By Brady MacDonald
Los Angeles Times staff writer
10:30 AM EDT, September 27, 2012
The increasing popularity of Halloween theme park events has spawned a new generation of exclusive reservation-only haunted mazes that promise a more intense and intimate experience for those willing to pay a premium.
The new Trapped maze at Knott's Halloween Haunt is the latest entry in an emerging trend toward up-charge attractions that cater to individuals and small parties prepared to bleed green for exclusive VIP treatment.
For $60, the Trapped maze at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park takes up to six people through a labyrinth of locked rooms with increasingly dire situations. Without giving too much away, Trapped takes visitors from a rank-smelling bathroom to a confining cage filled with rats to a morgue where the dead come to life. Participants must solve puzzles or make unpalatable choices to escape each room and ultimately the maze itself.
The Knott's Scary Farm VIP maze proved popular on the opening weekend of Halloween Haunt, with reservations for Trapped selling out by 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Busch Gardens Tampa, Fla., introduced the "solitary scare experience" in 2010 at Howl-O-Scream with the $35 Alone maze. The premium price, which increased to $80 this season for up to four people, hasn't scared too many people away.
Thorpe Park in the United Kingdom also introduced a new maze called The Passing at this year's Fright Nights with a $5 up-charge fee for each person in the party. With a suffocating burlap sack over their head, each person is sentenced to death and must blindly make their way through the claustrophobic maze to their own burial.
The new up-charge mazes come in direct response to visitors' biggest complaint about Halloween theme park events: The omnipresent conga line of humanity snaking through every maze that ruins the atmosphere and limits the scares.
A niche industry of extreme standalone haunted attractions that limit the number of people in the maze at any one time have popped up across the United States in old mental institutions (Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania), shuttered meatpacking plants (Cutting Edge in Texas) and former state penitentiaries (Terror Behind the Walls in Pennsylvania). The in-your-face attractions promise more intense scares in less-crowded environments.
Closer to home, a slew of extreme horror attractions in Southern California have forced Knott's and its theme park rivals to remain innovative or get buried by the competition.
The 18-and-over Blackout Haunted House in Los Angeles requires visitors to walk and crawl through the pitch-dark maze alone with a protective mask and a flashlight. Speaking is prohibited (although screaming is permitted).
Sinister Pointe in Brea bills itself as Southern California's only year-round haunted attraction, forcing visitors to complete "fear tests" to advance through a maze with multiple possible paths.
In San Diego, the McKamey Manor home haunt funnels those willing to sign a legal waiver through a gauntlet of monsters that touch, grab and shove their victims.
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