11/06/2016 – Twisted Attractions

Not even a month has passed since our last haunts at ScareCON and I gotta admit, a number of us were itching to get ourselves to another as soon as possible! We pulled together a quick 300 mile round trip to Twisted Attractions in Birmingham from Essex to do Coulrophobia and  Dr Hades Fear Theatre!

Unfortunately, we found out when we arrived that Dr Hades Fear Theatre was having teething problems so we didn’t get to see the show. Whilst we were disappointed, we completely understand why, and you can find out more too…

 

Coulrophobia

Whilst we were in the queue we were treated to a number of strong characters, including Dr Hades, Madame Pompadour and a rather creepy clown. Dr Hades was absolutely incredible in bringing the maniacal doctor role to life and definitely had the queue creeped out with his creepy games. Madame Pompadour a graceful and elegant character that really captured your attention. The creepy clown was, well… creepy. Evil laugh, thousand yard stare that feels like he’s staring into your soul… the whole shebang; definitely an unnerving character (and that’s coming from someone without a fear of clowns!)

Inside, the haunt is fantastic: what Phobophobia last year could have been, these guys ran with the freakshow theme (despite the name – yes, there is a clown, but it’s not a clown haunt). Expect to meet a variety of freaks on your way though!

Visually, there is a lot going on. The decor as you go through is really clever and builds up a sense of disorientation which builds more and more as the haunt progresses; we actually ended up getting completely and utterly lost at one point, and ended up doubling back on ourselves multiple times.

The characters themselves were well developed and owned by their actors – the clown in the strobe maze really worked with the strobes and owned his section, and the first character we met was just absolutely entertaining through and through.

We were informed that the maze was missing a few final touches, but when we went through it was definitely standing strongly on its own two feet; the final touches just sound like it’s only going to be better next time.

 

Dr Hades Fear Theatre

Remember when I said we didn’t get to see Dr Hades Fear Theatre? I lied a bit: the haunt is having teething problems but we were lucky enough to get a sneak preview of what to expect, and let me tell you that when it’s finished, it is going to take haunts in a whole new direction. If you’re ever in Birmingham and Dr Hades is open, you definitely need to go and see it: I’m already seriously impressed and we only got a sneaky 5 minutes!

 

Twisted Attractions is a very strong independent haunt with actors, techies, artists, and backstage crew that clearly love doing what they do, and it shows; especially in the actors improvisation throughout. If you’re ever in Birmingham and they’re open, I definitely recommend taking an hour or so to go and visit:

 

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11/06/2016 – Twisted Attractions

13/05/2016 – The Final Cut and Dead & Breakfast

Yesterday marked two very special occasions: the day that Jason Voorhees kills a load of people, and ScareCON 2016!

For those that don’t know, ScareCON is a one day convention dedicated to the world of haunted attractions, ranging from independent haunts, low budget haunts, home haunts, all the way through to the tens of thousands of pounds events held at theme parks. For one day a year everyone gets together to showcase their stuff, and this year we were lucky to have the opportunity to experience Screamland’s (Dreamland’s) The Final Cut and Dead & Breakfast!

 

The Final Cut

This haunt is themed around the silver screen, where you become the star of the show: you enter the cinema screen and are soon transported through the screen and into the movie world!

Going through the uniquely themed maze you enter a series of zones dedicated to a different classic horror movie, from werewolves through to Frankenstein, and even an electrifying Jekyll and Hyde transformation scene to close the maze

Whilst not scary, it is definitely a very jumpy maze that leaves you guessing where the scare will come from. There are some cheesy bits to it, but this doesn’t detract from the haunt – overall a very strong experience and definitely one for those that enjoy horror movies!

 

Dead and Breakfast

Leading straight on from The Final Cut was Dead and Breakfast, a more theatrical haunt with a stronger storyline.

Themed around the bombings in the 1940s, you enter the Better Days bed and breakfast and check in. You’re taken to your room and are warned of ghostly goings on, then everything starts to go wrong…

With a very clever multi-layer storyline, a load of creepy masks, and scene changes so slick you really believe you’ve moved without moving, this haunt was less jumpy and more creepy, although there were definitely some excellently executed jumpscares!

 

Both of these haunts were absolutely fantastic in their own rights, and are some of the strongest themed attractions I’ve experienced. As they lead into one another, I think Dead and Breakfast should have been first and lead into The Final Cut, though this doesn’t detract from the event. I will definitely be back to review The Paradise Foundation later this year…

 

13/05/2016 – The Final Cut and Dead & Breakfast

16/04/2016 – Hide and Shriek: Dead Centre

In a short space of time, Hide and Shriek has grown into one of the bigger boo haunts outside London and theme parks. Created in 2015, the company has gone from strength to strength in bringing an immersive horror experiences that is easily available to the masses.

With very little hype surrounding Dead Centre I had no idea what to expect from the event at all. Hints were dropped in the email we received, but absolutely nothing more than “you will be running” was given away.

I arrive at the Victoria shopping centre and flashed my ticket to security, who opened the door to the centre. Upon entering, I’m bombarded with rather creepy, almost Saw-like music and a darkened shopping centre, barricaded about 20ft in. We’re told to wait to one side for our timeslot to be called forward.

Eventually, our time approaches and we’re given a waiver to sign as well as a patient form which asks for our blood type and allergens (my favourite being human flesh). We hand back the forms and we’re immediately checked for cuts and bruises by a doctor before being moved into the first scene of the show.

As with all zombie break-outs, it starts with a virus. We’re given a more extensive test as a trio of soldiers watch over us with eagle eyes from behind masks. We all pass except for one, then everything went horribly wrong…

A medic appears from behind us and the chase is on! Remember when I said most events only require a light jog? This breaks the mold: We sprinted as fast as we could to keep up with the medic who takes us on a journey that traverses fire escape routes, car parks, service routes, and the mall itself – all of which are void of any and all life, including the undead!

The zombies were absolutely fantastic – if they weren’t jumping out at you from a hidey hole, they were lurching toward you at a disturbingly quick pace: they were also able to open doors, much to our/my surprise and horror!

After being chased across various car park levels, we find ourselves inside running back down to the ground and into a pitch black room where we had to wait for a little while, which gave us all a bit of time to get our breath back from sprinting everywhere for 20 minutes.

We’re then treated to the longest run of our lives to the Hide and Shriek shop. We’re taken into the back, guided by the medic’s rather creepy UV flashlight. We’re then handed two torches and sent on our own way through this part of the show – we had to navigate through the back corridors using only the two torches. Easy right? Nah. It wasn’t.

I was holding one of the torches and the other was in another woman’s hand, so we led the way. It started off really easy – slowly moving from room to room, peeking around each door frame before entering the room, then both of our torches malfunction: mine shuts down entirely, and the other torch would only work if you hit it. We were in almost pitch black, trying to grope our way through corridors and rooms so dark that you genuinely couldn’t see the hand in front of your face!

We made it through and met up with our medic, or rather, he found us and helped us through the rest of the blackened corridors and back to the shop floor when we realise that one of the group had gone missing! After a small, unsuccessful, search and rescue mission we’re pointed across the shopping centre floor, which was littered with a handful of zombies. Following the medics orders, we charge through a few upturned benches and through the zombies to the finishing line, to everyone’s relief.

 

I had a few minor negative points that, whilst they didn’t detract from the event all that much, I did end up questioning them on my journey home.

Firstly, the characters at the beginning of the experience definitely lacked an air of authority. We had made it to the safe house, and whilst checks were done, they were taken lightly and the doctors/nurses were joining in with jokes – I’d have expected them to be a little more stern and sterile with the signing of the waiver and showed our tickets (I’ll excuse the security guard as I couldn’t tell if he was mall staff or an actor).

Secondly, we were told that we would need to make it to the roof of the car park to wait for the pick up, but when we were taken back inside and down into the shopping centre, it wasn’t clearly explained why our destination had changed. Also, there was no explanation as to why we couldn’t just keep going up the first stairwell we reached – maybe some zombies coming down from the above levels would have killed that thought.

Thirdly, whilst the finale was new and unique (I’m far too used to being chased from behind), it definitely lacked something. I wouldn’t say it was anti-climactic, but it wasn’t as explosive as it could have been. Maybe if a handful of zombies had chased from behind as well as from the left hand side so we’re made to go the route we’re meant to, it would have been better.

Finally, the show seemed to end just as we were getting sucked into the story. I appreciate it’s hard to create a huge story in such a tight space, especially when the space is open and there’s a risk of other groups crossing paths at any time, but the 30 minutes didn’t feel like it was long enough to really get in the role.

 

HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT THOUGH, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it was clear to see from everyone else (including the pessimistic 14 year old whom was genuinely entertaining whist standing in the dark) that it was a fantastic event.

I have a few favourite aspects to our trip:

Firstly, the medic was a credit unto himself for remaining in a sense of panic throughout the entire event. I didn’t buy into it to begin with, but as time went by, the sense of urgency was definitely there.

Secondly, oh my God they had the ENTIRE shopping centre to play with! Do you know how awesome that is? Like that’s more space than the theme parks get! The fact that there was no obvious path through the show was definitely a treat – we were checking the door windows on all the floors to make sure no zombies would come bursting in to try and attack us.

Thirdly, what I’m nicknaming “the corridor from hell”. Having to find our way through complete and utter darkness was insanely disorientating which only made it more hellish. The two torches shutting down as they did, whether it was planned or not, definitely added to the experience! If they’re rigged in some way, they were a fantastic investment!

Finally, the scene with the chaser zombie was definitely terrifying – I rarely jump at these events, but you got me good and proper chaser zombie! (I’d write more so the directors knew which bit I’m talking about, but I don’t wanna give that bit away. Scott/George: Drop me a message if you wanna know!).

Honourable Mention: the Alien Escape poster in one of the stairwells for making that event a meta event that could have happened if the apocalypse didn’t happen. I’ve no idea if it was intended this way, but I found it hilarious.

 

All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic evening despite all the sprinting we did. Walking out of the shopping centre, I was grinning from ear to ear and absolutely buzzing off the adrenaline! An incredibly strong second show, and I’m glad that a third date was added! I will definitely be returning for all future events to see them grow from strength to strength.

 

Note: We had a group photo taken at the end of the event, so as soon as I receive that I’ll post it here. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

16/04/2016 – Hide and Shriek: Dead Centre

09/04/2016 – Goosebumps Alive!

Viewer beware… You’re in for a scare…

 

That’s what I’m told as I load up the print-at-home ticket Saturday morning. I must admit, there was no way I could be scared of this. Sure, A Night at Terror Tower and Escape From the Carnival of Horrors terrified me as a kid, but 20 years on I had learned that the monsters we believe in are all in our head: these monsters were all trapped in the magnificent R. L. Stine’s.

 

Until yesterday.

 

So, I arrive in London with 20 minutes to find the notoriously difficult to find The Vaults under Waterloo. I use Google Maps to try and find my way, but they led me to this strange hand car wash that was extremely busy for 20:00. I ask someone where it is and they point me through the car wash, after eyeing up what I’m wearing and asking if I’m here for “the meet”.

 

I can understand why I was asked. I was in my cyberpunk gear: top and trousers from Cyberdog, a hoodie from Resistanz and leather jacket over the top, and my beautiful Demonia’s that look like biker boots, only with spikes and bullets attached.

IMAG0394

 

It was hardly a surprise that they ask me. The more surprising bit was I said “yeah,” automatically, “but I need to find The Vaults first”, which kinda made me feel like a character from Borderlands for a brief moment. The car wash attendant pointed me down the car wash and said “that way” so I tentatively walked backwards through it (avoiding getting wet!) past a load of high end, souped up cars with windows tinted darker than whats legal and neon strips beneath them. It was mad!

 

I exited the car wash and the cars continued to queue, one of them rigged up to a sound system that was blasting out hip hop and everyone was standing around admiring each others rides – it was genuinely like walking onto the set of The Fast and the Furious! I kept my head down as to not draw attention to myself (the clothes were already doing enough for me) and I see a family walk into the arches, so I tactfully follow them.

 

A little down the road, past a load of people playing football with a tennis ball, skateboarding, biking, and graffiti-ing (is that even a word?) I see a lone sign labeled “The Vaults” with an arrow pointing to the entrance. There was a guy sat outside playing with a smoke machine and a green spotlight they had obviously planned on using, but the smoke machine wasn’t working. A shame – I hoped this wasn’t a precursor to how the event would run.

 

I flash the person my ticket and they hand me a card with a silhouette of a crow on a purple background, then point me into the experience.

IMAG0411

 

I enter the venue and take a look around. We’re in a bar, lit by a mixture of flickering lightbulbs and LED strips splashing a camp yet slightly unnerving series of greens, reds and ultraviolet light across the walls. The bar serves themed food (Say Cheese and Die Toastie) and drinks (Monster Slime), as well as some adverts about the creators of the masks within the show. I order myself a coke and wander around, looking at the masks while listening to an array of head-nodding rock, trip hop and pop – anything from The Kooks to The Gorillaz was played in the 20 minutes I was in there.

Soon enough, we’re moved to another room. We flash our tickets and the announcer smiles creepily at us, counting us audibly as we go through whilst warning us that any photography beyond this point will get us escorted off premises. It’s another, more themed bar: the famous Goosebumps drips adorn 3 of the 4 walls as well as the bar, while green LED lights shine down the walls behind them, giving off the famous Goosebumps vibe. The fourth wall is a mural to one of the purple goo characters from the books that I can’t quite remember the name of. It stands maybe 10ft high and 20ft wide – it was a real sight to behold, and simply added more fuel to my excitement.

I wander in and make my way over to the corner. I’m doing this alone (as I like to do sometimes – how people react in these kinds of events can really show their true character and I quite like watching this transformation), so I take a seat at a table on my own and continue drinking my coke. I notice, as I scan the room, that there were placards hanging from the lighting rig, each one lit up by a lone spotlight from the other side of the room, each showing a symbol from the card. I look at the table and noticed the symbol on the table too – it was then I read this creepy message on the back of my ticket, and realised that I had inadvertently done what I was expected to do.

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The lighting suddenly changed, and the experience began. I’ll not go into too much detail and will avoid any mentions of scares because where’s the fun in knowing what to expect, right?

The first scene begins with everyone in the room. Someone in the audience goes crazy and begins telling his story. Using some incredible surround sound and story telling, he made us all live through what he was going through. The room goes dark, and television screens flicker to life around the room, playing the infamous TV show introduction.

Silent, hooded characters then came to collect each of the four groups one by one. We all get the gist of what they want, and in we go.

This first bit was very very clever and almost executed perfectly. All four groups were split up and taken to different rooms within the vaults, the corridors between each room painted in an off-kilter manner that slowly change to match the story you’re about to be told.

There were 4 in total stories themselves were about 10 minutes long, and were basically a condensed version/adaptation of one of the many books; most well known, but a few that were completely new that went down a similar vein of the Goosebumps stories – each had a mixture of absolutely fantastic storytelling with no more than three characters who all made it incredibly easy to get sucked into the story  (and all had fantastic improv skills – kudos to the Cuckoo Clock guy!), and some jumpscares that even I didn’t predict – one of them even got me to yelp and jump back in surprise!

Between these stories, we got put in what could only be described as a holding pen. It was dark and cramped, and there was no obvious way out – it was impossible to turn everyone back too, as we had just descended a good 7 feet: the longer we waited, the more the nerves started to kick in. I was fortunately at the front so knew what was going on, but the guys at the back had no idea, and started to panic more (even though we told them there was no way forward).

All four groups are reintroduced after these five experiences for a handful more experiences, a few of which continued on the story from the very beginning, but all of which were very creepy and interactive at the same time: there was a lot of nervous laughter as we, the audience, became the actors in one of the scenes. In another we’re forced to watch from a number of different angles, which I had never experienced in immersive theatre before. No matter what the scene was, the actors were absolutely amazing and were easy to believe, though one of the scenes made it feel like we were in this strange 1950s pantomime (though that didn’t detract from the experience at all).

The last scene is absolutely amazing. The masks, the props, the sounds, the lighting, the story were all on point, and not even I predicted how it’d end! As I said earlier, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

 

 

What did I think of it? I honestly had an absolute blast. The actors all did an absolutely fantastic job and really made the characters we were interacting with believable, especially in the heat they were dealing with and never broke character (check your coats in at the cloakroom – it gets extremely hot in those vaults!).

The way it works is absolutely incredible too – I won’t give the game away, but the actors in each scene control their entire environment. They’ve really pushed the way that theatre, especially immersive theatre, works!

The stories that were told were Goosebumps to a T. It was easy to tell which story the scene was from (though remembering the name of the book was impossible after 20 years) and it had the camp yet creepy atmosphere all the way through, even between the scenes.

Goosebumps Alive is billed as a 16+ event on the website, but I feel that 14 year olds that can handle a good quick jump scare or two would absolutely love the show – just make sure that they are ready for it before going, as it’s not nice for the child or the rest of the group to be dragged through something they don’t like. Once you leave, you’re out for good.

 

I will definitely be on the look out for more tickets to this show, and I’ll definitely be dragging some friends along too!

09/04/2016 – Goosebumps Alive!