Halloween isn’t exactly a widely celebrated holiday down here in Australia. Often thought of as more of an American tradition, it’s usually shunned by the mainstream masses refusing to acknowledge its existence. Houses and shops adorned with glowing jack o lanterns and other various Halloween decorations may be a common sight in the States, but here in Australia it’s a rarity. Sure, a few of the major retailers may host ‘spooktacular Halloween sales’, but generally speaking, they’re merely an excuse to generate some more revenue. Otherwise the only other venues that recognize the holiday are the bars and clubs, both of which use the opportunity to hold Halloween parties packing a hefty cover charge. So being the hardcore horror fan I am with a passion for anything remotely scary, neither of these examples are exactly going to quench my desire to celebrate the holiday. So this year I thought I should take matters in my own hands and head towards the one place in Australia where I was confident I could get my Halloween fix, Warner Bros Movie World on the Gold Coast for their annual Halloween Fright Nights.
Just to give anyone unfamiliar with Warner Bros. Movie World a quick rundown, it’s basically Australia’s version of Universal Studios, only significantly less impressive. Having said that it’s still host to several noteworthy rollercoaster’s such as the Lethal Weapon and Superman ride, as well as an assortment of movie themed stores and impressive live shows. It’s a relatively small theme park that’s perfect for a day outing, but any longer than that and you may find yourself running out of things to see and do.
I’ve visited the park several times over the years and thus have become reasonably well acquainted with its basic layout, so this may have contributed to my overwhelming surprise toward the radical transformation it took on during the October Fright Nights. An event that runs over select nights during the month of October, Fright Nights sees Movie World’s family friendly atmosphere twisted into something much darker and creepier. Once all the daytime visitors have vacated the premises, the park is reopened after hours under the Fright Nights pseudonym, effectively transforming it into a horror fan’s own private wonderland. Performers dressed as various horror icons terrorize visitors, rides are operational in the black of night, frightening live shows are conducted and best of all, various horror themed mazes are open for the public to brave. It’s a hell of a fun night and I’m going to try my best to provide a detailed recount of the various sights and sounds that I was privileged to experience throughout the duration of my stay.
The park is only open for a few short hours during each of the designated Fright Nights, so with that in mind I knew that it should be the alluring mazes to gain my top priority before they became gridlocked by seemingly endless lines. The first of these mazes on my list was the Psycho 3D Maze. A disconcerting and occasionally startling experience, this maze required each patron to don a pair of 3D glasses in an effort to give the impression that the walls were literally coming alive around them. Unfortunately this desired effect didn’t quite work, instead I often felt like I was simply walking down endless dark corridors with crudely drawn skeletons and monsters scrawled across them slightly popping out at me. It’s an admittedly pretty weak effect, but the enthusiastic performers inside the maze more than made up for this. Adorned in creepy faceless glow in the dark masks, these so-called psychos popped out unexpectedly at the most opportune moments to maximise the scare factor, often bursting through unseen doors just to stare at us before retreating back into the walls. Creepy stuff. Along with this the rickety bridge towards the start of the maze quite literally had me stumbling around like a drunk on his last legs. Overall, the Psycho 3D Maze was a fun and satisfying journey despite not quite utilizing its 3D effect to its full potential.
Next up was the attraction I was most excited about checking out for the night, the Batman Arkham Asylum Maze. Beginning with a quick introduction from a very enthusiastic performer playing the Joker, the Arkham Asylum Maze quickly thrusts visitors into the legendary penitentiary for the criminally insane, complete with inmates bursting out of their cells to torment visitors and zombie prison guards viciously barking orders. Why there are zombie prison guards apparently looking after the prisoners here I don’t know, but they were still an intimidating presence. The design for this particular maze may possibly have been the best of the night, with the cold interior of the asylum slowly changing as visitors make their way deeper into the institution. The slow reveal of Poison Ivy’s holding cell was an impressive transition in particular, small clumps of leaves and vines could be spotted overtaking the walls until the grungy prison interior eventually transformed into an almost jungle surrounding. And although I appreciate the inclusion of the Poison Ivy character in the maze, I can’t personally say that I find an attractive and scantily dressed young lady to be particularly threatening. Elsewhere, fan favourite Harley Quinn makes a brief appearance, embodied by yet another believable performer who was clearly having a ball with the character. Now while ultimately the Arkham Asylum Maze wasn’t technically scary, thanks to the great performers inhabiting it and detailed design it was easily one of, if not the most enjoyable maze of the night.
The Saw Maze was the next on the agenda, an attraction that was apparently back by ‘popular demand’. Straight away I felt that this maze missed capitalizing on what could have been a genuinely unsettling and memorable moment. As soon as we stepped inside the maze our group was quickly ushered into a small decrepit room where we were instructed to watch a fuzzy TV for vital instructions to follow. The Jigsaw puppet’s face popped up on screen, but before he could deliver what could have been an awesome personalized live or die speech, an actor dressed as the puppet burst through the TV’s cabinet for a quick, cheap scare. So much for missed opportunities. From there visitors wonder around an impressively designed maze where various scenes from the first two films can be seen acted out. The bathroom from the first film made an appearance, as did the barbed wire cage and the syringe pit from the sequel. Each of these sets were impressively designed and really lent a grand scale to overall experience. The only real scares present here were courtesy of the Jigsaw puppet constantly popping out at unexpected moments for some decent shocks, occasionally accompanied by old Jigsaw himself yelling various obscenities. Once again, not exactly a frightening experience, but the Saw Maze was still a ton of fun to walkthrough thanks to its accurate representation of the first couple of films and the impressive sets littered throughout it.
Last but definitely not least was the Zombie Apocalypse Maze. A couple of years back I got an opportunity to walk through a Prison Break Maze at another theme park, essentially it was just a huge shed full of chain link fences and performers assuming the roles of the prisoners while a strobe light flickered on and off constantly. It was a weak sauce maze that was more annoying than it was scary or fun, so I was initially a little disheartened to see that the Zombie Apocalypse Maze followed this exact formula. Fortunately, a great deal more effort was implemented here and the result was easily the scariest maze of the night. The flashing strobe light was once again in full effect, but here it actually added to the overall uncertainty to which direction our group should actually be heading in. Plus the performers here were pulling out all stops to freak everybody out. ‘Zombies’ were literally crawling sideways along the fences, as well as stopping within inches in front of members of our group to intently stare them down. Other little details like the two creepy twin girls walking in perfect unison up and down the middle of the maze added a sense of disquiet, but this pales in comparison to what was easily the nerve shredding moment of the night. Just as the maze was finally coming to an end and the exit was in sight, the deafening roar of motor tore through the air and much to everybody’s surprise, one last zombie came dashing out of the darkness wielding a chainsaw overhead. I’m not kidding when I say that the entire group in front of me ran screaming for the exit. And as tough and macho as I may be (i.e. not at all), I would be lying if I didn’t say that I hurried along out behind them a little faster then I’d care to admit.
The Main Strip
As much fun as I had within the various mazes, it was probably main strip that held most of the true highlights of the night. The vast assortment of performers dressed as various horror characters was impressive enough, however it was their dedication to staying in character that really stood out. In particular, the two guys playing Michael Myers and Leatherface were a hoot. The Michael Myers performer had the character’s slow and deliberate movements perfected, slowly striding from one victim to the next as he skulked up behind them to deliver an unexpected fright before showcasing the character’s iconic head tilt. Leatherface on the other hand was far more ruthless with his scares. Possessing a live chainsaw (obviously with all the dangerous parts removed), the Leatherface performer would simply run into the midst of random groups of spectators while revving the power saw at full capacity, causing unsuspecting onlookers to flee screaming in terror. It was hilarious spectacle that I honestly could have watched all night.
Along with the two aforementioned horror legends, a various assortment of other creepy ghouls could be spotted lurking around as well. Ghostface was terrorizing visitors in one corner, while Sweeny Todd was posing for some bloody barber photos in another. But along with these characters wondering all over the grounds were some seemingly randomly triggered mini-shows that erupted at any given moment. At one stage while walking down the main strip I heard a group of high-pitched screams coming from somewhere behind me, I turned expecting to see a bunch of tourists fleeing from one of the performers, but what I witnessed instead was a far more amusing sight. A group of scantily clad cheerleaders wearing uniforms that had been torn to shreds were sprinting down the strip with a group of blood hungry zombies in pursuit. This chase was only one of the many examples of the unexpected occurrences that suddenly broke out over the course of the night, keeping the proceedings fresh in the process.
Saw Short Film
When I noticed that the theatre along the main strip was advertising a Saw Short film, my interest was officially peaked. I’m not exactly the biggest Saw fan, but the prospect of witnessing some fresh content was too alluring to resist. Unfortunately this short merely ended up up being the original short film the filmmakers shot to gain financing for the film. It’s a decent short, but since you can find it on the Saw DVD it really isn’t worth the time in checking it out in a theatre. Bummer. But on the bright side, there was one standout moment during this screening that makes it worth motioning. During the climactic moments of the short as the Jigsaw puppet makes an appearance on screen, I noticed an odd shape start moving around just outside my peripheral vision. As I adjusted myself and turned in the direction of the movement, I spotted a sight that brought a smile to my face. A performer adorned in the Jigsaw puppet suit was slowly and deliberately riding his tricycle across the front of the cinema, staring at the audience with his dead eyes while doing so. This defining moment appeased the demanding horror fan inside me, making for an amusing moment that saved an otherwise useless addition to the night.
Apart form these main drawcards, there were a couple of other minor attractions worth noting. First of all was the Circus Of The Damned live show, which I unfortunately missed due to being stuck in the deceptively long line for the Scooby Doo ride. Missing this by just a few minutes was a major disappointment for me, however word on the street was that the show is pretty spectacular. Elsewhere was the Club Blood bar that was not only sporting an awesome name, but looked impressive from the outside too. Drenched in blood red spotlights, the bar featured two caged dancers moving to the music for the duration of the night. However while the outer shell for the bar was highly detailed, once inside its premises the magic was somewhat lost. Instead being presented with a intricately detailed interior decorated with various Halloween themed decorations, I was merely confronted with an empty room with a bar at one end, and a DJ at the other. This was somewhat of a bland sight when compared to all the effort put into the rest of the park, as well as a major missed opportunity if I ever saw one.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with my short stay at Movie World’s Fright Night. There was a fun energetic vibe that flowed throughout the whole night, ensuring you never knew what was waiting for you around the next corner. The mazes were a blast, the performers were enthusiastic and the atmosphere was pitch perfect, making for a complete package for horror enthusiasts and brave patrons alike. But even if all the creepy stuff isn’t for you, the majority of the rides remain open for most of the night, allowing for a quick adrenalin fix between scares.
So any Australian or international readers out there who want to try something new next Halloween, I simply can’t recommend Warner Bros Movie World’s Fright Nights enough. While it may not compare to the spectacles put on over at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights, it’s still an incredibly enjoyable night full of lots to see and do. And despite the great job they did with it this year, I can only imagine that the organizers will only continue to build upon the overall experience in years to come. I’ll definitely be heading back sometime in the future, and I can only hope that some of you will join me in braving the dimly lit park full of ghouls and weirdos alike some time down the line.
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