By Martin Cizmar
Twisted Big Top Westgate City Center Glendale
First, some introduction: This is the first of a few haunted house reviews that Up On The Sun – your favorite Phoenix music, arts and culture blog – is going to have this month. Why? Well, first off, haunted houses are, dollar-per-minute, about the most expensive entertainment you can find around town – especially if you use this handy coupon for a discount at Massage Ace. Oh, and that’s after you wait in a hellishly long line with a bunch of teenagers reeking of Smirnoff Ice Twisted V Green Apple and Gorditas. BUT, when good, they can also be well worth the money and hassle. At its highest level, the haunted house incorporates theater, design and good old-fashioned showmanship like too few other attractions. The key, then, obviously, is to make sure you’re going to the right ones – that’s where we come in.
So that’s the general stuff, now on to our review of Glendale’s Twisted Big Top…
The good: Location (if you live in the West Valley), plenty of in-line entertainment, awesome giant monster clown.
The bad: Location (if you do not live in the West Valley), price, lame storyline.
The ugly: Actors in costume giving safety instructions… ugh. With all the haunted houses out there, it’s nice to see one that picks a unique theme like Haunted Big Top. Making the drive out to Glendale with web editor Jonathan McNamara, I had visions of a circus gone to hell, complete with half-devoured lion tamers, killer clowns, a bearded lady with a chainsaw... Spoiler alert: All I got was the clowns. Lots and lots of them.
Twisted Big Top has a prime location, sitting in an as-yet-unused storefront in the ritzy (by Westside standards) Westgate plaza by the sports arenas. That makes it a good spot to work in to a night out, but also probably accounts for the steep $25 price tag.
We went on a Wednesday night, so things were pretty dead (props for being open though) and there was no line. The house is set up for it though, with a sizeable portion of their space going to indoor carousels surrounded by entertainment, including the attraction’s best asset, a haunted house of mirrors.
The introductory interlude was one of the big disappointments of the night. With one actor lip-synching to a dialogue track that animatronic creatures were also speaking through, it wouldn’t have been great no matter what, but the subject matter was truly awful. Here we are, with a house full of demented clowns, and the story is some tired tale about how some rich old geezer was murdered by his servants. Why is this big top twisted? We never find out. All we know is some rich dude died and is in hell.
Then, the actor finally speaks in his own voice: To tell us to be careful exiting the seats and making our way to the entrance of the actual house. As these reviews go on you’ll notice this is one of my major pet peeves with haunted houses: DO NOT HAVE THE COSTUMED PERFORMERS GIVE SAFTEY INSTRUCTIONS, it ruins the illusion, especially when there's an army of people in polo shirts who can take care of it. Here, it was especially galling because the actor had been lip-synching his lines, then spoke up to warn us to watch our step.
Inside, the story breaks down further. While the premise had loads of potential, other than the clowns, there was nothing that fit the theme. So, in lieu of disemboweled acrobats or a tightrope walker who hung himself on his rope, there were tons of clichés: Walk through the closet, “The Ring” scene, etc. The actors were average and the animatronics were above average, showing the organizers did put some serious effort in to the attraction, but aside from a few good gags (which I won’t spoil) it was a pretty unimpressive house.
Unless, of course, you’re super scared of clowns. If so, Twisted Big Top will get you good.
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