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:
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!
Found this awhile back (thanks, Clayton!) but it’s quite relevant now – here’s the TOP 25 ways to avoid ticking off actors in haunted houses (and in the process, make your experience more enjoyable:
Which one is your favorite? Tell me in the comments section, below:
In honor of Halloween’s approach, what better way to theme your own, personal Haunt than by using the complete, original 1980 soundtrack from the line of the Demon at both Great America’s.
Yes, the “Demon Song” has been online for some time – but not the whole, nearly 30 minute queue recording, so enjoy!
A word of warning – this track is seriously corny!
In only a few, short years, Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America has gone from two “hand me down” mazes from Knott’s Berry Farm to easily the de facto Halloween event in Northern California.
Now with eight (8) mazes, three dedicated “scare zones” and enough fog machines and tinted lighting to make any rock concert jealous – the Haunt is now worthy of being up for comparison to the event that initially spawned it in Southern California.
The entertainment begins just as you enter the front gate to the park. Fire cannons (yes, you read that correctly) have been installed along the reflecting pool of Carousel Columbia. Never did I think I would feel the heat of flames on a relaxing ride like Columbia – then again, this IS Haunt. Consider walking into Carousel Plaza your “baptism by fire” to Haunt. The only thing that would make it better would be to run the carousel backwards.
To the right of the carousel, lies the first of two new mazes this year, “Dia de los Muertos.” As you can imagine, it’s a Latin themed maze, complete with Spanish-talking zombies and dizzying effects. The artwork alone makes the maze worth going into (and we STRONGLY recommend getting a pair of 3D glasses for $1.00 at the entrance). Those 3D glasses can also be used in the “CarnEVIL” maze in Orleans Place.
At the back of the park lies Zombie High, the other new maze for 2013. The building, which lies behind the Grizzly roller coaster, was built specifically for this maze, but I imagine it will double as a Haunt storage warehouse in the off-season. Considering all the material necessary to pull this event off now – it would make sense to expand the “backlot storage” the park currently has.
“Zombie High” is modeled after Shows Director, Clayton Lawrence’s old high school, down to the mascot. Of course, I’m guessing he didn’t have all the zombies and blood, there. See if you can catch all the inside jokes and macabre humor – just don’t upset the Principal.
The eight mazes and elaborate theming in the park would have been enough to placate most Halloween fans – but then California’s Great America did something celebrated by park fans and observers…they didn’t stop there.
Back in March, Park Spokesperson Roger Ross stressed that, “Cedar Fair is committed to California’s Great America. We’re replacing roofs…there’s fresh paint everywhere.” And you know what? He wasn’t kidding. That same spirit and drive to revive the park to it’s former glory and true potential is clearly evident in all aspects of the Haunt this year. Did you really need fire cannons at the front entrance? Not really – but who the hell cares – they’re freaking awesome!
In addition to the two new mazes and amazing theming throughout the park, Great America now offers a pre-scare meal, dubbed “Madame Maries Voodoo Chophouse.” The $22.99 add-on to your admission includes: early entry to the park, an all-you-can-eat, cajun-themed buffet, single “Fright Lane” entry to a maze of your choice and apparently very exclusive ride time on Gold Striker!
Now, most buffets at amusement parks are well – not worth writing home about. But, this meal included: fried catfish, creole, biscuits, prime rib(!) and soft drinks among other items. There’s even a chocolate fountain, complete with fruit and other dessert options. It shattered my notion of what I could eat an an amusement park outside of the Disneyland Resort. The park also offers a “Fright Feast” for $13.99, with more standard, picnic grove food options.
But the two new mazes, elaborately-themed buffet and exclusive ride time on Gold Striker was NOT the highlight of the night. That honor was reserved for the masterfully choreographed ice show, “Blades of Horror.”
Yes, you read right – an ICE show at a Halloween event. Stay with me, people…
A combination “Cirque” style show with an intriguing storyline, “Blades of Horror” is easily the best show I have seen at California’s Great America, going back to the KECO days of the late 1980’s.
The talent is largely local and according to many staff members, the show was largely driven by the performers simply wanting to keep performing. It has the look and feel of a large budget show you’d catch in any Las Vegas resort – and yet it’s right here, in the middle of Haunt. The acrobatics, aerials stunts and exhibitions of these actors is nothing short of spectacular. The grand finale alone is something that simply cannot be missed and may never be duplicated again.
There you have it – not one, but no less than five incredible reasons to visit California’s Great America and their burgeoning Halloween Haunt event.
As the days get closer to Halloween, it’s best to schedule your visit on either a Sunday or better still – visit as soon as possible. The crowds will only get larger as the holiday approaches, and so does the cost of admission.
Oh, and don’t show up to the park on Halloween – Haunt runs through October 27th.
Halloween Heads – it’s time to get out to California’s Great America – and get your scream on.
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Learn more about Haunt and it’s incredible entertainment and food options here: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt
First off, my apologies for the delay in updating lately. Unlike some others in the theme park fandom community – I actually hold down full-time employment in a separate career…
In only it’s fifth year of existence, California’s Great America has taken their “Halloween Haunt” from a paltry offering that used “long retired” mazes from other parks – to a bona fide, macabre extravaganza worthy of a separate gate admission.
After parking the car and meeting up with my group for the night, I immediately noticed the attention to theme and detail. Carousel Plaza was lit up (and so were the teenagers I was surrounded by).
In Hometown Square my fellow “scared-y cats” and I gathered, awaiting the Overlord (the de facto leader of the monsters) to rise up from the depths and “plug” all the fun activities for the evening (literally as if he was plugging a product on the Howard Stern show) as well as command his minions to go forth, “…and terrorize!” The ropes were dropped and the night of fright officially began.
Figuring the front mazes would be crowded at first, I made my way to the back of the park, where the familiar sounds of “Toy Factory” could be heard.
“Toy Factory” is set in it’s namesake – a not so abandoned factory inhabited by deranged dolls and other toys, who were more than willing to help unsuspecting guests join their ranks. Some of the best effects are found in the the strobe rooms, but if you’re claustrophobic – this is not the maze for you.
“Werewolf Canyon” was sadly at the bottom of my list this year, mostly because it was practically empty by all standards. While most of the mazes will will up nicely as we get closer to Halloween, I didn’t get one good fright out of the entire attraction – which is a sharp contrast from last years maze in the same location.
Next up was arguably the best of the mazes at this event, for several years now, “Cornstalkers”. Set in the back of the park, through the Picnic Grove and under the Grizzly, this maze had the best scares of the night, by far.
Not only does it feel like the longest of the mazes, but it’s use of open air and lack of soundtrack gives you the false sense of safety – which the talent in the maze use perfectly to their advantage. The addition of actors blending perfectly into the corn maize walls towards the end of the attraction adds to the suspense and fright.
“Madame Marie’s Massacre Mansion” is a new addition to the maze lineup this year. Built into it’s own building (ironically next to First Aid) “Mansion” is one of the best themed mazes I’ve walked through in quite some time. It also commanded the longest line of the night.
It was clear there was attention to detail at every level – it truly made you FEEL as though you were in a 1920’s (or so) mansion, that is, if you didn’t look up to the ceiling and see the shed you were actually in! This is in sharp contrast to most of the mazes at events like this, where it’s just painted particle board.
The effects were nothing short of impressive and the costumes were excellent, to boot. It’s clear that this maze took some serious investment to get it right – and in my opinion it was well worth the time and effort put into it. One can only hope we see it return next year.
Vegans beware! “Slaughterhouse Annihilation” just might make you sick. Based around an abandoned meat processing facility, this maze is one of the more gruesome of the bunch – and rightfully so. Expect to be thrown in a meat grinder in this maze at some point – and whatever you do – don’t show the pigs any fear!
“CarnEvil” is the reigning patriarch of the mazes at this event. Originally a maze down at Knott’s Berry Farm, “CarnEvil was the first maze to make it’s way to Great America when the Halloween Haunt debuted five years ago.
This maze is by far, the most light-hearted of them all, which attracts the multitude of fans to it. That is, of course, if you’re not afraid of clowns.
Built into the Rue le Dodge bumper car arena, “CarnEvil” is also a 3D maze – used to brilliant effect in the opening room. Just don’t walk too quickly or you just might run into a wall or three.
Herein again, I found the lack of talent inside to be the only disappointment. At previous events, it would have been impossible to throw a pie and NOT hit a homicidal clown. Instead, I was hard pressed to see more than 7-10 actors inside!
“Club Blood ReVamp’d” was sadly the one maze I was unable to get to in my time at the park. Though, from the scantily-clad zombie and vampire ladies that were going inside – I’m certainly regretting not making the time to get in!
As the night progressed and the temperature dropped, the scare zones (and the fog) only warmed up in terms of action. The purposely dimmed lighting certainly did its part as well. Nothing beats walking through the arbor arch at the back of the park and seeing about three feet in front of you!
“Blood Drums” is a high energy, outdoor show that’s best described as “Stomp” meets “zombie apocalypse.”
Set in the premium venue at the park (directly behind the Carousel Columbia) “Blood Drums” is a 3-4 member band in full zombie attire that uses metal objects and “industrial tools” to create music.
If you’re into loud, ear-splitting music – this is definitely the show for you. If you’re not – steer clear, hombre. Many times, I found myself reaching to plug my ears, as the volume was up so high it physically hurt – and I was standing about 100 feet away from the stage. How the guests standing at the front of the stage are not deaf today, is beyond me.
In fact, the best music the team played during their set, again in my opinion, was when they TURNED OFF the backup bass and drumbeats – and simply played live.
“CULTure Pop” is in the Showtime Theatre – and can best be described as “The Hanging” without the blood, stunts or punch of the actual hanging.
Cedar Fair Entertainment certainly seems to have a fascination with pop culture, to the point of being painful to watch. Expect to see pop culture “icons” appear throughout the show, with many of them that just don’t work. Cedar Fair also seems to have a fascination with effeminate men playing the supporting role to the “straight man” in the show…go figure.
There were some good moments though, including a cameo by a hairy “Honey Boo Boo” and a dismissal of the band, “New Direction.”
But the lack of a “finale” (I.E. someone has to die at these types of shows) and several VERY adult themed dance numbers (We’re talking full on groping and humping!) really hurt the overall entertainment value, especially for an event marketed to kids ages 13+. Have your scantily clad ladies, that’s fine – but tone down the sexual overtones – it’s shock value and really does not add to the show.
But what REALLY shocks me, is something that’s completely out of the parks’ control – the lack of understanding about what these events are all about. I’m talking about how I lost count of the number of STROLLERS and CHILDREN who were clearly too young to be at such a mentally-intense event as this.
The park certainly does their part to curb this; warnings abound on park literature and signage. Heck, even the security guards were warning parents – but it didn’t seem to dissuade the “Parents of the Year” from continuing their march towards the inevitable child psychologist appointments.
So, overall – I see nothing but good things for this event in the future. While it may not have the star power of the original Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm, if it continues on this path that it’s on, I see no reason why it should not have the same staying power and clout as it’s namesake does.
If you have not already purchased a Season Pass for this park, what exactly are you waiting for? In addition to admission to Halloween Haunt (depending on the level of pass you purchase) you can receive free parking, free admission to Gilroy Gardens, as well as merchandise and food discounts in-park. (We saved $20 collectively on our dinner!)
Oh, not to mention Gold Striker, CGA’s first roller coaster in over a DECADE (yes, it’s been that long, people) and second wooden coaster!
- If you don’t like being scared – save yourself the trouble and don’t go.
- Friday nights tend to be a younger crowd than Saturday nights.
- Arrive at the front gate at opening to maximize your stay. You’re going to need as much time as possible to experience everything.
- Take on the outdoor mazes AFTER the sun sets, focus on indoor mazes during the twilight.
- Try to find the pockets of people and then avoid them – to keep lines to a minimum.
- Go in late September or early October to avoid the expected, larger crowds as Halloween approaches.
For more information, visit: www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt2012