Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 Review

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 offers an avalanche of Halloween horror. Though much the same as recent years, there are some fun new features, and the returning attractions are worth revisiting.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017: Overview

If you have trekked up Six Flags Magic Mountain the past few Halloween seasons, you know what to expect. If not, then you should know that the low-budget fun house approach of the previous decade has been largely replaced by high-quality haunting that stands alongside the best that Los Angeles Halloween Theme Parks have to offer.

What impressed us the most about Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 (especially after our dispiriting experience at Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights the prior evening) was the production values. Unlike Universal, which is relying on slip-over masks for many of its monsters this year, the Fright Fest ghouls are realized with amazing makeup. Some of the mazes are still low-tech, but the best of them are truly spectacular. The scare zones, strategically situated around the mountain, hit different levels on the Fear-Meter, but they tend to be heavily populated and easily distinguishable, providing different types of terror. This, coupled with the enthusiasm of the creatures, creates a satisfyingly sinister haunt experience throughout the park.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017: New Attractions
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 review shadows in the fog
Sinister shadows emerge from the fog at Fright Fest

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 offers four new "experiences." Only two of those are scare attractions; the other two are value-added items: Club 6-Feet Under is a dance party with DJs spinning tunes; the Hidden Haunts VIP Tour takes customers behind the scenes of Magic Mountain, where they hear ghostly rumors of allegedly real hauntings (this costs an additional fee). Halloween fans seeking a new source of scares will find it in the Damned 'N Disguise and the Dead End.

Damned 'N Disguise transforms the Metropolis area of Magic Mountain into a scare zone. Filling the wide-open space with costumed characters creates a carnivalesque atmosphere; with few hiding places, the monsters depend on the thickness of crowds to hide their approach. Befitting the comic book location, the makeup and lighting tend toward the colorful. The tone is more energetic than spooky, the scares more fun than disturbing.

Dead End replaces Willoughby's Garden of Darkness near the top of Magic Mountain. This is not a difficult act to follow: the Garden of Darkness was a bare-bones patch job of plywood and camo-netting. Dead End is not much more elaborate, but it is far more clever about exploiting limited resources.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 Review: decayed zombie
A monster glimpsed in darkness

Dead End is another "dark maze." Fright Fest has done a few over the years, for the obvious reason: they save money on sets. But unlike Total Darkness from Halloween 2014, Dead End offers more than a walk in the dark. The gimmick is that haunt-seekers enter in small groups, their leader given a small flashlight that (we were told) is programmed to work only at appropriate moments. Whether this is true is not clear; most of the maze consists of walking blindly through corridors. Every corner has a small piece of glow-in-the-dark tape at eye level; a few faintly luminescent arrows point the way. Slithering and rustling can be heard in the blackness, and then - with a frightening shriek - a monster appears in the flash of a strobe light, lunging forward.

It's a simple but effective technique. Navigating through the completely dark maze builds more suspense than walking through the empty plywood corridors at Halloween Horror Nights 2017, and the monsters are not restricted to confined hiding places - they can appear from any angle, up close and personal.

The main drawback is that you miss the scares if you fall behind your group. Even with shrouded security people offering helpful flashlight beams here and there, it is easy to become separate in the darkness if you're trying too hard not to bump into the people ahead of you.

Dead End is not one of the top-tier mazes at Six Flags Magic Mountain 2017, but it does improve on its predecessor. A fast pass is essential for this one. It's new, so people are flocking to it, and letting in small groups at intervals slows the line down considerably.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017: Returning Mazes

Fright Fest's three must-see mazes (Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising, Willoughby's Resurrected, and Red's Revenge) are all back for Halloween 2017. To that list we might add Vault 666, which we have enjoyed in the past without embracing as a favorite. The title is wildly inappropriate - the theme is scientific rather than Satanic  - but the settings are well done, and the monsters are aggressive.  Set in a facility working on animal-human hybrids, Vault 666 has a nice behind-the-scenes feel, starting in a warehouse storage area, where some of the experiments have escaped. The metal shelves loaded with junk provide lots of cover for whatever is lurking within, and the scares come one after the other. Later there are some gruesome laboratory scenes, and the overall feel is of a frantic emergency situation gone completely out of hand. Vault 666 still doesn't rank in our Top Three at Six Flags Fright Fest, but our opinion has improved.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 review Willoughby's ResurrectedWilloughby's Resurrected is always worth revisiting - which is why we went through three times (that and short lines). Readers are probably tired of hearing us rave about this haunted house - one of the few in Los Angeles that actually simulates a "haunted house." Nevertheless, we must say we enjoyed this one more than any walk-through at this year's Halloween Horror Nights. The sets are mostly the same as last Halloween, but the layout has been slightly expanded: the opening section (which used to feature the hoary photo gas, in which visitors are invited to pose for a picture, then blasted with air) has been transformed to look like an extra wing of the house, under renovation. Not much happens, but it sets the mood for what follows.

After that, the proliferation of ghosts is quite astounding. There is one around every corner, and with two or three in every room, the screams come fast and furious. Their appearances are cleverly timed; they attack from different angles, giving just enough pause to let their victims think it's all over - and then another spook leaps out of nowhere. And they vary their tactics; every time we went through was a different experience, and we would have happily walked through again, if there had not been so much else to do.

Also back this year are Chupacabra and Toyz of Terror. The first is rather basic, but we enjoy the concept. The second is a colorful clown-type maze - a theme that's a bit overdone.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017: Returning Scare Zones

Except for Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy (back this year) and Zombie Crossing (sadly gone), we have probably never given the scare zones at Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest their due. Nightmares - a black-lit forest full of strange characters suggesting a demented fairy tale - remains our favorite, but the others have their worthy attributes.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 review Ghost
Silent terror on Exile Hill

Exile Hill is situated in a fairly isolated spot at the top of Magic Mountain, near Willoughby's Resurrected and Dead End, giving the impression that some of the ghosts have escaped from the haunted house to wander nearby. The tone is low-key and sinister, rather than shocking. There is only a little bit of decor, but stealthy spirits take advantage of the darkness (pierced with blinding shafts of light) to sneak up on unwary victims. If you want to have some fun without waiting in line, take a seat on the bench near Dead End and wait for lost souls to gravitate in your direction. Many are weary from their undead wanderings and will gladly share the bench with you. Our favorite was a childlike ghost carrying a ragged teddy bear; eerily silent, she spoke not a word, but her eyes told strange tales of dark and troubling things.

Demon's Door is an eruption of hellfire and brimstone near the main gate. This is a high-energy scare zone - about what you should expect since all Hell has broken loose. It certainly gets Fright Fest off to a good start, raising the heart rate and stimulating the adrenalin.

TERRORTory Twisted in the Steampunk District is a little less distinctive, but it does give visitors a reason to scream while waiting near the Scream ride. There is some digital mapping on the exterior of the Gearworks Theatre

Suicide Squad: The Six Flags Fright Fest Experience features the comic book villains from the 2016 film. Digital mapping and pyrotechnic effects Magic Mountain's DC Universe section into a war zone, where the Joker, Harley Quinn and others scurry about, creating mayhem.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017: Conclusion
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 Demon's Door
At the front gate, demons await.

This year, Hollywood Gothique enjoyed Fright Fest more than ever. There is no one stand-out reason; everything simply clicked on opening night. Although we wish there were more new attractions, Damned 'N Disguise is a blast, and Dead End  is a superior replacement for Willoughby's Garden of Darkness.  More important than individual events is the overall energetic enthusiasm: the monsters are there to scare, and they have something to prove. Six Flags Magic Mountain has never been a threat to L.A.'s other Halloween theme parks, but on opening weekend we clearly had a much better time at Fright Fest than at Halloween Horror Nights. A decade ago, that would have seemed absurd, but now it's reality: if you have to choose between Universal Studios and Magic Mountain this Halloween, go to Magic Mountain.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2017 continues on  September  123-24, 29-31; October 1, 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, 27-31. The address is 26101 Magic Mountain  Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355. For more information check out our page devoted to the haunt, or visit the official website.

Find more Halloween Haunts in A Halloween Haunts Masterlist.

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.

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