Most people on the West Coast know that Six Flags Magic Mountain is the place to be when it comes to world-class thrill rides and the best roller coasters. What Southern California fans are finding out more and more each year, is that Magic Mountain is also home to one of the biggest and best Halloween events in the country as well – Fright Fest!
Fright Fest isn’t new; it’s been taking place for more than two decades at the Valencia thrill park just a short distance from Los Angeles. Not only does the event encompass the entire park, Fright Fest features some of the most amazing character makeup we’ve ever seen at any Halloween event, courtesy of Scott Ramp and his ridiculously talented crew at The Scream Team.
This year, Fright Fest at Magic Mountain features 7 mazes, 7 scare zones with their own unique themes, and a high-energy stage show that features multiple performers and a DJ throughout the night in Full Throttle Plaza near the entrance of the park. With a lineup of this scale, Fright Fest finds itself on the same playing field as Knott’s Scary Farm, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. That said, Fright Fest simply doesn’t throw the same budget at its mazes that Knott’s and Universal do – very few parks to, honestly. Design-wise, I would say that the level of Fright Fest’s mazes are about on par with Dark Harbor – which is definitely nothing to dismiss.
I’ve said this for years, and I will continue saying it: I believe the main reason that more fans don’t know about Fright Fest at Magic Mountain, is because it’s a “mix-in” event with its daytime operations. All of the other parks close early and offer a separate ticketed event for their Halloween happenings – and that is what makes the public take notice and respond accordingly. The Six Flags philosophy is one I totally get and understand – they believe they are offering a tremendous value to their guests by keeping the event part of their normal operations, with an up-charge fee for those guests wanting to experience the haunted houses after dark. Everything else – the scare zones, rides and shows – is included in a normal park admission ticket during the Halloween season. The irony is, they’d make more money, and the general public would take them more seriously as a branded Halloween event if they were to make it separate – because then it’s perceived as something special.
Having Magic Mountain as a major presentation at Midsummer Scream this year definitely helped boost their visibility among haunt fans here in Southern California; so many friends and fans have posted or mentioned that they have never been, but are excited to check it out after seeing Magic Mountain’s presentation at Midsummer this year in Long Beach.
In fact, it was at Midsummer that Six Flags Magic Mountain made a very significant announcement regarding this year’s Fright Fest event: In a partnership with Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, this year’s Halloween event features the characters from Suicide Squad, including Joker and Harley Quinn, who can be found in the park’s DC Universe area during Fright Fest. The official name for this zone is Suicide Squad: The Six Flags Fright Fest Experience. Landing that type of intellectual property (IP) is serious business, and a huge step forward for Six Flags Magic Mountain. The fact that the deal is exclusive to Magic Mountain and not the Six Flags chain makes it even more important and exciting for the park and fans here in Southern California.
In addition to the inclusion of Suicide Squad, Magic Mountain has added a very large new attraction for their 2016 season – Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising. Billed as the park’s largest outdoor maze ever, Aftermath 2 resides in the corner of the park once inhabited by its Deja Vu, behind the Apocalypse wooden roller coaster, on roughly 40,000 square feet of property. Magic Mountain moved the large building facades from the old Batman Begins Stunt Show to the new site – a major undertaking in its own right, where the new Aftermath maze was placed, using those structures as the cornerstone pieces for the new iteration of the popular Fright Fest attraction.
Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising is a post-apocalyptic romp through a rural town that has been decimated, turned into a war zone ravaged by mutated creatures and for the lack of a better term, zombies. Like its predecessor, Aftermath 2 places Fright Fest guests in the thick of the action; in order to survive, you must maneuver through the town, around massive rubble piles and burned-out vehicles toward safety.
The sheer scale of Aftermath 2 is impressive on its own; once the show lighting is on and the fog is billowing, the towering sets and bursts of live flame work in concert, creating a disorienting environment where guests feel completely vulnerable while walking in the open, and totally lost in the rubble.
One of the components in Aftermath 2 that separates it from the original, is a large section of chain-linked fencing – a maze within a maze – that guests must find their way through as monsters lurk and lunge throughout. We found groups would reach this point and rather than stick together, instantly break up into smaller groups searching for the way out; so much for safety in numbers! When the maze is really busy, this area could potentially get crowded and bogged-down. At the time we went through, the amount of guests in the maze was definitely manageable, so conga line crowding wasn’t an issue. People are pulsed into Aftermath 2, so that definitely helps the flow of the experience, as well.
Will Aftermath 2 have the staying power of its predecessor? Time, and build-out planning will determine that. The maze is on some sizable property within the park’s boundaries where thrill rides have existed in the past; for all we know, Magic Mountain could be moving forward with plans for a new attraction there now, which would displace Aftermath in the near future; we just won’t know until we know.
What we do know, is that it’s nice to have a major pull to a corner of the park that was previously pretty void of any Fright Fest activity, creating a fairly lop-sided guest flow around the front half of the property. This helps thin the herd, and spreads guests out more evenly, so kudos to Magic Mountain for that. The park itself is massive – it’s definitely smart to spread your guests out by strategically placing Fright Fest attractions in far corners like this, and was something I actually asked Magic Mountain representatives about as we were covering Fright Fest 2015. In my opinion, using the entire park makes for a better Fright Fest experience in all respects.
Red’s Revenge returns this season and is just as strong – if not stronger – than last year. The design nature of this attraction keeps it pretty permanent; on opening night, it looked great. By far, Red’s is the most elaborate maze at Fright Fest, and is the stand-out production that is on par aesthetically with something you’d find at Knott’s Scary Farm. A twisted fairy tale based on the Little Red Riding Hood theme, Red’s Revenge is definitely very popular with Fright Fest guests, who line up for it nightly before the event begins after dark. Red’s is located behind the Full Throttle Sports Bar, in the backstage area of the park where several mazes are grouped together, much like we find these days at Knott’s as well. In addition to the popularity of Red’s Revenge, it should be noted that the maze features a pre-show, which is nice for setting up story – but in design terms, it’s a line killer when it comes to haunted attractions. Unfortunately, Red’s popularity, combined with its pre-show make for a very long wait at peak times during Fright Fest. This is absolutely a must-see maze, but it should be at the very beginning or end of the night.
Vault 666 is another Fright Fest favorite that made its debut a couple years back, and is still as popular as ever. While the name is more hype-inducing than story-accurate, Vault 666 is a research facility where human-to-animal genetics work has been going on. Naturally, all hell has broken loose and the staff has been wiped out. While the maze itself is really nice aesthetically, over the years it’s become apparent that there is so much room for the addition of half-human creatures to spring from the darkness at guests. I can only imagine if Scott Ramp and his team were told to “fill in the blanks” at Vault 666 with grotesque, terrifying half-creatures lurking in the darkness; it could be freaking incredible. Since this maze has been around a few years now, chances of any major changes are slim. However, if Magic Mountain were to give it a good shot in the arm and really change things up (possibly the name, too, regardless of how edgy it is), I could see this particular attraction and theme being very popular for years to come still without having to slash and burn the entire thing.
Toyz of Terror 3D is another very popular maze at Fright Fest, and is the only 3D attraction in the park, which is a good thing (I make no bones that I think 3D is over and done with at haunts for the most part). Guests wander through a demented toy factory and are menaced by dolls, monkeys and other strange creatures that have become animated. As is typical with 3D mazes, Toyz of Terror is very brightly-lit, making it awesome for picture/video shooting! Granted, that’s not a concern for 99% of the guests experiencing Fright Fest – but for those of us who cover the event as media, it definitely is a nice perk! Toyz is definitely the weakest of the three mazes it is grouped with (Red’s and Vault), and if I had to choose a spot for the next new maze, it just might be the Toyz footprint, since it’s inside and a prime spot. If Toyz of Terror 3D returns again in 2017, that’s cool; if it’s replaced by a brand-new attraction for Fright Fest, that would be great!
Chupacabra is another returning maze at Fright Fest, located in the Baja Ridge section of the park near X2 and Viper. I think there should be an event shirt baring the maze logo and the slogan, “The only thing at Fright Fest that truly sucks.” Of course, very few people would get it, and I’d be the only one buying it – so yeah. Based on the mythical South American beast that feeds at night on the blood of livestock, Chupacabra is one of my personal favorite experiences at Magic Mountain, although it feels like it’s lost some strength over the past couple of years. The first scene used to feature an actor setting up the story verbally as guests passed by – now, there is no “pre-show” of sorts, and while there is still talent in the first scene (which is its most elaborate), there is no storytelling taking place. The rest of the maze is very dark – so dark, that it’s a bit hard to follow what’s going on from scene to scene. The talent is good as far as lunging from the shadows, but I think anyone is going to be hard-pressed understanding what the scenes are, or what the experience is exactly. I also recall there being a loud, frightening ending to Chupacabra – and that appears to be long-gone, too. All of that said (it’s tricky reviewing and not giving much away at the same time), I still really like something about this maze. It’s dark, it’s spooky, and I love the theme. The designer in me wants to come out and play – I’d love to take a crack and pumping this attraction up with some new scenes and thematic elements! The footprint for Chupacabra isn’t huge – in fact, it’s pretty compact; if it returns for 2017, I would love to see Magic Mountain change it up a bit, because it’s showing its age as the years wear on.
Before I get to the last two mazes at Fright Fest 2016, I’d be remiss not to mention the park’s scare zones – because there are a bunch. Granted, not all of them are super huge footprint-wise, but they should be noted because the talent in each is really good and definitely worth your time to appreciate the makeup creations of The Scream Team on display throughout the park.
As mentioned previously, Magic Mountain obtained the IP rights to use Suicide Squad as one of its scare zone themes this Halloween. The entire DC Universe is where you will find that content, along with photo ops with several of the featured characters from the film, including Joker and Harley Quinn. The lines for these character meet-and-greets can be a bit long – but everything seemed to move nicely and the characters are really great; the talent completely nails it, so huge props to them. The “usual” clown characters that normally inhabit that area are instead, roaming the entire park this season to make way for the Suicide IP.
Just outside of Aftermath 2 along the back side of the park, guests will find another brand-new scare zone: The Ruins. A thematic extension of Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising, The Ruins is the post-apocalyptic outskirts of the small town that has been devastated. Marauders and other no good nasties are lurking in the shadows here, looking to pick off unsuspecting guests making their way toward the new maze. I like that the immediate area outside of Aftermath 2 carries the theme cohesively into the park; it makes for a well-rounded experience and a solid thematic anchor for that entire corner of Magic Mountain.
TERRORtory Twisted returns this season for its second year at Fright Fest. This “Screampunk District” is the gateway to Twisted Colossus and Scream, and features some of the best character makeup anywhere in the park. Here, you will find half-human/half-machines lurking in the fog, engaging guests from the darkness – some even on stilts, towering high overhead. We enjoy this space, and really like the additional props such as mechanical spiders that populate the zone in addition to the live talent.
Sadly the park’s main theater is not used for Fright Fest this year – having a cool show to sit down and watch was something we enjoyed last season; that option isn’t available in 2016 for whatever reason. Shows/entertainment are necessary people sucks at events such as Fright Fest; while the park does feature a fantastic outdoor stage/dance area in Full Throttle Plaza, it would also serve the event – and guests – well to have another option that included sitting and relaxing indoors for a while.
This year, Demon’s Door looked awesome as the threshold to Fright Fest just beyond the park’s main gate area. Flanked by two brand-new massive demon props, guests certainly know when they’re entering a thrill park filled with monsters and other terrifying experiences! The rest of the zone is fairly identical to last year’s incarnation, with glowing stalactites and a few other props strewn throughout accenting Six Flags Plaza. The makeup here is also very good – hellish demons and devils of all shapes and sizes snarl and taunt guests – it’s a great place to people watch and take it all in either at the beginning of the evening, or at the end of the night on your way out.
Zombie Xing is the smallest scare zone at Fright Fest, taking up a small park of the main walkway not far from Goliath and Bugs Bunny World. CalTrans-style roadwork signage alerts guests to a zombie problem before they are plunged into a very dark area filled with fog and hostile monsters. Besides highly-energetic talent, what I like about this scare zone is how dark it is – the monsters blend in and walk with groups, hiding themselves brilliantly in the crowd; by the time you see one – it’s usually too late! It’s practically impossible to take photos of any kind in Zombie Xing – and the irony is, if you turn your phone or whatever on to do so, the light from your own screen typically ends up making you even more visually impaired; good times!
Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy is one of the most unique scare zones I have ever seen. Always a favorite of mine, this section of walkway near the Rapids Camp Crossing area of the park is illuminated by black light and props as well as live characters made up in reactive paint/makeup! As the name implies, there are a host of fairy book-type personalities here, all very eager to engage guests as they pass through the zone. The nature of the black light paint here make taking photos fairly easy, so you find a lot of guests doing just that – posing with characters, props and each other as fog swirls from all directions. This is a solid part of the Fright Fest experience and one that I look forward to each Halloween – we love the black light aspect!
Moving our attention to the highest point of Magic Mountain – literally – we focus on Samurai Summit, which becomes Exile Hill when the sun goes down and the creatures come out. Here, you will find some of Fright Fest’s more “high-profile” characters, such as “The Bloody Guy”, who has been haunting Magic Mountain for years – he moves very slowly, mostly in complete silence, and often has a large screw or piece of hardware impaling his face. He’s also got an enormous set of sharp teeth that he bares as he twists and contorts almost in slow motion as guests look on. Another inhabitant that can be found high atop Exile Hill is “Innocence”. This living dead girl creeps ever-so-slowly and usually silently in the shadows. Even when surrounded by curious guests with bright lights from phones shooting photos or video, this creature of the night moves slowly and deliberately, never breaking character. In our opinion, Magic Mountain should use her likeness on merchandise or marketing collateral such as billboards and ads; she’s that creepy, and that good. It’s been years and years since Magic Mountain had any “identifiable” characters (thinking of Heckles and Twitch); it would be nice to have a new “face” for the event – something that doesn’t necessarily give Innocence “celebrity status” – because that’s not the point. Having Innocence as the “billboard” for Fright Fest and then being able to actually see her in person doing her thing – would make the event more personal for us here in SoCal; very much the same thing that Knott’s Berry Farm is doing in its ads with the bandits that you actually then can see in Ghost Town. Using your event’s own characters to me, is a no brainer when it comes to breaking free of typical corporate marketing campaigns.
Besides Innocence and The Bloody Guy, Exile Hill features other truly cool characters that slide, creep and interact with guests as they wait in line for two mazes located in the area…
Willoughby’s Garden of Darkness is an indoor, faux hedge maze/labyrinth that is pretty much what the name implies – dark. It’s a creepy, often uneventful trek through an over-grown “garden” belonging to the Willoughby estate – the overall theme of Exile Hill itself. Truth be told, we were running short on time and opted against going through this maze this season. Everyone we asked said it wasn’t any different than last year, and last year wasn’t great by any means. I’m sure the talent in this particular maze works just as hard as in any other at Fright Fest – unfortunately, the experience itself is weak to begin with, which puts this crew at a disadvantage; it’s absolutely time to change this one up for 2017. We definitely want to see the whole Exile Hill/Willoughby’s thread continue; it simply needs to be an entirely new direction and locale in that world.
Finally, we come to Willoughby’s Resurrected. This is one of the most polished mazes at Fright Fest – one that also enjoys the luxury of remaining in tact throughout the year within the darkened walls of what once upon a time, was a walk-through attraction on Samurai Summit called The Magic Pagoda. Guests pass through Willoughby Mansion, which is inhabited by the spirits of folks who have perished within its foreboding walls. This is the most “traditional haunted house” at Fright Fest and is full of visual and talent-driven surprises.
As far as we can tell, Willoughby’s Resurrected has been the same for the past few seasons now; it’s time for the folks at Fright Fest to get in there during the off-season and really give the maze some major updates or complete scene change-outs for the 2017 season to keep it fresh and exciting for all of us. The Willoughby theme is a cornerstone of Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest; I believe it’s the longest-running theme at the park’s Halloween event – that’s a good thing! I love tradition, and I love long-standing storylines at these annual events. We look forward to whatever comes next for the Willoughby clan – and our return visit to Exile Hill in 2017!
That about does it for this year’s look at Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest event! We really admire what the park has done in recent years to elevate its seasonal offerings to locals and tourists alike. The management team in place now has a firm vision and grasp on where they’re going – and it absolutely shows more and more each time a Halloween or holiday event comes online at Magic Mountain. Kudos to the entire team, and a huge thank you to management for putting on a very nice media event on opening night. It’s exciting to watch this park’s evolution each season, and we highly recommend adding Fright Fest to your Halloween 2016 To-Do list!
- Rick West
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest 2016 Photo Gallery:
Six Flags Fright Fest 2016 Overview Video:
Interview with Scott Ramp, Head of Makeup at Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest:
Scott Sterner, Six Flags Corporate Director Entertainment and Events on Bringing Suicide Squad to Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest 2016:
Interview with David Wally (Mycotoo), Creative Director of Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising: