Hey – popup haunts! Remember those? Rent an empty storefront; install some decorations; hire some actors – and let the screaming start!
Well, if you may not remember popup haunts, because they have barely been a thing in Los Angeles since the major Halloween theme parks pretty much drove them out of the marketplace. However, they do still exist outside of LA County, and a great example is Fear in 3D: The Experiment, which is currently applying the electrodes to hapless patients in the Shoppes, an outdoor mall in Chino. It’s a colorful walk-through maze so beautifully adorned that it would be worth visiting just to view the decorations; the scares provide a delicious layer of dreadful icing on the delirium-flavored cake.
Fear in 3D: The Experiment Review: The Asylum
What’s so great about Fear in 3D; The Experiment? Well, it takes elements of two overused themes – the Haunted Asylum and the Psycho Circus – and combines them into something surprisingly cohesive even though they seem entirely at odds with each other. The former aspect is literal: you are supposed to be entering an asylum for the criminally insane. The latter aspect is more stylistic: there is a clown or two, but more important is the 3D color scheme and decorations, which suggest a circus-like environment or perhaps a nightmarish spin on Alice Through the Looking Glass. Either way, it’s definitely demented.
Things get off to a disorienting start upon arrival. The haunt’s facade, simulating Victorian asylum, adorns the exit rather than the entrance, where mech is for sale, and survivors of the haunt can purchase photos of themselves taken inside. To be admitted to the asylum, guests walk around the building to an innocuous entrance in back, where sinister characters may be lurking. Are they staff or patients? It is hard to tell – their official-looking uniforms contracted by their strange masks.
Once inside, you will walk down seedy corridors suggesting ghastly forms of treatment until you reach some kind of high-tech room filled with monitors and electrical equipment. After you are lined up to take a souvenir 3D photo, an alarm blares a warning, and this is where things get really interesting…
Though it may not be clear in the confusion of the moment, this room appears to house The Experiment referenced in the haunt’s name, and it has gone horribly wrong – in ways that will become apparent as you exit The Experiment room…
Fear in 3D: The Experiment Review: Delirium
As you proceed, the walls and accoutrements of the asylum disappear behind you. There are no further signs of treatment for madness – only madness itself, manifested all around you like a nightmare brought to life. Has the Experiment turned the patients” fantasies into reality, or have you been driven to insanity? Either way, all around you is nothing but Delirium, filling your eyes and ears.
Surreal swarms of eyes stare from the wall. Demented faces leer, and twisted trees form a cemetery backdrop that could exist only in a dream. Even conventional haunt elements – laser-fog, vertigo tunnel, skeletons and hearses – take you deeper into a realm of delusion that seems to envelop you, thanks to 3D glasses that make the mesmerizing colors pop off the walls.
Like Dante navigating the Inferno, you have no choice to push through to the end and hope there’s a way out, a way back to reality and sanity. Unlike Dante, however, you have no Virgil guiding you. Instead, there are monsters and maniacs, exploiting your disoriented senses for their own devilish amusement. As each beguiling vision arrests your attention, they emerge from their hiding places – as if suddenly materializing into your conscious awareness – and strike. Ignore their growls and mocking laughter if you hope to escape this nightmare landscape – it’s your only chance…
Fear in 3D: The Experiment Review: Conclusion
Fear in 3D: The Experiment is a great example of taking generic elements and assembling them into something distinctive. Skeletons, 3D paintings, clowns, fog, tunnel – we’ve seen them all before, but the haunt’s premise cleverly ties them together into something much more than a hodge-podge of the obvious. To some extent this is a matter of really good execution: this is one of the most beautiful looking mazes we have ever seen. That may sound like an odd compliment to bestow upon a haunt, but that is a big part of what makes it work: the eye-catching decorations provide ample distraction, allowing the characters to sneak up and deliver the scares.
Our only two complaints relate to The Experiment itself. First, the idea that The Experiment has unleashed the delirium in the maze’s second section is not immediately clear; it dawned on us only in retrospect. This may say more about us than the maze itself, but we think a little clarification would enhance the experience.
Second, in The Experiment room, lining up to snap your souvenir photograph breaks the proverbial Fourth Wall, reminding you that you are in a make-believe attraction. Since this is the moment when the maze transitions from seedy asylum to psycho circus insanity, the photography should be incorporated into the narrative. Treat the guests like patients; tell them their pictures must be taken as part of the admission process before they can participate in The Experiment or some similar explanation. However it works, underline this moment to make the most of it.
These quibbles aside, Fear in 3D: The Experiment is administering shock treatment of the most effective kind, reminding us that popup haunts can be the best cure for your Halloween addiction.
Fear in 3D: The Experiment Rating
Fear in 3D: The Experiment deftly assembles familiar elements into an original popup haunt filled with beguiling beauty and sinister scares.
Fear in 3D: The Experiment is located at The Shoppes outdoor mall, inside Unit #4040 on Mainstreet; the entrance is tucked away around the back of the building, but the facade over the exit is easy to spot. The official address is 13920 City Center Drive, Chino Hills, CA 91709. The haunt runs 5-11pm Thursdays through Sundays throughout October. Learn more at fearin3d.com.