By Martin Cizmar Arizona’s Original Scream Park McDowell and the 101 Scottsdale
The good: Lots of scares for your money, great location, original scenery, good execution of themes in individual houses, skilled monsters, the first chainsaw dude. The bad: No storyline, few animatronics, the second chainsaw dude. The ugly: So much dust!
They call it Arizona’s Original Scream Park, and though it’s hard to imagine that it is, indeed, the first haunted house in the state given that it’s only 11 years old, it definitely does have an old school feel.
The Scream Park really is a throwback to the haunted houses of yesteryear, where animatronics were secondary to live monsters and where no one bothered you with elaborate back-stories of why the house was haunted, they just threw you in for a dude in a Jason mask to come after you. It’s refreshing, in a way, and, for someone like me, recalls the haunted houses of my youth, which were much simpler affairs than many today.
The Park is made up of four separate houses, each pretty large on its own. We stopped by on a slow Thursday night with a group of four: me, web editor Jonathan McNamara and two of my friends, Kelly and Theresa. We only toured three - the 3D house was closed on a slow Thursday night - but we left feeling like we’d gotten enough anyway.
The first house we saw, Alice's House of Nightmares, was the worst, and it alone was much better than Glendale’s Twisted Big Top, which cost as much as all four here. There wasn’t much of a unifying theme between the scenes – though a movie theater and a school restroom were gorgeous sets – and the hallways seemed unnecessarily dark and long. Like, endless and pitch black, with very few scares hidden inside. There’s something to be said for building expectations, but, as Pavlov showed with those dogs, conditioning works best when there are intermittent stimuli.
I never thought I’d say this about any haunted house, but I think the Scream Park actually has too few electronic and air pressure-powered gizmos, which would have gone a long way to filling some of the dead time, especially in the House of Nightmares. Seeing some of the scenery pop alive would've kept everyone focused on it, rather than pushing me to run through (cough, Theresa) as fast as possible.
The second house, Goldminer’s Revenge, was my favorite of the night. Something like a demented version of Disneyland’s Frontierland, it had well detailed Western sets and good acting throughout. Crossing rickety old wooden bridges and walking down in a shallow cave where light filtered spookily through the holes in the roof, it felt like a real mine. The butcher scene was a highlight as was the walk through a singlewide trailer near the end.
My companions were all partial to the third house, The Castle of Darkness, which was the best staffed house of the night – at times we were approached by three actors within 30 seconds – and also had good medieval scenery. Here, the dust got to be a little much for me. All the houses had dirt floors constantly being stirred up by people like Kelly, who was terrified of everything she saw. After three houses, I could feel grit between my teeth. This simple setting keeps ticket prices down, but it makes it hard to leave the Scream Park and go out to dinner in Scottsdale.
Still, Arizona’s Original Scream Park is a great attraction, well worth the $25, especially if you’re in to good old-fashioned houses rather than the newer ones trying to keep staffing costs down by using more gadgets. Even if I lived in one of those faux-urban condos directly above Twisted Big Top in Glendale I’d make the drive here.
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I’d bring some Claritin and a box of wet naps though, that dust is killer.
If you operate a Phoenix-area haunted house you think will stand up to a New Times review drop us a line and send tickets to Music Editor Martin Cizmar:
Martin Cizmar Haunted House Review c/o Phoenix New Times 1201 E. Jefferson Street Phoenix , AZ 85032