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Warner Bros. Studios is the next and newest major movie studio to take on the Halloween season with their very own brand of haunting attractions. There’s no attached theme park, so the entire experience takes up residence in the studio backlot. The Midwest Town set has been featured in countless horror movies including “The Monster Squad”, “Gremlins”, “The Lost Boys”, “Annabelle Creation”, and “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark”. Each of the Festival of Fright’s attractions is unique and unlike the other. This brings a more diverse experience that does not rely on the same scare tactics over and over again.
Step aside Universal Studios, Warner Brothers is the next and newest major movie studio to take on the Halloween season with their very own brand of haunting attractions. There’s no attached theme park, so the entire experience takes up residence in the studio backlot. The Midwest Town set has been featured in countless horror movies including “The Monster Squad”, “Gremlins”, “The Lost Boys”, “Annabelle Creation”, and “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark”. Each of the Festival of Fright’s attractions is unique and unlike the other. This brings a more diverse experience that does not rely on the same scare tactics over and over again.
The abandoned circus entrance theme is actually a clever segue from one clown host to another. In the beginning, you enter the mouth the Clown Prince of Crime, Joker. But on the other side and as you exit at the end of the evening, it is themed to Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Clever.
Little Shop of Horrors opens its doors welcoming fans a one-stop shop for all their horror movie needs. Merchandise products include “Beetlejuice”, “Friday the 13th”, “Arkham Asylum”, “IT”, “The Exorcist”, “The Shining”, “The Conjuring”, and even the CW’s “Supernatural”.
A high striker game is set up in one of the alleys. This game is directly themed after a scene from the end of the movie “Beetlejuice”. As the ghost with the most would say: “Come on a little closer! Step right up! Test your strength!” To the right, you’ll find the monster make-up demonstration with posted showtimes.
Nearby is a 1980s style arcade video gaming area loosely themed to 1987’s “The Lost Boys”.
At first glance, the missing persons posters hanging on the walls would have movie fans believe these are vampire victims as depicted in that story. But a closer look reveals these are posters actually themed to 2017’s “IT”. Another clever spin and mash up of themes that harmoniously tie into other franchises.
Between the arcade and high striker, game leaves a quaint food location serving up pizza, burgers, hot dogs, fries, drinks, and salads. The “Crave Inn Cafe” is a worthy nod to late horror director Wes Craven. Don’t expect anything to be prepared gourmet. So be sure to enjoy a decent meal before your arrival.
If you’re thirsty for “True Blood”, then you’ll want to sink your teeth into the Fangtasia vampire bar themed after the hit television series from HBO. It’s located by the main entrance and across from the Little Shop of Horrors.
In the center of the event, a stage is set up for a live DJ to dance the night away. A drop tower ride is also set up for some extra thrills and chills.
The world is all a stage
Welcome to the home of the Warren family. Come inside and admire the paranormal investigators’ collection stronghold. Each artifact contains a haunting backstory. Whatever you do, don’t touch anything. One of the most recognizable of the lot is the Annabelle doll. This particular object is safely locked in a glass case… which is now empty!
Unexplained phenomena drive your demonologist to guide you outside to continue the tour. An unsuspecting scarecrow and a woman hanging from a tree by a noose are nothing but ominous. Another paranormal assistant leads you back inside the neighboring house and you finally encounter the Annabelle doll rocking in a chair by a shadowy baby carriage. A closet door opens on its own followed by clapping hands. A careless member of your group gets taken away and inside the wardrobe. Screaming in terror. We follow her in but witness the beginnings of an exorcism. The crowd escapes down a hallway passing by a maid with an unfortunate accident. Another guide is to show you more upstairs but spots a mysterious shadow lurking behind the painting of a nun. Things get too spooky and you rush outside to safety.
“The Conjuring Universe” returns from last year essentially the same albeit very effective experience for fans of the franchise. The first half starts off the same with the luxury of more space to work with. The second half of this experience is unchanged. Repeat visitors will still grin at the sight of others if this is their first time. Each of the guides bring their character to life with their dedicated performances. Some areas get switched out with different characters, so the experience may not be the same twice.
THE EXORCIST: FORBIDDEN SCREENING
Citizens are summoned inside for service as the church bells ring. But on this night, a few clips from the movie “The Exorcist” will be screened. As the movie progresses, strange occurrences coincide with the film. Doors are blown open, a crucifix falls from the wall, drop in temperature of the chilly air, cracks in the wall grow larger, angel statues possessed with burning eyes and even an interruption from a ringing cell phone. The movie becomes all too real as Regan leaves the screen and wreaks havoc inside the church.
Think of this as a 4D experience of “The Exorcist” inside, appropriately enough, a church. This certainly sets it apart from a traditional scare maze and especially the maze that was featured in Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights back in 2016.
Last year, the church was used as a location to observe makeup demonstrations. The demonstrations are still offered, but inside a nearby facade with set showtimes. The Exorcist is very fitting with its mock church setting. It is quite a surreal feeling to enter the doors and be seated for service. The timing of the special effects with the film is very crucial to the experience. Although effects have been installed around the bench seats you sit on, any leg ticklers or water spray was hardly noticeable. The cell phone interruption played out more as an innocence. Maybe if a rotary dial telephone at the back corner of the church were to ring loudly on cue, it would be seen as more of a success. It would give the actor time to walk over to answer the phone. Only to have no one on the other end answer back! The overall sensation will still thrill horror fans looking for scare maze alternatives. The Regan in the show is also quite intimating with their thrashing head and grotesque makeup.
NIGHTMARE ON CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE
A studio tour cart drives through Elm Street and at the entrance to Camp Crystal Lake for a summer of fun. Nothing ever bad happens in the darkness of the woods. This jungle set has been in countless movies such as 1985’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and 1993’s “Jurassic Park”.
New campers take a stroll in the dark by a lakeside dock. Jason Voorhees terrorizes the camp counselors who try to warn you of the murderous rampage. Careful not to stumble over the canoes. And beware of the pitched campsite. You never know who’s roasting over the open fire.
Before you’re able to reach the cabins, you have an encounter with Freddy Krueger waiting outside by the picket fence in front of a burning home. There’s also an archery area with the targets being more than just stacks of hay.
Campers make their way inside the cabin seeking shelter and a hiding place from the titans of terror. It’s too late. The killing has already started without you. With rows of “sleeping” teenagers, could Freddy be far behind?
An actor hid among the hanging bodies one would be familiar to navigate through in a maze. An excellent scare tactic and reminiscent of classic horror movie moments.
A shrine for mother Voorhees could mean Jason is not too far away.
Talk about your “rec room”. Someone has wrecked through this area and killed the rest of the teenage counselors. Leftover carnage prevails. Was it Freddy? Was it Jason? Perhaps both?!
This was a truly unique walk through that takes advantage of the jungle set here in Warner Bros Backlot. Having the experience breakup into essentially two parts really brought welcoming contrast between the halves. There wasn’t any audio playback, so no iconic theme music from either franchise. The silence is part of the fear. But at the same time, a missed opportunity for additional ambiance. A dark walk in the woods recalls what Universal Studios had in their Terror Tram for several years between the Bates Motel and the Psycho House. Sans the uphill climb. We wish there were a few more counselors to be hacked away. Or at least be seen to contribute to the menacing threat. And a duel between Freddy and Jason in the last room before exiting the cabin could really bring the maze to a screaming close. If this was included, we wouldn’t have been able to see based on the one bright light and sheer darkness in the room.
STAGE 48: SCRIPT TO SCREAM
The studio backlot carts pick you up from your trip and leave you at the Studio Store gift shop. This is the same gift shop that ends the regular Warner Brothers Studio Backlot Tour or after your live taping of the Conan O’Brien show. It is also attached to Stage 48 where one room received a slight makeover for the Halloween season. The new addition features props and costumes from Tim Burton movies that were produced by Warner Bros. You have everything from “Beetlejuice” to “Corpse Bride”.
The only Tim Burton and Warner Bros collaboration that appear to be excluded are 1985’s “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and 2012’s “Dark Shadows”. Other horror movie icons are represented as well.
ESCAPE FROM ARKHAM ASYLUM
Batman’s Rogues Gallery of Villains has taken over Arkham Asylum. And Joker is the head judge, jury, and executioner. He sentences you to a night at Arkham for the crime of being too “sane”. The design is mostly based on the 2009 video game “Batman: Arkham Asylum”.
Be sure to check out the tire marks on the street that gives the sense of the Batmobile crashing into the gates at Arkham.
Your hearing with the Joker looks like it came straight out of the comic book. The Clown Prince of Crime sits at the top of stacked tables, drawers, and chairs creating a makeshift podium. He comes complete with a gavel and judge wig. This Joker’s delivery in voice and mannerisms is spot-on and brings an uncanny likeness to Mark Hamill’s performance. The proceedings your group sentenced to a night at Arkham.
After riding a questionable service elevator, new inmates are led into the morgue where Scarecrow awaits.
The villains seem to switch rooms and positions. At times, even the decor in the room flips around depending on who is taking over. So the experience is never the same twice.
Two-Face and The Riddler have been spotted in this cell. Two-Face really brings the room to life with his split-personality and electrified fence. He even flips his coin to make decisions and tosses a metal lunch tray. Even more intimidating is sparks flying as Two-Face electrifies the metal fence between us. Shocking! During our trip, The Riddler didn’t say very much and just glanced at everyone while pointing with his cane.
To your right is a female dancer with a dance pole down her throat. And empty chairs that seem to serve no purpose. Not sure if these were entirely necessary. Dare to continue down these wacky doorways and see what’s behind the corner. Who else may you encounter?
Poison Ivy stands guard to protect her overgrown vegetation. Do not be drawn by her venomous kiss of death or spray gun. The Penguin has also been spotted here roaming the halls and dealing firearms. The Penguin’s voice and mannerisms is also found to be on-point and feel like he came straight out of the video game. A lively inmate taunts passersby with a game of cards with the security guards. The prisoner channels a charm equal to that of the late Bill Paxton.
The Joker makes another appearance leading the new inmates into one of two doors in his fun house (both curtain filled doors lead into the same room). This is an excellent opportunity to get a close-up look of his make up and costume. A stunning piece of craftsmanship.
On the other side, Harley Quinn checks in on your progress. Again, the casting here is astounding as Harley’s voice is practically better than anything mainstream that has come out in recent years.
The experience suddenly ends after passing through a dark room with party lights shining overhead on enormous gift-wrapped presents. We escape Arkham through a blown out wall.
The atmosphere and featured characters are by far the highlight of “Arkham Asylum”. If you’re too scared and squeamish for the other mazes, this will be the least terrifying option to choose from. The interior contained the foggiest climate compared to the other mazes. But this was an excellent use of space compared to last year’s Nightmare on Elm Street maze where you took a brief trip inside a blood-soaked high school.
The walk-through is visually appealing but can stand to use a few tweaks. Given the level of attention to performers representing their counterparts as closely as possible, it was a shame that the Scarecrow had very little if anything going on for him. The villain muffled words through the mask, but it would have been best to have a recording played in the morgue. Curious to know how original voice performer Dino Andrade reacted during his walkthrough. A security officer could have been reacting to the fear toxin administered by Scarecrow from his glove. Guests could have also walked through a cloud of billowing fear toxin before advancing into the next room. The morgue also featured a laser light near the floor that served little purpose.
The maze needed more insane inmates but even more security guards to be threatened by the villains to increase tension towards the guests. Penguin could have had his umbrella shoot out blasts of air. The last room looks large enough to contain an oversized villain such as Killer Croc or Solomon Grundy to end on a high note. Despite the pathway being an overblown series of switchbacks, the simulation inside Arkham Asylum will be very enduring for Batman fanatics. We hope this maze returns next year with more actors and characters. But most of all, leaving us pleased rather than wishing for more.
IT KNOWS WHAT SCARES YOU
“It” returns to the Horror Made Here bigger and better than ever. The Neibolt mansion is back. But not the same way as you may have remembered it from the year prior. The maze features more recognizable and iconic moments and characters from the hit 2017 remake. Fortunately, the scenes do not present themselves in the order as it would appear in the movie. This helps keep you guessing what is next, but glad to see a scare come to life from the big screen.
Here, everyone is made an honorary member of the Losers’ Club. You start inside a house overlooking the body of one of the bully’s father with his sliced neck. The TV plays with children chanting “kill them all”. A friendly clown offers you a red balloon.
You’re invited in one of the kid’s rooms whose walls are covered with the grisly history of the town of Derry. Walk past the hanging clothes and into the closet to transition to the next scene.
A wall full of boxes in the library. Easter eggs are scattered around. Could the headless body of a dead child be nearby?
Turn the corner and let Beverly know if you’re able to see the blood in her bathroom. Careful of her dead father lying on the floor. Beverly swings the toilet lid in her hands. Don’t look behind the shower curtain.
You’re able to leave the bathroom without having to wash up all that blood. But a bully finds you and tells you to get out of his town. We find an armless Georgie in the basement warning that “you’ll float too!”
Another bully ready with his spray can and lighter threatens to light you on fire. He gives you a pass as you make your way into the sewers.
Georgie asks if anyone has seen his arm while multiple severed limbs hang above the ceiling. Dead pigs hang in the hallway as a door opens to reveal a burn victim from Derry’s past. But a leper chases you up and inside another house.
This ominous office is where the painted lady calls home.
The painted lady also makes appearances from behind the painting on the walls. One of which you are clearly able to see the brightly lit backstage area behind the character once they open their hiding spot. A simple black curtain would suffice.
Down the hall waits for one of three doors you can choose from each with their own bloody label. There is “Scary”, “Very Scary”, and “Not So Scary”. Choose wisely. One reveals a half-body corpse hanging from the ceiling. Another reveals Pennywise stuffed inside a refrigerator. And the last door leads the way out.
Your next challenge is to survive a hallway of clowns. Hope no one in your group has coulrophobia (fear of clowns).
The last clown relied upon staying in one place for their scares from behind a black curtain. But when you turn a corner, you meet up with that same clown. Although atmospheric, it’s a missed opportunity for the clown to move forward and still scare through the same black curtain, but from the other side of the path. This would be a lot more effective and deliver optimal frights.
We reach the sewers where a mound of debris is surrounded by floating children in the ceiling. One of which is no other than Beverly! Beware of Georgie asking for a quick exit. He might not be the same person as before.
The maze ends with a wall covered in the years that IT has terrorized the town of Derry. A slideshow is projected on a white sheet hanging from the garage. Pennywise gives one last scare to chase you out the exit.
The “IT” experience is a huge leap forward compared to the previous format from last year. Although you don’t get to walk directly in the doors of the mansion, being able to keep the facade but with a more complete walkthrough more than makes up for what you get. Granted last year was designed to get audiences interested in seeing the new movie. Now that the popularity has solidified, it was a safe bet to move forward with designing the maze to feature more scenes directly based on the movie.
The walkthrough really relies on the staffing of the characters in their locations. On several trips we did on the same night, the characters were missing or new to us on each venture. Hopefully, the consistency will be on a higher level as October rolls by. On that note, much like the casting in Arkham Asylum, the casting here with face characters of the kids were very well done. The variety you get here is much appreciated after the lackluster approach compared to another 1980s themed horror maze (We’re looking at you Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights).
If there is one other thing we wished we could have seen, it would be to have seen the last Pennywise with spider legs coming out of his arms. This would have thrown off expectations and finally have the dancing clown be seen in one of his more surprising but popular transformations.
Overall, Warner Bros Horror Made Here: Festival of Fright is absolutely worth your evening if you’re looking for scares by a major movie studio. Each attraction offers something different without relying on the same tricks. We recommend going in the following order to maximize your time. First stop for the evening should be “Nightmare in Camp Crystal Lake”. Much like the Terror Tram at Universal Studios, this and the Stage 48 experience closes early. “The Conjuring Universe” and “The Exorcist: Forbidden Screening” should be your next target given how only a certain number of people are permitted inside. Save “Arkham Asylum” and “IT Knows What Scares You” for last as they operate more like a traditional maze. It’s wonderful to see the backlot utilized as a functioning bar, store, arcade, and cafe. This really gives you a sense that you are part of a working movie studio. Are you ready for your close-up?
Our first run-through of “The Conjuring Universe” had technical difficulties, and we were quickly led back the way we came in… passing by the next group. Kudos to the performers keeping in character during this awkward moment. The employee at the front, however, cluelessly led us to the adjoining yard surrounded by bedsheets. We discovered later in the evening this area is just the extended standby queue. Upon our second walk-through, two ladies from the “entertainment department” used the front door of the house (which is not the maze entrance) and decided to tag along with our group. They were very loud and intoxicated. They also brought a bottle of beer with them (virtually all mazes would never allow food or drinks inside). Of course, when they got scared, they dropped their drink and left the hallway. I hope regular paying customers do not have to endure drunk employees freely walking into the mazes at will in the future.