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HHA 2016: Best Professional Halloween Display, Ride, or Simulation

In this category, the Halloween Haunt Awards typically recognize attractions such as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and the Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train. With competition slim this year (Ghost Train went on hiatus; as past winner, Haunted Hayride is ineligible), we are expanding the category to include simulated rides, in order to acknowledge what was for us, the single most exciting attraction we experienced this season.

The Winner: FearVR at Knotts Scary Farm

We hate to rub salt in the wound by reminding the majority of haunt-seekers that they were denied the opportunity to see the best that Halloween 2016 had to offer: after a stunning debut on opening weekend at the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, FearVR was literally banned, because of objections that it stigmatized the mentally ill (never mind that the antagonist’s real problem was possession, not psychosis).

What made FearVR so great? We want to call it innovative, but that may not be altogether accurate. If we stop and think about it, the basic presentation was not far removed from a typical motion-simulator ride: like The Simpsons at Universal Studios Hollywood (just to pick an example), FearVR began with an introduction that filled in the back story with video clips, then strapped its audience in for a wild “ride” that was actually a short movie seen from a first-person point-of-view.

FearVR’s innovation was not structural but technological: instead of placing viewers into a motion-simulator cart, sitting side by side with their friends, FearVR strapped each individual into a “wheelchair” and gave them goggles and headphones to wear. The resulting illusion of being in a virtual space (the hospital overrun by the demonic girl) was surprisingly convincing. Unrestricted by the limitations of physical space, FearVR took us on an incredible journey, laced with computer-generated effects that would have been impossible to achieve live. Nearly two months later, we are still slack-jawed with wonder.

That the attraction was canceled so abruptly is the great injustice of Halloween 2016, and in a season that saw, not only the Ghost Train but also Evil Twin Studios and the Huntington Haunt Experience go on hiatus, that is truly saying something.

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.