Sinister Pointe, a company that is renowned throughout Southern California and beyond for its highly-detailed, interactive haunt attractions. This past summer, Sinister Pointe thrilled fans at Midsummer Scream by announcing that they would be unleashing a new kind of terror for the 2016 Halloween season: a walk-through experience called Fear the Mark.
In 2015, Sinister Pointe produced an escape room type of attraction, rather than the traditional walk-through experience they’re most known and loved for; it was fun and well-executed, but definitely was a big departure from the type of haunt the company had produced for years. The announcement that the group was returning to its walk-through roots was very well-received by everyone in the haunt community. Knowing what Sinister Pointe is capable of, and understanding the creative need to move forward and try new things, we were very curious and excited as well to see what Jeff Schiefelbein and his team were going to bring to the table for 2016.
The location of Fear the Mark was a new spot in Fullerton this year; a large two-story venue with a lot of floor space. The large footprint was necessary, as Fear the Mark was touted as a walk-through experience with four separate routes for much of the journey. It seemed pretty ambitious to us – haunts can definitely have alternate routes – and we honestly felt that if anyone could pull it off well, it would be Sinister Pointe. In past years, Jeff and his team introduced multiple paths with different experiences to their guests; just never in such a large-scale way.
One of Sinister Pointe’s smartest selling points this year, was to offer an all-night admission ticket that was only about $10 more than the standard General Admission pass; with four different routes/experiences to be had, who wouldn’t want the All Night Admission? In addition, for a few more bucks, it included a SCREAM Pass – Sinister Pointe’s version of a front-of-line ticket. One of the many things that Jeff and his team do well is marketing – and we thought Fear the Mark was really well thought-out in regard to its pricing structure and “no-brainer” ticketing options.
The framework 0f Fear the Mark was pretty straightforward: guests encountered a mysterious woman who’d reveal one of four tarot-style cards to the group, sending them to the next character to be marked – more specifically, branded on the forehead. Bearing “the mark”, guests would then be ushered into one of four portals, into spiritual realms overseen by specific demonic rulers beyond our dimension, where they’d encounter strange and terrifying creatures and challenges as they battled to escape. Each of the portals was a different route, which were all pretty different, leading each party back to a linear path through the finale of the attraction. The four realms within Fear the Mark were Rebus, Tormentum, Arcane, and Infernal. While Tormentum sounds incredibly unwelcoming, and Arcane sounds like it’s all magical, I’ll say that the names didn’t play too much into the physical manifestation of each path through the attraction; each route was gnarly in its own way without taking any major cues from the given names.
Our favorite realm/path of the night was Rebus, simply because it included our favorite aspect of Sinister Pointe 2016 – a “ride vehicle” that you actually sat in within one of the rooms. Once aboard, the vehicle would move forward, picking up speed as it moved along a track into the darkness and fog. This was a very effective gag; a part of the overall experience that fans continue to talk about well into the months following Halloween. The Rebus ride moment took its cue from a fantastic scene created for Sinister Pointe’s Beyond the Mirror! A Bloody Mary Tale in 2014, where guests were ferried across a misty river through the fog on a raft-like platform. The “ride moment” was brilliant in 2014, and was taken to the next level this year for the Rebus pathway in Fear the Mark. Huge props to the team for incorporating such a fun bit into the experience!
Theme Park Adventure spent a couple hours at Sinister Pointe chatting with the team and experiencing each of the four routes through Fear the Mark. There was a pitch-black, very claustrophobic maze in one, with a tight crawlspace that had guests maneuvering over a rotting corpse in another. From jump scares to simply being alone for prolonged periods of time in very precarious situations, Sinister Pointe offered a bevy of brutalities just waiting inside its doors.
While the realms were interesting, there were certainly some shortcomings that we and others noticed this year at Sinister Pointe. There was a lot of crawling involved in a couple of the routes. I’ve said this before, and I will say it more – if you’re going to make your guests crawl, there must be adequate padding on the ground so as to make it a fun, comfortable experience. I have crap knees; any pressure I put on them when crawling on a non-padded surface is bad; I end up paying for it in the days to follow, which isn’t the type of souvenir I hope to take away from any haunt or attraction. I don’t mind having to crawl (although it’s simply not my favorite way to experience any attraction), but I really dislike having to crawl when it’s uncomfortable or even painful.
A much more common comment we have heard from fans regarding this year’s Sinister Pointe offering, was that it lacked the fine detailing that the company has become known for when compared to years past. I get it, and as far as design detail, I agree; when it comes to making mazes look sexy as hell, Sinister Pointe set that bar in Orange County years ago, raising it whenever they could to the professional level we see in mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm or even Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. This year, it seemed that the focus was creating four different maze routes and then decorating the attraction. If a simple comparison to the past is done, then no, Fear the Mark was nowhere near as polished or pretty to look at as some of Sinister Pointe’s other productions. That said, a simple comparison isn’t necessarily fair, either. Once upon a time, Sinister Pointe had a “permanent” location in Brea, allowing Jeff and his team to tinker with and change throughout the year. For this year’s attraction, the Sinister Pointe team had to wait for the property owners to give them the go-ahead to move into the location and begin installing Fear the Mark. When all was said and done, Jeff and his team were given 3 1/2 weeks to move in, install the haunt, test everything, and then open. That is an incredibly challenging, very aggressive schedule that no design team wants to be burdened with. Naturally, understanding what they were up against, the fine details took back seat to the larger picture – the creation of four different maze experiences rolled up into one larger production. Daunting is an understatement in this case. Without the exceptional know-how that the Sinister Pointe team has from years and years of experience, there is no way they could have met this deadline. No way at all. Considering the sheer scope and scale of Fear the Mark, it’s seriously impressive that the team was able to pull it off as nicely as they did.
Ultimately, Fear the Mark delivered a fun, frightening, lengthy haunt experience that felt like a lot of thought and effort had been put into it. Fear the Mark was unique, albeit not terribly elaborate. The ticketing tier design as mentioned, was genius, and the talent throughout the maze was on point, interacting strongly with guests – something that has always been a signature of Sinister Pointe attractions.
2016 was a transitional year for Jeff and the Sinister Pointe team, I would say. It’s obvious that the days of a linear maze experience are behind us with this group; they are interested in trying new things and forging onward into new creative territory. What we have seen from Sinister Pointe in recent years – different styles of haunts, coupled with live events and escape room-type experiences tells me that this company is at a professional crossroads. Sinister Pointe is hungry for something new – something challenging and perhaps somewhat elusive. As they try new things, they will gain new fans of their work and likely, will lose some along the way that preferred the super-detailed, linear mazes of the past. I get it, and that’s part of the evolution process that all creative firms go through as they adapt to industry trends and remain successful – all the while keeping themselves entertained and engaged in the industry as well.
We enjoyed and appreciated Fear the Mark. Knowing and understanding the insane challenges this team faced this season only deepens our respect for them and their continued legacy as part of our community. Kudos to the entire Sinister Pointe team on a job well done in the face of extreme difficulty on all fronts.
As this look back is coming out at the beginning of the Holiday Season, I would be remiss not to plug Sinister Pointe’s seasonal venture – Not So Merry Holiday Haunt! An oldie and goodie, this Christmas-themed maze experience is an adults-only romp through the darkened halls where naughty elves and creatures dwell. The Not So Merry Holiday Haunt is not for prude folks, not for kids, and in the past, has been one of our favorite haunt events anywhere! If you never had the pleasure of visiting Sinister Pointe for the holidays, check out this flow-through video from their 2012 Not So Merry Holiday Haunt attraction!
Tickets for Sinister Pointe’s Not So Merry Holiday Haunt 2016 are now on sale at SinisterPointe.com. Make your season extra-naughty by stopping by – Santa and the gang are dying to meet you, and they have lots of… toys to show you!
Sinister Pointe’s Fear the Mark photos courtesy of Drake Garber. Check out his Instagram @drakeag as well!
- Rick West