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Writing Delusional Reviews: The Art of Fine Distinctions

It’s tough deciding whether something is good, great, excellent, or exceptional, but we do our best.

With the final performances of Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares about to take place this weekend, I wanted to address (or re-address) an issue that came up in my interview with Jon Braver, who chided me for my occasionally nitpicking criticism of his interactive horror theatre franchise. I am here to plead Guilty as Charged – but Guilty with an Explanation.

I previously talked about this in an epilogue appended to the video version of the Braver interview, but I omitted that from the transcript posted here, because I thought the subject was worth addressing in a slightly larger context.

Basically, it has to do with critical standards, which operate on a sort of sliding scale depending on the topic under discussion. Delusion Interactive Theatre (like Los Angeles Haunted Hayride) is so much a genre unto itself that, for me at least, it makes sense only to compare it to itself. Fans may decide between visiting Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights, but no one is looking at Delusion and wondering, “Should I see Shaqtoberfest instead?” The real issue is how this year’s Delusion stacks up in comparison to its predecessors. Is it better than before? Does it do something new? Is this year’s VIP Experience worth the extra dollars?

That’s the perspective I take, and because Delusion has set such a high bar, each new iteration has a lot to live up to; in a sense, it can be viewed negatively only in comparison to itself. So if one year Delusion is not quite as good as the previous year, I will mention that, but it could be a very fine distinction based on a few nitpicks, such as “I didn’t enjoy the monsters as much” or “the narrative was a little bit simpler” or maybe “this one performance wasn’t all it could be.” It really amounts to whether the show deserves an A+, an A, or an A-. (It may have descended as low as a B+, but I would have to check my old reviews.)

This brings me to my larger point: I see no value in reviewing an old favorite – be it Delusion or House of Spirits or Reign of Terror – and simply repeating, “It’s great again just like always!” I want to articulate something more detailed and hopefully a little insightful that will benefit readers wondering whether these attractions live up to their own high standards. I am writing for hardcore fans who probably go every year and know what to expect, so it’s a debate over tiny increments of quality. Is it good, great, excellent, or exceptional, and what exactly are the distinctions between those assessments?

This may seem odd, but the analogy that occurs to me is the 1998 Olympic skating competition between Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan: both skaters did amazing work, but Lipinski slightly edged out Kwan. In the aftermath of this upset victory, there was an effort to portray Kwan’s performance as a failure, even though the difference between the gold and silver medals was decided on the narrowest of margins.* When it comes to the best Halloween events in Los Angeles, I am always looking for that narrow margin separating good from great, great from excellent, and excellent from exceptional. The important thing to remember is that, while great may not be excellent, it is still great.


  • “Lipinski…displayed an improved artistry that compelled the judges to give her marks of 5.8 and 5.9 on a scale of 6.0 for presentation. Kwan received all 5.9s for presentation but received lower technical marks than did Lipinski.” – Washington Post

Read our coverage of Delusion: Nocturnes & Nightmares…

Video Interview & Review: Delusion’s Jon Braver evokes Nocturnes & Nightmares


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.