Review: Reign of Terror 2021

Reign of Terror Haunted House has been consistently entertaining for so many years that reviewing it is almost beside the point: it’s always great, and it’s always worth the price of admission. However, after a year off during the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been substantial changes that make Reign of Terror 2021 worth a visit no matter how many times you have experienced its previous iterations.

Read on for details…

Reign of Terror 2021 Review: Intro

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The most obvious difference this Halloween is that, although still in Janss Marketplace, Reign of Terror has moved from above the Gold’s Gym to a “new” location (actually the space it occupied when it first moved to the shopping center in 2009). The shift has allowed room to expand the haunt, adding new features, and also provides an area where those waiting outside can have their anticipation whetted by the sight of giant skeletons bookending a hearse whose occupant seems eager to escape. We loved ROT in its previous location, but there was no outdoor space to set up a spectacular display like this. It’s quite eye-catching for cars heading to the parking lot; maybe it’s dragging in a few impulse customers.

The other major change is that Reign of Terror 2021 offers timed admission to shorten the wait in line. Advance tickets are sold in half-hour blocks to spread out the crowds; if a block does not sell out, tickets are available at the box office. In addition, there are Immediate Access tickets, which allow holders to enter as the next group any time during their thirty-minute block. The advantage of Immediate Access is obvious, but it’s worth remembering that, inside the building, Reign of Terror offers a themed section for those waiting in line. Bypassing the line means missing a few interesting sights and sounds. On a slow night, General Admission might be preferable (though few if any nights are likely to be slow this late in the month).


Reign of Terror 2021 Review: Maze(s)

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Reign of Terror 2021 offers ten attractions squeezed into a single, continuous labyrinth: The Haunted House, The Asylum, Casa Blood, Miner’s Revenge, Infected, Containment, Quarantine, Inbred, Fun House, and Un-Hallowed Ground. We have been on more than one long walk-through haunt, and more often than not they seem stretched thin, but that is not the case here. Reign of Terror is packed to the rafters with sets, props, mechanical effects and scare actors; moreover, the variety of themes and settings insures that the never wears out its welcome and turns into an endurance test. It’s really a multi-haunt attraction disguised as a single maze; its square footage and the time spent navigating its corridors is a match for most major Halloween theme parks.

The layout has been completely revamped; though many sights are familiar, you will not know what to expect around each corner, because the order of the attractions has been changed. Also, the lighting scheme seems to have scaled back on lumens, intensifying the shadowy darkness and making it even harder to anticipate dangers lurking ahead.

In earlier incarnations, ROT relied more on mechanics than actors for its scares. This Halloween, the first section or two give the impression that the haunt has returned to this strategy: an actor or two show up, more for atmosphere than fright – for example, whispering “shush” just before a loud explosion. As the maze progresses, however, the performances intensify; if there are fewer performers, they have been judiciously placed to fill the spaces behind copious mechanical jump-scares, which include such memorable standbys as the ghostly vampire women who spring at you from the wall and the narrow corridor with snarling zombies on either side. Seriously, the scares are too numerous to count, and after a while you lose track of whether the monsters are animatronic or alive.

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Our only quibble with ROT has been that the demarcation between the various areas has not always been clear. Miner’s Revenge and the Fun House were impossible to mistake; the Haunted House and the Asylum had imposing facades making it clear that you were entering a new section. However, other sections were likely to bleed into each other in the minds of confused customers fleeing terrified through the maze.

If anything, that problem has been slightly exacerbated in the new location, where the corridors tend to remain narrow, seldom opening up to simulate wide-open exteriors separating the different sections. Consequently, the new Un-Hallowed Ground section – which sounds exactly like our cup of witch’s brew – didn’t register with us as strongly as we would have expected. Perhaps this is just a failure of perception on our part (our senses were so overwhelmed the first time we walked through Casa Blood – then called Blood Manor – that we mistook it for another wing of the Haunted House’s Victorian mansion). Still, we would appreciate a little more signage – maybe a cemetery gate – let us know we’re seeing something new.

Update: Un-Hallowed Ground

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Reign of Terror just sent over these photographs of their new Un-Hallowed Ground section – rather ominous church which we do remember vividly. We just didn’t connect the setting with the name. In our defense, the advanced artwork featured gravestones, suggesting a cemetery setting rather than a house of worship turned evil. It’s a great setting, but not a lot happened when we went through. There was a demented cleric who waited for us to pass before he pounced on the people behind us. There is certainly room to do a little bit more here.


Reign of Terror 2021 Review: Conclusion

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Setting aside nitpicks about whether one can tell the difference between Infected, Quarantine, and Containment, Reign of Terror 2021 delivers everything it needs to. We’ve been through so many times we don’t expect to be surprised – let alone shocked – by anything inside. We’re there to admire the elaborate scenery and marvel at the variety of themes and settings contained inside a single haunted maze.

In spite of this blasé attitude, Reign of Terror 2021 broke through our defenses several times. Maybe it was the revised layout; maybe it was having been away for a year – whatever the cause, we got sucker-punched by jump-scares that had us jumping out of our skin. That’s just not something we expect to happen anymore. So, hats off for a job well done.

Reign of Terror 2021 Rating
98%

Bottom Line

Set inside a new retail space inside Janns Marketplace, Reign of Terror 2021 offers a revised, expanded layout that adds new scares and brings old ones back to terrifying life. It’s absolutely mind-blowing how much is packed inside a single walk-through – more than enough to match most multi-maze haunts.

Our rating deducts one percentage point because we wish there was a little more light to show off the sets (save the darkness for the lights-out version) and another percentage point because we found it harder than usual to distinguish the different sections. It’s still the best maze we have walked through this season.

Reign of Terror 2021 continues on October 28-31 & November 5-6; final night is lights-out. Hours are 7-11pm on Fridays & Saturdays, 7-10pm on Thursday & Sunday. Janss Marketplace is located at 197 North Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. Get more information at rothauntedhouse.com.

 

 

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.