Where: 99th ave. North of McDowell
When: Thursdays through Sundays now, soon to be open 7 days a week, 7pm till at least 10
How Much: Prices vary based on day and ticket type, ranges between $26 and $50 for all 5 houses + corn maze
A white whale has been slain.
Regular readers of this site (or maybe just me) will note that Fear Farm has been a conspicuous blank spot in my Phoenix haunted house experience. In prior years I’ve made three attempts to go to this multi-haunt park, but was always too spooked by the crowds to get spooked by the haunts. Fear Farm is Arizona’s most popular haunted attraction by a wide margin, so it was something I had to have under my belt, but I wanted to experience their haunted houses, not just a serpentine line made of hay bales. This time we went close to opening time, on a Sunday, fairly early in the season.
First and foremost, know this – the ticket line is a beast. If you’re thinking, like we were, that you’d buy tickets at the door so you can scope out the crowd and see if the fast pass is necessary – it will be necessary. Just cut to the chase and buy the fast pass tickets online, because the general ticket line was as long and as slow as the TSA security line at Sky Harbor, and that’s no exaggeration. We went on a “slow” night and still felt that the fast pass was a life saver. So you can spend 29 dollars to stand in line all night, or 39 dollars to go into some haunted houses.
Walking around the midway at Fear Farm I had a thought that immediately gave me a “no shit, Sherlock” kind of feeling – this place is VERY rednecky. Yeah, the place called Fear Farm has a redneck vibe. But I want to draw a line between the intentional, campy, creepy redneck horror vibe they’re going for in a couple of their haunted houses and the unintentional redneck-ness of the surrounding operation. The park itself has kind of a loose county fair motif going on – huge dirt fields, rock radio blasting from giant speakers, concession stands with funnel cakes and cotton candy, a mobile barbecue truck, fortune teller booth, and so on. The orange uniformed security staff all looked like the kind of husky, goateed good old boys that would fall into physical security jobs.
One last note about the overall Fear Farm experience before I finally get into the meat of this review: I have never seen so many children at a haunted attraction. Maybe that seems paradoxical for some, but in my experience I’ve generally found that at “real” haunted houses, adults and older teens far outnumber children. No so here. In line for tickets, there were people pushing babies in strollers. Strollers. At a haunted house. It’s a funny world we live in…
The five seperate haunted attractions are lined up all in a row, and my group decided we would tackle them in random order. We started with the most garish-looking one – Mouth of Madness. It was early enough in the night that our fast pass tickets got us straight in without a wait to speak of. Now, clowns may be the most cliche’ of all haunted house tropes, but it’s for a reason. Besides the natural clown-related creep factor, a carnival theme frees you from the constraints of trying to create a realistic environment and enables you to invent all kinds of perception-altering illusions and disorientation effects. While the initial corridors of this clown haunt started to make me feel a little disheartened, with a lot of unused space and corny spray painted walls, eventually quarters became tighter and those disorienting illusions came into play.
The use of strobe lights, neon paint, and labyrinthine spaces in this haunt got me turned around and feeling dizzy quite easily. One particular room consisted of a snaking passage that was 100% made of doors. Another space used strobing lights in an area packed with red and white striped plastic curtains. It was pretty effective as I felt genuinely lost in those places.
Next up was Chainsaw Mayhem, which closely resembled the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 version) house and had, you guessed it, a cannibal hillbilly torture theme. I liked this one just about as much as the clown one, as the path snaked through the main house, out into a junkyard, through part of the corn maze, and through the middle of a faux mobile home which looked frightfully legitimate. The scares here were primarily actors in backwoods hillbilly getups yelling at you and murmering creepy things. Pretty standard theme stuff.
As for the other three haunted houses, well, here’s where the total Fear Farm experience changes everything. After Mouth of Madness and Chainsaw Mayhem the crowds had grown dramatically, and while the fast pass tickets were still our saving grace, the Fear Farm staff was managing the crowds in a horrifyingly efficient way, letting in groups of 10 or 12 at a time, and sending groups in separated by mere seconds. The same exact awful thing happened at the last three haunts we went into – going at a reasonably slow walking pace we nonetheless caught up with the foot-dragging previous group, while an enormous crowd of chattering children sprinted through behind us and caught up to us. Stuck in the middle of a long line of yapping children can really spoil the mood (this was the exact same complaint I heard, from multiple sources, ended up ruining Rob Zombie’s haunted house). All the upcoming scares were telegraphed or missed entirely, the actors were overwhelmed, and the constant chattering distracted my attention. Because of that the final three haunted houses we went into all blended together into a soup of annoyance, and I can’t honestly remember what their themes were. One was sort of a Louisiana/voodoo/religious theme, I think.
The problems extended beyond the patrons as well. From the first haunted house, it became clear to me that Fear Farm is mostly staffed by teenagers, inside and out. Kids and teens certainly have their roles to fill in haunted houses, but when you’re trying to be intimidated by a hillbilly butcher who’s clearly a skinny 16 year old it can break the illusion. During our brief wait in line at Mouth of Madness, the door person was complaining about the low pay she was receiving. Outside of Chainsaw Mayhem, one of my group was in mid-sentence asking a staff member a question when she suddenly bellowed for somebody to stay off the hay bales. In the final haunted house we politely asked the door person if she would be willing to space us out just a little more, and she said she’d do her best but also let us know that they are required to push people through as fast as possible. The same fate ended up befalling us as in the previous two houses.
I’m well aware of the “get off my lawn” tone of this review. Even AS a kid, I’ve always found big groups of children to be obnoxious. If you’re of a similar inclination, heed my warnings very carefully. If your goal in a haunted attraction is to feel drawn into the atmosphere and get a personal horror experience, you probably won’t find that at Fear Farm. It simply embodies all the problems inherent in managing huge crowds of people. As I said before, we went on a slow night, and it was still far more crowded than I’d prefer. On a Saturday closer to Halloween I can scarcely imagine it.
On the other hand, the ticket price (around 40 bucks for the necessary fast pass) does technically get you into 5 haunted houses and a pretty good (non-haunted) corn maze, so based on sheer volume it’s probably the best bargain. Despite the issues I had with the crowds and the children and the staff, I would still say I got my money’s worth for the roughly two hours of entertainment. So if you decide to brave Fear Farm, know what you’re in for, get your tickets online, and don’t even think of going during peak hours.
Note: If you want to do the 5 haunted houses in an progression that bookends the night with the best ones, I recommend starting with Chainsaw Mayhem and ending with Mouth of Madness, and do the other three in between in any order. Cap off the night with a trek through the corn maze.