By Martin Cizmar
Shadowlands Fiesta Mall, Alma School and The 60 Mesa
The good: Outdoor trail is great, some impressive scenery throughout, novelty factor since it is much different than other area houses.
The bad: Not enough scares, overly complex and ultimately meaningless storyline, poor use of available live actors.
The ugly: The actors will not stop yelling at you to move along. To the point that they'll shoot you with a fake M16 if you don't walk fast enough.
There aren't too many haunted houses in the area where you can look out to see the site of an actual murder, but so it is with Shadowlands. The haunt sits in the parking lot of Fiesta Mall where some dude stabbed two people earlier this year, killing one. So Shadowlands has that going for it right away.
I'm sure they probably weren't thinking about that when they designed the attraction, but it so happens that The Wrath, the outdoor haunt where you can look out at the mall, is by far the best of the three separate houses at Shadowlands.
It's kind of an odd mix between desert landscaping and an ambitious 1600s storyline about an abandoned Irish village full of witches, but it works well. The first actress delivers her speech in an Irish accent, which was a nice touch, and the actors mastered a lot of great techniques, like super spooky guttural sounds instead of screams and unexpected lurches. The scenery is great - a lot of skeletons impaled and butchered - and it's easy for actors to slink around the trails between scenes and get a second or third scare.
The second house I went through with my kickball friend Jen - we arrived near closing time on Thursday but it was still a little alive, with people playing Rock Band on a cool stage set-up - was The Revenant. As I said, the storyline is ambitious but it doesn't really cause the experience to play out differently than at a normal house, since they didn't seem to care if we accomplished the tasks set out for us. This house and the third one, The Chamber, were both very tactile, filled with things were had to touch, crawl over, in to or out of. I wouldn't have minded as much if there'd been more startles along the way, but there weren't many. They had plenty of people in costume, but most of them either asked us for help or screamed at us to keep moving.
Go here! Get out! Get in the van! Get out of the van! Get in the bus! Get out of the bus! Hurry! Run away quick! Go there! It got pretty annoying. In fact, they were so adamant about moving along quickly that at one point some girl told me to move faster then shot her air gun at me to punctuate her point. Awesome.
There was a great shovel-wielding monster halfway through, and the sparks he sent flying from his spade as he struck the concrete with it almost made up for the lack of a chainsaw. I know loyal readers of my reviews are shaking their heads: too many chainsaws and I complain, too few and I complain. There is a fine line, folks. Can't over or under do it, chainsaw-wise.
The third house did have one cool feature, separating everyone in to individual coffin-like entrances at the beginning of the haunt then feeding us in to a maze alone, but they didn't do much with it. Jen, who was by far the easiest scare of anyone I've gone to a haunted house with this year, would have freaked if she'd been approached alone, but by the end of this house she wasn't even clutching me for dear life.
So, to get a good scare, I reminded her about the madman stabbing people at that very mall...
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