately, once you enter the Sinister Pointe structure, the interiors tend to be simple black plywood corridors, decorated with paintings; you seldom feel you are inside a real haunted house.
This lack of atmosphere is mitigated by several clever gags. Mirrors are used to make small apartments look larger, multiplying the numbers of monsters, and in the dark it can be difficult to discern which are real and which are reflections. There is also one brilliant illusion that we dare not reveal for fear of destroying your enjoyment of it. Suffice to say that your apparent destination at the end of a corridor is a mere backdrop for the appearance of a monster from a totally unexpected direction.
Retaining an element from the SAW and FEAR attractions seen in previous years, Sinister Pointe's 2011 maze demands a certain interactivity from its audience. Corridors offer a choice of directions, requiring you to open doors to find your way. Beware: every door may lead you down the wrong path or open to reveal a monster in the closet. You will occasionally encounter a dead end; the only way to proceed is to perform some action.
For example, we found ourselves almost immediately in a most distressing kitchen (let's just say it would never receive an "A" from the health inspectors in Los Angeles) with no apparent exit. To proceed, two visitors had to stick their hands down garbage disposals on opposite walls; you will be surprised at how hard it is to force yourself to plunge your hand down the sink, with the ominous vibrations suggesting the disposal is at work, ready to grind your fingers. Your timing with your partner must be coordinated - simultaneous, not successive. The result not only clears your path; it also offers an unexpected shock.
This interactivity sets Sinister Pointe apart from other Halloween haunted houses & hayrides, making it unique and wll worth the trip out to Brea. Even if many of the sets do not live up to the initial facade, the monster mayhem within provides plenty of scares.
We suspect that Sinister Pointe will expand and improve as Halloween approaches (the proprietor says he is adding new features every day). We hear that this new location is a permanent one - which is always good news. If Sinister Pointe can retain this year's virtues, and expand upon them during the off-season, it could grow into a truly outstanding haunt in the future. Until then, Orange County fright fans should enjoy the horrors on view this Halloween.
Sinister Pointe continues at 195 Arovista Circle Brea, CA 92821 on 20-23, 26-31. Hours are 7-11pm on Sundays and weekdays, 7pm to midnight on Fridays & Saturdays. Dates and times are subject to change so check their website: www.sinisterpointe.com