30/10/2017 – Cursed

On the penultimate night of my Halloween tour, I found myself pretty close to home at the Wat Tyler Centre, hidden away in Basildon – a rather surprising location for a scream park given how far removed it is, though probably a positive thing given how much light pollution there is surrounding busy areas. Shivering like I had just walked into an industrial freezer, we queued up to enter the park and after a lengthy wait, made our way in and up to our first haunt: Toy Shop.

 

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The first thing we noticed about Toy Shop whilst we queued was the music: it was rather creepy and crept its way out of the entrance rather well. We were sent in as a small group and eventually got split up so it was just us two going through on our own, which we really appreciated. The story throughout was consistent, and each actor really helped carry the story in the way they portrayed their character and the make up – I really loved the Coraline inspired make up toward the end too! It was also great to see a claustrophobia chamber given a new spin on it with the use of teddy bears – I’ve seen all sorts of themes done this year, but I think this might have to be my favourite as I’ve never felt more uncomfortable getting up close with teddies before in my life. It was a decent length haunt given the footprint available, with theming that was rather unnerving at points, to the point where I found myself completely distracted – the actors got a handful of jumps from me!

 

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Next up we chose the Work Chop, a Sweeney Todd style attraction wherein you enter a shop that hides a dark secret. The set up for the story was brilliant, especially the rather well hidden secret entrance to the rest of the attraction: the vibe suddenly changed from a run down cafe to a rather dark and atmospheric industrial corridor with very monochromatic lighting that only helped create tension, though the icing on the cake was hearing my name call out from behind the walls! The scares were almost entirely sound based, though this really worked for this attraction as your line of vision was almost constantly obscured by material hanging from the ceiling, though when these thinned out, what was left was these beautifully creepy paintings all over the walls and, at the end, a brilliant effect where smoke entered the room at ground height before being sucked up into the air by a fan – something I’ve never seen before, but really adored!

 

Third up was Festevil: a freakshow themed attraction with some rather clever elements. I loved how brazen this attraction was, as the first element you encounter is a claustrophobia chamber with strobe lights which left me wondering what other elements we might experience given that most attractions hide claustrophobia chambers deep in the attraction. What we did experience was a rather disorientating trip through a freakshow meeting all the general characters you’d expect to meet, following routes that I am almost certain doubled over each other somehow through rooms filled with light cubes growing out of the walls, and passing through bars that stretch around you. It was a really bizarre and trippy experience that really blew me away.

 

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We decided that we should drop in on the Nag Inn for a bit of a break… yeah right. Cleverly themed around the seven deadly sins, we were taken on a narrative driven tour through a decrepit inn filled with plenty of creepy actors, tense moments, and lots and lots of scents. Whilst it lacked in jump scares, the beauty behind this attraction was very much the way the actors interacted with us as we went through.

 

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We moved onto Contaminated, Cursed’s zombie themed attraction. This had a very strong introduction and a lot of instructions for the first scene that were very confusing and distracted us so much that we almost tripped over the first piece of scenery, causing much hilarity. We were then chased through bales of hay, past fire torches, and through a brilliant hay maze which had multiple routes through! We then ended up running down a dirt path before slowing down to enter a darkened forest with a handful of zombies scattered about in, though the weirdest bit was how quiet this area was, given that we were still in a scream park. The scene in the church was incredibly creepy and extremely well executed – I won’t say much more than that. This haunt was surprisingly lengthy, to the point where the scene would change and we’d expect it to just taper out into an ending, but it never did – there were even points that we thought we had taken a wrong turn and ended up lost… until we bumped into a zombie. For a haunt as long as that, I was surprised that the story was not only detailed enough for there to be a reason behind our actions but also for the story to be absolutely consistent throughout: we were told to find the church, and we did end up inside the church. My only critique is that the zombies weren’t entirely threatening and were very few in numbers – otherwise, an extremely strong attraction.

 

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Finally, we chose Cell 13, an absolute nightmare of an attraction that was extremely intense and dizzying. There’s very little story line to the attraction, though it definitely doesn’t need it as the characters are very much maniacal and you’ve just got to survive. Sadly, this attraction suffered a little from actors being a little lifeless and missing a final scene with the electric chair, though otherwise the attraction was still great – I just never felt threatened by the characters.

 

On the whole, Cursed really stepped up to the plate as the original plans for the night had fallen through a few weeks before, and I’m 100% certain they outshone the other attraction with ease. Definitely need more lighting outside the haunts so you could actually see where you were going and signs or a map to point you in the direction of haunts as we almost missed Contaminated, but otherwise the atmosphere was very relaxed, the roaming actors really read people well and easily spotted the wimps, and the group sizes through each haunt and batching was perfection – I’m gutted I didn’t get to Cursed last year, given it’s a stones throw from my doorstep!

30/10/2017 – Cursed

29/10/2017 – Room Escape Southend: Zombie Outbreak

After a handful of brilliant shows by Room Escape Southend and with only a year under their belt, this Halloween they decided to uproot their next and by far the biggest and riskiest escape room venture to date, as they move for one weekend only to Roots Hall Stadium just down the road. We all met up at Room Escape Southend as we always do for our briefing: after the scene is set and we’re armed with a notepad and pencil (with me writing the notes…), we were sent on our way in an attempt to save the world!

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Rather nervously, we all made our way to the stadium and as soon as we arrive in the car park the zombie onslaught began! For the next hour or so, we were given a mixture of both what you’d expect from an escape room such as mind bending riddles and puzzles, and physical activities you’d see in game shows like The Crystal Maze! It was exceptionally hard (especially the physical task!), and having the worry of having zombies burst into your area constantly nagging in the back of your mind really made this the toughest escape room the guys at Room Escape Southend has put on to date – whilst it was billed as a 2 hour experience, I’m glad that it wasn’t as it was definitely more mentally and physically demanding than I expected whilst retaining all the fun and excitement! A few more zombies would have gone down a treat, but despite the sparse numbers, they were very well spread out and there were a number of times they got a good scream out of our group!

Unfortunately, we didn’t escape: remember the physical task I mentioned? We failed there and missed out on one number – we could have cracked the code on the safe but in all honesty with the sheer panic that took place between that and the end of the show, we all completely forgot we failed it!

It was really a brilliant idea to move the escape room to Roots Hall as it really gave the team a brilliant space to play about and experiment with a few ideas – I’d love to see them do more here in the future, as running round a football stadium at night was brilliant fun even if we didn’t save the world!

29/10/2017 – Room Escape Southend: Zombie Outbreak

28/10/2017 – Broadwitch HauntFest

After my first rather impressive visit last year and after hearing of some improvements to a few of the haunts. I knew I had to make a return to see what had changed. We were under a lot of time pressure given that we had to get in and out again within the hour so we didn’t really get chance to interact with the roaming actors, however they definitely looked like they were on form with scaring people as they entered and queued.

 

First haunt of the night was The Edge, a beautifully gothic haunt with dark corridors, plenty of hiding spaces to keep you guessing, and some intense scares that come when you least expect it! Very much how I remember it last year, but still a great attraction nonetheless.

Next up was the most intense haunt at Broadwitch for me last year: MassAcre. As with The Edge, it was still very much the same as last year though there were a few moments where we caught the actors off guard and they missed their cue to get a scare and just didn’t bother, which was a bit of a let down. Still really love the finale teaser where you find out what’s coming up, but you still have another 5 minutes or so until you get there. Still my favourite corn maze to date, given the length and the scenes hidden within! Batching timings just need to be improved a little as we did catch up with the group in front a few times.

 

Thirteen Freaks was our next haunt of choice. Whilst some of the scenes from last year had changed, the scenes that hadn’t changed were definitely the stronger scenes from last year. The effects were brilliant too, though some of the timings felt a little bit off (though that could be because we’re so slow at walking through haunts). Themed around a freak show this year, it really stands out as the best haunt at Broadwitch this year: was really impressed with the effects inside, such as the tube train scene, and the clowns with mirror scene (which I thought I had figured out, but then I started to doubt myself).

 

The penultimate haunt for the night was Spooky Castle, a deceptively small haunt that really goes on and on, and I’m glad it does! With some really creepy imagery and some great special effects and a brilliant set piece that still gets me now (even though I knew it was coming up), this is a brilliantly fun attraction – jut need to delay a few of the special effects and it’ll be much much stronger.

 

The final haunt, as with last year, was Biometrix: Sub Zero. Last year I was rather disappointed by it given how it had won a SCAR award in 2015, but this year was so so much different and really goes to show how little changes can really make a haunt so much better. Intense, scary, and with some amazing effects and scares, it was really good seeing Biometrix (the name of the attraction last year) become as strong as I suspect it was in 2015.

 

Whilst Broadwitch doesn’t have a stage or open fires or anything else we’ve seen at other scream parks, it’s a very robust attraction that sticks to what it knows and does it well.

28/10/2017 – Broadwitch HauntFest

27/10/2017 – Fort Amherst Halloween Horrors

hidden around the grounds and tunnels of Fort Amherst, Fort Amherst Halloween Horrors takes guests on an aggressive and full contact journey through a series of nightmarish scenes hidden in Fort Amherst’s buildings and tunnels before taking you back to roughly where you started your journey. Settling itself comfortably in the extreme boo haunt zone, the hour-or-so long show manages to plunge you into a completely immersive story where all manners of creatures are able to reach out, grab, touch, and move you as they want – an element that I feel really lacks in most haunts these days as it really does blur the line between knowing they can’t do anything to you and the little glint of worry as to what might happen, especially as people ended up in coffins, zombie-like creations ganged up on individuals, and demonic creatures held their victims in choke holds – and this was just the beginning!

All the scenes really grabbed my attention and had me completely immersed in the story line, but the scenes that really blew me away was the first scene with the demonic creatures stalking about the crowd as strobes flashed, the Church of Satan, and the correctional facility: having only heard of the name for the first time this year I had no idea what to expect as we entered these scenes but they really impressed me, especially the Church of Satan – I was really not expecting to experience a scene that was both intense and contrastingly ethereal at the same time! It’s really hard to capture the experience in words, but the location, sound, lighting, effects (what very little there were), and actors really just sealed the scene perfectly.

The costumes were absolutely incredible – I know that seeing a silhouette of some hairy monstrosity towering 8ft over you is scarier than the monster in question is lit up, but you could easily tell that the level of detail that went into bringing these beings to life was really precise, and I honestly wished there was a little more light just so that we could really take it all in (but then I love the finer intricacies). The actors that wore these costumes also need a mention, as without them the monsters couldn’t “live”, and the actors really managed to get into their character and bought them to life, which really made it possible to forget that you were wandering around Fort Amherst for the majority of it.

 

My first gripe is the fairground rides which, whilst are a neat addition, ended up spoiling a scene with it’s loud music and flashing lights when we’re meant to believe there are infected out to get us – getting rid of them would definitely increase immersion in this scene (and the actors’ voices would probably appreciate it)

The second is the group sizes – I understand the need to get huge groups through as it’s more scene based/immersive theatre, but some scenes started long before the last people in the group made it into the room: halving the group sizes would really make the show that much more intense and personal.

The final issue, and it’s a very small one, is to line the harris fencing in the finale so the guests going through to the finale can’t see those leaving the finale.

 

Despite the small gripes, I had an absolutely brilliant evening at Fort Amherst and I’m really glad that we were able to make it! Definitely worth doing in 2018!

27/10/2017 – Fort Amherst Halloween Horrors

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