By Charly SHELTON
When I was a kid, just a young reporter of 14, I started going to the local theme parks to review the new attractions and events. My favorite was always Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Every year, I would take my little sister, who was 10 when we started, on a press trip to the park and we would eat at Moose Burger Lodge, go on some smaller coasters that didn’t scare me, hit every maze and always get Dippin’ Dots. It was a tradition. Aside from the nostalgia, Fright Fest was actually the best game in town in the early 2000’s. Some of the mazes they put on were the best I’ve ever seen, unmatched even today by anything that other haunts did. Their use of space and minimal sets and props was incredible. They once had a maze that was literally just chain link fences and strobe lights and I still think about that maze at least once a month for over ten years. Incredible.
And then things started to change. Year-by-year they relied more heavily on sets and props, while the scares became lamer. The scaractors didn’t care as much and the designers seemed to have checked out. My sister and I stopped going to Fright Fest and soon, the apathy and degradation leeched into every corner of the park. I stopped going to Fright Fest in 2009 and stopped going to the park altogether in 2010 because every time was just a terrible day with terrible people. I gave the theme park another shot in 2013 just to see if anything had changed, and somehow it got worse.
After seven years, I decided to give Fright Fest another shot because I believe that people, and theme parks, can change. I went in fully expecting to be disappointed and go home angry. I am very pleased to say that was not the case. After years and years of avoiding this event like the plague, Fright Fest put on a pretty good show. Not just good-because-it-wasn’t-terrible good, but actually good on its own rights.
There were mazes that were simple and scary, like The Willoughby’s Garden of Darkness, which is basically just a haunted hedge maze with hardly any set pieces but playing with light and shadow so well that you don’t care. There were mazes that had gigantic set pieces, like Red’s Revenge, a demonic take on Little Red Riding Hood which had an entire cottage built inside that guests walk up to and go in. There were inventive scare zones, like Nightmares- A Twisted Fantasy, which takes beloved storybook characters and warps them all into demons, shown in neon paint under black light. There were even monster meet-and-greets with photo ops by hearses and downed helicopters. And it didn’t hurt that one of the photo ops was with Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad.
My biggest issue with this park has always been its terrible employees. I worked at Disneyland and I know how hard it is to be nice to park guests. It isn’t. There is no excuse for the way many of the employees have historically behaved while on the clock at this park and that has been one of the bigger reasons I have stayed away for so long. But this year, despite crowds and stupid guests, most of the employees were pleasant and attentive. I am almost shocked by the turn around.
So although the Moose Burger Lodge is now a sports bar and I’m no longer scared of big coasters, it seems that some things don’t have to change forever. Six Flags can, if they choose to, put on a good Halloween event. Dippin’ Dots, in every case, are still good. And after many years, though my sister is now an astrophysicist at JPL and I am a veteran reporter, we can still have a good time at Fright Fest, like we were 14 and 10 again.