27/10/2017 – Screamland at Dreamland Margate

After an absolutely roaring success and being the surprise of the season last year, I returned to Screamland with high expectations from The Paradise Foundation, Final Cut, and Dead & Breakfast, and I was so utterly destroyed by what I experienced: from the lack of signs for any haunt even though they all looked identical (except for Final Cut and Dead & Breakfast), complete lack of atmosphere despite having a stage where they could have had live bands, operators that didn’t realise Fast Track existed despite seeing our wristbands and tickets, and roaming actors from The Paradise Foundation despite it’s lack of appearance, Screamland was very much a 101 in how not to run a scream park.

Final Cut was the same as last year except it was missing actors, and the actors we did come into contact with did nothing more than stand stock still then take a step toward us. It also missed the iconic ticket booth and food stall scenes which could have been powerful, but they were absolutely dead – instead we were given two glowsticks and were told that the aliens would want to take them from us for unknown reasons but none of the actors went for it: I’m still none the wiser in what they were for, but oh well. The redeeming feature is that it hadn’t been changed theme wise, and the finale was still in tact if a bit lifeless given that the actors have an air gun and sparker in the same scene.

Like Final Cut, Dead & Breakfast couldn’t even shine a light on what it was last year: the acting was exceptionally weak after meeting with Fag Ash Lil’s replacement, with one actor saying “help me” and “get out” in the exact same sentence – two phrases that really bug me when there’s no context at all. There was also a distinct lack of actors throughout – I think I maybe counted 5 or 6 as I passed through, all of which were lifeless and the least threatening actors I’ve come across. I was also appalled to find out that my two favourite scenes of last year, the boiler room and the finale, were completely unused despite having to walk through both scenes! Why would you stop using something that was absolutely brilliant and unflawed?!

 

My mouth soured by the destruction of two great haunts, we pushed on to Brotherhood, a hooded attraction where you like try to join some secret society or something? I’ve no idea, there wasn’t any explanation. We first had to put on this white hood that covered everything but your eyes for hygiene purposes (first time I’ve ever had to do this in a hooded attraction…) then we were given another hood. We then entered and were greeted by a series of bizarre and unnecessary noises such as a wolf howling and someone yelling “mommy!” as loud as possible as an attempt to scare but were just so ridiculous given the context (or what little context there was), which only frustrated me to the point where I considered removing the hood and asking an actor to escort me out of the attraction; I stuck with it though to see if it got any better, and it really didn’t – we took our hoods off and we were told that our sins had failed us (but wait I thought we were trying to join a secret society) and that we must continue our journey through a Goddamn pitch black section without a hood! I’ve never been bored in a haunt before, but now I have.

 

Punchinello’s Revenge was up next and I honestly had no hope for this at all given that their mirror maze haunt last year wasn’t overly great. Bar Punch right at the beginning who was at least a little amusing, the actors were exceptionally annoying and added nothing to the story except confusion as the crocodile looked like a swamp monster from Scooby Doo and the baby looked like a potato with a face carved into it.

 

Festinos Festival of Freaks actually had a semi decent intro, but soured by four of the worst attractions I’ve experienced this Halloween, I just couldn’t get into it. As soon as we made our way into the haunt itself, I got so lost that I almost went into an actors rat run, I saw two actors run into each other in the strobe maze (really?!), and the safety announcement, “don’t come in if you want to be scared!”, didn’t make sense – or was it foreshadowing? Who knows. The only saving grace in here was the strobes, and even that wasn’t enough to salvage anything.

 

The Prop Shop was probably the best attraction here and all that was was three shipping containers stuck together and decorated with props from last years haunts! The photo finale was also probably the closest I was to being scared too, but even the photographer had to ask us to pretend to be scared for the photo, so take that how you will.

 

We finally made it to the last haunt at Screamland: The Legend of Crank Jack. Honestly quite an impressive introduction given how poor the others were, and I loved the use of light when the secret door opened, but given that we had to crawl almost the entire length of the haunt as clowns popped their heads in through hatches, it went back to being Screamland level bollocks once again as we passed through about 15 rooms that looked identical – the only saving grace was that the actor flaps never shut enough, so we were able to see through into backstage areas, one of which had the computer running all the lights, “effects”, and music in just out of reach. We also saw the group ahead of us enter into an actors rat run and stood there for what felt like forever for no reason what so ever: even the actor in the room we were in asked us, barely in character, why we had stopped.

 

It was over, and I couldn’t be more relieved. Usually I try to give some constructive feedback on the attractions as I go through, but the only thing I can suggest is to not do Screamland again: it was very much a case of Dreamland biting off more than it can chew and going for quantity over quality, which has never ever ever worked anywhere ever. Had they focussed on Final Cut and Dead & Breakfast alone they might have come out somewhat decent, but this? This was an absolute shitshow. The only scary thing here was how much the tickets cost.

27/10/2017 – Screamland at Dreamland Margate

26/10/2017 – Torment at Gunwharf Quays

Located in a huge purple marquee in the middle of Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays, Torment is a 10 minute haunt that takes its guests through a haunted house. Whilst there was nothing exceptional about it, it really managed to solidify itself as a strong attraction given its location – my main concern was going to be noise pollution from outside the attraction, but once we were inside all worries left and you could completely forget that you were in what looks like quite a busy area of Portsmouth! Using clever lighting and vast amounts of scenery, we made our way through the winding haunted house, meeting a vast array of strange characters, including one that crawled her way over to us before standing up in a similar fashion to Samara from The Ring, only to reveal a secret hidden passageway that led to an almost pitch black room that required the use of a rope to navigate – it was great to see an unhooded hooded section blend in so well! My favourite bit would have to be the utterly disorientating strobe maze right at the end – I have no idea how the actors are able to work in there, but they really did well!

Torment was a great little attraction that is clearly designed to be taken on tour, and it’s incredibly clever given how little space it takes up – I’d very much like to see something in a more permanent space as I can imagine their creativity exploding in a building.

 

26/10/2017 – Torment at Gunwharf Quays

25/10/2017 – Fear at Avon Valley

Surrounded by a hell of a lot of hype with phrases such as “an event not to be missed” being thrown about by other haunt enthusiasts, I knew I had to make my way over to Avon Valley to see what the hype was all about: naturally I was skeptical as you can probably understand and I was concerned that it might have been over-hyped and really wouldn’t live up to it’s name. Did it? Well, read on and you’ll find out…

 

As with most of the scream parks I’ve visited this year, Fear at Avon Valley had this festival-like buzz in the air as you wander round, but where the other events felt more like Oktoberfest or V Festival, Fear felt more rough – almost like a drum and bass festival – thanks to the number of rides and the flashing lights, the crazy food choices (mac n cheese chips, anyone?), plentiful drink stalls and pub with music, but mostly thanks to the incredible fire show that turns into a drum and bass rave with each haunt being cleverly captured in with the fire and music while all the roaming actors dropping it like it’s hot (and it was)! I’ve seen plenty of flashmobs and roaming actors do performances over the Halloween season, but I never thought I’d see such a wide variety of characters go nuts like this lot did whilst continuing to portray their own individual character – it is truly something you have to experience for yourself (or scroll back through the Facebook page to watch it, but you’re missing out on the explosive atmosphere!).

 

The haunts themselves are very impressive seeing as Fear is still very much in its infancy at only four years this year – they offer four intense attractions each with their own personality and story: Purgatory, Phobia, Anarchy Live, and their top secret brand new haunt.

The first on our list was Purgatory, an intense and aggressive haunt themed around a prison in lockdown due to the inmates rioting, and they weren’t lying! As you enter, you experience what would be expected of entering a prison: scanners and photos are taken, then all hell breaks loose as the inmates take over and cause utter chaos! We snuck our way through bathrooms, cells, darkened corridors, and finally through a tunnel into the prison yard where a lone prison guard tries to keep the inmates at bay as floodlights sweep the smokey area – the haunt ends with a bang, literally, and we exit back into the real world with huge grins on our face as we try to re-cap what we had just left. Dark, tense, and aggressive (in a good way), everything worked perfectly! I’m really glad that the actors were able to touch and move you about as it really solidified the idea that the inmates were dangerous and unhinged, and they never overstepped the boundary with regards to aggressiveness. A brilliant haunt to start the night off with, and I was certain that given how this had set the standards high that the rest just wouldn’t measure up.

 

Our second haunt for the evening was Phobia, an extremely creepy scientific study into fears and the cure for some of the darkest fears which goes horribly wrong as you can probably guess. As a concept the haunt is absolutely brilliant, however the story needed a little more explanation in the “check up” scene part way through though as it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening the first time we went through (though it was cleared up in subsequent runs). There were a few elements that were used in Purgatory (such as the “Scooby Doo” corridor) but the way this was used was so different that had I not thought on the scene for as long as I did that I wouldn’t have noticed (this is a convoluted way of saying it was incredible). This was completely immersive – the use of scents was great, the dentist’s water gun thing was a brilliant prop, but the best and honestly most impressive element of this haunt was the actors, and I know I’m not gunna be able to do them justice with words: they played these AI bots that guided you through the facility and checked up on you at specific points, and each of them played them absolutely perfectly from the moment they stepped out to meet you right through until they/you left your/their line of sight, and it was absolutely mind-blowing! I honestly couldn’t get enough of their mannerisms, their tone, and their actions, and it really pulled the attraction together to create something truly special!

 

Third up was Anarchy Live, a cat and mouse gameshow where contestants are pit against a murderous team of… I’m not entirely sure what… where the aim of the game is survival, and the prize is their life! There’s one final twist: you are the next contestant! Whilst the premise is simplistic, it’s executed almost perfectly: lights strobe chaotically around you as the actors grab at and push you about as the gritty soundtrack blasts its way through the air, leaving a sense of pure dread hanging around in the air. The group gets split up at multiple points, either by choice of the victims or the actors, and whilst each route occupies the same spaces, they’re very different and the actors can be very creative with the way scares are executed – I really wasn’t expecting my head to be grabbed from above by an actor I didn’t see, which was hilarious and terrifying at the same time! It’s almost impossible to explain what goes on inside, but it really is pure unadulterated mayhem that leaves you screaming and jumping as you make your way round. The only criticism I have is that it completely lacked any sign of it being a TV show once you entered the maze section – I’d love to see a scare with a TV camera, or even night vision cameras set up at points that livestream specific areas into the queue area just to really sell the idea that it’s a TV show. Otherwise, a third strong attraction that never failed to deliver!

 

Finally, I survived The Fourth.

 

The hype surrounding Fear at Avon Valley exists for a reason – I was concerned that the hype was very much hyperbole, but having been and witnessed for myself, I very much agree that the hype exists for a reason: the four haunts, the roaming actors, the fire show, and Mama’s talent show were all absolutely brilliant! Each of the haunts managed to get a holler out of me and for those who have been through a haunt with me know how difficult a feat that is, the roaming actors were brilliant at remembering your interactions with them throughout the night and kept going back to them when your paths crossed later in the evening, and the fire show just blew me away! I’m honestly gutted that I couldn’t get this written up sooner as I very much urge you to get down to Avon Valley and experience the horror that is Fear. Well done to absolutely everyone involved, you’ve really set the bar high this year!

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25/10/2017 – Fear at Avon Valley

24/10/2017 – The Howl at Mead Open Farm

By day a farm for kids, by night a terrifying series of attractions for adults: The Howl at Mead Open Farm hosts five haunts that all get under your skin and spook you silly!

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First for the night is Topper’s Twister, a delightfully deranged blend of circus and funhouse with plenty of terrifying clowns stalking through the attraction. With some amazingly used elements that make you feel unsteady on your feet and rooms peppered with lasers and swirling lights, this disorienting haunt is a great mixture of laughs and screams from everyone! With some great actors that are brilliant at improvising lines and finding the best hiding places, I was disappointed that an actor didn’t hide in the ball pit: it’s such a simple scare that’d catch absolutely everyone off guard – as the floor is on a slope, it’d be easy to reset each time too! A brilliant start to the night, especially if you’re in a small group!

 

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Still grinning from Topper’s Twister, our next haunt of choice was House of Hounds: a werewolf themed haunt! As a concept, werewolves are absolutely brilliant but so difficult to do, but The Howl really does it justice! I really appreciated that the characters became more and more feral as you progressed, the way the entire attraction was pumped full of smoke constantly, the use of chicken wire fences and solid walls to break up the haunt, the actors’ abilities to be threatening throughout, and the incredible finale, House of Hounds is an intense and terrifying experience! The only improvement I’d make is to try and hide the main smoke machine a bit better, and to move the strobe light from behind the final character so you can see it in all it’s glory.

 

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Hotel de Basquervilles was our next choice on the lineup: themed around a haunted hotel, this beautiful haunt really gets going from the moment the safety briefing ends! The whispering soundtrack that permeates throughout from nowhere really sets a creepy vibe that is broken by actors that spring from out of the most unlikely of places! Once again, this haunt is strongest in small groups as most of the initial scares are at the front of the queue, however the actors are brilliant at maintaining their character as the rest of the group passes. Before you know it, the haunt is over: there’s no real finale, which is a real shame seeing as the corridor you travel through feels like it’s just leading to another scene.

 

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Our penultimate haunt was The Shed, a haunt themed round, well, a shed and what you’d find in a shed. There was no real story or setup to this attraction as far as I could tell, but it was still a brilliant attraction that was extremely creepy and filled with feral beings that were extremely nightmarish! The atmosphere throughout was one of impending doom, and the effects and natural smells of the decorations within really helped add to that atmosphere! Absolutely loved the lighting throughout, and was really impressed and surprised by the clever re-hash of the chainsaw finale, a breath of fresh air that blew me away, if you know what I mean! Definitely my favourite haunt at The Howl, especially as it seems like the conga line rule is ignored (and quite rightly to!)

 

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Squealer’s Yard was our final haunt for the night. At first I was concerned about how good it was going to be as we were sent in as a group of 15 while every other haunt was sending us through in groups no bigger than 6 , though that really didn’t matter once you made it through the incredible opening scene! The group is split up, and you make your way through all sorts of scenes as you try to escape from the freaky cannibalistic creatures hiding within! A strong attraction that sees actors climbing all over set pieces and ad-libbing lines to freak you out as you make your way to a finale that really lets the rest of the attraction down, especially as the intro and most of the attraction is really intense.

 

Alongside the haunts, there’s also a few food stalls, a couple of roaming actors that felt like they blended in with the general public at points (I only saw two characters when walking about), and an undercover area with a stage for a band to perform on. I was aware of it being part of Tulley’s last year, and it’s definitely bringing some of the Shocktoberfest vibe with it, and I’m sure this festival style air will develop as The Howl becomes bigger and better: I was honestly surprised with how empty the attraction was, given the great ticket prices and amazing entertainment! Definitely one to visit, if you haven’t already!

 

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24/10/2017 – The Howl at Mead Open Farm

24/10/2017 – The Haunted Castle at Warwick Castle

Located on the beautiful grounds of Warwick Castle (if the title hasn’t already given that away), The Haunted Castle is a great place to go for brave youngsters who love Halloween and all things spooky!

Haunted Hallows was a beautiful walk through a series of extremely well themed sections that had some great scenery and fun and friendly actors that felt friendly whilst performing a jump scare, which is extremely clever given that it’s aimed at kids! Feeling more like a scarezone than a haunt, the lighting, effects, and music all came together perfectly to create a creepy yet familiar vibe that mimicked the atmosphere in Scooby Doo: even as an adult, this was good fun!

Dolls House was up next: a eerie piece of theatre with a very strong opening scene that set a high bar for the rest of the attraction, though the rest of the scenes felt like they fell flat after such a strong introduction. The set pieces within were great and utilised well, and each scene told it’s own story, it just felt like the actors were running through a script and there was no way for them to add their own “flavour” to their character. Really enjoyed the clever ending though!

After wandering around a bit, our time for Seance came up – the haunt itself is identical to what we experienced in Birmingham last year which you can read here, but it was still very effective and creepy!

Our final haunt at The Haunted Castle was Outbreak 1349, a journey through an exhibit that is re-themed every day to host the haunt. With no story line and nobody to set the scene, I had real trouble discerning whether the actors inside were meant to be plague ridden or zombies: neither their actions, noises, or costume indicated one way or another – the only way we knew was because of the set pieces we saw after we had past the very few diseased: there was one or two good jump scares, but we missed them as we were at the back and the scares were aimed at the front of the (unnecessary) conga line. I feel like I might be being a bit harsh seeing as it’s still aimed at kids but with it’s scare rating being the same as Seance, I was expecting something just as creepy. I’d very much like to see the exhibition closed off for the Halloween season and see something a bit more “permanent” inside even if it is just a marquee, as this would stop people from leaving prematurely given that it opens so late in the day.

As a small note, it’d be great to see some characters in the Horrible Histories maze getting kids to re-enact small things (such as roaring for the Viking bit, marching int he Army bit, etc) in order to get the stamp or a sticker or something.

Overall, it’s a decent starting point for kids who love Halloween and their parents. Despite having to hang around for each attraction to open at their specific times, it was a good day out.

24/10/2017 – The Haunted Castle at Warwick Castle

22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

Screamfest Burton popped up on my radar late last year, so I made sure to visit this year.

Freak Out is a funhouse style haunt riddled with clowns, strobes and choices the guest could make as they were going through. The clowns pretty bog standard (imagine clowns in a circus) and felt like they were lacking energy throughout: the only elements carrying the atmosphere in this haunt was the lighting and music unfortunately, as the facade is beautiful and lurid, and that luridness didn’t present itself inside – a UV strobe section would definitely be an improvement, if done right.

Soul Seekers was up next, and this was definitely a step in the right direction: the theming and set design was incredible, and the introduction scene was very well rehearsed and extremely effective at creeping everyone out; however, each actor was trying to steal the spotlight which, in quite a narrative driven section, definitely worked against them: the person doing the narrative needed to command the stage whilst the rest toned it down a bit. Absolutely loved the use of strobes during, though.

Love Hurts is a brand new concept to me – it’s the first time I’ve shared a toilet cubicle with so many people! Once again, the set both inside and through the queue line was very impressive and clever, though the plot needed to be explained/explored a little more as it felt like it got lost throughout. There are some rather bizarre and clever set pieces that I honestly never expected (see the first point in this paragraph) and some of the scares were well hidden but needed to be brushed up on: once again, I wasn’t buying into the characters desperation for help, and the audio needed to be louder, but the finale was absolutely brilliant and possibly one of my favourite ways that a chainsaw was used – well done there!

Demonica, my favourite haunt at Screamfest Burton, looks absolutely beautiful on the outside with ponds of water and smoke lit red with the sign spouting fire at intervals, while a demonic character guides victims to one of four doors: the scene inside these rooms is absolutely incredible and the strongest use of an element like this! Once through, a twisted and dark soundtrack pierces the air as you make your way through almost pitch black corridors and a cage maze filled with strobes and more screaming from the soundtrack. I’d very much like to see this have more actors in it and have the actors touch you in this section as it’d definitely feel more threatening, and I’d like to see the huge speaker right in the middle of the strobe maze moved off to a corner so it’s hidden under a strobe (and therefore invisible) or hidden above you somehow.

 

Dia De Las Muretos is Screamfest Burton’s cornfield maze and their most developed concept, which it has to be seeing as it definitely puts it’s foot across the line with regards to sensitivity and theming: it’s themed around a day of the dead festival that’s been overridden by a Mexican gang that’s out to kill. The trailer ride over was fun as the actors and radio show helped set the scene, but once inside the haunt itself it kinda falls flat: there were lots of sections that had very little interaction with actors, who all felt a bit 2D and lifeless when we did interact with them – the first set of chainsaws we met were the only characters that felt alive, which is a shame as there were some real possibilities for actors to really sell themselves to us. The finale definitely needs a re-think as it almost felt like they were grasping at straws in order to use the prop that is used. I enjoyed the use of lighting and the possibility for the group to get split up.

 

Overall, the attractions felt very weak: the actors across all the haunts felt like they could be dressed up in a costume and chucked into any of the haunts and they’d be able to work the attraction: whilst this is clever, it also feels like you’re watching the same thing happening again and again and again every 30 seconds, which (for me) gets tedious quickly. The haunts themselves are well themed and use sound and lighting (or the lack of lighting) well, and whilst none of them were particularly strong, there was a number of scenes through each that I honestly loved and thought was very clever.

 

 

22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween

After hearing about Chessington World of Adventures putting on a Halloween event, I was extremely curious as to what they’d do. When I added them to the huge lineup, I hadn’t had much exposure/experience/whatever with kids haunts (except a backstage tour of Spooks in the Straw), so thought it might be something a bit different, and I was glad I added it to the lineup after doing House of Monsters, Alton Towers’ very own kids haunt.

Unfortunately for myself, I only had a limited amount of time at Chessington as I had to make my way across London in order to catch the next leg of my journey, so I wasn’t able to experience Trick or Treat Wood; but from what I could hear and see when walking past it, it looked like great fun with some very enthusiastic actors to boot!

My first haunt at Chessington was Creepy Caves Unearthed, a haunt created with young teenagers in mind. I’ve no idea what young teenagers they did their market research on because I honestly could not believe how intense the haunt was! The storyline is well thought out and very captivating from the get go, with some amazing actors delivering the narrative (though I’m not sure why they had American accents, but you know, just a minor detail that has no negative impact on the attraction itself) and scenes and sets that compliment the story being told. The theatrics give way and all hell breaks loose as you’re sent through the creepy caves in order to survive as mutated humans come charging toward you from absolutely everywhere! The finale had a very nice twist as well, with some more scares as you’re chased out of the attraction!

Parents, please please PLEASE take note of the age restriction! Whilst Chessington is a family friendly attraction, Creepy Caves Unearthed does not fall into this category: it is honestly as intense as some of the haunts I’ve done aimed at adults, though it’s much shorter. When we were waiting for our timeslot, we were seeing kids coming out in tears! I was extremely impressed with the attraction, and really couldn’t find much fault with it – the time you do it doesn’t have any effect as you’re all indoors anyway, the actors really got into their roles and managed to make me jump a few times, and the sights and smells really popped and stood out, making Creepy Caves Unearthed a brilliant addition to the park!

 

After taking a bit of a breather to calm down, I moved onto Curse of the Lost Tomb, a story driven show that mixes theatre with a few scenes that mimic an escape room. All the actors inside are extremely captivating and really fit in with their scenes well, improvising lines and interacting with the audience beautifully as you make your way through. Whilst not rated as too scary by the theme park, it can be very tense at points as there’s quite a lot of flashing lights, an eerie atmosphere, and a finale that used some effects that I really wasn’t expecting! Great fun for the whole family, but as with Creepy Caves Unearthed, definitely take the age restriction into consideration as younger guests might not enjoy it.

 

Overall though, Chessington World of Adventures has put on a series of fun and brilliant shows and haunts, and plenty of roaming characters that will thrill you with their amazing moves! Well done to everyone involved!

 

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween