Getting to The Queen Mary at this point in time isn’t smooth sailing. An aging infrastructure under much-needed renovation at one of the country’s busiest ports of call, the process requires patience. Making my way toward the end of the 710 I snaked through the narrow path allocated to traffic and made my way to my destination. The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor has always been worth this gauntlet, but this year, this nautical-themed nightmare is good enough to make you forget the traffic, the $30 parking, and any other care troubling your cold, dark heart.
Full disclosure here, HorrorBuzz has always been a fan of the event. That’s not to say there is some sort of blinding bias. We have always been honest. Yet credit must be given to the producers of this event who, year after year, create a Halloween wonderland out of some free space in and around a historic landmark and operating hotel. This takes a hell of a lot of work and for that alone, the team is to be commended. The good news is that setting all of those thankless intricacies aside, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is easily one of the best Halloween events in Southern California this year.
Moments before Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor opens for 2018.
There are 6 mazes returning from last year, down one from 2017. Lullaby, B340, Feast, Deadrise, Circus, and Intrepid. You might be saying to yourself, ‘wait. they had the same 6 mazes last year.’ You wouldn’t be wrong in the sense that they are all named the same thing, and that they are based on the same characters, sporting almost the same storylines. That is, however, where the similarities cease.
Haunt designer and Winds of Plague frontman Jon Cooke was enlisted to revitalize the entire collection of mazes and the effect is striking. This is, essentially, an entirely revitalized haunt.
This article will focus primarily on the maze offerings and ways to make the most of your visit. We can assure you, however, that there is MUCH more to this event than just scary mazes. multiple stages feature fire dancers, magicians, singers, comedians, and more. That’s not to mention the bars both obvious and hidden.
The first maze we jumped into was Lullaby. Based on the character Scary Mary, we encounter the precocious little rugrat that, as legend has it, drowned in the ship’s first class pool. Upon entering the experience the first thing that hit me was the lighting. Vibrant and precise, the lights added to the storytelling immensely. Situated at the front of the vessel, Lullaby takes a similar route to previous incarnations, as we navigate the darkened passageways in an attempt to escape Scary Mary.
Lighting, sound, and presentation were all on point. Talent director David Wally again delivers a consistent tone as various actors play Mary throughout the maze in various states of mania. All of the actors delivered and delivered hard either writing on the floor, lunging from passageways, limping down hallways, all to distinctly nasty effect.
A wonderful way to start the night off.
Next to Lullaby is another ship-based maze, B340. Inspired by the lore of Samuel the Savage, we follow the mystery of the rampaging Samuel from his first murder to his time on the ship. A gumshoe detective sets up the new narrative in the first scene of the maze and we are then released to trace Samuel’s bloody trail. Far more abstract in its story than previous years, similarly faced demons dart from behind doors inspiring Samuel’s violent outbursts.
Of course once at the Queen Mary things only get worse for poor Samuel and well, that is why we are here, to begin with.
B340 pulls back on the details and story beats, and instead, holds to a cleaner narrative of a maniac on a rampage. very well done.
In the middle of the shipyard, we find a pile of Conex containers. Hidden within is a creepy, run-down circus guarded by a flimsy chainlink fence. What could possibly go wrong here? Circus returns for another year of big top mayhem but with a new lease on the afterlife with an ingenious new layout and more polished execution.
Making our way around the vintage props and freak show performers, we enter the mouth of a beast and things get insane.
It is, once again, the lighting that puts a remarkable polish on the experience along with a sound design that is finely tuned. That’s not to say that the actors are sub-par. They all certainly rise to the occasion. But it’s the assault on the senses that makes this particular maze tick.
So far, we are 3 for 3 on the mazes. Let’s see how the rest fare.
Feast is based on the newest character to the Dark Harbor ensemble, Chef. This murderous masticator has moved from the front of the ship to the rear, knocking Graceful Gail off the ship to wander the docks below. Here we have another more polished through-line has us checking in as kitchen staff before a shift in the galley. It’s not too long before we discover the chef’s secret ingredient is us.
Again, another wonderful job by the Dark Harbor team. The idea and storyline of the cannibalistic chef are reduced to the key elements that make the maze work and it makes all of the difference. There are fewer stretches of interminable darkness, more logic in the scenes flowing from room to room, and the clean presentation. Of course, the talent was on point here too.
I really don’t know how the actors in Deadrise do it. Non-stop these gents cavort, scream, yell, and terrify in fog and near-darkness for a full night. What are they on? I want some. Deadrise follows the ill-fated tale of a ship and crew that died in service of helping The Queen Mary during World War II. We start in the broken hull of a warship and come face to face with the scary soldiers who are looking for a few more crew.
Much like years passed, Deadrise is a solid experience. A winding path through rusted metal containers, cargo holds, rigging and wreckage. The intermittent blasts of fire from the flame tower centered in the maze occasionally give a flash of visibility to the overall expanse offering moments of awe.
There honestly wasn’t too much done here in regards to the improvement of technique or talent. That has always been good. Instead, Cooke seems to have focused on reworking the path and offering far more ways to get lost in the tangle of metal and ropes. As per usual, the maze ends with the classic whiteout scare tunnel as we journey to “the other side”. Do yourself a favor and take a minute to watch others coming out of this brilliant maze. You won’t regret it.
Conceptually the most problematic of the collection of walkthroughs, Intrepid was born two years ago as a way to introduce a new character, The Iron Master. Again we see the “storyline” of the maze refined and given a sense of horror and dread.
Here is the original press release announcing Intrepid as the new maze for 2016
The Queen Marys Dark Harbor has a new cantankerous resident spirit, Iron Master. His torrid legend is brought to life through Intrepid. The new maze transports guests aboard a steamin locomotive, back to the birthplace of the Golden Era of TravelScotlands storied shipyard of Clydebank. Blazing down the Iron Masters death-defying tracks, guests will bear witness on his cursed journey to save The R.M.S. Queen Mary from her predecessors Titanic peril. All who dare will swelter and drip with fear as they traverse and crawl to their final destination: Iron Hell. The Iron Master has crossed oceans of time to reclaim his beloved Queen Mary. How far will you go?
Now let’s jump to the 2018 revision of the story…
A phantom coach forces the Queen Marys original ship builder to relive his wicked wrongdoings to shipyard mates, Scottish brethren and plagued family that led to the Iron Hell his soul rots away in. Follow the spine-chilling path to an evil sea witch where a deadly pact was made spawning the horrific half-metal, half-creature known as the Iron Master.
Short, to the point, and with an immediate sense of peril. Well done.
Intrepid has been reinvented as a dread fueled fever-dream of a driven man who has sold his soul for success. We board the phantom train and soon realize that all is not right. Transported, we are given a far greater sense of time and place. Small things, like say a sign indicating our arrival at Edinburgh, tell us where we are and when. We then know the essential theme we are traipsing through.
One of the most striking scenes of the year.
Intrepid is finally a phenomenal maze with some clever scares. We even get face time with the Iron Master himself. An amalgam of man and metal, he sits on a thrown of sorrow and hopes to take you with him. FINALLY! The Ironmaster is a scary mofo!
They are minimal but they are there. In fact, as far as the event itself goes, there really aren’t any downsides. Getting to the event, and spending money wisely once inside takes planning. You SHOULD NOT miss this event because of issues that have nothing to do with Dark Harbor itself.
- To start, Parking. $30 for nearby parking and $40 for close parking is egregious. Unfortunately, it is a reality. So, plan around it if you don’t want to fork out the dough.
- Find an inexpensive parking option just across the bay in Long Beach and Uber or Lyft over to Dark Harbor. Easy.
- Stay aboard The Queen Mary the night of your visit.
So-called “GIANT” slice of pizza was not giant, but merely adequate. The Sausage sandwich is the safest bet here.
- The food prices are absurd. – You have a few options…
- Eat before you arrive.
- Go for the V.I.P. experience that includes Access to the RIP Lounge, BOMB tacos and two drink tickets AND front of the line.
The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor has risen in quality and presentation to become one of the best haunts of 2018.
The collective impact of the swarm of artistry, effort, and talent create an impressive environment with depth, humor, and personality led by David Wally who has been enjoying accolades for his Comic-Con and SXSW activations. This is seen in each and every actor who is there in character and who are given enough freedom to make each moment their own. From the midway to the intimate scenes in the mazes, this is true. Andrew Diego and the lanky, sensual Silencio, Peggy Magee as the Ringmaster, Brad Hills as the Captain, they all lead a vibrant ensemble of monsters, ghosts, and salty dawgs all of whom invite you into their mad world of fun.
On another note, I simply cannot overstate the positive influence of a cleaner presentation. Walking through the mazes I saw no exposed speakers or wires, no obvious light rigging, the lighting design was razor sharp, and the mazes storylines worked on both a literal and a subliminal sense.
Steve Sheldon and Charity Hill, the team behind Epic Entertainment group, the company responsible for Dark Harbor, were shrewd in reaching out to Jon Cooke. His experience in balancing the requirements of large-scale entertainment with telling an intimate story is currently unmatched. Cooke’s sensibilities work perfectly here and I can’t wait to see what he can do here next year. Yes. Just please bring him back guys.
See you in the fog!
If you are still painfully undecided on what to do for Halloween we have a great idea for you. Go somewhere else, then come close out the Halloween season with us on November 2nd!