Review: Fright Fest 2021

Once a second-tier contestant among Halloween Theme Parks in Los Angeles, it is long past time since Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest joined the big leagues, elevating its game to the point where it could compete on a level playing field with Halloween Horror Nights and Knott’s Halloween Haunt.

However, can Fright Fest compete with the lingering aftereffects of Covid-19? Read on to find out…if you dare!

Fright Fest 2021 Review: Quick Take

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Having sat out the 2020 pandemic, Fright Fest returns for Halloween 2021 much as it was last scene in 2019, though enhanced with a couple of new scare zones and shows. The attractions are in snazzy shape, even the elderly holdovers, and there is plenty of boisterous entertainment, including Magic Mountain’s roster of rollercoasters and other rides (with lights off of course).

Our overall impression is that the park seems somewhat underpopulated by live ghouls this season, perhaps because of city/county/state restrictions on occupancy in confined spaces. However, even one or two scare zones suffer from this, such as Demon’s Door and the Witches Lair – the latter a sort of outdoor maze with a coven of only two or three witches.

Additionally, many of the monsters are wearing masks – not Halloween masks but KN95 masks used to prevent viral  spread. There is little attempt to justify the generic masks within mazes, nor are many of them customized to fit the various haunt themes.

Perhaps these last two aspects are the inevitable reality of the lingering pandemic. If so, they are a small price to pay in exchange for enjoying a trip to Six Flags this Halloween.


Fright Fest 2021 Review: New & Different

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There are two new mazes for Fright Fest 2021: The Dead Zone and Terror Rising: Dark Developments. The former features cyberpunk zombies; the later features a more traditional haunted cemetery theme.

Of the two, Dead Zone is more impressive: with an entrance, an exit, and a pathway defined by chain-link fence, it is essentially an outdoor maze where you encounter a modern version of the living dead, with more than enough actors to fill the space with scares. The zombie theme is a perennial that seems ever in danger of outliving its welcome, but Dead Zone finds a way to bring the concept up to date in a colorful, exciting way.

Terror Rising is situated more or less where The Shadows was in 2018, and it is an improvement. This area of the path, not far from the spectacular Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising walk-through, is not always put to use during Halloween, so it’s nice to see a little something tucked into this corner of Magic Mountain. Like The Shadows, it is a bit bare bones (you should pardon the expression), but the gravestone decorations encased in fog and bathed in eerie red light at least create the sense of entering a spooky environment.

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One other notable change from the previous Fright Fest: Willoughby’s Resurrected has returned to its former glory after having been transformed into a dark maze in 2019. This year, the lights are back on (though suitably subdued of course) so that you can peruse the wonderfully immersive settings that make you truly feel as if inside a haunted house.

Also, a clever element has been added to the setup: a scene at the beginning of the maze reveals that a paranormal investigation is taking place within the mansion: a psychic investigator takes PKE readings of objects on shelves, while another watches a bank of monitors which go mysteriously blank as if something is going very, very wrong. Along the rest of the walk-through, you will see props abandoned by the unfortunate ghost hunters but no sign of exactly what fate has befallen them.

Essentially, this is the premise of Lost in the House at the Winchester Mystery House, but Willoughby’s Resurrected puts it to better use by showing the paranormal investigation going off the rails at the very outset and leaving visitors to view the results as they move through the house, encountering various ghostly characters, some realized with visual effects others portrayed by actors. The live cast seemed smaller than in previous years, but the atmosphere of the place shines as darkly as ever, and the new story element adds an interesting twist that makes this worth revisiting.


Fright Fest 2021 Review: Returning Favorites

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As far as we are concerned, all of Fright Fest’s returning mazes are worth another go…

Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising benefits from its spectacular setting, with belching flame and post-apocalyptic pandemonium. The setup, with some kind of extraterrestrial viral outbreak, seems very timely, but the videotape loop presenting the backstory as a TV news segment got rather overexposed during an overlong wait in line, and the scares were not as frequent or intense as in the past.

Red’s Revenge remains a thing of beauty – a macabre fairytale come to life, but there were fewer characters scaring us, and those intimidatingly tall tree creatures no longer move (time to overhaul the mechanics!). The introductory scene has been dropped, which is just as well; by now, we all know the maze’s back story, and cramming a dozen people into a small room to watch a video is not a good idea while the Delta Variant is still raging.

Sewer of Souls, like Red’s Revenge, retains the luster of its colorful settings even if there are not as many sewer dwellers lurking among the sludge. But that hardly matters when the best gag is crossing a narrow bridge that seems suspended over a depthless descent into doom – vertigo is guaranteed!

Condemned – Forever Damned and Vault 666 Unlocked come across best this year. Whether it’s because there are more actors inside or because the interior layouts hide their absence better, both of these felt fully staffed; at the very least, there are few if any points where a scare seems to be missing.

This is particularly true in Vault 666, where chaotic sound effects fill the walk-through with a sense of ever-present danger whether or not an actor is delivering a jump-scare. Condemned achieves something similar thanks to the claustrophobic interiors, which make it seem as if something is lurking in every moldy corner.

As for scare zones, our favorite remains Nightmare: A Twisted Fantasy, because we love the deliriously colorful black-light decorations and because among the many demented characters lurks a gnarly, carnivorous witch who, being a fan, affords us a little extra-special attention.


Fright Fest 2021 Review: Conclusion

There were a couple glitches on opening night: the funicular carrying guests up Magic Mountain was down for considerable time, and the crowded lines into Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising were not well managed, creating longer delays than necessary. These delays prevented us from getting to everything – another reminder, as if any were needed, that fast-pass privileges are pretty much a necessity at Halloween theme parks.

Nevertheless, this year’s Fright Fest offers an enjoyable return to form. For all our nitpicking about face masks and cast size, we found the mazes as entertaining as ever. Condemned and Vault 666 deliver the scares, and it’s great to once again see the interiors of Willoughby’s Resurrected. A new indoor maze would have been nice, but The Dead Zone fills the void quite nicely, offering an outdoor walk-through experience with the long lines associated with mazes.

Fright Fest 2021 Ratings
  • 95%
    Willoughby's Resurrected - 95%
  • 95%
    Red's Revenge - 95%
  • 90%
    Sewer of Souls - 90%
  • 90%
    Vault 666 - 90%
  • 90%
    Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising - 90%
  • 85%
    Condemned - 85%
  • 90%
    The Dead Zone - 90%
  • 75%
    Terror Rising - 75%
88.8%

Bottom Line

The lingering effect of Covid-19 safety protocols are visible in the form of KN95 face masks and reduced cast inside the mazes. Nevertheless the return of Fright Fest to Six Flags Magic Mountain after going dark during the 2020 pandemic is welcome indeed. The new Dead Zone cyberpunk zombie scare zone is clever fun, and the returning mazes and scare zones retain their luster.

A note on ratings: Generally, we have subtracted 5% from mazes with fewer actors this year. In the case of Willoughby’s Resurrected, this is offset by the lights being turned back on to showcase the interior designs. Also, this year’s ratings are not weighted to emphasize new attractions, but we have included only new scare zones.

Fright Fest continues at Six Flags Magic Mountain through October 31 on weekends and select weeknights. The address is 26101 Magic Mountain  Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355.

For more information, call 818-367-5965, or visit their website: sixflags.com/magicmountain//fright-fest.

 

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.