Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fright Fair ScreamPark at the Halloween Harvest Festival

Photo by Yvonne K. Kleiman

It's not something that I have an opportunity to talk about a lot here on Spooky Little Girl, as most of my reviews center specifically on horror movies and haunted attractions, but I really, really love me a good pumpkin patch. Not only are pumpkins themselves the most perfect fruit (vegetable?) imaginable - delicious, nutritious and absolutely adorable to boot! - but visiting a pumpkin patch is an activity so quintessentially autumnal that it simply can't happen at any other time of the year. As much as I love pumpkin patches, they're a little hard to come by in L.A., and when you do find them they tend to be rather small, understated affairs - which is part of why I was so thrilled to check out this particular event.

The Fright Fair ScreamPark that takes place as part of Pierce College's annual Halloween Harvest Festival out in Woodland Hills has the small town ambience of a classic pumpkin patch/harvest fest/Halloween carnival, and if you're looking to get away from the urban vibe of L.A. proper for a few hours, it's the perfect destination. There are rides, games, carnival foods, kids' crafts, farm-grown produce and lots and lots of pumpkins - not to mention 3 different mazes, each with its own distinct theme and feel. Here are my thoughts on each one:
  • The Factory of Nightmares: This somewhat rickety haunted house is what you wish the spook house at the county fair could be. You can tell it was put together by hand, but that doesn't diminish the feeling of terror when you first step inside the darkened antechamber to listen to the Haunted Mansion-esque introduction that welcomes you to the Factory. You are then escorted by your eager host into an elevator that will plunge you into the depths of your worst nightmares. The fx makeup and caliber of acting by the performers that populate the Factory - most of whom looked to be still in high school - are far better than what you might expect from the Fright Fair's rather modest exterior. (In fact, in all 3 mazes, I felt that the acting surpassed what you'll find at the larger commercial haunts.) Watch out for crazed lunatics, killer clowns and demonic cheerleaders as you wind your way through this very long - and at times genuinely disorienting, thanks to darkness, fog and strobe effects - maze.
  • Creatures of the Corn: If there's one thing that's even more difficult to come by than a great pumpkin patch in L.A., it's an actual corn maze. I'd never been in one before, so I was excited to take the plunge. A huge animatronic gargoyle guards over the entrance, but a living scarecrow (with a rather "corny" sense of humor) will guide you in safely. Once you're in, you're on your own. The stalks of corn reaching toward the sky on either side of you make it impossible to tell where you are - or how much further you have to go in the maze. Scarecrows, demented hillbillies and other creatures pop out at you periodically, taking advantage of the natural camouflage offered by the cornstalks. And, yes, there are chainsaw scares in this maze - in fact, when you first pull up to the Fair, the sounds of chainsaws revving and people screaming may be the first thing you hear. Like the Factory before it, this maze also felt quite long, and it offered a different experience than any of the mazes offered by the major haunts I've visited. Essentially, it's like the Cornstalkers maze at Knott's writ large.
  • Insane Reaction: I believe this maze is a new addition to the Fright Fair, and compared to the other two, it seems somewhat slight. However, Insane Reaction boasts one advantage over its fancier brethren: It's an actual maze, in the sense that you actually have to find your own way through. Basically just a labyrinth of metal bars arranged in a serpentine pattern, matters are further confused by periodic blasts of thick fog and some blood-spattered fellow wanderers - mental patients and murderous doctors alike - who will taunt and tease you as you try to find your way out. My time in Insane Reaction did teach me one rather valuable lesson: Turns out I'm terrible at finding my way out of mazes!
Of the three, I think Creatures of the Corn was my favorite, simply because it was a corn maze. If you've been in corn mazes before and the novelty has worn off, the Factory of Nightmares is probably your best bet. The Fright Fair offers variable pricing, which is great if you don't want to walk through all of the mazes: It's $12 for one maze, 2 for $20 or all 3 for $25 (plus an extra $10 if you want to cut to the front of the line).

While the Fright Fair ScreamPark doesn't offer the most over-the-top, high-octane gross-out scares, it is a great family-friendly option, and one that is unique to Los Angeles. Where else can you take the kids to pick out a pumpkin, munch on some kettle corn, purchase homemade jams...and end the night being chased by a maniac with a chainsaw?

The Fright Fair ScreamPark at the Pierce College Halloween Harvest Festival takes place now through October 31; see the official website for details on dates, times and pricing. The Festival is located at 20800 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA. Parking is free.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

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