2015 California's Great America Halloween Haunt Maze & Scare Zone Review
Fall is in the air with those somewhat warm days and brisk cool nights. Fog fills the grounds of California's Great America as monsters turn the park into "California's Grave America" with the Annual Halloween Haunt. Haunt features 9 mazes and 3 scare zones with Insanitarium being the new maze this year. Let's now take a look at these twisted and haunted attractions within the park! We will review these mazes in clockwise order, as though you were making a lap around the park heading towards Flight Deck first.
Disclaimer: Do be warned, this review contains spoilers, including the Skeleton Key rooms. If you have already experienced this, feel free to carry on. If you want to be surprised, do turn back now or skip over the Skeleton Key rooms. Also this review contains a few "inside the maze" images from a handful of the park's mazes in which were taken with permission from the park, during an authorized "lights on" tour.
Insanitarium (Orlean's Place)
About: Insanitarium is inspired by local history and has a unique take on the insane asylum. Insanitarium was inspired by the the now gone Agnew Insane Asylum that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The place was said to be haunted after that. Great America team wanted to do something different than your typical padded rooms, chain link fences, etc. that you'd find at other parks.
Design/Theme: Insanitarium replaced the original Haunt attraction that existed before Halloween Haunt was ever created, CarnEvil. The maze takes place in the early 1900s as an insane asylum in which gets hit by the infamous 1906 earthquake (effect included too!). You start off in the main lobby as you make way through various rooms of the asylum. About midway through, an earthquake happens and the second half of the maze shows the damage done with identical sets/rooms effected by the big one. Pay close attention next time you walk through the maze, you may notice that it looks like you've been there already. In order to set the stage that an earth quake happened while you were going through the maze, the design crew utilized some wall projections of falling rubble as the floor below you rocks side to side much like a funhouse element.
Scares: Mental institutions are creepy. Old, antiquated medical facilities are also creepy. Combine the 2 and you have a perfect overall creepy atmosphere. The maze is full of highly active loony folks who play their role rather well. There's quite a few jump scares in the maze as well as just the overall atmosphere. If you're not paying attention, the earthquake floor can catch you off guard as well. While the maze isn't a gorefest like its neighbor in Celebration Plaza (Roadkill Roadhouse), it can make guests feel not at ease.
Skeleton Key: You enter a morgue where there are several platforms you and your friends lay down on. 1 by 1 you're rolled into a tight chamber. From here, you lay in a tight space wondering what is going to happen. Some may find this uncomfortable and if you're claustrophobic it will mess around with you. If you're not claustrophobic, it may not bother you at all. The little air blast at the end comes unexpectedly and can make you jump.
For us, it didn't have much of an effect on us (we're used to tight spaces afterall we will ride the enclosed water slides) and initially left us underwhelmed. After doing it a few times, it is starting to grow on us.
Overall, setting the bonus room aside, this is a very solid maze and portrays the insane asylum rather well and creates a nice atmosphere. We feel like this was a worthy replacement of CarnEvil.
Wax Museum (Yankee Harbor/Planet Snoopy border):
About: Wax Museum makes a return for its second year portraying a classic attraction you might find along the wharf. Classic organ music plays varous songs (we even heard a carousel organ take on "Girls just want to have fun" which was borrowed from one of the Bioshock video games).
Design/Theme: Same layout as last year, the maze takes you through different themed areas such as Ripley's Believe it or Not, Chamber of Horrors, the Old West, and even 1920s Gangster just to name a few, utilizing figures and live actors seamlessly blending. The design crew put a lot of detail into the various sets, giving it a feel of going past the many displays.
Scares: Wax Museum is clever. Unless you've memorized every mannequin, you'll often have difficulty figuring out which one was real and which one wasn't. In order for this to work effectively though, there needs to be enough live actors inside the maze. Unfortunately it took us 3 weeks before we finally got a good run with Wax Museum. Previously, the maze felt very "still" as it was not very well staffed. When we did Wax Museum the 3rd week in, we saw the maze come to life and had several great moments and became our favorite maze of the night!
Overall, Wax Museum is an awesome maze. But the maze can't do it on its own. It needs the actors to help bring it to life otherwise, it becomes just an ordinary wax museum with static figures leaving much to be desired. This maze was new for 2014 and is a great addition to the park situated in a perfect setting near the "Yankee Harbor" section of the park. If only Yankee Harbor still existed...
Mirror Mirror (Planet Snoopy)
Mirror Mirror makes a return for 2015 and was imported from sister park Knott's Berry Farm's "Knott's Scary Farm" event. Last year we noted that when the maze was at Knott's, it was plagued with capacity and Knott's decided it was time to pull the plug on it. Great America wanted to give it a shot and continue to make this work and one of the improvements since it was at Knott's was to offer a much larger area, around twice the size.
It still proved to be a capacity nightmare at CGA, having lines span around the back end of Planet Snoopy and this year CGA wanted to try something different in managing the queue. They implemented a system similar to Disney's Fast Pass system where when you enter the queue, you're given a pass with a return time on it. Once you've been issued your Mirror Mirror boarding pass, you're free to visit the other Haunts until your time has come. This minimizes the actual length of the queue while freeing you up to do other things. The line can still appear long however once you've made your return. But it's considerably less than what there was last year. Of course you can save yourself and whip out the Fright Lane and get right in.
Design: Mirror Mirror operates like a ride cycle. Certain amount of people are let into the room and the doors (with mirrors on the inside) are shut. Guests aimlessly wander around as they try to find their way out. It is easy to become separated from the rest of your party. Once the lights go on (atmospheric lights that is) followed by a scream and shattering of glass, the exit door is opened and the actors inside the maze will "chase you out."
Scares: This is a fun maze. This is one maze that heavily relies on atmosphere and effects rather than actors. Actors do help add to it though. We've often scared ourselves by our own reflection as we come around a corner and get a face full of ourselves.
Overall: Mirror Mirror is still somewhat of a capacity nightmare but it looks like between expanding the size from when it was at Knott's, and implementing a "return time" system, it seems to have helped. It's definitely a maze that you'd either want to arrive early or purchase a Fright Lane.
Zombie High (County Fair, near Psycho Mouse):
Zombie High was new for 2013 and makes a return for its third year. Zombie High's actual show building resides behind Grizzly's station while its entrance is next to Psycho Mouse and exit over at Barney Oldfield's. Zombie High is themed to a high school over run by Zombies.
Design: Zombie High feels like you're taking a tour through different classrooms in the high school campus, with a blocked off central hallway. As you cross the hall to enter the next room, you can actually look down the hall seeing other guests passing by. To block off the hall in segments, piles of desks act as barricades. Adults will get high school flashbacks as they come across the high school class rooms and school equipment. 80's metal plays inside the building with an occasional PA system making various announcements relating to school. We've heard a few easter eggs in there too such as "Clayton Lawrence please report to the principal's office" (Great America Haunt coordinator for those unaware).
Scares: Unfortunately, this is probably one of the least scary mazes in the park and kind of has a tongue-in-cheek feel to it - one of the more lighthearted mazes. There is one cool part though where you pass through the auditorium and while blinded by flood lights, a zombie on bungees jumps out from the stage inches from your face before flinging back into the dark hole. Other than that, the scare factor of this maze is somewhat lacking.
Overall Zombie High is a fun maze, even if it isn't the scariest. It's fun to take a trip back to the past for those of us who are no longer in school. It's a good maze to visit when taking a break from some of the mazes with a higher scare/creepy factor.
Toy Factory (County Fair, next to Drop Tower):
One of the park's oldest mazes which made its debut in 2009 is still hanging in there with its classic annoyingly catchy theme song. This is Toy Factory. Toy Factory is one of those mazes that makes us reflect on our childhood, the toys we all played with. However these aren't just your normal toys. These toys have been transformed into your worst nightmare. Toy Factory is one of the more creepier mazes with a humorous tone to it.
Design/Theme: Toy Factory is loaded with toys of different kinds. There's a giant "Angry Angry Hippo" that will chomp at your feet when you pass by, and there's a creepy strobe light doll room. How do those actors handle being in that room for extended periods is beyond us. One of our favorite areas is the Game Room where the giant Angry Hippo resides. There's also a giant Nintendo Game Boy that we've seen Sonic the Hedgehog hanging around. One of our favorite costumes in there however was a character whose face was transformed into a severely deformed game controller.
Scares: Unfortunately, Toy Factory remains pretty low on the scare scale. Like Zombie High, we found this to be more lighthearted and a little on the humorous side. There are a few creepy parts though, with the highlight being the doll room (with the strobe lights).
Toy Factory didn't really seem to stand out much to us this season due to the fact that it was severely understaffed and there were long stretches where nothing would happen at all. The action figure boxes remained empty. There was no Raggedy Ann getting beaten/tortured in the dentist chair. In the end it left much to be desired.
The maze used to stand out and feel very unique but eversince a certain element was removed, the maze just didn't have that kick to it. Way back when, the maze had an inflatable hallway giving an immersive experience without it having to be a Skeleton Key room. It fit with the theme of the maze as if you were being packed away and sent off to the toy store - a great way to end the maze. But things change to freshen up the mazes.
Skeleton Key: Toy Factory has always been know for playing with our sense of claustrophobia. Last year Toy Factory had 3 sets of inflatable hallways we had to squeeze through. This year we are invited to enter a room where were greeted with a giant baby appearing to be scratching his butt and smearing his poop on the wall. As you enter, you smell a rather convincing odor, which actually began to make our stomachs turn. Once the door is shut, the overgrown baby starts to talk to us and offer to play games such as "Peek-a-Poo" or "Scat-a-gories" (playing on the theme of the room). As we are distracted by him, the poop-smeared walls begin to move closer, much like a caving in wall you'd see in Indiana Jones. The room progressively gets smaller bringing us much closer to the messy overgrown baby. In the end, in order for us to exit the room, we have to shout the "magic word," that is, "Baby Boom-Boom!".
This room actually had us stop dead in our tracks as soon as that door opened as the smell was horrid and the smeared walls looked like they were actually smeared. The mess on the baby also looked rather convincing. The 3 of these elements combined made for a rather uncomfortable moment, which we felt was a success. It turned out that regardless of how gross this room was and how bad it smelt, it was one of the best rooms that had us panicking.
Overall Toy Factory could be a great maze. It just didn't do it for us this year as it felt like it was lacking. The only thing that really stood out to us was the Skeleton Key room, which had quite an impact. Other than that, the maze just didn't do it for us.
Cornstalkers (County Fair, Barney Oldfield's ride):
Cornstalkers is Haunt's oldest maze and used to be the longest. Originally Cornstalkers started behind Tiki Twirl and wrapped its way around the back of the park (past the Zombie High building) and exited at Barney Oldfield's. After Zombie High reopened, the maze got a major overhaul and rerouting following Barney Oldfield's track for the most part. This shortened the maze down to a more reasonable length as it was at one point too long for its own good.
Theming/About: Cornstalkers doesn't really have much of a plot, it is essentially a walk through the cornstalks and towering bales of hay as you pass by several demented farmer folks and various other beings. The maze relies on tall cornstalks and hay bales to set up some good hiding spots as well as several other structures such as outhouses. Recently the maze received new outhouses that actually have a space where a monster can hide. Prevously, they were just static props with audio sound effects you'd expect to hear from a bathroom stall.
Scares: This is another one of those mazes that did not do much for us unfortunately. It has potential for huge number of jump scares but it requires staff to do it. We walked through a good half of the maze before anything began to happen. On our recent run through the maze the experience was a bit better but a small handful of people can't do all the work. It needs a much larger team to make it happen.
Skeleton Key: This is the only maze that starts you immediately in the skeleton key room. A fellow farmer greets us as the door opens and invites us to try out some of his fresh organic Moonshine beverage. He opens the door to his plastic shed (cleverly set up as an actual hut) where he gives us our shots. After we all take a sip of his special "Moonshine" he informs us that it was really his urine that we drank. Does this gag sound familiar? Sure it does. A similar gag was pulled off in Roadkill Roadhouse last year where we got to eat dried crickets and drink "blood."
The fake urine shots tasted pretty horrible and left an awkward taste in our mouths afterwards. We tried to figure out what was used - it had a vinegar smell to it. The theme of it fit pretty well and the "redneck farmer" also fit with the room and played his role rather well.
Overall, Cornstalkers can be a solid maze when it has the crew to pull it off. Even though it's the oldest, it could still be a solid experience. But it's unfortunate this year that there's not a lot of characters to pull it off. It seems to be a reoccuring theme with some of these mazes. One of our crewmembers did have a rather solid experience on one of the weekends where there was quite a bit going on rather than just dragging on with nothing happening at all. Cornstalkers could be a hit or a miss depending on when you go.
Madame Marie's Massacre Manor (Hometown Square, next to First Aid)
Massacre Manor was new for 2012 and we believe it is the best maze in the park. Themed to a French manor, this maze is full of detail and the maze actually has a "Main Character" - that is, Madame Marie!
Theme/About: Madame Marie's Massacre Manor is themed to a French manor. Visitors take a tour of her place only to find their way to the cellar where souls are being taken and the dead is being brought back. Massacre Manor is one of the most detailed mazes in the park and half the time you forget you're in a big metal building. The music (custom made for the park) fits the maze well. Massacre Manor is full of various antique goods as well. The only thing we felt was a bit awkard was the door where zombies are attacking it. It doesn't really fit with the maze and the hallway projection is not very convincing since you go behind the door anyway and there's no hall there. But this is just a minor nitpick in an otherwise amazing haunt maze.
Scares: The talent gets into their character here and we have yet to experience a "dud run" here. One of the best scare spots is the portrait hallway early in the maze where one of the talent can pop out of any of the portraits, You don't know where they'll pop out from. Other than that, Madame Marie's Massacre Manor doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. For us, the overall atmosphere makes this maze stand out. Last but not least, the actress who plays Madame Marie does an excellent job. She's taken our souls numerous times throughout the seasons this maze existed, and was kind enough to give us our souls back if we behaved ourselves during the now defunct Voodoo Chophouse dinner (which we really miss).
Skeleton Key: This is a repeat of last year's experience but is hands down one of the best bonus rooms in the park. If you aren't familiar or want a refresher, you and 5 others gather around the table and hold onto the crystal balls. The lights go out as the room rumbles. Out of nowhere, a girl appears on the table as strobe lights flash. She will pick a person at random and scream in their face. After, the strobes turn off, the room rumbles, and the main lights turn back on as if nothing ever happened.
Overall, Madame Marie's Massacre Manor is hands down the best maze in the park. Take this with a grain of salt but during the Green Witch's opening speech (when the park opens) she mentioned that Madame Marie's Manor is up for sale. This leaves us wondering the maze's future, if it will be around next year.
Roadkill Roadhouse (Near Xtreme Skyflyer)
Roadkill Roadhouse is the 3rd incarnation of the aging Slaughterhouse concept, previously Slaughterhouse Annhilation and Slaughterhouse. This maze is the goriest maze in the park, and has been since Slaughterhouse opened in 2008 in the first year of Haunt.
Theme/About: Roadkill Roadhouse is what we refer to as "Slaughterhouse 3.0" where they altered the idea of the original Slaughterhouse. You start off in a little roadside restaurant and make your way back to the kitchen and other areas of the roadside destination. Originally you exited in a spoof fast food restaurant (based off of McDonalds). You may see some very familiar props as a lot of these have been reused. Within Roadkill, there's lots of blood and hanging bodies. The maze is a gore-fest to say the least.
Scares: If you're easily grossed out, it will have an impact. Some of the monsters will come close to you with their meat cleavers which can create some uncomfortable moments. One of our favorite effects in the maze (when they're working) are the barrels that come rolling toward you.
Skeleton Key: This maze was famous last year for serving bugs and blood to guests. A similar gag exists now at Cornstalkers. New for this year is an obese animatronic covered in what looks like vomit. The room he resides reeks of vomit as well. In order for us to leave the room, we have to retrieve a key which could be hiding underneath the animatronic. We are instructed to quietly and carefully try to find it without waking the guy up. As we reach into the hole we feel some squishy matter (somewhat resembling diarrhea). The guy begins to wake up and starts to breathe. The leg raises and emits a fowl odor.
This room on opening night was a technical nightmare as we took in 3 Fright Lane visits before the room was back in working order. It still felt like something was off though as the version of this animatronic we've seen on Youtube also has audio while this one was silent. Visually though, the animatronic guy looked pretty gross.
Overall Roadkill Roadhouse is one of those mazes that tends to be very popular due to the gore factor it has. It has gone through numerous changes but still feels much like Slaughterhouse and the concept while popular with the general public, has gone a bit stale.
Dia De Los Muertos (Imax/Pictorium building behind Gold Striker)
The least scary of the mazes at Haunt, but the most visually stunning goes to Dia de los Muertos. This was a maze imported from Knott's Berry Farm and we had an understanding that this maze was not very scary when it was at Knott's. It's not very intense either at Great America but it's one of those that stands out to us. Dia De Los Muertos made its debut in 2013, replacing Club Blood. It utilizes the 3D glasses for an enhanced journey through the maze.
Theme/About: Dia de los Muertos is themed to the Day of the Dead and is full of vibrant colors. The maze takes you through various settings starting in the market, You eventually make your way to the chapel and the cemetery. From here you enter the Pictorium building where you experience probably one of the most immersive mazes in the park, You go through tight walkways with vines hanging, which is one of our favorite parts. You often forget you're in a defunct theater building and feel like you're navigating the depths of a tomb.
Scares: Dia De Los Muertos is not designed to be a scary maze. It is still a fun experience that can actually get by with few actors as the visuals make up for it, as well as the second half of the maze. At the end of the maze, there is a monster on a bungee much like Zombie High that will pop out at you missing you by inches.
Dia De Los Muertos is definitely one not to miss at Haunt and a nice change of pace from the gorefest of Roadkill or the humorous tone of Toy Factory. It is one of the mazes everyone runs to when the park opens since it's literally right at the park entrance.
Let's take a look at the scare zones, in which all 3 were brand new this year.
Lockdown (Replaced The Gauntlet, Orlean's Place)
Lockdown is a scare zone themed to escaped prisoners and crazy people, complimenting the neighboring Insanitarium. One of the biggest things you'll notice are the stacked shipping containers. This provides some blind corners as you walk through the zone in the dark. It helps contain the fog as well making it difficult to see what may be lurking.
Scare-wise, this may be the strongest in terms of getting a good scare. There are numerous sliders in there that will come out in front of you from nowhere as they slide across the blacktop. It is a worthy replacement of The Gauntlet, which was always a favorite scare zone.
Evacuate (Replaced Underworld Alley, County Fair)
Evacuate is the park's most visually impressive scare zone. It is themed to the highway scene from the popular show The Walking Dead. Yes, there is a bunch of cars in there too! While it is the most visually impressive, it is also one that feels like it is lacking the most. We did enjoy seeing the Ice Cream/Brain Freeze guy running around, was quite funny! Other than that, there was not a lot that really stood out besides the props.
Last but not least...
Killer Clown Town (Planet Snoopy)
Killer Clown Town can be considered a spiritual successor to The Gauntlet and is the largest scare zone in the park. Years past, Dead Man's Cove was the longest scare zone and was too big for its own good. It was also in a very bad spot in a narrow walkway that would get heavily congested. Moving the kids area scare zone to the back loop of Planet Snoopy was a wise move on the park's behalf. It's a pretty wide path.
Originally starting off lackluster for us, this scare zone began to grow on us. It's huge and the talent actually seems to be spread out evenly throughout the zone. It was rare that we would run into a dead spot which is shocking considering the limited crew. The icing on the cake for this zone is the "Sideshow" where there's live entertainment adding to the atmosphere. There's a DJ and various performances on stage including a diabolist. Being a skill toy enthusiast, this was pretty enjoyable!
Haunt 2015 Overall, some things we would like to address, both highlights and lowlights.
+ The new scare zones were a welcome addition to the park and we look forward to watching them continue to grow.
+ Insanitarium was a highlight of this year's Haunt and a very welcome replacement to the aging CarnEvil. We love the fact that it's not just a generic maze but actually ties to local history.
+ Some clever Skeleton Key room experiences in some mazes that we found pretty enjoyable and provided a fresh experience.
+ The new scare zones look good as far as theming goes.
- Some "rehash" Skeleton Key rooms. To us it felt like Roadkill Roadhouse and Cornstalkers switched gags rather than trying something completely new.
- Really limited staff both in scare zones and in mazes, progressively got worse during the season.
- Fortunately we haven't experienced it ourselves but have heard about rowdy guests, something that Haunt tends to attract. Not to mention, areas of the park reek of cigarette smoke or pot, especially on the main midways. We even had one light up their joint right next to us in the middle of a scare zone.
- Really long waits for the Skeleton Key lines. At one point it took us 15 minutes with just 2 groups ahead of us at Toy Factory to finally get in. Meanwhile the standby line was empty or had a few groups waiting and getting right into the maze. We understand the Skeleton Key rooms are timed experiences but some of the wait times got pretty lengthy, often waiting 30-40 minutes in the Fright Lane line.
Last but not least: We miss the Voodoo Chophouse and the perks it gave! With this said we wish you a safe Halloween and hope you enjoyed this year's Haunt season and Great America season. We are sad that the Great America season's come to a close but our adventures will continue as the neighbor up north is open year round (Joker Construction!).
See you all at CGA in 2016!