Monday, October 13, 2014

A Review of Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare 2014


On October 4th, I, Damian (HalloweeNut) and my friends Sharon from Ghost Hunting Theories and Julie from Above the Norm attended Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare in Scottsdale, AZ. Before going we had obtained press passes (one of the benefits of a having horror blogs), and were let into the mazes early and allowed to take photos of the horror within. This is my official review of Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare:

WARNING: SPOILERS!!!!!!

Arrival:
Leaving Sharon's apartment, Sharon, Julie, and I climbed into her car and made our way to Westworld in Scottsdale, where the event was being held. The only problem was that we almost didn't find the event. There was literally zero signage; no billboards, no giant posters screaming "This Way to Rob Zombie!" This was odd and a bit annoying. You'd think that, given the prominence of the event and the sheer size of Westworld there would be all kinds of signage pointing you towards the entrance. No such luck. Eventually, we found a large cluster of parked cars and decided to see if this was in fact the entrance. Lucky for us, it was. We had printed out our VIP tickets before hand, but there some confusion there as well, as there were two lines: one for people buying tickets on site, and one for people picking up their wristband after buying tickets online. However, we didn't know which was which, and ended up waiting in the wrong line. Even when someone did announce which line was the right one for us, we still had to wait for people at the ticket booth, as they didn't have their scanners for the receipts we printed out before hand. This is really my biggest gripe with GAN: lack of signage, hard to find, a malfunctioning website, and too many management screw ups. Now I get it, haunts are VERY stressful business and shit happens, so I'm not too upset about the scanners missing and the website; I'm more annoyed at lack of signage. Enough said.

Eventually, the time came for my crew and I to enter the GAN. We made our way through the midway, here known as Bloody Blvd. - an interesting mix of animatronics, roaming monsters, live entertainment, and vendors to browse after you went through the haunts. As we were media, we got let inside early. After stepping through the front door, we entered into what I call "the Arena": a huge, very dark queue line with stage props from Rob Zombie concerts on display, such as a giant boombox and an evil robot. The soundtrack from the Devil's Rejects maze bleed into this area and got our blood racing. We were led by the GAN's publicist into the first stop of the evening's adventure: The Lords of Salem.

The Arena



The Lord of Salem:
OK, I'm going to be brutally honest here: I hated this maze. I didn't have high hopes for it anyways, having heard negative reviews of from last year when the event debuted in LA. The facade was kinda cool, being a two-story replica of the apartment building, although when compared with the version of the facade for the Chicago version of LOS (Chicago being home to the other version of GAN), it look kinda hasty, like they ran out of time. Also, they had a prop of a witch being burned at the stake (a very cool prop!) but it was hidden off to the side. I think it would have made more sense to have this in the center of the queue line and have the line wrap around it. Also, the lighting for the facade was kind of odd - just a white spot light. I would have thought some more ominous lighting would have been nice.





As for the maze itself, it was split into two sections: a door maze and a black maze. The door maze was fun, being dressed to look like the the interior of the apartment from the movie, with multiple pathways to choose from. However, this was spoiled by one actress, dressed as the character of Heidi from the movie, breaking character and dropping a snide remark as we walked away. I have no problem with haunt actors being rude/mean/vulgar, as long as it's in character. This actress breaking character and being rude to guests was really unprofessional, and a total buzz kill. The rest of the haunt was a black-out maze, which is really just black plywood walls, no lighting, and loud music; in this case, the "cursed" record from the movie Lords of Salem. I really, REALLY don't like black-out mazes. I think they're just completely annoying, and neither creepy nor scary. Plus, they're a bit of a cop-out; it feels like the haunt owner said "Oh, we want to have three mazes, but don't have the time/money/imagination; I've got it - I'll build a tiny black rat maze!" What was really bad was that I managed to actually walk out of the maze using of the security exits and walked straight into the backstage area. Not good. Nothing personal Rob Zombie, but I really was not impressed with the LOS maze (but I did dig the movie!)


Captain Spaulding's Clown School in 3D:
Following right on the heels of LOS was the Captain Spaulding maze, which I think was probably the best haunt we went through that night! Although I'm not a huge fan of 3D mazes (or evil clowns, for that matter - they just don't scare me), this maze was a total blast. More funny than scary, the queue line was themed as a circus camp ground with a stage for the "Booty Call Circus" where sideshow freaks would perform stunts like sword swallowing or the human blockhead while you waited in line.










Upon entering the maze, you were given 3D glasses and allowed to walk through the technicolor world of Captain Spaulding and his clown minions. What followed was awesome 3D artwork, some truly demented clowns, raunchy humor, and a few nice startles to punch it up. The highlights included the opening Vortex Tunnel, the Cotton Candy Room, the Balloon Room, and the Upside Down Room, wherein a clown bounced an enormous strap-on in my face while dance music played in the background. Only in the world of Rob Zombie!






Anyone recognize this clown art?
The Cotton Candy Room

A clown with a strap-on: pure nightmare fuel!

I was a little bummed that the character of Captain Spaulding only made one appearance right at the beginning, but overall I had a complete blast, and it more than made up for the highly disappointing LOS maze before it. Also, I have to give a shout-out to the actor in the queue line; this guy was no more than two feet tall and in a wheelchair, and he scared the absolute shit out of everyone who crossed his path, myself included! 1) He was very fast, and you literally did not see him coming, and 2) he had an ENORMOUS battle ax which he would swing at the feet of patrons, then cackle like a madman and zoom off into the dark. Really intense, and an awesome performance. If you're reading this review, then kudos to you!


From Captain Spaulding's, it was onto the climax of the evening: The Devil's Rejects!

The Devil's Rejects:
As a huge fan of The Devil's Rejects movie (I consider it to be Rob Zombie's masterpiece), I had very high hopes for this maze, especially when I saw the photos released of the facade (an exact two-story replica of the Firefly homestead from the movie) and learned that the opening scene was a reenactment of the shootout that opens the movie. A lot of my friends who were fellow Rejects fans told me how jealous they were that I was going to see the maze, and we all agreed that we hoped the character known as The Chicken Fucker would make an appearances, as he's easily the funniest scene in the whole movie and beloved by the fans.

The Firefly Abode


Upon entering the queue for The Devil's Rejects, my jaw hit the floor: I was no longer in a haunted house, I was in the movie. Above me towered the Firefly house, looking just as it did in the movie, while behind me half a dozen 1970s cop cars from the Ruggsville Sheriff's Department sat, with Sheriff Wydell and his deputies clutching their rifles waiting for the battle to begin. Crickets chirped and the wind howled as guests filed in, waiting for the show to start. A Deputy who looked like he just stepped out of the movie gave us all a good tongue lashing before the show began (and my god, that man's breath - it REEKED! Talk about being in character!)

When the show started up, the actors playing Sheriff Wydell and Lt. Dobson lip-synced to dialogue from the movie, setting up the shootout to follow. Finally, the music kicked in over the sound system, the red lights on the cop cars started spinning, and Wydell began shouting through his megaphone at the Rejects to "Come out with your hands up!" Lights started turning on in the house windows, and you could hear the Rejects putting the ammunition in their guns and putting their armor on. Finally, Wydell counted down from three, and all hell broke loose. The bullets began to fly, and I was in the craziest, coolest scene I've ever witnessed in a haunted attraction. You could feel the bullets whizzing past you, smell the gunpowder, see bullets holes forming in the side of the house. At one point, the tires on of the cop cars got shot out. The shootout ended with Lt. Dobson throwing tear gas into the house, and fog rolling out of the windows. From there it was time to enter the lair of the Devil's Rejects...
Sheriff Wydell and Lt. Dobson discuss the situation.


The battle begins.
Following the shootout, we were sent into a second queue line (created no doubt to allow guests to witness the shootout without creating traffic problems). However, it was completely undecorated - just unpainted plywood walls rope barriers, with one rusty trailer sitting in the back. No music, no actors, nothing. Kinda lame. From there we entered the Firefly house, home to such memorable characters as Baby, Spaulding, Otis Driftwood, Mama Firefly, Tiny, and even Fishboy from House of 1,000 Corpses (alas, no Chicken Fucker). To be honest, while the maze was very good, with highly detailed sets, gory props, and demented actors, was extremely good, and certainly the scariest of the three mazes, it didn't really *feel* like the movie. It just felt like your typical killer hillbilly maze, only it just happened to have Rob Zombie characters. Again, it was very good, and very well done, it just wasn't I was expecting. I liked how in some rooms, the set of rotting flesh wafted through the air, helping the maze to come alive as a waking nightmare.


Baby's room.


Behold - Fishboy!
Towards the end of the maze, you entered the motel scene from the movie. What was unique about this scene, is that there are multiple rooms you could choose from to enter, with a different member of the Firefly family trying to get you to come into theirs (even Grandpa, who was supposed to have died between House and Rejects, made an appearance here). We of course went into the room with Otis, and I have to say the actor playing him in this scene NAILED it. Perfect casting, he was extremely believable and dead on as the murderous Charles Manson-lookalike. Following the motel, I assumed we would move onto Charlie's Frontier Fun Town, the wild-west themed whorehouse run by Captain Spaulding's brother seen towards the end of the movie. Instead what we got were some dark rooms continuing the killer hillbilly theme. The final scene involved an appearance by Tiny wielding a shovel, and I gotta say, the actor playing Tiny was fucking HUGE! I don't know where they found this guy, but he was great; very intimidating, and had some neat tricks with his shovel. From there, we were spat back out into the cool evening air, having barely escaped the murderous crazies inside the Firefly lair.

Bloody Blvd.:





Gary Busey?



The GAN's midway, called the Bloody Blvd., was a motley assortment of vendors, a taco stand, animatronics on display, roaming monsters, and a stage for live performances. That night they had Blood Drums, a percussion group dressed as post-apocalyptic warriors that also used a 10-foot homemade didgeridoo, and a sideshow troupe that consisted of cute chicks in clown paint doing dangerous stunts such as fire breathing, fire dancing, stappling dollar bills to themselves, the bed of nails, and walking on broken glass (in fact, after coughing up $5, I was given a piggy back ride by the glass walker; so now I can say I've ridden a woman on broken glass).












Me riding a woman on broken glass.
Is it wrong that this turns me on?
Of the actors roaming the Blvd., the ones that stand out are the clown masked chainsaw maniac, the inmate with cage over his head, a very cool character with a skull mask and crutches covered in doll parts, and Karl the Eyebrow Licker (yes, you read that right).






Pussy Liquor!
One of the coolest monsters of the evening.


Karl the Eyebrow-Licker
He's real popular with the ladies!
He actually got Sharon's eyeball!
Me and Sharon catching our breath after escaping the Devil's Rejects.
After taking the sights and sounds for a while, Sharon, Julie, and I decided to head home for the night. We left the grounds, after being given a flyer promoting Zombie's upcoming movie "31", and piled into the car to head home.
The Unholy Three
My final thoughts on the event:

  • They do need more signage directing people to the entrance, especially if the location is as big as Westworld. 
  • They need to scrap the Lords of Salem maze and replace it with an actual haunt. It completely didn't work, and needs something to take it's place. If they want to keep the LOS theme, perhaps start with the door maze themed to Heidi's apartment, then have guests go into Apartment #5, and enter the hallucinogenic nightmare world of the movie's finale, with characters like the demonic dwarf, the zombie priests, the Black Metal band from the beginning of the movie, and of course the witches. Otherwise, just do something VERY different from what is there now. Perhaps an original theme that wasn't in a movie? 
  • The Captain Spaulding maze doesn't need much more tweaking; it was really good as it was. I do think Spaulding needs to make a few more appearances in the maze, and that they need to reinforce that this is a school for evil clowns; perhaps have chalkboards, desks, and lockers scattered about through the maze. The last scene could even be graduation themed, with Captain Spaulding himself trading you your 3D glasses for a diploma saying you are certified as an evil clown. This would be a great free souvineer, and one that would get the fans talking. But all in all, this was a really good, strong maze that worked great. The artwork was terrific, the actors were having a blast, and so were the guests. Top notch. 
  • I do wish The Devil's Rejects maze was a little closer to the movie. As I said above, while the opening shootout was mind-blowing, the rest for the most part felt like a typical hellbilly maze. I would like to see the maze gain two things in particular: 1) the whorehouse from the end of the film; how cool would it be to walk around in that environment? and 2) the character of the Chicken Fucker MUST make an appearance next year! He would make an excellent and hilarious distraction for a scare. Picture this: you walk into a room filled with caged chickens. The air reeks with the smell of chicken shit, and feathers cover the floor. On the other side of the room sits a potbellied redneck, tissues and bottles of lotion laying on the floor around him, and he pretends to fuck a rubber headless chicken. Distracted by this, you don't see the character of Clevon sneaking up behind you, ready to scream "I DON'T FUCK CHICKENS!" in your ear. That would be a great, very memorable scene, and something the fans would go on and on about. 
  • It wasn't as intense or extreme as I was hoping. I heard a lot from last year about how shocking, intense, offensive, and extreme it was - to which I said, "HELL YEAH!" Apparently, not many were as enthusiastic as I was (which doesn't make sense - it IS a Rob Zombie event, shocking, tasteless, and extreme is what he does best!), and as a result the event was toned down to a PG-13 level. Personally, I think the best way to get around this is to have certain nights be PG-13 (such as Fridays and Sundays), and have every other night be "X" rated, with an age limit, so that the haunt and the actors within can be as extreme and vulgar/offensive as they want. I would love to see this implemented, I'm all for bad taste in horror (it's called horror for a reason), and I think this way they could be as extreme as people like me want, while still roping in the younger fans. 
  • Apart from LOS, the only thing that needs major improvement is the Bloody Blvd. It was good, the monsters roaming the area were fantastic and very in character, and the lives shows were very entertaining. The biggest things are that I felt it was under-decorated, and that there weren't enough vendors. The animatronic creatures on display didn't go off often enough (I would see people just standing around with cameras waiting for the monsters to turn on, but they wouldn't). Also, one had a huge tear in his shoulder exposing the foam padding beneath. So as far as decor for Bloody Blvd., more of it, please. Also, I heard that last year when the GAN was in LA, they had a movie screen showing classic horror movies such as Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, Carnival of Souls, House on Haunted Hill, and of course, White Zombie. They should definitely bring that back, it's a great way to add to the entertainment value of the evening. Regarding vendors, really all there was was a ecigarette stand, t-shirt booth, and a taco stand. That's it. They really need more shops and booths for people to peruse afterwards, perhaps a few places selling horror movie merch, heavy metal gear, and so on. They could also have mini attractions like a horror movie museum with props from some of Rob's movies on display, zombie paintball, carnival games with horror-themed prizes, anything to make the Bloody Blvd. feel like an evil carnival. Sharon and I hit on the idea of a Devil's Rejects themed photo op: the convertible from the end of the movie, with Free Bird playing over it's stereo, with actors dressed as Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding inside. For say, $5, you could be given a prop gun, maybe a little stage blood, and allowed to climb into the car with them and pose for a photo recreating the badass final scene of the movie. Finally, as far as midway actors, as I said before the ones there were fantastic, and were great at scaring and entertaining the guests. The only problem was, their needed to be more of them. They were spread a little thin, and I think the more monsters roaming the Bloody Blvd., the better.
All that said, Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare is still one hell of a good haunt, and one that you should definitely see if you can. I rate it 3.5 Skulls out of 5.

4 comments:

  1. I can confirm that there is nothing wrong with being turned on by a clown.

    Clowns are sexy.

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  2. I had a blast with you and Julie! I have to admit the 3D clown world was off the charts the best!! I wanted to stay and party with the clowns. Some of the sets were truly beautiful and amazing in the last house. I think it did a good job of working up to climax, though I didn't feel the last house was a climax so much as a great dip into creepiness. One set actually gave me chills and I felt an urge to move on. That's rare. In general, these things annoy me, but don't scare me. If they had put lightning sporadically in the first house dark maze, it would have been a dream - see a shape when the light goes off, not sure what it was... now, the dark gets scary. All in all, a great event that supported the ability to stay and party on the midway instead of going through the houses and leaving. Thumbs up!!

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  3. A very good and accurate review of the event. The 3D clown house was my favorite. I had a great time with you and Sharon.

    ReplyDelete