Hello from my new home of Los Angeles! It’s windy today:
I’m just about adjusted to life on the west coast so I will be online more often now. Who would have thought moving 2450 mikes away from everyone I know would be a lot of work? (Spoiler: I did.) Thanks for bearing with me while I put things back together bigger and stronger!
Anyhow, I had the opportunity to check out Reign of Terror, which is actually one of the few independent haunted attractions in my beautiful new home of southern California.
Before I talk about that, it’s kinda important for me to talk about cultural differences between the east and west coast regarding to this.
The first thing I noticed about Los Angeles is that they have less haunted attractions than the northeast. Aside from Universal Studios and Knott’s Scary Farm I think I found like – 3? Real estate is very expensive and everything is vey spread out so that may be a factor.
They do a lot of high end immersive theater in Los Angeles but that, to me, is a different type of attraction. I enjoy immersive theatre and I’ve actually reviewed a few before. So I’m not saying I don’t like these types of things. I do like them. I’m simply saying that the productions I’ve seen so far California don’t seem to deal with supernatural fantasy like New York City’s Then She Fell or Tampa’s The Vault of Souls. Personally I’m attracted to darker fantasies like that. They may exist here and it could be that I haven’t found them yet. If you know of any, do let me know by emailing me via the top bar on this blog.
TL; DR: They still aren’t haunted attractions like 99% of what I’m known for reviewing on this page.
Reign of Terror is, so I checked it out on October 20th, 2017.
Reign of Terror is located in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks, California which is generally a red flag. Attractions can seldom pay the year-round rent so often you find that the ones in these spaces are sometimes less developed than ones that don’t have to pack up and leave during the year. I don’t know if they have this space all year ’round or not since I just moved here, but I did not find this to be a problem. The attraction’s rooms were amazing and well-staged. If they set this up in a few months that was amazing work on their part.
They must not have the same laws in California regarding hallway width that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have because the halls were more narrow. This wasn’t a problem – just an observation in how the feel was slightly different. I enjoy seeing what’s different in my new home state, so maybe this piece of information would appeal to just me.
There is no story to the haunt. It was the style of haunt where it was a greatest hits of many types of haunt themes. This is not a bad thing, just another observation in what you can expect from the execution of the production. You’ll see a haunted mine, clowns, killers, contaminated areas, aliens…you get the idea. It was decently executed. The rooms looked good and they hit all the marks that your casual haunt fan is going to expect. Aside from the wait times (get there early to help with this) casual haunt fans will probably enjoy this attraction and should go see it early to avoid longer wait times.
So now let’s talk about the constructive criticism part of the review. What would an experienced haunt fan notice? How can this attraction transcend past what they are now to being able to hold its own with the country’s best?
I noticed that the sound bled a little in the pre-show room. It was a video of a coal miner introducing the first attraction and telling you what to expect, plus the rules that customers should follow. Since there was no story and the lines were very long, I felt like this room was maybe a redundant stop in traffic flow.
Usually the person working the line performs this task at most attractions – and that works better communication-wise since many customers seem to ignore videos but pay attention to people in my personal experience. In this case we had 2 stop points in the loading sequence instead of 1. I expected an actor – assisted scare here or something to make this space blend into the production. I’d suggest that they look at how this part of the attraction fits into their flow. I like to always ask myself creatively “Why is this here?”. If I can’t say that it adds to the story/atmosphere or crowd flow efficiency then perhaps it should be changed or eliminated.
They oversold the VIP tickets so that it was 40 minute wait for the VIP line. It appeared to be almost as long as the regular line. Once you got inside you realized it was shorter, but from a customer’s point of view this seemed annoying. I’m not sure I’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes for a VIP line in every haunted attraction across the country, so this didn’t work as well as it could have.
I applaud that they were pulsing people through in small groups. They kicked ass at that. We experienced no backups in the haunt and so once you got inside traffic flow was great. That’s actually relatively rare so they deserve applause for this.
I heard several actors screaming in vocal chord damaging ways and the timing just wasn’t there on the night that we went. They were by no means the untrained level of New Jersey’s Camp Evans Base of Terror, but it felt like an hour of instruction in how to function in their own narrative space and how to be more fluid and less direct would help.
I’d like to see them examine their actor blocking in each room and encourage the actors to work in teams. For example if there’s a room with only 1 person face down on a desk it’s pretty obvious she’s gonna stand up and scream at you. Put another actor there to the side to scare people and have that person be a decoy – not the payoff. Or have 2 actors fight with each other or something unexpected to break up the chain of startle scares.
I especially feel like too many rooms had only animatronics. In the case where they had actors they did not have the actor set up to take advantage of distraction scares (similar to what I mentioned above) in tandem with the animatronics. They were using the animatronics as the hero character for the rooms they were in. I saw several missed opportunities throughout where you’d expect them to have placed actors but there was no one there. Animatronics should, in my opinion, almost never be used on their own and should always be incorporated in a distraction scare or actor-driven interaction. If they had trained the actors to work with the animatronics I feel like the rooms without actors wouldn’t have registered as the same type of thing. To me it was kind of like a movie that needed a slight recut due to pacing.
This haunt was long – I think we were in there for over 20 minutes. I wasn’t bored inside this haunt. I have been bored in haunts that were this long before so this was a very good thing. It flowed well and was enjoyable. That said, it didn’t fully grab me – mostly because the timing of the actors was off just enough that it felt like each group got hit in the middle or behind and I got almost nothing the entire way through in the front.
Don’t get me wrong – they have an amazing setup in here. The people with us seemed to be freaking out a little so for casual haunt fans this is probably going to be a great time. For folks who really know haunts I feel like some small tweaks – examining their queue system, pacing, and investing in training their actors could make them a game-changing, resonant haunt for all of us and worth of a plane ticket for my readers back east. In it’s current state it doesn’t inspire repeat visits or stick with you after you leave due to the lack of a cohesive narrative.
All in all Reign of Terror was a lot of fun and it was way better constructed than I expected. They pulled off some amazing design in a strip mall of all places and should be very proud of what they accomplished. My criticisms come from a place of wanting them to be able to hold their own with the country’s best – and they are darn close to be able to do so! These guys are pretty cool and I am glad they are in Southern California and even more proud to live here because of this.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur
that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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