31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

So the haunt scene is slowly coming out of hibernation, and my friends and I were feeling really antsy to get our asses to a haunt ASAP and get our fix of scares! After spending a long time hunting for something, we stumbled across Nightmare Asylum in Nottingham: a haunt that’s only been open for a few days. We reserved our tickets the night before (30th) and continued on with out night.

The next day, we trek from Birmingham to Nottingham all hoping that Nightmare Asylum would be worth it whilst also thinking it was odd that we only reserved a ticket and didn’t actually pay for them, and we began to wonder if it was legit. We arrive outside a warehouse that looks like it could have been a small car repair shop at some point with a banner hanging above the shutters reading “Nightmare Asylum” – at least if this wasn’t legit, they spent a little bit on our demise…

We ring the number on the Facebook page and tell the receiver that we’re here – a few seconds later, a man steps out from the side of a building and beckons us in through the security fence and into a sizeable room with a kitchen in the corner; thinking this is part of the escape room (hold that thought…) I instantly start scanning the bare room for any signs of clues… nothing: turns out, it was just a break room.

We’re handed waivers and, in our naivety we blindly signed them (I haven’t learned from other times I’ve been handed waivers…), and we’re then given the basic run down on how the haunt works. The haunt itself is a peculiar blend of escape room, haunt, and maze all rolled into one: you’ll come across padlocks that need keys or codes to open them and you’ll have to find your way around the haunt blind, all while being tormented by invisible actors.

We’re taken back into the corridor connecting the entrance to the kitchen and our hostess pulls back an unassuming white curtain we must have ignored as we walked in, to reveal a stairwell covered in bloodstains and threats that lead up to a closed door. We’re handed a torch and we sheepishly climb up the stairs before opening the door and walking into the gloomy room in front of us; as we enter the room, the door behind us slams shut with a loud bang and we all scream. This, I’m afraid/amused to say, is very much how the rest of the experience went for us…

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Without giving too much away, but Nightmare Asylum is almost what it says on the tin: yes, it was an absolute nightmare and had us saying “I don’t like this” and pushing each other to be the first through the room whereas we’d usually be fighting to be at the front; however, there wasn’t anything themed around what I’d consider an Asylum – hell, there didn’t seem to be any theme or story behind it at all: it was very disjointed and almost like a horror movie game, but this really, really worked well and actually made it feel like it lasted a lot longer than it actually did (great once we got out, but not so great when we were in there).

The haunt is so strange I’m actually struggling to write this part of the review!

The actors know the haunt like the back of their hand, and you’ll know why I put that when you go. It’s a full contact haunt and you are grabbed and pulled at mercilessly throughout which, when combined with the situation you’re in, quickly becomes stressful and spooky (in the right way).

The only criticism I have is that some of the sounds didn’t properly sync up with what we were doing – I’m not entirely sure whether the audio is triggered manually or not, but a sensor or something that monitors the object the sound is meant to sync up to would definitely be a vast improvement. Usually I like seeing the sets a little more, but for some reason the way Nightmare Asylum is done currently, you really don’t need much light at all.

I have no idea why we were so scared throughout – looking back there’s nothing groundbreaking or mindblowing, but for some reason the “less is more” mantra really worked well for Nightmare Asylum, and with the team behind it, I really hope they’ll be scaring us for many years to come!

 

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31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

I’ve never been happy with myself – I always knew I had the ability to do more, see more, be more. OK, that’s a lie: I’m very happy with myself and strive to push myself as much as possible; however adverts have been popping up on Facebook and around London advertising this brand new service that’ll help me uncover my true potential by accessing my subconscious at will, with only acute death as a potential side effect. What could go wrong, right? … right?

 

With absolutely no information available bar a website selling tickets and a few posters with double edged slogans such as “sleep with us”, I very much read into this as being an intense horror experience where things go horribly wrong and you end up in a nightmare landscape, tormented by nameless entities that want nothing more than to cause suffering due to the imagery and mystery surrounding the event: instead what I found was quite the opposite.

 

Somnai is, at the core of it, an immersive theatrical experience that mixes live action, virtual reality, film, and scents and sound in an attempt to completely immerse you in what can only be described as a cyberpunk sci-fi movie with a slight Black Mirror undertone, just without the dystopia that’s usually prescribed to the genre, and it does it exquisitely once you accept that you need to don virtual reality devices and may end up in waiting rooms due to the nature of the show; having said that, as soon as we entered each scene I was very much back in and immersed in the world once more.

 

From the moment I handed my belongings over to the moment I left the building, I was in awe at what I experienced during my hour-ish long show, from the story and how it played out through to the incredulous amount of technologies used – it’s rarely a good idea to rely heavily on technology given how temperamental it can be, but the team at Somnai are taking that risk and, when the technologies work, it is an absolutely beautiful  and overwhelming experience.

 

What are you waiting for? Come and #SleepWithUs.

Sweet dreams.

09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

Located in the tunnels beneath Waterloo train station in central London, The Vault Festival puts on a series of shows and immersive experiences that spread far and wide across all mediums and genres; this year, one stood out in particular: The Pendulum by The Tom Sawyer Effect. Billed as “a hyper reality horror experience blending virtual reality with immersive theatre”, there was no way I could turn this down – even if I am a sceptic of virtual reality.

It’s time for me to experience The Pendulum. I arrive in the tunnels and am greeted by the usual hustle and bustle of the underpass: a mix of people hanging about outside The Vault itself, street jugglers, professional photographers, and graffiti artists litter the tunnel, creating create this electricity that buzzes through the air but always seemed to be dampened as if it’s only for the select few in the area.

An usher arrives and asks if I’m here for The Pendulum – “Yes” – “Follow me”. We walk down the tunnel and away from the main hub of the festival in complete silence despite my best attempts at striking up a conversation, which unsettled me a bit. We approach a completely unassuming door right at the end of the tunnel and I’m ushered into the blackness, where someone is sat at a table with a sizeable waiver and a pen. I’m asked to read the waiver and backstory and sign on the line, and I do. I’m then handed a red boiler suit and am instructed to put it on and take a seat on the chair off to the side. The usher approaches and covers my head with a cloth, and the experience begins.

What happens over the course of the next 20 minutes is difficult to put into words, but there’s no hyperbole in synopsis: from the moment I was guided from my seat into the 5 metre by 5 metre room where the one-on-one experience is held, I was completely immersed in their universe. Sure I didn’t think that I was this super hacker the interrogator was talking about, but that’s not the point: the actor had me eating out of the palm of his hand for the entire show; not only that, but the way in which the virtual reality was used wasn’t jarring at all as it has been in other attractions – it had a legitimate reason for being used.

Despite me erring on the side of caution with regards to virtual reality (never work with computers, animals or kids in show biz!) and having unfortunately experienced tech failures during haunts that rely heavily on it, I was very much expecting it to be dreadful: I was proven wrong, and man am I happy about that! I don’t want to go into too much detail as there’s a lot that you need to experience for yourself, but the most bizarre and jarring (in a positive manner) thing was that the room went from being 5 metre square to a tunnel that looks about 10 metres deep and 50 metres wide.

 

The Pendulum is a truly impressive piece of theatre that is quick to immerse you in its universe and make you question what you perceive as reality, from the story through to the actors to the technology used, it is a real pleasure to see and experience something of this calibre – well done to absolutely everyone involved!

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

Walking up the stairs toward Take Me Home’s Horror Within, I had no idea what to expect: I’ve done haunts with the tiniest possible floor space possible that have really packed a punch and left a mark over the last few years, however when I heard that there would be live actors inside the impossibly small room looming from the balcony above, I was curious as to see just how this would work.

We were ushered inside and told to take a seat at a table in this gloomy early-1900’s drawing room, smoke hanging still in the air to create a haze. As we’re all sat and made comfortable, we’re asked to turn off our phones and tuck our belongings in under our chair and we wait as atmospheric music washes through the room, trying to stir up a joke with each other which are followed by short-lived nervous chuckles as nobody had any idea what to expect, myself included: the lights went out and a music box dances its way through the darkness…

What happened over the course of the next hour is really hard to fully encapsulate in words: I could tell you every little detail, every line that was said, every glance over the shoulder, but that just wouldn’t carry the same weight that the atmosphere created by the Take Me Home team managed to create: I can’t speak for anyone else in this performance but I was very much eating out the palm of all the actors hands throughout the performance.

Given that this was the premiere performance, I was a little concerned as to how rough it was going to be as I had spoken to the producers they were entirely, and understandably, nervous themselves; however the actors took this all in their stride and rolled with whatever hiccup had happened, which lessened the impact of the issue entirely – something that definitely isn’t easy, especially when some of the pieces were narrative!

There are a few changes that I’d make that I thought might have a better impact which have already been passed onto the team but won’t be posted here as they’d give away elements of the show that are best left unknown: having said that, if the actors can see that the audience is really eating out of the palm of their hands, definitely draw out poignant sentences and embellish motions more. I very much look forward to returning to see the full show later this week!

The world within the four walls of Jacob’s drawing room is so beautiful and rich that it’s entirely easy to forget the outside world exists at all: the actors and effects blend beautifully together to create an atmospheric and haunting show that’ll stick in your mind for a very long time!

 


 

UPDATE: I’ve just returned from my second showing of Take Me Home: Horror Within and I walked out just as impressed as I did the first time! A lot has changed: entire scenes have gone, new effects have been introduced, and what worked in Tuesday’s show has been improved on since, and the actors have really settled into their characters which made their interactions much more believable: I was thrilled when I found out the show has been extended and I urge you to go, even if you’ve already experienced it!

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/takemehomeplay/

Tickets: https://www.thebroadwaybarking.com/sales/genres/drama/take-me-home–horror-within

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16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

13/01/2018 – Room Escape Southend: Apartment 666

Three weeks after getting spooked silly by a zombie Santa, Room Escape Southend had completely gutted their winter wonderland theming along with the cabin that’s been stood for the last two iterations of their room escapes, and has been replaced with an ultra modern flat: Apartment 666.

This has to be the toughest room that Room Escape Southend have put on with puzzles being rather complex and spread out across the apartment, which is only made harder as portals between the two dimensions open…

I’ve deliberately left this short and sweet as it’s only in its second day (at time of writing) and I really don’t want to give too much away, but the Room Escape Southend team have really worked their arses off to bring you what is an intense and testing escape room that’ll leave you screaming and ducking for cover as you work your way out of the room!

 

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13/01/2018 – Room Escape Southend: Apartment 666

22/12/2017 – Room Escape Southend: A Zombie Christmas

Southend Room Escape feature very prominently in my reviews: since my first visit to them for Down The Rabbit Hole over 6 months ago, they’ve change their escape room theme an incredible three times, with this visit being their fourth – it really is amazing how quickly they produce and create brand new worlds for guests to explore and inevitably get scared!

Donning Christmas cracker hats and sitting round the family dinner table in a winter wonderland, we’re told that Santa has come over with an illness which has changed his taste buds drastically (unfortunately for us), and that the chain that ties him to the spot will extend every so often, meaning there’s no place to hide: fortunately, singing Christmas songs seems to put him in a daze, meaning we are able to distract him for short periods of time. It was down to Ash (of Hide & Shriek), Michael Bolton (of ScareTour), Liam, and myself to solve the clues and save Christmas forever! Quite a scary precedent given how close to Christmas it was!
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The timer begins and we instantly pick up on a number of puzzles dotted around the room: we instantly gather all the clues we can get our mitts on and gather them on the table, completely wary of the zombie Santa sat barely 2 feet way from us in the corner.

What happened over the next hour or so was a mixture of confusion, yelling, plenty of singing, and eventually managing to solve the clues in order to save Christmas and escape!

Rather cleverly, the team had recycled the shack and most of the scenery from The Cabin, which, when coupled with the changes to the “outside” area, really made the escape room give off a Christmassy vibe – we had the cracker hats, all we needed were the corny Christmas jumpers!

The puzzles themselves were rather tough (despite what Bolton says in his review) even though we had all seen the same padlocks a number of times in their other rooms, there were a number of new and impressive puzzles, with a number of the puzzles requiring one of us to sneak past Santa whilst the rest deafened him with our tone deaf renditions of Jingle Bells over and over and over: the final puzzle with the baubles was by far my favourite puzzle, but then again I really enjoy intricate puzzles that require technology.

Even though this was easily their least scary escape room so far, it was still intense and riddled with moments of panic as we tried to avoid the evil Santa, and it was definitely an absolute blast! Once again, Room Escape Southend delivered another fantastic attraction with A Zombie Christmas, and I really cannot wait to get back down to Southend for Apartment 666!

22/12/2017 – Room Escape Southend: A Zombie Christmas

16/12/2017 – Scare Kingdom’s Christmas FestEVIL

The frequency of my visits to Mrs Dowson’s Farm are becoming more and more frequent: after learning about their out of season events during Jason Karl’s talk at Scare Kingdom, I made a point of attending Scare Kingdom this year for their Christmas FestEVIL event, in which we see the famous Manormortis evolve into a new and creepy yet fun Christmas themed attraction! Alongside Manormortis, and for the first time at Scare Kingdom, the impressive Body Snatchers opens its doors again, with Psychomanteum: BloodMASS, The UK’s sickest attraction, also opens its doors once again for those truly looking to be grossed out.

 

Manormortis – The House of Living Toys

Setting itself apart from the Halloween run, Manormortis brings another aesthetically beautiful world in which living toys are running rife and giving warning to all who pass through, though not all toys are friendly! With a nice twist on the pantomime theme and all the prose written in rhyme, this attraction removed itself from the jump scare scene and firmly planted itself in the creepy and atmosphere section of the haunt world thanks to its extremely theatrical nature and the actors within – huge shout out to the soldier in the courtroom and the ballerina for really bringing their characters to life! As with all Scare Kingdom attractions and pantomimes in general, some of the scenes and prose really toed the line with its content and whilst it could be said that it should be kept innocent, Manormortis did it with such confidence that it came across rather tastefully: got to give a round of applause to the Russian doll for putting up with my crap banter.

I truly loved this show as it didn’t feel like we were rushed through the attraction, meaning we were able to take in the beautiful sets and costumes; having said that though, some scenes did start a bit too early meaning that us lot stood at the back missed out on the beginning of some scenes or couldn’t hear the actor over the music, which is a shame. I’d have also liked the monster in the finale to have had more time in the strobe so we could take in the beauty of the costume.

 

Body Snatchers – A Christmas Presence

Stepping out of the gorgeous Manormortis, we follow the path through the entrance of Prey and instantly out the exit and straight to Body Snatchers, another stunningly themed haunt that opened its doors for the first time this Halloween. Themed around a seance led by the quirky and over the top Florence Cook, this attraction had a lot of potential and a real name to live up to, given it immediately follows Manormortis.

We step into the cobbled streets of what feels like a Sweeney Todd style London road and are welcomed by the hilarious Fishy Fanny who entertained and flirted mercilessly with the crowd, much to the amusement of the audience, who only became more amused as the famous Dougie steps out from the house and tries to bring the crowd back into the mood they should be in, with very little help from Fanny. With a huge grin on our faces, we enter the funeral home and meet Florence Cook who guides us through the Seance with great gusto and, as I’ve said before, over the top manner that you’d expect from actors in Pantomimes: we were shown a rather clever magic trick before being guided into the rest of the attraction.

Whilst I really enjoyed the two scenes described above, I feel like the rest of the attraction fell flat as soon as we ducked through the fireplace: we hit a corridor and an actor seemed to break character before splitting us up into twos for the rest of the haunt, which was identical to the Halloween season, except for the monsters hidden within just seemed to guide you to the exit of their scene and didn’t attempt to do much else. Given it was a funeral home that we were holding a seance in, there could have been a lot of exploration with malevolent spirits and poltergeist activity and such. It just felt like it had this beautiful set up into something rather elaborate and as impressive as Manormortis’ story, but nothing came of it, which was unfortunate.

 

Psychomanteum: BloodMASS

I both love and hate the NDA we sign upon entering this attraction, as I always feel like I’m writing the same review each time, but honestly, BloodMASS was what Snuffhouse Bloodbourne was if delivered under the Psychomanteum title: I spent the entire time going between feeling uncomfortable, gagging, and laughing through each of the scenes… right up until the finale where the actor actually said my name – something that always throws me off-guard and unnerves me (and now the whole world knows). BloodMASS was much grosser than the other two iterations I’ve done and felt like it lasted a lot longer than at Halloween, which is incredible as it never let up the whirlwind of filth and Debauchery that can only be found in Psychomanteum: there were certain scenes in there that I really didn’t expect despite being told what I’d be up against (I’ve got to be careful with what I ingest). Only improvement I could suggest is that certain elements be warmed up so they feel how they’re meant to feel – otherwise, as usual, I had a right blast and can’t wait for February!

 

16/12/2017 – Scare Kingdom’s Christmas FestEVIL