By Martin Cizmar
Fear Farm 99th Avenue and McDowell Glendale
The good: Great bargain at $18, fantastic scenery, realistic props, skilled and aggressive monsters, lots of startles and scares. The bad: Location, no animatronics at all, too much chainsaw. The ugly: None. This is a pretty great haunted house.
They don’t take the blades off on the Westside. At least that’s what the people working the entrance to one of the four attractions at Fear Farm told us – warning that they don’t remove the chains from the chainsaws, so be careful. It was dark, but it looked to me like they weren’t lying. Several times people swung machetes at us, and I definitely know those weren’t fake, so I’m inclined to believe them about the chainsaws. I mean, it seems pretty crazy, but it is Glendale, right?
After a very disappointing experience at Westgate’s Twisted Big Top, I wasn’t super excited about driving out to the West Valley for another haunted house, but Fear Farm has a great reputation. As it turns out, it’s well deserved: Fear Farm is a truly great attraction, certainly in the running to be the best in haunted house in town.
Like Arizona’s Original Scream Park in Scottsdale it’s an old-school haunt, full of real live actors and without much in the way of animatronics. That’s good, as relying too heavily on animatronics usually leads to disaster, but I think a few mechanized scares can be effective, so I’d like to see some here. Actually, the lack of animatronics, the fact that there were about 10 (!) chainsaws spread over the houses and a lack of a wrap-around story to make it a fully immersive experience, are my only complaints. Other than that, Fear Farm offered my group – me plus friends Nicole, Brenda and Tessa – pretty much everything we could have hoped for on a Sunday night.
Fatal Valley Mortuary, the first of the four separate attractions – three are corn mazes with buildings along the path, one is all indoors – was my favorite. A headless horseman, a foggy, rickety and narrow bridge without railings (where scares still happen – love it!) and a gorgeously recreated church were all highlights. Toward the end you’re required to walk through some grave-like pits, where I got the best scare I’ve had all fall when one monster snuck up on me as I was attempting to navigate the steep ramp down. One of the monsters in the Mortuary also made a wily move, asking me for Nicole’s name when he saw she was the easiest scare in the group, then menacing her by name.
The second attraction we went through, Carnevil, had a lot of good scares too, along with some fantastic acting and colorful sets. A stilt-walking clown was genius, as were cotton-candy body bags dangling along the trail and a crazed monkey-man in a cage.
The third house, The Asylum, was the girls’ pick for the scariest house of the night. Crammed with real medical paraphernalia and actors who must be destroying their vocal chord with all the screaming they’re doing, it was, indeed, excellent. The beginning, a bathroom scene where two suicidal girls ask for your friendship in a bloody bathroom, set the tone, and it was matched the rest of the way. My only real disappointment was with a surgery scene where bright lighting left a plastic corpse looking ridiculously fake. That scene could have been one of the best of the night with better lighting and squishier body parts.
After all that, the last house, the Apocalypse, was a bit of a let down. Playing on the worst Westside stereotypes – trailer park living and cannibalism – it had some scary scenes, but the actors were pretty spread out, and a double chainsaw attack at the end just about gave me my quota for the year.
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SHOW ME HOW
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little freaked out by the prospect of a dude with a chainsaw coming after me while wearing a mask and attempting to judge the distance between my arm and his saw through a strobe-light. That little bit of genuine fear is what great haunted houses are all about, and what Fear Farm delivers, unapologetically. Here’s something to love: At no point did anyone at Fear Farm give that obvious and annoying warning not to touch the monsters.
That’s the attitude here: blades on the saws, no railing on the bridge and no stupid warnings. Then again, if I were wielding a chainsaw with a blade on it, I wouldn’t be too worried about anyone touching me.
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