The Lords of Salem Facade

In Southern California, Halloween has become a very big deal. Orange County is home to Knott’s Berry Farm, the originators of the modern haunted event with their annual Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt. Just north of that in Los Angeles County, you can find Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights as well as Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest. Additionally, a huge number of smaller scale pro-haunts can be found sprinkled throughout. When you’ve exhausted all those options, and your wallet, you can typically find homegrown amateur events in residential neighborhoods for miles in any direction. This all can make it rather hard to find enough elbow room to launch a new event. Leave it to someone as audacious as Rob Zombie to give it a go with his Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare.

Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare is an all new haunted event debuting at the Pomona Fairplex for 2013. Pomona has hosted an event like this before, the “Pomona Fearplex”, which ran until 2008 – but nothing on the scale of what Zombie and event producer Steve Kopelman have in store for SoCal residents. In just ten short days (after waiting for the LA County Fair to close up shop) Kopelman’s team managed to create three mazes based on Zombie’s films: ‘The Lords of Salem’, ‘The Haunted World of El Superbeasto’, and ‘House of 1000 Corpses’. This was a huge undertaking and we got the chance to experience the final product on its opening night/media event last week.

Great American Nightmare takes place across two hangars of the fairground as well as the midway between them. All three mazes are packed into one hangar with the queue lines daisy-chained together. You’ll experience all three attractions in rapid succession. The other hangar is reserved for performance space for the various headlining bands that perform each night of the event. Between the two hangars, you’ll find vendor tents, food, alcohol, and some very impressive talent bringing various creatures to life outside of the mazes. This all lends to a very concert-like atmosphere with some Halloween tricks and treats thrown in for good measure.

The Lords of Salem is an Adult Maze

The Lords of Salem is an Adult Maze

Upon first entering the hangar housing the mazes was ‘The Lords of Salem in Total Blackout,’ where we were greeted by an impressive facade that spanned almost the entire width of the room. Bathed in red light on a raised altar was a woman playing Sherri Moon’s main character from the film which inspired the maze. She was struggling to free herself and asking for help while to the left a giant demonic skull protruded over the line of guests waiting to enter the maze. This did a great job of setting an exciting tone for the first maze.

Once we made it through the queue line, we entered a holding pen where two men in robes and skull like face-paint placed a black sack over each of our heads, insulting us and telling us that we were never going to make it through alive. This does a great job of building suspense and excitement as they shove you into the maze to navigate your way through without the luxury of sight.

Lords of Salem challenges you to navigate while almost completely blind. Feeling your way through the darkness proves to be very disorienting at first which can give way to a feeling of anxiety, but after a few minutes of walking down empty hallways plus the fact that some light bleeds from above the maze walls allowing you to navigate, the intensity quickly wore off. At that point, the hood seemed like more of an annoyance than anything scary. The maze features gags such as a short stretch of shifting fun house floors and wall panels that would give a small shock if touched, but they were rare and didn’t seem to relate to the maze’s theme. The talent was also sparse and seem to be going for scares as much as they were aggressively grunting ushers pushing you in the right direction. This maze would have greatly benefited from more texture on the walls, a shorter maze length, or perhaps low lit scenes that would be slightly visible through the hood to connect a story to the maze. As it is, the only connection I could find to The Lords of Salem is the maze’s facade. Unfortunately, this one fell very flat after the opening moments.

Winds of Plague Front Man Jon Cooke

Winds of Plague Front Man Jon Cooke

As we rounded the corner, after having our hoods removed, we were greeted by a neon mural announcing ‘The Haunted World of El Superbeasto – 3D’. 3D glasses were passed out and we quickly headed into the most adult-themed claustrophobia hallway I have ever experienced, a reverse-birth if you will, which is the perfect way to start off this homage to the raunchy film of the same name.

If it wasn’t made clear before reaching this maze there is no doubt that this is absolutely an adult event and is not meant for children. Sexual innuendos abound and some scenes are very forthcoming in their filth. If you are a fan of the El Superbeasto film, then you will be happy to see that this maze is not watered down in the slightest.

Just as in the film, the maze follows El Superbeasto, an exploitation film director/actor/masked wrestler and his sidekick Suzi-X in their quest to prevent world domination by the evil Dr. Satan. Many citizens of Monsterland make cameos throughout the attraction. There is an impressive level of detail in the many custom made latex masks and some of the best 3-D work we have ever seen in a haunted attraction. It truly feels like you are in the middle of an animated film brought to life.

This maze was alive with energy and captured the essence of the film. The talent was outstanding in their performances and, although not overly-scary, the maze was definitely a mature, manic good time.

Last up was ‘Haunt of 1000 Corpses.’ The maze deviates slightly from the standard route of re-telling the story of the movie it’s based on. Instead, you’ll find yourself walking through the infamous ‘Murder Ride’ staffed by Capt. Spaulding and the Firefly family.

This maze boasts absolutely the best visual design of any of the three attractions, and some of the best design of any haunted attractions we’ve visited this season. Scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, even though they’re not necessarily completely related. You’ll find yourself visiting vignettes of some of the most storied serial killers of history, from H.H. Holmes to the Manson Family all ending with a face to face meeting with Capt. Spaulding and Dr. Satan himself.

Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie

Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie

Each and every talent in the maze was fully committed to their roles. We saw inbred maniacs humping away at anything they could get their pelvises close to. We saw cannibals doing less than moral things to female corpses. We saw Capt. Spaulding berating passersby while threatening them with phallic balloons. Once again, just like El Superbeasto, this is a very mature maze and definitely not suitable for kids. It, in a very unapologetic way, hits a very hard R-rating and it couldn’t have pleased us more.

If there’s any drawback to the way the event is organized it would be the daisy chaining of the mazes. All three are in the same hangar and lead right into each other with no breaks. There were no restrooms along the queues so if you have to pee definitely do so before entering. Because of the layout of the attractions, all guests are limited to one trip through. To avoid having a massive pile-up at the entrance the event is using a number system. Wait until your number is called to get in line, but while doing so you can shop the vendor tents, catch a classic horror movie on their outdoor projector screen, and watch the talent outside go to work. The outdoor talent was incredibly active, imaginative, and we never saw them drop character once. From the carny who let guests use real staples to pin dollar bills to his torso to the creepy undead children, the outside talent never disappointed.

Overall, Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare was very impressive – especially for its first year. While a little annoying, the queue system makes sense due to needing to move guests through the attraction and on to the concert venue. ‘The Lords of Salem’ has a lot of work cut out for it if it is to return for a second year but the other two mazes do a lot to make up for what the first one lacks. Also, with bands like Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, Winds of Plague, and Rob Zombie himself performing, if you pick a night where an act you care about is onstage you really can’t beat the $30 entry price for a concert plus an impressive freshman haunt attraction. If you live in the SoCal area this is one haunt to definitely keep your eye on.

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Jennifer Paxton