EDITOR’S NOTE: As would be expected with anything having to do with Rob Zombie or his film IPs, Great American Nightmare was a haunt loaded with X-rated imagery and at the very least, content that is definitely not appropriate for everyone. Theme Park Adventure attended the opening night of this attraction in Southern California, and while we attempted to shoot video, it became apparent very quickly that none of it could be used due to extreme language and overt adult content. The following review is not suitable for the workplace or anywhere children may have access to the screen. We have edited out many images that we took during the event. That said, it would be impossible to review the Great American Nightmare without a fair visual documentation to go along with our thoughts. Read/view at your own discretion…
When Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare was announced, it took us by surprise, and we were thrilled that this brand-new hybrid haunt/concert event could potentially be one of Los Angeles’ best. After seeing the success of the House of 1,000 Corpses attraction at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights event in Hollywood, it was apparent that the fan demand was there, and that this new take based on Zombie’s films could be an exciting one.
Located at Pomona Fairplex, also known as “Fearplex”, Great American Nightmare hosted three attractions based on director Rob Zombie’s horror films – Lords of Salem Total Black Out, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, and Haunt of 1,000 Corpses. The hype was strong in the months leading up to October. Great American Nightmare participated at ScareLA in August, and held their first batch of monster auditions during the convention. We also learned that the producer behind the event is Steve Kopelman, who has a great track record of creating haunted attractions around the country, including a TPA favorite, The Nest in Phoenix, Arizona. With a combination of good marketing and a great producer hired for this event, we didn’t see any reason Great American Nightmare wouldn’t be successful.
Theme Park Adventure attended opening night of Great American Nightmare on October 10th. The event began with a VIP/media party where guests rubbed shoulders with the likes of Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie, as well as loads of rock band musicians. Monster Energy Drink and an assortment of bottled beer was served, along with a strange offering of very sweet gourmet horror-themed cupcakes as we all stood in as extras for the television show Cupcake Wars in front of the Haunt of 1,000 Corpses maze facade. The “party” was basically a holding pen for guests and media as the finishing touches were put on the haunt (we could still hear electric saws and watched as people painted booths). Finally, after two hours, the group was told to exit the building so that the event could begin.
By 7:00 p.m., guests were busy going through the three mazes, listening to rock bands and roaming the Great American Nightmare’s scare zone, named Bloody Boulevard. Within the scare zone, people could purchase fair food, visit vendor booths, check out roaming monsters and partake in adult beverages. We loved the energy of most of the street monsters. However, talent aside, there wasn’t much to be impressed by theming-wise, especially since the majority of the large-scale animatronics placed throughout the zone weren’t working at all. Nevertheless, walking and checking out the area gave guests something to do during the night.
Once the event officially opened at 7 p.m., the media was told that operations wanted the paying public to experience the mazes before our group of maybe 20 was escorted through for pictures and video. We totally understand the need to get customers in and respect that. However, the wait turned into two hours as we all just sat around with nothing to do except talk among ourselves or shoot the same street monsters over and over again. This is on top of the nearly two hours we’d already waited as they shot Cupcake Wars using us as a crowd of extras inside. Several media outlets were double-booked for the night, and this big delay really cramped them for time, which is never a good way to introduce a new haunt or attraction to people reporting on it. Theme Park Adventure has been in that position before, and it really sucks, especially when other haunts and crews are waiting on you elsewhere. A few media folks wearing their VIP access lanyards attempted to go into the mazes without their equipment, simply so they could experience the haunt and start forming opinions about it or tweeting about it, only to be turned away by Great American Nightmare staff after they’d waited in line with everyone else. The night was definitely off to a very rocky start for us and frankly, the waiting around was starting to wear our patience thin as well. However, these things happen from time to time; it unfortunately, goes with the territory when you’re dealing with teams that are ill-prepared for media or the opening of a large-scale event such as this.
The three mazes making up Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare were daisy chained together, meaning that guests entered one and continued straight through each maze in succession with small queues in between. We have seen this type of setup implemented before, including at The Nest in Arizona. Knott’s Scary Farm also does this with a couple of its mazes, and it’s not our favorite method of crowd flow at all. We feel that each maze at a haunt should have its own queue, and that guests should be able to pick and choose at will throughout the night which attraction they experience and when. With a daisy chain setup, mazes tend to get backed up (which the first maze – Lords of Salem Total Blackout did), and the feeling of being herded like cattle takes all the fun out of exploring these haunts at your own pace.
Lords of Salem Total Blackout was the first maze we experienced. The facade was impressive – there was a large skull washed in deep, dark colorful lighting as the character Heidi Hawthorne (from the film The Lords of Salem) stood on an elevated platform, watching guests’ every move. It was a brilliant introduction and set the mood for the first maze perfectly. Once past the facade, guests were pulsed into the attraction by crew members that placed black cloth hoods over their heads and pushed them alone into the darkness of the maze. Once inside, well… not much else happened. The scares were cliche and expected – uneven walkways, shock strips on the walls and loud buzzing sounds surrounding us. As we shuffled forward, I felt mats on the floor that were supposed to trigger effects, but nothing ever happened. This may have been greatly improved after opening night, but as a fan, I was let down by this maze that should have been scary as hell. It felt like a 40-minute walk-through as guests were sweating and having a hard time breathing in their cloth hoods; it was a huge relief when crew members took them off of us at the end. I haven’t seen The Lords of Salem, but from what I understand, the film has more potential as an incredible haunted attraction rather than being wasted as a black out maze using maybe one or two elements from the movie. We were hooded, it was pitch black, and we were completely vulnerable. There are plenty of creative ways to terrify guests in that situation. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
The second maze was The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 3D. The theming and mood of the haunt changed abruptly as we approached this second maze. Guests entered the brightly-colored black light maze between an enormous pair of women’s legs that were spread apart, pushing forward through an inflatable red vagina after being given 3D glasses by scantily-dressed girls screaming, “GET IN MY PUSSY!” I never would have guessed someone would scream that at me in a haunted attraction. Just like the film itself (The Haunted World of El Superbeasto), the purpose of this maze was to initiate blatant sexuality and shock value. El Superbeasto 3D was packed with adult humor, monsters making inappropriate gestures, and brightly-painted rooms and props. Dirty humor aside, I felt the art direction was great, and the 3D was fun and effective. 3D mazes are usually not scary, and El Superbeasto obviously was never meant to be. The talent was having fun, and was given freedom to engage guests with R and X-rated humor, making it quite a unique ride through El Superbeasto 3D.
The final maze was definitely the best of the three – Haunt of 1,000 Corpses. It was interesting to see the Great American Nightmare’s take on this, as I was a fan of the original maze at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights in recent years, where it was presented as a 3D maze. At Great American Nightmare, it was not created as a 3D experience; it was gritty, realistic, violent, and X-rated.
The facade of Haunt of 1,000 Corpses was stunning. Here. guests were greeted by several characters from the film, including Captain Spaulding dropping F-bombs left and right at people as they passed. As we entered the maze, I noticed guests having an “X” painted on their foreheads with a bloody knife, which I learned was a signal to talent throughout the maze that these guests agreed to be touched and interacted with. Unfortunately, this wasn’t explained to us ahead of time, so it was an option that we completely missed out on.
Haunt of 1,000 Corpses at Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare was completely different than its presentation at Universal. Instead of following the film’s (House of 1,000 Corpses) story line, this version focused on Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Mayhem, and the Murder Ride. After passing through the crash doors (nice touch) into the Murder Ride, we were suddenly immersed into the world of famous serial killers, including Charles Manson and Ed Gein. I loved how each room represented a different killer, and found myself drawn forward, curious to see what was next. The remainder of the maze was a literal jaw-dropping experience, and I was stunned by what the actors were saying… and doing. Multiple actors were depicted having graphic sex with corpses, including a girl riding a dead male. In another scene, we walked past a character sitting on a couch masturbating as he shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” at us. Obviously, the talent wasn’t nude and the props were just that – but it looked real enough to get the visual across, and it was unlike any haunted attraction I’ve ever seen.
Haunt of 1,000 Corpses was definitely one of the most outrageous, vile and raw adult mazes I have ever been through – and I loved it because it was so hard core! From what I understand, we were some of the very few that actually experienced the “X-rated version” of this maze, as it was apparently toned down due to guest complaints. Although I wasn’t too familiar with all of the serial killers portrayed in this maze, the actors and the detailed sets made it intriguing enough to enjoy it regardless. Just like El Superbeasto 3D, Haunt of 1,000 Corpses was designed to shock guests rather than simply frighten them. I wouldn’t say this was a bad thing, because it did shock the hell out of me; however, not all guests are looking for that when they visit a “haunted house”. The biggest downside to Haunt of 1,000 Corpses was its finale – featuring the biggest and most badass character from the film, Dr. Satan. This character was a static prop, not even animated (might have been not working) and not portrayed by an actor! This was a big disappointment to me, and very anti-climatic in my opinion.
After making it through the three mazes, we exited through the gift shop, literally. While the event itself was mediocre at best, the merchandise was gorgeous – and there was a lot of it. Unfortunately, we weren’t very impressed by the Great American Nightmare; certainly not enough to drop $25 on a T-shirt, regardless of how cool the artwork was.
We found out that the team at Great American Nightmare only had 10 days to build on-site at the fairgrounds. This required incredible effort and a motivated crew to create such a large event, so big kudos to everyone at GAN for pushing hard to open on time. That being said, it was obvious that the event wasn’t ready at all when we attended, with unfinished sets and props/effects not working. It was likely the event improved drastically after opening night, and unfortunate that TPA wasn’t able to experience the haunt in its better condition. I feel that the Great American Nightmare had big potential and creativity behind it, but didn’t pull it off quite enough to impress us. It was fairly similar to The Nest in design and execution, and maybe too familiar, as I was getting déjà vu throughout the night. This event has a lot to work on, and may have learned a lot from this year. I can see the potential of this being an even better event next season. I saw the creativity just peeking through, and loved recognizing some of the haunt signature scares of Steve Kopelman. If Great American Nightmare returns in 2014, I’d like to see it bigger, better and more prepared.
Did you attend Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare? If so, what are your thoughts and comments? Discuss below and see what your fellow TPAers thought of this extreme haunted attraction!
– Johanna Atilano