Great America and Knott’s pull Fear:VR from Haunt lineups after criticism from mental health advocates
After a name change before it opened to the public and just three days of operation, both California’s Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm removed their “Fear:VR” attractions from their Halloween Haunts after mental health advocates in Southern California cried foul.
In their letter to Cedar Fair, the President of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “The attraction adds to the hurtful, dehumanizing, discriminatory, prejudicial, insensitive, offensive and stigmatizing of mental illness. (We believe) it is in the poorest taste that mental illness stereotypes are being used by entertainment sources for commercial gain.”
Cedar Fair – corporate owner of both parks – issued a statement late Tuesday night:
“For nine years we have delivered unique and immersive haunted experiences to our fans and loyal guests. Our evening attractions are designed to be edgy, and are aimed at an adult-only audience. Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – FearVR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness. As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween time frame, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
For those of us who DID experience it, the consensus was clear: it WAS scary as all hell. It was a better, overall use of VR than on a coaster – because you didn’t know what to expect. It truly immersed you in the program. But – was it offensive, insensitive and stigmatizing? And more importantly, should that matter when it comes to a fantasy event like Halloween Haunt?
On the one hand – it’s a Halloween event. It’s supposed to be a little “off.” Hell, Knott’s regularly MURDERS and HANGS celebrities (in effigy) twice a night in Calico Square. Yet, you don’t hear from those who decry the death penalty or for those wanting more gun control – because everyone knows it’s fake. It’s built into the event.
I don’t remember the “hospital” in Fear:VR focusing on mental health in the storyline. We went into the room for an “ocular” exam. There was a backstory about a young girl who was possessed in some way, but it was never made clear that the facility we were at was anything more than a regular hospital.
On the other hand, is mental health a huge stigma in our society? Absolutely. Could this attraction possibly play into those stigmas? I suppose you could say, “yes” given the reality many interpreted it as. But then again, the whole Haunt experience is one big stigma / stereotype when you think about it. Are all farmers murderous, un-educated hicks? Then Cornstalkers must go. Are all clowns homicidal maniacs? Killer Klown Town has to go too – it could be offensive to genuine, circus performers. Is a hospital full of half-dead zombies going to trying and kill you if you check into a mental clinic? No, it isn’t.
Cedar Point tried a similar attraction a few year ago – and it met the exact same criticism and ultimate demise. How the company thought that in CALIFORNIA of all places that this would fly, is a question for someone above my pay grade. One must also wonder if the park’s “INsanitarium” maze might be in the cross-hairs as a result of all this activity.
The other question that I don’t think we can answer is this: Where do we stop with this? I don’t claim to have the answer – I don’t think any of us do.
Recently, a lot of people were pretty “upset” that In N’ Out Burger didn’t offer a vegetarian burger. They made a petition that got a ton of play online and loads of media attention. Yet, do you see meat eaters going into vegan or vegetarian restaurants, demanding beef? But I digress, let’s get back to the parks…
There is one thing I think that we CAN agree on: there is difference between fantasy and reality – and there’s no reality in a park’s Halloween event.
The chainsaws don’t have chains, the monsters have no magical powers and all of the blood is fake. Are we laughing at the dead, the murderers among us or the worst of our society by celebrating Halloween like this? Of course not. It’s just fantasy.
What do you think? Should the parks have shut down the attraction, or is this just a massive blow up for nothing? Let me know in the comments section below – but please keep it civil:
Northern California’s marquee morbid event, Halloween Haunt, returns to California’s Great America in 2016 with a few tweaks and added shrieks.
I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow review of each and every maze – you really should go out and explore them for yourselves. However, I will be giving you an overall picture, with some detailed insight.
The marquee attraction for 2016 is “Fear:VR” a virtual reality experience using Samsung phones and the Oculus headset. They are the same headsets used by Six Flags for their VR coasters – but that’s where the comparison ends.
Fear:VR (the name was changed due to complaints from mental health advocates) uses 8 stationary “wheelchairs” set up in one of two rooms, dressed just like a doctors office. The “nurses” allow you to get comfortable, then quite literally strap you in. The “Nurses” then place on the VR headset and earphones. The simulation (they call it an ocular exam) proceeds and uses several extra-sensory tricks, similar to a 4D theater in addition to the VR screen.
Overall, it is a fascinating, psychological trip that shows the potential of VR without having to strap you into a moving coaster. But, it will also set you back $10 per person. Normally, I’d be against this – but once I saw the slow capacity, I understood the necessity of making it an “upcharge” attraction. The ability to schedule your “doctor’s appointment” and realistic looking ID wristband you get to take with you are very nice touches.
One of the biggest changes that Haunt fans will notice is the separation of the Skeleton Key rooms from the mazes. Now they are in their own, individual sites (mostly stores). This has alleviated one of the chief criticisms of last year’s Haunt, in which Skeleton Room patrons waited LONGER to experience the maze than those who had not purchased an upgrade.
This separation keeps the uniqueness of the rooms, while preserving the Fast Lane that comes with it. The five rooms are: Bone Crusher, Dominated, Vanity, Sorority Slaughter and Hoarder House. Their experiences vary from standard “walk-though” maze to full-on “escape from the room.”
Cornstalkers received a much-needed refresh – and it paid off nicely. Great to see the older mazes get some love here, too.
However, the event is not without it’s wrinkles to iron out. For example, the Fast Lane entrance for Insanitarium was difficult to find – and when I did find it, it wasn’t separated from the other guests, which led to some confusion. Thankfully, crowds were very light for a Friday night.
Also, the area around “Fear: 5150” is quite bleak – and not in the good, “Haunt-ish” sort of way. It’s actually quite difficult to FIND or even SEE the attraction as you’re walking past it. With Planet Snoopy completely dark, I struggled to see the sign for the attraction – and many guests probably walked right past it without even realizing it was there. Maybe some extra “nurses” could be stationed around the area, and used like carnival barkers to ask if people have made their appointments” to see the good doctor.
Now, I know I’ve written at length before about this last gripe, but it bears repeating: How can a park, with a ride themed after a demonic creature, not do ANYTHING to plus the ride during a Halloween event? Of course, I’m referring to “The Demon” – and it befuddles me each and every Haunt to ride it, only to find nothing has been added, changed or put into it. Heck, at least the other Demon at Six Flags Great America brings back the kitschy theme song that used to play in the queue during their Fright Fest! Here’s the complete soundtrack, in case anyone at the park is reading this:
The event still suffers from a lack of talent, both in the scare zones and mazes. Hopefully, it will fill out as the event progresses.
Finally – this is something that I’ve watched become more and more of an issue with each Haunt season: parking control.
While I realize that security is more focused on the guests inside the park, it may be time to address the parents picking up their kids outside the gates.
You see, this isn’t the line to get into the park for Haunt – these are all parked vehicles, blocking the entrance to the parking lot. It extends all the way onto Great America Parkway. If I were a guest who didn’t know better, I’d assume it was the line to get into the park – and promptly change my mind about going that evening:
What’s more frustrating, is that in addition to all of that roadway being a red zone, the drop off / pick up area is right across the way, designed for easy entry and exit. It was only about half-full when I took these photos. But, come peak Haunt season, it will be full and overflowing. It would be nice to see the park and city come up with a better, higher capacity waiting area, so that more people would use it. Where’s Stanley Roberts when you need him?
So is Halloween Haunt a good bet for you and your friends in 2016? Absolutely.
Should you pony up a few extra bucks for the unique, Skeleton Rooms and Fear:VR? Yes. You probably had a Gold Pass anyway, so why not spend a few bucks every now and then to “plus” your experience? I know I’ll be returning to the fog…
It seems like a match made in heaven…err, HELL perhaps.
Since California’s Great America began their annual Halloween Haunt, it has missed out on what would be the EASIEST haunted attraction – ever. That’s right, I’m talking about the Demon.
If you were ever looking for an excuse to bring back some of the older theme of this classic Arrow Development ride, wouldn’t Haunt be the perfect opportunity?
Let’s start with the queue line. By now, every park fan has probably heard of the infamous “Demon Song” – a nearly twenty-six minute loop of a custom theme song for ride, coupled with skits between. And there’s no need to look for it, CGA – here it is…in it’s entirety:
This “demon-itization” could also include sprucing up all the accent lighting around the ornate rock work. And you know what, why not throw in some zombies on the other side of the fence just to make things interesting?
Now, let’s get to some of the most contentious, yet easiest to accomplish items, if you use a little creativity.
1.) Fog in the Tunnels:
We can all see the light sockets are still there from the 1980 season (check out how amazing it was, too):
…and while they’ve just been DYING to be reused (couldn’t resist), why not do a much cheaper alternative for now by just throwing some white (or red strobes) inside the tunnel, with two of those Haunt fog machines at the entrance to it? The train will naturally draw in the fog into the tunnel and the effect will be both disorienting and amazing at the same time.
2.) The Bloodfall:
This one is arguably more complicated. We’re guessing the pump may have gone out a few years ago and it isn’t too easy to get out to be replaced. But – that doesn’t mean you can’t fill the pond below with that eerie red liquid for effect or throw some more strobes and fog out there…
.2.) The Demon Himself:
Sadly, last weekend when I stayed until closing, the head wasn’t even lit up. Not even the eyes. Too bad, because when he is – it’s awesome:
People give the Paramount-era at this park a bad rap – most of the lighting and water effects WORKED during this time (sans the big tunnel).
Need we remind everyone the 40th park anniversary is coming up in 2016 next year. With nostalgia a BIG seller these days, what better way to throw it back, then to finally see a return of our terrifying Demon…
What do YOU think? Tell us in the comments section below or on our social media links!
Nobody’s perfect – we are all human, after all. But there are several ways you can mess up BIG TIME at your local amusement or theme park and end up in the county jail. If you think those rules at parks are for chumps, you better read on and start taking copious notes.
Here’s five ways you can get carted away to jail for misbehaving at an amusement or theme park:
The quintessential bad adolescent behavior! In addition to being a serious health hazard, spitting off of a ride (such as a sky ride) and hitting another person can be prosecuted as assault. Plus, the park can revoke your ticket or season pass as well.
In many places around the country, smoking is being banned in all public places, including parks. Many have set up so called “Cancer Corners” to keep people from smoking directly on the midway. But in some places, you can be cited for illegally smoking – and it can carry jail time in some of the more strict interpretations of the law, especially here in California.
Disobeying Ride Operators:
Much like a Flight Attendant, a Ride Operator knows much more about the attraction you’re about to ride, despite their age or attentiveness. Purposely disobeying an order from them can not only land you in the hospital from injuries, but can also get you in the slammer for failing to heed posted rules and regulations.
Ah, the scourge of park attendees worldwide. But did you know that California has a specific Penal Code dedicated to line jumping? California Penal Code 490.6 gives parks’ the ability to detain you for jumping the line, until the police show up. That’s one way to make your wait times much LONGER, rather than shorter.
This should be a no brainer, but amazingly, you’re not allowed to write on things that aren’t yours – especially private property. Of interest lately is people tagging their Instagram or Twitter accounts…because nothing makes the police happier than you telling them exactly how to find you to prosecute you.
By now, you must be asking yourselves: “Wait, you cannot possibly be serious in saying or implying that people get prosecuted for these, can you?”
Well, hate to break it to you, but I am serious – and I’ve seen it happen. Working for several parks in my career, I’ve seen everything from spitters being arrested, to taggers being tased. In fact, more people than you think are removed from parks every day, and some of them end up making the trip wayyy downtown. Remember that parks are supposed to keep out the “outside world” and keeping up that illusion is part of the services the park offers. Trust me, just follow the rules and you’ll make everyone’s day better!
What do you think? Which person behaving badly would YOU like to see removed from a park for one of these offenses? Tell us on social media or comment below!
In light of recent events at Six Flags America, as well as a haunted house that literally scared someone to death (albeit with a pre-existing heart condition), some people – including myself – are questioning if we’ve gone too far with Halloween. Now, before you go jumping down my throat, I’m specifically questioning the experiences being offered / encouraged (not necessarily the crowds that it attracts).
Full disclosure, us Americans tend to do two things with holidays: ruining the true meaning of them and over-doing them. Halloween is no exception. But when events begin to leave such a large psychological mark on people – to the point that some now require you sign waivers – are we really having fun, or just harming ourselves?
I actually enjoy these events – and while I don’t live for it every year, I’ve noticed a ramping up as of late with the realism…and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. For instance…some events now offer “terrorist experiences” where you can feel like an ISIS hostage, without the actual pain and suffering. How is that FUN, exactly?
Even more traditional events have felt the pressure to be more realistic. The rope drop at Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America now features a large mass of people being run after by monsters. Now, normally, I’m a big fan of this park and while I get the idea of building up the atmosphere – I’m no fan of being trampled when I’m trying to have fun.
So, are the events getting too intense for you? Or do you see it as simple, harmless fun? Keep the conversation going on our social media pages, or leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
Do you think Halloween is the best time of the year?
Does the thought of scaring, startling or shocking people get you up in the morning?
Do you enjoy sliding across hard surfaces on your knees and hands, sparking all the way?
If so, you might want to consider a part time gig at California’s Great America – they’re still hiring for monsters, zombies and maze attendants as part of their Halloween Haunt event.
As they say, the more monsters in the park, the merrier the experience will be – so apply today – and get paid for having fun!
After an 11 month wait, Halloween fans can once again rejoice – the Haunt has returned to California’s Great America!
We’re in the park this evening as part of the media preview night – and if the hype is true – this could end up being the best Haunt in California. (That’s right – we said it, Knott’s fans…)
If you want to experience Haunt with us as-it-happens, be sure to follow us on Twitter.
Also, be sure to check back here next week for a full review, including photos and interviews.
Happy hauntings, everyone! Buhahahaha!