One of the most-anticipated new haunts of 2017 has made its debut at the Fairplex in Pomona: Into the Black. This multifaceted attraction is heavy on storytelling, culminating in a rather large haunted “maze” walk-through that guests must venture into… alone.
Larry Bones and his wife Cheryl, along with lots of talented folks from their company Bone Yard Effects, Inc. have partnered with many seasoned haunters – including the team from Hollow Studios – to create a unique haunted attraction for a region that is extremely competitive and already full of a myriad of haunts, from sophisticated yard displays and stand-alone immersive experiences, to world-class theme park Halloween events. The Into the Black team knew it was going to be challenging entering a marketplace that not only is the most diverse on the planet – it also has the most sophisticated and demanding fans anywhere.
The good news is, Larry isn’t new to the industry. In fact, many fans may recognize his name for his work well before Into the Black was a thing. For 11 years, Larry and his team of talented artists supplied the makeup prosthetics and effects for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights.
In 2016, Larry and his team created an attraction for Midsummer Scream’s Hall of Shadows. “Toxicity” was a 112-foot-long genetics lab environment, inhabited by wandering mutants, laden with special effects and show lighting. After experiencing the rush of creating something maze-like for the masses to enjoy – and be terrified in – Larry caught the haunter bug in a big way. He assembled a team of artists and seasoned haunters, and informed Universal that he was moving on to begin his own attraction.
In the months to follow, Larry would also partner with Hollow Studios, which created a virtual reality film that would serve as one of several components of Into the Black that guests would be able to experience. This facet of the haunt takes guests back to the infamous Black house in the late 1800s, to witness dark forces at work; Satanic goings on that allowed demons to cross over, into the realm of our world. Guests wear VR headsets and headphones as they step back in time to witness first-hand the evil of the Black house.
Bones and his team also created a 25-minute film that establishes the entire backstory of Into the Black, for guests to watch prior to coming to the attraction in Pomona. That film can be viewed from the Into the Black website, or you can scroll to the bottom of this story and launch it from the “Additional Media” section. The film is polished, and demonstrates how important story was to Larry and the team. A lot of time and cash was spent creating the film. The approach to setting up the experience through the movie and then VR experience is something I really commend Larry and his team on. They knew Into the Black had to be story-driven, and they went for it 110%. As a professional storyteller by trade, I really appreciate that. If you’re going to Into the Black, we strongly recommend you take the time to turn down the lights and watch the film. Guests can experience the haunt of course without watching the movie – but it’s akin to going to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, and going through a maze that has an IP you’re completely unfamiliar with; it lacks, and you miss something significant. Trust us on this one – take the time, and watch the movie.
Since we’re still in the Halloween season, we have to be careful not to go into details that will spoil Into the Black for first-time visitors. Rest assured that you can press on, and I’ll tread very lightly on the content as I share my thoughts on this new attraction.
When you arrive, the VR experience should be the first thing you do; it is a separate ticket from the maze, but to get the full Into the Black treatment, I’d recommend giving the VR a shot. It helps set the mood and tone, preparing you for your own journey into the Black house. Much like other experiences that Hollow has created, Into the Black VR features “4-D” effects – things that happen to guests beyond simply sitting there with goggles strapped to your face; it’s fun, and not anything harsh or painful. I’d say this is a great “entry-level” haunted attraction VR component, and is pretty much “safe” for anyone. And it definitely is a great primer to get you into the mood for what comes next.
The maze itself is the main draw to Into the Black. And it’s big. More than 8,400 square feet big, to be technical. Whether you’re a seasoned haunter or someone just starting out – that’s a big footprint to work with. The theme is obviously, the infamous Black house, which is explained in the movie and featured in the VR experience. The catch is, guests are made to venture into the maze on their own. Solo, baby; totally alone. Right away, that is off-putting to some, and it may very well weed out a percentage of casual haunt goers. However, Larry knew that he wanted to appeal to more of an extreme crowd; fans who are looking for the next terrifying thrill this Halloween season.
As you venture into the depths of the foreboding Black House, you are stalked by demons, lurking in the darkness around every corner. The costumes are stunning – of course, custom-made by the team at Bone Yard Effects. The bummer is, it’s mostly so dark in the maze, that a lot of the detailed work goes unseen. One of the challenges we noticed when we went through, was that the rooms are very dark (as one would expect in an abandoned house), so it was difficult to see some of the really impressive set design in addition to the demons, which are all different from head to toe. The team continues to tweak and adjust lighting components throughout the maze, not unlike many other haunts, especially those that are new, as they see what works and what doesn’t with each passing night.
Into the Black is really ambitious – but it isn’t without its challenges. The Fairplex has been the location for several haunted attractions in recent memory, including the ill-fated Rob Zombie haunt in 2013. While it’s not a terribly far drive from most cities in the Greater Los Angeles area, Orange County, or even the Inland Empire, the Pomona Fairplex just isn’t exactly haunt-friendly for numerous reasons; several of the challenges Into the Black faces were those that plagued Rob Zombie’s event all those years ago. Parking isn’t free; it’s a $10 charge, which isn’t exorbitant – it’s just not the first thing guests expect to be hit with when visiting a haunted attraction here in Southern California outside of the big theme park haunts. When passing through the Fairplex toll booth, be sure to tell them you’re there for Into the Black so that you’re not dinged another parking rate for any other event happening at the same time.
Due to the physical layout of the Fairplex, it’s pretty hard to gain any sense of arrival when visiting Into the Black. You drive into the heart of the complex, and suddenly, the facade of the haunt comes into view, and you’re there. And you’re keenly aware that you’re in the middle of a multipurpose complex instead of a remote, scary location or at least one that has some character to it. Guests need to work overtime to suspend disbelief and buy into the idea that they have come to the infamous Black house.
The biggest challenge we encountered at Into the Black has to do with the attraction’s hours of operation. Typically, haunts start after dark. Because… dark. Daytime and bright sunlight aren’t generally conducive to the whole let’s go get the crap scared out of us vibe that haunt fans seek at Halloween. However, Into the Black begins operation at 2pm daily, hours before the sun sets in the Southland. When we visited, we entered the maze before nightfall, and found the light leak from the main entrance of the haunt to be absolutely unforgiving, illuminating many of the rooms within the building, despite the team’s efforts to put curtains over windows, etc. That made it really rough for us to try and imagine what the haunt was supposed to look like in the dark, unfortunately. The good news, is that the pesky sunlight allowed us to examine details – from room sets to various demons – that we may have otherwise missed. As I mentioned, the maze’s footprint is huge – so toward the rear of the maze, the rooms were dark. I do really wish that we had done this attraction at night, and absolutely recommend waiting for darkness to fall to everyone – buy those nighttime slots. That said, for those who are really freaked out about going through this attraction alone, perhaps the afternoon light leak could be seen as a saving grace! In the end, it may not matter at all – because the team is continuing to adapt and change the haunt as the season progresses; by the time you visit, the light issue may be a thing of the past anyway. My advice for Into the Black for next year, would be to operate from the evening into night; afternoons are extremely tough to get into the right state of mind for, unless you’re doing something like Spooky Farm at Knott’s during the day with your kids. I think driving up to the building at night and finding the Into the Black facade dramatically lit with eerie show lighting would make all the difference in the world vs. arriving in the hot, sunny afternoon.
Install time is a bitch at Pomona Fairplex. The Rob Zombie team had a nightmare getting their event set up, due to the schedule and regulations of the Fairplex – and it seems that Into the Black experienced similar headaches, as they were given only four days to install the massive haunt and all of its components. Hell, home haunts and yard displays take longer than four days to set up; a major haunt experience in that amount of time is beyond demanding – it’s just about impossible and definitely insane. Larry and his team have huge respect from us for pulling that off – it’s something that we know is a tremendous feat to accomplish. If the decision was ours, the ridiculous Fairplex schedule would be a deal-killer if we were looking for a location to set up a haunt. Larry and his dedicated staff hit it head-on, and by God, they got everything in. Unfortunately, the Fire Marshall had some issues and requests that delayed the opening of Into the Black; it missed its target of October 6th, and instead, opened the following week on Friday, October 13th. That kind of rocky start would be enough to rattle any haunter’s cage – yet the Into the Black team simply rolled with the punches and did what needed to be done with the extra time to satisfy the Fire Marshall and get the attraction up and running. It must have been an exceptionally difficult ordeal, and we are glad that the team pulled through together.
I keep referring to the team at Into the Black. I will say that challenges aside, the crew working the attraction absolutely kick ass and are totally on point. Any of the concerns I’ve mentioned – they all melt away as soon as you enter the attraction because they are so into it, and so much fun. While Into the Black is a new attraction for 2017, Larry has tapped some truly veteran talent to bring the maze experience to life; folks who have been associated with some big haunts here in SoCal, including Sinister Pointe, Chambers of the Mausoleum, and The 17th Door. Behind the scenes, Larry has assembled a tremendous ops crew, including several of our key people from Midsummer Scream. Represent! While we’re pointing out the crew, a fun fact of note is that Midsummer’s Supervising Producer, Claire Dunlap, plays the part of Isabella Black in the haunt’s VR experience! For us, visiting Into the Black felt like a spooky family reunion of sorts. For others however – it’s just going to feel like a kick-ass veteran haunt crew that definitely knows how to bring the fear!
We were surprised by the sheer scope of Into the Black 2017. You have to admire the ambition (insanity?) of Larry Bones for wanting to go so big with this attraction for its first year. Is it perfect? No. No haunt experience is, honestly; there is always room for improvement, which is why haunters are constantly messing with stuff even after opening. Is the Pomona Fairplex the ideal location for a haunt? I personally think it’s extremely challenging, and have yet to see any haunt benefit from being at that particular location. What is impressive is how ballsy Into the Black is in its unwavering resolve to be something unlike other haunts out there. It stands alone, steeped in backstory and perpetual fear as guests venture into the darkness one at a time, completely alone. For folks who get scared going through traditional haunts – Into the Black’s solitary maze experience has to be absolutely terrifying.
Into the Black is a tremendous effort for Larry and his crew to get off the ground, and in the end – it’s a multifaceted, effective experience that plays on your fears on several levels. It’s not an “extreme haunt” – but the sheer fact that you have to walk through a massive, very dark maze alone makes it an absolutely dreadful experience for most people. Top that off with talent that most definitely know how to scare the hell out of people, and suddenly, you’re in the big league here in Southern California where haunts are serious business and individuality is key to survival.
In all, we feel that Into the Black 2017 is the unique event of the Halloween season that it set out to be. Starting out so big, I can only imagine how it will evolve and what it will become in the years ahead. But I am getting way ahead of myself. Kudos to Larry and his team – we know you have all worked so hard in making this nightmare a reality.
Get out to the Pomona Fairplex and experience Into the Black. There, you will step across a darkened threshold where you don’t face your demons – they face you.
- Rick West
Be sure to bookmark and reference our 2017 SoCal Haunt Directory for all your Halloween haunt planning!
Into the Black Movie: