Written by: Matt Patti | May 26th, 2022
Scare Zone (Jon Binkowski, 2009) 2 ½ out of 4 stars.
As an avid enthusiast of Halloween “Haunts,” I journey to a handful of different attractions each October. Haunted Hayrides, Haunted Houses, Haunted Trails, Haunts at Theme Parks … you name it, I’m game. Director Jon Binkowski’s Scare Zone therefore piqued my interest, especially after I discovered that the movie was filmed on location at a bona fide haunted attraction inside the Universal Orlando theme park. Taking advantage of his spectacular surroundings, Binkowski tells the story of a serial killer who hides out in a Halloween attraction, taking out victims amidst a backdrop of blood that provides the perfect camouflage. Though it feels very much like a TV movie or the Halloween special of a popular teen show, Scare Zone delivers with a unique plot and an intriguing look at the inner workings of a Haunt attraction.
The film begins with Oliver (Simon Needham, A Glaring Emission), the owner of a strip-mall Haunt called Scare Zone, giving a tour of the premises to his employees. The attraction is only open for three days—Halloween weekend—so it’s imperative that they get all the patrons they can in that short amount of time. Oliver has some of his employees go out and advertise around town during the day, whereas others stay behind and prep the location for each night’s activities. Oliver believes this will be the best event yet and has high hopes for turnout. Unfortunately, his team members start disappearing, falling victim to a mysterious killer who hides out in Scare Zone. The horrors inside the maze are about to become all too real.
Scare Zone is a film which works for a certain audience yet might not for others. As a huge fan of these types of horror attractions, I enjoyed almost every minute of the film. The tour Oliver gives at the beginning is very intriguing, revealing certain tactics scare actors use and how intricate scenes are set up for maximum scare potential. It’s quite compelling to see the work that goes into setting up, running, and advertising for a small, independent haunted maze. The set design is excellent, though I’m unsure if the majority of it was simply in place already thanks to Universal or how much work was done specifically for the film. Either way, the atmosphere is quite chilling. The impressive set design leads to a tragic irony: the fact that real deaths in the film are overlooked and dead bodies appear like props, leading the guests who walk through to suspect nothing. This creates great tension and gives the killer the upper hand.
Still, the film isn’t very frightening, though there are some shocking and disturbing moments near the conclusion. But in my opinion, it doesn’t have to be, as the thought-provoking mystery holds viewer attention. The movie nevertheless has a number of issues, such as poor audio quality and a low-budget look that, again, screams “TV show.” The performances are also just fine; there are no standouts, but there’s also no actor who weighs the film down. The characters aren’t the most compelling and are a mix of teen stereotypes, but there are a few that are of interest. However, these issues don’t bother me too much and can easily be overlooked. In the end, Scare Zone is a fun, intriguing glimpse into the world of Halloween haunted attractions, with just enough tension to keep the film flowing. It may resemble a Halloween-themed episode of your favorite television program, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
[Originally released in 2009, Scare Zone comes out once more on Terror Films May 27, 2022.]