All right, Halloween is finally over, after 31 days of fun during the month of October (well, actually more like thirty-two or thirty-three days, since a few attractions opened during the last days of September). Now, it's time to decide which haunts were the best in 2005.
For our purposes, we're not going to try to compare the overall theme park experience; that is, we're not going to try to tell you whether the Queen Mary Shipwreck is more worth your time and money than the L.A. County Scareplex.
No, we're going to provide a straight comparison of individual mazes and/or rides: which are the best, most unique, and scariest. This October, we enjoyed over twenty such professional attractions, plus a handful of amatuer ones (which are sometimes almost as fun, for their excessive enthusiasm if nothing else). From these, we have selected seven stand-outs.
We haven't tried to divide them into categories (e.g., best 3D Killer Klowns), but each of these is different enough from the other that you could see all of them and not feel you were seeing the same thing over and over. The list is in no particular order, except that we tended to push to the top those mazes we experienced for the first time this year.
SEASIDE HAUNT. Located in Seaside Park in Ventura, this attraction made its debut in 2004, but this year was our first visit. The haunt has a nautical feel; convincing decor; and dark, claustrophic twists and turns (including one low passage that forces you to crawl on your hands and knees). Very atmospheric and scary. Read a complete review here.
TURBIDITE MANOR. 2005 marked the debut of this haunt as part of Spooky House Theme Park (it had been produced as a solo show a couple years ago, but we did not have an opportunity to see it at that time). What sets it apart from its competition is that Turbidite is the only Halloween attraction in the Los Angeles area that tries to simulate the actual experience of being inside a "haunted house" -- i.e., a house filled with intangible ghosts. The effect is more creepy than shocking, raising chills on your spine rather than making you scream -- which sets is apart from and above of most of the competition. Read a complete review of Spooky House 16 here.
BRUTAL PLANET: Overall, we were not overwhelmed by our first trip to the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, which fell far short of the excitement generated at Knott's Scary Farm and the Queen Mary Shipwreck. However, our walk through the Brutal Planet maze redeemed the entire experience for us -- a slice of industrial post-apocalypstic pandemonium that features a larger central area, filled with chaos, and numerous side rooms, each featuring a different horrific scene. Read a complete review here.
THE HAUNTED VINEYARD (pictured at top). This was our favorite discovery of last year, and it still ranks among the best in 2005. Is it our imagination, or did this year's other Halloween haunts borrow ideas learned at the Vineyard? Read our 2005 review here.
LORE OF THE VAMPIRE. There are over a dozen rides, mazes, and shows at Knott's Berry Farm's annual Halloween Haunt, but this venerable trail of terror is among the best -- it was among our personal favorites in 2004, and remains in the top tier this year. There is less emphasis on shocks and more on the decadent atmosphere of the undead. There are not a lot of elaborate mechanical effects, but the settings, costumes, and makeup are superb. Read our 2005 review of Knott's Scary Farm here.
CREATURES OF THE CORN. We were a bit disappointed by the Factory of Nightmares haunted house at Fright Fair in 2005, but this new haunted trail, featuring lurking monsters hiding in the shadows of a cornfield, was more than adequate compensation. The corn itself almost becomes a character, threatening you with its shadows, which may be hiding...who knows what, exactly? It ends with a frantic chase -- a chainsaw-wielding maniac in close pursuit. Read a complete review here.
NIGHTMARE JUNCTION. We discovered this amateur haunt in Burbank a couple years ago. A front yard fashioned to suggest an executioner's torture chamber, it also features a short walk-through maze. It can't compete with professional Halloween attractions, but it is a cut above (you should pardon the expression) most amateur presentations, thaks to the elaborate props, including a guillotine and torture racks with mangled bodies that appear to have been eviscerated by slowly spinning saw blades. A bit gruesome for our taste, but very well done.
Hopefully, all of these haunts will be back for next Halloween. And we'll be here to remind you to put them at the top of your priority list for next year's haunting!
NOTE: In case you're wondering why our favorite yard haunt, the Hallowed Haunting Grounds, is not listed here, we felt it didn't qualify, because it is a decorated yard, not a ride or a maze.