Roughly this time a year and a half ago, I found myself on the way to Southend Victoria to scope out this brand new attraction called Dead Centre run by Hide & Shriek, a relatively new company in the scare industry at the time. Soon enough, they’ve become a company I regularly return to not only because they’re on my doorstep and run year round, but also because I thoroughly enjoy what they do and I know that critiques will be taken on board and rectified for following shows, which is something that I thoroughly appreciate as a reviewer as while I do this for fun and for you readers’ entertainment, I also do it to help the industry improve somewhat.
Having said that, this might actually be my hardest review of one of their shows to date as I was both an actor and a participant, and knew a good handful of the actors within the attraction too but don’t worry, I’m not letting these bonds get in the way of my review – I’m still gunna be as harsh as ever!
On arrival at Dead Centre, our tickets were scanned and we took our seats on a bench in a semi-protected safe area whilst we waited for our turn: a two tier pyramid of barrels stood on one side of the shopping centre corridor and a wall with a screen built in displayed the title of the experience on the other, whilst eerie atmospheric music played on a loop that echoed throughout our little area, which emphasised the fact that we were completely alone in the shopping centre… or were we?
Soon enough, it was our time to enter the experience: we’re given the generic haunt brief (you are expected to run, no zombies will chase you on the stairs, etc) and we were sent down a service corridor. As we reached the end of this corridor, two shopping centre security guards, an Australian called Jake (though he insisted on being called Maverick and I am so down for that) and another whose name I forgot so I’m gunna call him Dan, welcomed and ushered us closer. He explained that the safe haven we were in has never come under attack thanks to the stringent security checks we have to go through – our first was to prove that we hadn’t been bitten and, rather typically, my small group of friends ended up having to do blood tests to prove we were safe – as it turns out, one of us was The Chosen One, someone whose blood cannot be infected by the zombies! Just as he had explained this, a loud bang as something hit the wall next to us got us moving into the next area.
We ran down another service corridor, chaperoned by the two guards that seemed to be a bit uneasy but continued to ensure us that we were safe and it was just probably another guard playing a prank. We soon stopped as we hit a set of doors whilst the service corridor continued off to the right, and Maverick gave us a quick demonstration on how to check for zombies by knocking and asking “are there any zombies?”, pausing, then saying “no” before moving onto the next – this is when I began giggling. He came back and confirmed that it was all safe with this dumb grin on his face whilst Dan just looked at him in disdain. We were then taken through the doors, across the floor of the shopping centre, and into another service corridor where we were told we’d have to go through the Loading Bay in order to reach The Reverend, who’ll know what to do with the blood.
On the way down to the Loading Bay we learned a little bit more about The Reverend, and both Dan and Maverick – both of whom were very new to this role, and by this point completely clueless as to what to do, though that didn’t stop them from trying to ease our fears (though I’m still giggling at this point). Maverick did his thing and checked for zombies before running back yelling “gogogogogogogogogogo” as quickly as he can: we’re led through another set of doors and Dan slams them closed behind us once everyone was in, then Maverick explained that he saw a mouse – his worse fear! The laughter continues.
We reach the loading bay and just as we pass a van, the alarm goes off and a small horde of zombies chase us through the loading bay and up a ramp and into another maze of service corridors and stairwells. Soon enough, we’re in a slightly more open service corridor where a cart full of water is sat, so we all take a bottle. Just as that happens, one of the service lift doors slams open and a disgruntled shopkeeper comes out and accuses us of stealing his water. The two guards start to fight him and the shopkeeper is left tied to a pillar, just as another small horde of zombies chases us down yet another service corridor and back into the shopping centre.
The aim of our mission changes from finding The Reverend to basically calling in a helicopter to rescue us, as the guards finally admit to not having a clue what to do. We make our way up several flights of stairs to the top of the car park where we were to lay down an SOS so a helicopter could come and pick us up. We reach the top of the car park and find a conveniently placed box that had some sheets in for us to make an SOS. Just as we finished, another car alarm went off and a zombie fell out of the car, chasing us down two levels peppered with other zombies before we finally went into another stairwell and went down to the shopping centre where The Reverend could be found.
We inch our way forwards to give ourselves a better vantage point to see if there were any zombies about and Maverick being Maverick did his own special check which had me absolutely doubled over in hysterics to the point where I was almost getting stitches from that rather than the running! We got given the all clear and I pull myself together enough to run from where we were stood to the Hide and Shriek shopping unit, where an odd character in a white vest, underwear, and doctors robe met us. He examined the vial of blood and confirmed it was good we came, and we were led into the pitch black corridors to meet The Reverend. We find ourselves back in another service corridor before we reach The Reverend’s door and are ambushed by another small horde of zombies, which we try to hold back with a wheelie bin though this was futile without four of us trying our hardest to hold them back whilst the rest of the group struggled to open the door.
Finally the door was opened from the inside by Maverick who had managed to disappear in the havoc and let us in. We re-entered the darkness and barricaded the door behind us. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, it became apparent that we were very much in a hospital/laboratory thing, the home of The Reverend. He introduced himself and reiterated that the blood could save lives, and he was determined to show us – he took us through to his back room where an infected lay on an operating table. People were picked out of the crowd, myself included, and we were given specific actions – one of us had to inject The Chosen One’s blood into the infected and the other had to take note of the heart rate as it was yelled out. As the infected was injected with the blood, he slowly came back to life and started convulsing uncontrollably: the lights went out and the infected had vanished! We were ushered into a seated area behind two sheets as the lights in the room strobed at an unpredictable rate, causing the shadows of the zombies to flicker across the sheets as they maul The Reverend. In the madness, the zombies were shot at and we were quickly ushered through more rooms before we found ourselves in an unused shopping unit. We were then told we just had to run in order to escape the hordes and find our own way to the next Safe Haven – the doors to the shop opened and we all sprinted to the exit of the shopping centre, laughing and cheering all the way.
Comparing this year to last year, there have been a huge amount of changes based on feedback from last year: the reasoning for going to each of these locations was clearly explained and followed a storyline, and they added a rather effective and well executed piece of theatre within their shopping unit. Alongside this, the shopping centre security guards that took us through the experience were a great touch, not only because army soldiers are done pretty much everywhere else, but also because they bought the trademark comedy to the show which definitely couldn’t have been done with soldiers.
Having said that, I do have a few criticisms (of which I know couldn’t be helped), but having chatted to others that had been through as well as the H&S team, it seemed to just be me that picked up on it: there was a lack of zombies. The Loading Bay scene had potential for a good 10 or so zombies to flood the area and make it really chaotic – this was also noticeable in the Car Park and the Service Corridor scenes, though the security guards yelling did add to the confusion a bit. It also would have been nicer for the zombies to get closer too as none of them really felt like a threat until the Finale chase where you had no choice but to weave in and out of them: we had a good ol’ run around the car park and the zombies had a decent enough area to chase us in, but they ambled about and were so scattered about the place that, had it been a real apocalypse, the 17 or so of us in the group could have easily just taken them out.
Continuing on the zombies, whilst I got the idea that in each of the zones the zombies were meant to get progressively more and more zombified, it didn’t really show – there were zombies that did they make up professionally and some that hadn’t, and whilst 99% of the time it wasn’t noticeable, it definitely was toward the end when we had our photo opportunities with them.
Also, something like fake barbed wire between the barrels and wall in the foyer bit right at the beginning of the experience would have been cool, but not a necessity.
The one final thing I want to shit on (in the nicest way possible) was the scene within the unit. I understand it’s a small area, but those bloody seats that were facing side on so you had to turn your head really didn’t do anything, and in fact kinda detracted from the experience a little as you had to hold an uncomfortable position for a short while. I’d have also had the lights flash a little bit quicker, but that’s just personal taste – the way the shadows projected onto the sheet really added to the visuals and helped soften the brightness of the strobes.
Despite these few critiques, I honestly enjoyed myself and whilst it wasn’t a scary experience, it sure was fun, entertaining, and hilarious! If it makes a return (and I hope it does), I very much urge you to go.