Reign of Terror has been one of Theme Park Adventure’s favorite haunted attractions for the past several years. Watching Travel Channel, whenever it would show mind-bending haunted attractions, I’d always groan, why can’t we have these kinds of haunts in Southern California? And then along came Bruce Stanton and Reign of Terror!
Each year, Theme Park Adventure visits Reign of Terror to see what kind of hellish goodness Bruce and two of his top guys, Frank Balzer and Rick Ehrlich, have come up with. Reign of Terror is located in the Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks, which is on the outskirts of the Greater Los Angeles area. The ROT team was fortunate enough to get a location in an empty upstairs space in the Marketplace with an extended lease. The maze itself remains up year-round, allowing the team to work on upgrading and adding scenes at will, all while protected from the outdoor elements or having to tear everything down each year after October. And let me tell you, there is a lot that gets done in the off season at Reign of Terror. The 10,000 square foot space is constantly being put to good use as the attraction expands and matures each year; there is still plenty back of house space at ROT, but what has been used thus far is pure badass!
2012 saw Reign of Terror take on a new theme that began in its queue and acted as the first portion/maze within the overall experience. They call this addition Miner’s Revenge, and it is exactly what the name implies. Stepping into the immersive queue for ROT, guests find themselves in an old mining town, complete with saloon and surrounding structures, some of which have been burned to the ground following a massive explosion, their embers still glowing in the darkness. As if everything wasn’t mind blowing enough, there was running water in the queue as well; my hat’s off to them, because using water in a haunt is a major pain!
Reign of Terror is broken up into several “mazes”, although they are really just abrupt thematic changes that daisy chain into one another with no separate queue and no separate ticket; most guests don’t even realize that they’ve ended one maze and started another, so the break-down you see once in a while regarding ROT is somewhat confusing. Personally, I’d love to see the “multiple mazes” concept ditched and one huge, cohesive story line put in place. I have no doubt that Bruce and his team could do that with some focus and absolute direction. However, if they continue to have abrupt theme changes and want to keep adding “mazes” to the roster, we’re good with that too; as long as this haunt continues to grow like it’s been the past few years, we’ll remain huge fans and supporters!
The biggest challenge Reign of Terror has – and it is a substantial one – is its location. I mentioned earlier that it exists on the outskirts of the LA area, in Thousand Oaks. From our home in Pasadena, it’s still a really decent drive – over 45 miles; almost an hour without traffic. That makes it a really substantial drive for fans coming from Orange County or the 909 and beyond. We absolutely recommend to all of our readers to find a way out to Thousand Oaks to see this haunt each season; I just know that a lot of people are put off by how far away it is, and I understand. However, it doesn’t appear that Reign of Terror is changing location any time soon; so if that means a trip to Thousand Oaks once a year, so be it! It’s totally worth it and TPAers that have made the drive are thrilled by what they find!
Reign of Terror is perhaps the highest quality haunt we’ve ever seen. The attention to detail is staggering from room to room, and it never lets up or gets sloppy. Even the queue is a jaw dropper, complete with special effects and an fantastic immersive environment. The scenes throughout Reign of Terror are the equivalent to – or better than – the quality of the mazes found each year at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights. And that says a lot about the honest to god craftsmanship that has gone into and continues to go into growing and maintaining this haunt. Visually, ROT is a triumph; we are consistently impressed each season.
If there is any improvement to be made to Reign of Terror, it would be the level of energy and effectiveness of their cast of monsters. Of course, there are those who rise up and beyond and truly know how to work it. On the down side, there are others that seem fairly awkward, almost unsure of themselves as talent. And that kills the vibe faster than flipping the work lights on. Okay, maybe not that drastically, but it can be disruptive enough. The sets and the incredible environments found throughout this maze deserve talent that is through the roof to compliment it all – and unfortunately, that isn’t the case sometimes. ROT operates with a completely volunteer cast and crew, a route that most haunted attractions go for various reasons. The down side of that, is that you tend to have a lot of new folks or “warm bodies” to work with that aren’t necessarily vets or even very good at scaring people. Bruce’s attraction donates a huge portion of its proceeds to charity each year, so paying the team isn’t something that is going to happen. So, Reign of Terror hopefully retains a lot of monsters year to year; superb skill at scaring and interacting with guests only comes with experience. We’d love to see the energy/intensity level throughout ROT’s cast brought up for the 2013 season and truly go off the charts while all of the monsters push their own limits while staying in appropriate character. Those who do know how to work it, work it well – there are some great monsters found at Reign of Terror, as well as some exceptional make-up work.
I’ll say it so I sound like a broken record: if you have the means to make it out to Thousand Oaks, Reign of Terror must be on your list for haunted attractions for the 2013 season. The drive is worth it, and we have had many TPAers that have told us they piled into a car with friends and went for it – and that the effort was totally worth it.
We are excited that Reign of Terror is alive and well in Thousand Oaks and doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all! They’ve become a very important leader in the California haunted attraction business, and we see nothing but success for them as long as they stay in the game!
– Rick West