Review: The Haunted Zone

Location: 231 East Main Street, Alhambra, CA

We made it out to the Haunted Zone in Alhambra, about 9:00pm on Friday, October 28, their first day of business this Halloween season. This was our first trip to the Zone's haunted maze; it was definitely worth the trip and worth the $8 admission price.

The maze is set up in in the Ultrazone gaming and laser tag facility, and the target audience seems to be the kind of people who would come during regular business hours (i.e., teen-agers and young adults). The front room is filled with video games (including a  rock-climbing wall), which makes the wait for the haunt much more pleasant. The proprietor calls out your ticket number when it's time for your group to go, so you don't have to stand in line; instead, you can enjoy some of the games until your number is up.

On the night we went, only very small groups were allowed in (about four at a time), so there is no feeling of "safety in numbers." Also, you don't have to worry about being stuck at the end of a long line, while the people at the front get the scare and you just hear their screams.

The maze itself is fairly basic but very effective. Lots of black panels and tarp create dark, narrow hallways with low- or no- visibility. Blind alleys, sudden curves, blinding strobe lights, and hidden panels provide numerous ways for the ghouls to stay hidden before they jump out at you. In many cases, you even pass them without knowing it, and then they attack from behind -- a nice (un)pleasant touch. You also have to walk up and down some ramps, which creates its own sense of uneasiness in the dark.

If you're a hardcore haunt fan, you may not be too impressed with the decor. Haunted Zone is not very elaborate in terms of designs, props, or effects. There are some walls painted in fluorescent colors, and a few scenes with visible settings and decorations; also, two or three mechanical props add to the shocks, sending a bodies springing in your direction or falling from the roof. But these few elements are not enough to make the maze worth seeing.

Instead, Haunted Zone derives most of its effectiveness from the sense of anticipation you feel in almost complete darkness, waiting for the next unseen attacker to sneak up on you. The shocks rely on sudden, unexpected appearances accompanied by screaming and/or loud noises. It's not a very subtle approach. There's little variety to the scares and not many opportunities for the ghouls to show any kind of individual personality. Yet, somehow, the maze is not monotonous. Even though it goes on for much longer than you would expect (judging from the size of the building), it actually manages to build up a fair degree of tension, thanks to the enthusiastic (and unnerving) screaming of the cast. (One expects they will all be hoarse by the time Halloween rolls around on Sunday).

Bottom line: if you're looking for something with a genuine Gothic atmosphere, you're not going to find it at Haunted Zone. But if you were disappointed with a place like Spooky House (which looks great but sometimes comes up short in the scare department), Haunted Zone could be the antidote for you.

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.

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