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My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Halloween Haunt 2016: the terror and laughter cannot be dampened (even without Clowns at Midnight)

by Drew Rowsome

The true magic of the season doesn't kick in until one hears screams of terror. Canada's Wonderland's Halloween Haunt aims to deliver those spine-chilling cries to the point where one's mind snaps with joy and an overload of fear. From the moment one approaches the entrance, with the creepy funereal music and sound effects blaring, there is the anticipation of a true celebration of this most magical of all holidays.

We set out on a night filled with drizzling rain and threatening thunderstorms. Not ideal for wandering or running from the marauding monsters, but excellent for avoiding line-ups to the many dark mazes and thrill rides. I shivered with excitement and anticipatory trepidation while scooping up a map listing the attractions. Blood Shed. Cornstalkers. Club Blood. Ghostly Pines. Streets of the Undead. Louisiana Scream.

Wait! Where was my favourite? Where are the Clowns at Midnight? I was even wearing the official Clowns at Midnight t-shirt under my rain slicker. Alas, the circus tent full of killer clowns and bent-on-revenge-on-the-living Bozos is not featured at Halloween Haunt in 2016. Is it because of the nonsensical and escalating clown crisis in South Carolina? Or is it, as Wonderland's Manager of Technical and Event Services, Danusia Rogacki told me, just too easy to scare people with clowns? Or did they blow their budget on Halloween Haunt's big effects and subtle flourishes and precious artistic integrity leaving not enough coin for the gobs of greasepaint required?

The attractions are impeccably evil with the brand new Spirit Manor being particularly intense. A multitude of haunted house tropes are mashed up to create a salute to Gothic ghoulishness. Wandering into a vast den with walls lined with giant stuffed toy animal head trophies, one of the flitting ghostly denizens of the hellish place whispered in my ear, "I want to put your head on my wall too." I should have listened to the ghost at the door who had hissed, "I wouldn't go in there if I were you . . ." But then I would have missed the nerve-jangling nursery where the decapitations probably took place.

All the maze entrances featured a crone or creature who warned us not to enter or angrily barked, "Go away." Wonderland is now nestled in a sprawling toxic sea of suburbia and some of it has leaked in, perversely twisted into these inverse, or perhaps just exaggerated, Walmart greeters. The Ruins, new to me, was filled with giant snake statues that spewed venomous smoke, gorillas and sinuous creatures that blended with the foliage to jump out at the most shriek-inducing times. I was so entranced and fascinated with the intricate detail, second only to Sci-Fi House, that I became an annoyance to the fear-mongers who wanted to make me soil myself and move on.

The Ruins shares the bowels of Wonderland's central mountain with Zombies 4D Interactive Dark Ride. It is a mini-roller coaster that travels past huge film screens filled with zombies who, in 3D, attack and actually appear to leap off the screens while clawing at one's throat. It was so silly and fun that I forgot about the interactive part where one is given a laser gun to shoot the zombies for points. The last surprise of the ride is a really good one that is so shocking and unexpected that it knocked my heart into my throat. Raul enjoyed the ride even more than I did because, having had experience with video games compared to my utter lack of trigger-happy skills  (I will need him if there is a real zombie apocalypse), he earned 232,000 plus points to my measly 43,000.

We also rode two coasters and while the Behemoth is an awesome orgasmic experience in the dark, even with raindrops peppering one's face, the Wild Beast was just too wet to be enjoyed fully. We were shaken, soaked and satiated. But I still insisted we walk over to the Carnevil scare zone. I could not accept, I was in denial, that the Clowns at Midnight were not present. Entering Carnevil, I fell victim to a perfectly executed bait-and-switch. While trying to get the perfect angle for a photo of the menacing hunky tall, dark and gruesome clown with the giant hammer, two other clowns slid into position behind me. I turned and they were rewarded with gales of laughter from Raul when I almost jumped out of my skin. And I love clowns.

The entranceway to the Clowns at Midnight has been re-erected but the tent of wonders and horrors is gone. Instead there is a bumper car track. It seemed like a poor substitute until discovering that one of the cars was being driven - with complete disregard for any rules of the road, decorum or apparent safety - by a crafty collison-happy clown. He even, much to my joy, jumped out of his car when the time was up and chased, cackling wildly, some of the other drivers off into the night. If only he had been carrying a giant plastic knife or dangerous-looking engine part stained with blood.

Better weather would have enhanced the experience, but the dedication and determination of the cast members (thank goodness for water proof make-up) is to be commended. They were eager to scare and having fewer targets than usual, we bore the wrath and attention of multitudes of ghouls, goblins, creepy children, monsters and, hallelujah!, a tiny carload of clowns. All of whom were devilishly delighted to preen for our camera. As always, Halloween Haunt was a scream and I will pray for a resolution to the clown crisis so that Clowns at Midnight can return and the event will be perfidious perfection.

Halloween Haunt runs select nights until Mon, Oct 31 at Canada's Wonderland, 1 Canada's Wonderland Drive, Maple. canadaswonderland.com

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