19/10/2017 – Dr Fright’s Halloween Nights

Walking into the marquees that hold Dr Fright’s Halloween Nights, the atmosphere was upbeat and lighthearted: the best nu metal and industrial tracks blare and disco lights and fog add a little atmosphere to the main tent, all while a creepy roaming character stalked everything, almost calculating who his next victim will be.

Our first attraction of the night is Dead Inside, a zombie themed haunts that takes scenes from a well known TV show that everyone should recognise as you go through. The safety briefing was done in character (albeit a bit too quietly – please turn the volume up!) and we were on our way through hanging sheets, past buildings, down dark corridors, and a strobe corridor that really feels like you’re being attacked! The actors really knew how to work their scene as each scare was perfectly timed (and managed to make me jump a few times!), and there were points where it was impossible to tell the difference between props and actors.

After being surprised by how good Dead Inside was, we decided to move onto Killer Clowns in a Supermarket as I wasn’t really buying into the concept to begin with: this changed as we joined the queue, as it was clearly meant to be a mixture of comedy and horror which was clear from the soundtrack playing in the queue. The horror/comedy blend continued as we found out that it was a bloody game of Supermarket Sweep where we had to escape from the killer clowns hidden within an actual shop, and it was an actual shop: we explored the food and clothing aisles, butchers counter, and even the staff area and bin section outside the shop as well! The choice of music mixed with the commentary from the clown now in control of the shop mixed together with the deranged clowns dotted about that leapt out from all over the place to scare you to create this bizarre juxtaposing atmosphere that shouldn’t have worked but really did – imagine the scene in Shaun of the Dead where the characters are battering zombies whilst Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now is playing, and you’ve pretty much got the vibe of the attraction in a nutshell. This is honestly the strongest clown themed haunt I’ve done to date.

Having been incredibly impressed by the previous two haunts, we moved onto the two that I was really looking toward: Hollywood Horror 2 and The Grindhouse Presents: Redneck Wedding.

Hollywood Horror 2 is an incredible homage to the original slasher movies from the 80s and 90s: with b-movie level designs that are impressive even though they’re a bit rough around the edges, walking through each set started to feel like we were jumping from one movie set to another! The scares were very reliant on guests being impressed by the set/movie they had just entered, but that really added to the slasher vibe that’s perfectly portrayed throughout. As someone who grew up on the tail end of the slasher heyday, I really enjoyed how each of my favourite franchises had their homage done to it – very jumpy, but a great laugh.

 

Our final haunt, of course, was The Grindhouse Presents: Redneck Wedding. Themed around a redneck wedding, I instantly knew I had to do this one last. Like Killer Clowns in a Supermarket, The Grindhouse Presents: Redneck Wedding was a very tongue in cheek mix of comedy and horror with most of the characters being guests at a wedding, just more bloodied and with the odd psychopath here and there that really knows how to terrify you! The really peculiar thing about this haunt is that most of it is held in a large open space which means you get to see other groups quite a lot as you’re going through – usually this would be a bugbear, but as the entire attraction was a redneck disco, it made sense to see loads of people. The attraction is actually a lot longer than you expect to, as there are plenty of scenes that are completely cut off from the main “dancefloor” scene. The bit that really solidifies this as my favourite haunt at Dr Frights is when we entered the chainsaw pit: Come On Eileen had dropped into the “come one, Eileen tu lu, ri, ay” bit just as two psychos armed with huge wrenches and chainsaws came out from hiding behind two bales of hay, and it felt like we were about to have somesort of showdown. I can see this haunt being a bit like marmite as it’s clear from previous experiences that people either would or wouldn’t get the comedy aspect of it, but the Dr Frights team really encapsulate that blend which really works every time they implement it.

 

Across all the haunts, they feel rough around the edges and a bit b movie-ish, which isn’t a bad thing: it really works well for Dr Frights, and I can’t really put my finger quite on why it’s ok – maybe it’s the fact that it’s all held in a marquee, who knows? I just really enjoy that”roughness”. The lighting and use of misdirection in order to get scares is very clever and effective, and even though I knew when and where to expect jumps to come, the scare was still effective and I ended up jumping and yelling a few times in each of the attractions. Adding to this, the actors ability to not only know their scene well, but also encapsulate the character they’re portraying and improvising lines really makes each of these attractions impressive and creepy! It’s really clear that everyone at Dr Frights enjoys and loves what they’re doing, which was really solidified when watching the clown on the hidden camera secretly located in Killer Clowns in a Supermarket who kept acting even though nobody was in the room with him. Absolutely brilliant night!

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19/10/2017 – Dr Fright’s Halloween Nights

06/10/2017 – Tulley’s Shocktoberfest

Located in Crawley, Tulley’s Shocktoberfest is the definition of what a Halloween festival should be – spine chilling haunts, creepy roaming characters, and live bands and fairground rides all night, there really is something for absolutely everyone who goes!

As soon as you arrive, your ticket is quickly checked and you’re given a stamp as well as a slip that’s used by staff to mark when you enter a haunt: you then sift into the main hub of the festival with haunts lining the left hand side, a stage and food stalls on the right, and rides and even more haunts straight ahead: this year, Tulley’s boast seven haunts, a hayride, and a 3D cinema!

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After taking in all the sights, we decide to go to the first attraction of the night: Creepy Cottage. We were put in our own group of four (a nice little touch, I must add) and entered the house. Corridors snaked all over the place throughout this dark and dingy house, passing from room to room as actors charged, jumped out from hidden areas, and towered over us: nowhere was safe! From the makeup on the actors to the special effects were used to make it look like props had a life of their own, this haunt was a great start to the evening.

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Our next haunt was Twisted Clowns 3D. Last year only part of the haunt was in 3D; however, this year it was the entire thing. We were told to put on our 3D glasses and listen to the safety announcement, which had a sinister rhyming scheme that was informative but also added to the atmosphere. As we went through, the 3D effect was extremely successful: pictures jumped off the pitch black walls and disorientated us as we tried to make our way through the attraction, unable to see where some of the actors were considering their outfits blended in with the 3D effects – there was even a special element quite close to the beginning which had actor and guest alike jumping with fright! The music warbling through the air and the trippy 3D illusion definitely felt like a drug trip gone wrong, which was only exacerbated (though I loved it) by the vortex tunnel. Overall a great haunt, though the middle definitely got the majority of the scares for this.

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By this time, the sun had set enough for us to be happy to do the Horrorwood Haunted Hayride: sure it definitely doesn’t have to be dark for this to be great, but there’s always something about the cover of night that just adds to the experience. With a layout almost exactly like last year, this is the best haunted hayride I’ve done to date: the actors were creepy, the effects were as incredible as they were last year, and the experience as a whole was extremely fun; the only downside to the hayride is that it requires a decent group of passengers (moving vehicles where you’re not strapped in must be a health and safety nightmare which is ruined by boisterous people who think they’re being funny when they’re threatening to jump out of the trailer), and that the volume on the trailer itself needs to be much, much louder.

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VIXI, Helement’s replacement, was our next choice, given that it was now pitch black and hooded mazes seem to suffer when outdoors in the light. We donned our hoods and entered VIXI, led by only our sense of touch and a piece of rope that’s rather easy to drop. The special effects through the first bit were from Helements and didn’t really make sense in the context of VIXI, but the finale definitely made up for the bizarre mish-mash: we were greeted once again with Tulley’s expert attention to detail and theming as fire and loud bangs exploded around us, while strobes made it hard to navigate! I personally didn’t enjoy the hooded section, but the finale definitely made up for that: one piece of criticism would be that the drums didn’t fit in with the medieval vibe throughout the area they were in – a simple paint job or something would really finish off this area perfectly.

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Our fifth attraction for the evening was The Cellar, an extremely well themed journey into what feels like a run down basement in a house located in Louisiana. I’m pretty sure that this was almost identical to last year, but this didn’t detract from the experience at all – the scares came quickly (but only at the front), the strobe maze was disorientating and creepy (though I’d have loved for it to have been longer), and the whole aesthetic just gives off this grimy, dingy vibe. This is definitely not as scary as some of the others, however that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism – it’s still a beautiful attraction to wander round. Only improvements I’d make is for it to drop the conga line (as it’s the only haunt that has that requirement) and to extend the strobe maze (but I’m an absolute sucker for them, as you’ll soon find out).

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We were now down to my three favourite haunts from last year and the 3D cinema (which is new this year). Our next attraction of choice was The Chop Shop, a car repair service that hides a dark secret that will leave you in pieces! Once again, the actors and scenery was what we’ve come to expect from Tulley’s by now: intricate design with great attention to detail. The reason why this is my second favourite Shoctoberfest attractions is because one half of it is a complete and utter sensory overload of flashing lights, loud bangs and grinding sounds, heavy metal music, and the heavy stench of petrol: it’s a 10 minute long strobe maze that disorientates you so much that you’re sure you’re repeating the same rooms over and over again until you’re spat out at the end! The actors in this attraction are a mixed bag: as you start off, everything seems innocent enough with young girls with southern American accents drawl on about cars and the like until you hit the freezer where this “friendly” vibe is ditched and all the actors from this point onwards are huge intimidating guys that really know how to wield chainsaws and navigate strobe-ridden corridors – this was the one haunt at Tulley’s that actually had me feeling uneasy, as one of the characters loomed over me, chainsaw idling away at his side, as he stalked and breathed down my neck: I was glad when he turned back and left me alone! I love this haunt as it is, but if this were to be expanded, I’d absolutely love to see sparkers used to add to the illusion that the chainsaws could do harm!

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The Colony came next as the queue for it was right next to The Chop Shop’s exit. Themed around a post apocalyptic hive of beings, this haunt is beautifully decorated with lots of Fallout aesthetics and Borderlands sounds/quotes. The beauty of this haunt is that it utilises both inside and outside scenes which complement each other greatly and really transports you to this new realm. This haunt is laden with jump scares, though there were a number of scares that were more creepy (shout out to the female who runs down a pitch black corridor so that you only see her silhouette!). Unfortunately, this was my highlight of Shocktoberfest last year and a lot of it has stuck with me ever since, so it was quite obvious when scenes and routes were identical – having said that though, it’s completely breath taking if you’ve never experienced it before, especially the special twist on the finale!

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Finally on the list of haunts was our most anticipated attraction last year: Coven of 13. Themed around witches, this haunt was definitely the strongest attraction again this year: as soon as you step in through the entrance you’re transported into an 18th century witch hunt where angry witches stalk swamps, forests, and houses marked with runes. This also has an extension this year that just makes the haunt more attractive as a whole, and the change to the finale, while not as dramatic as last year, still had a strangely dark atmosphere and rather than fear, I experienced a slight amount of sorrow – something I definitely wasn’t expecting at Tulley’s!

 

The last attraction on the list was the 3D cinema. Not much can really be said about it as it is what it says on the tin. The effects were really good and really leapt out of the screen; however there wasn’t much in the way of a storyline and there didn’t seem to be any order to it. It’s fun, there are a few scares in it, and it’s cool that Tulley’s is the first scream park that I’ve been to that has a 3D cinema, but it really doesn’t compare to the level of detail, scares, and atmosphere in their live haunts.

 

Once again, Tulley’s has really sealed the deal in being a Halloween festival: the atmosphere throughout the park was electric and everyone there was buzzing from the energy, the roaming actors were a mixture of creepy and scary (and in the case of the nurses, utterly hilarious! Ask them for a little song if you can!), the bands performing really knew how to get the crowd moving, and all in all, it really looked like everyone was having the time of their lives: I’m glad I returned this year to review!

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06/10/2017 – Tulley’s Shocktoberfest

04/10/2017 – Scaresville at Kentwell Hall

After my first visit to Scaresville roughly this time last year and really enjoying myself (despite a few small critiques), I knew I had to return this year – and was I glad I did!

Scaresville, for those that aren’t in the know, is dubbed a “haunted village” and quite rightly – when you visit most scare attractions, there are multiple individual haunts that last 10-20 minutes which can be done in any order; Scaresville is a ~90 minute walk around a small section of Kentwell Hall that has a number of different scenes that last from 30 seconds through to 15 minutes, and you see and experience everything!

As I stated in last years review (and I’ll no doubt mention it again next year), I’d usually review each of the haunts one by one, but as you go through so many little scenes during your visit, it’s impossible to remember every little thing you experience, so I’m going to review the whole attraction as one supersize haunt.

First off, The Unfairground made a return: it was almost the same as last year, though the magician had been traded out by some areal acrobats that performed once in a while which was impressive (despite the sound issues) – definitely worth a watch if they’re performing when you’re there. It would have been nice if there was some sort of schedule at the entrance of the big top (if it is there, ignore this). I really enjoyed The Unfairground this year, despite the fact there’s still a lack of things to do and see – a pumpkin shy or apple bobbing thing wouldn’t go amiss! Nonetheless, the atmosphere in this area was truly electric, and as the lights hanging from the browning trees swayed with the breeze and with the announcer calling out group numbers, it really and truly felt like a Halloween festival – the local airborne wildlife definitely added to this feeling!

After grabbing a hot drink and watching the acrobatics, it was our turn to queue up and watch the safety announcements where we’re told the rules and such, and there were two rules I really did like: you must change positions, and if you catch up with a group you must wait. This is the only place I’ve ever heard these rules though the first you kind of have to do as keeping in the same order for 90 minutes sucks, but it’s rare for haunts to actually encourage you to slow down, and it’d honestly be rude to not slow down and ensure your group is all together as some of the scares used are much, much more intense when everyone sees it the first time!

What is a really nice touch is that the owner of the event sits just before you start your tour of the haunted village – it’s clear that he’s there as an equal to greet his guests and welcome them to his creation and he does with great gusto and pride – and he really should be proud of what he has created.

The scenes themselves this year were as brilliant as they were last year – there were some I recognised from last year, some that had been used in years before, and some that were brand new, so even though there were scares where you knew what to expect, enough has changed for you to be kept on edge – especially in the forest.

Usually if there’s sound bleed between haunts I’d be the first to jump on it and critique it; however, as all the scenes in Scaresville are small the constant screams coming from the distance really adds to the atmosphere that settles over Scaresville like a thick fog as you’re never sure if they’re coming from scenes in front of you or behind you.

The scares themselves are extremely clever, often using misdirection and the cover of darkness in order to illicit a scream from you, though that’s not always the case – some scares are in plain sight and it’s not until the scare has happened that you realise how obvious it was! I was also seriously impressed with the angles the scares came from – one actor hanging about in the forest especially got me after I walked into his limb by accident!

I could honestly go on and on about how great Scaresville is, and it really is incredible. The only improvements I’d make is to add a little more scenery/games to The Unfairground, and whilst it’s probably not completely curable just look out for the batching as you get a little bottlenecked a few times (though it really wasn’t a big issue at all). Overall a very tense, atmospheric, scary, and fun attraction that I will be returning to again in the future.

 

PS: bring wellies and wrap up warm!

 

 

04/10/2017 – Scaresville at Kentwell Hall

30/09/2017 – Frightmare at Over Farm

For my second attraction of the day, I headed over to Over Farm along with Controllers and Creds and Park, Scares and Glitter to experience Frightmare as the first scare ground of the season!

Upon arriving with some Halloween song blaring through the car, we saw no signage to point us to the location- had we not known where to turn off, it would have been extremely easy to overshoot and get lost. We were directed where to go to park our car, then headed toward the huge “Frightmare” sign and huge spotlights. We were allowed to join the queue a little early but were told we would have to wait for the 7pm intake to go before we were allowed in; unfortunately for the 7pm intake, they weren’t allowed to enter until about 7:15pm which only gave them 15 minutes before we were let in (and we were let in on time).

Whilst waiting, we had two car parking assistants that looked like they had just experienced a hit and run, and a street magician that kept most people entertained, though it was obvious that everyone was anxious to get in and go through a haunt (not that anything could be done to cure that, but having to get out of the way for an actor who had roamed too deep into the queue every few minutes started to get a bit grating).

Our tickets were scanned and we were handed our pass to enter the haunts, and we made our way immediately to the portaloos to relieve ourselves after our 2.5 hour drive, only to find that the only light entering them was natural, and there unfortunately wasn’t much on this drizzly evening – a string of fairy lights to provide a little more light wouldn’t have gone amiss, and even one or two at the start of the queue for those cut short by the call of nature.

We walked through the plaza which was populated by a number of shops, a stage with some performers (mainly fire eaters when I was paying attention, though I did see some props for acrobats and aerial gymnastics), and a food and a drink stall. We decided to join the three person queue for Caged as our first haunt of the evening – the weakest attraction there last year, we were told.

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The first thing I noticed was the theming in the queue and the facade – the queue itself was very much metal fencing that weaved in and around itself and looked quite disorientating, though it was never used as the event was unfortunately quiet. The facade and lighting gave off an uneasy vibe of the chaos hidden from view. We were told that we’d have to wait for another group to join us before we were allowed in.

We enter the first room and watch a video to set the scene. The video was unfortunately grainy, and the volume far too quiet – we were stood right in front of the speaker and we were having trouble hearing it over the screams from the victims ahead of us. The video ended, and we entered the darkness.

We ended up weaving through numerous rooms painted black that were sparsely decorated, and it felt a little bit lacklustre as there were no effects and the only time we encountered a cage was the finale, though I was happy to overlook this as all the actors were powerful, and made us jump a number of times – especially in the outside scene! Also thoroughly enjoyed the finale as an actor climbed on the frame over our heads and reached down at us – that was really unsettling! As soon as the haunt started to gain traction, it ended; however, it was still a brilliant run through – adding a smoke machine and maybe a strobe would really add to the chaotic nature the actors were putting across.

 

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Next up, we decided to go on the Haunted Hayride as we were tipped off on the queue getting longer toward the end of the night. Whilst queuing, we were entertained by a selection of songs related to Halloween as this rather creepy clown did creepy clown stuff, such as balancing a broom on his chin, and playing with his rat, all while giving off this melancholic aura that juxtaposed the smile painted on his face – in my opinion, this actor was the strongest by far.

After a 20 minute wait, we were ushered into a pen with about 20 others and another TV flickers to life as an enthusiastic farmer sets the scene for the haunted hayride, quite a fun and interesting concept with room for comedy throughout, and I hasten to add that the volume on the TV was perfect, though the video was still very pixellated. We board the trailer and the comedy begins instantly, though it was very hit and miss as the actor had a hard time projecting her voice over the rumbling tractor engine.

The tractor sets off and were treated to a soundclip to help further the story as we make our way to our first scene, which was rather amusing. The actor here was able to make herself heard, although we were clearly on the wrong side of the trailer as we didn’t see what was happening (even though we clearly knew what was going on). This would very much be the theme for the rest of the hayride section – a soundclip followed by acting, both of which were disjointed from whatever preceded and followed them, with the acting generally trying to be comedic, but unfortunately not landing. Shortly afterward, we were asked to disembark the trailer and two actors up in front of us were doing something, then we were sent into a pitch black maze with automated scares and maybe two actors at most inside. I love the use of animatronics in place of actors as they can be very effective, but some never triggered (either due to not working or because they were resetting) and had no link to the story (though this maze added nothing to the story), and I was far too focused on not tripping over stage blocks etc as people tried stampeding their way through to get away from the scares.

We left the barn and entered another scene which was actually linked to the story from the video, and the actor made great use of the props to hide before charging at us. We walked for another 5 minutes and entered this car park area, which also didn’t really fit in besides having zombies roaming – there was even just one random actor that greeted us cheerily as if nothing was wrong before giving away what the finale was (though it was quite obvious being right at the back and hearing it happen to the group in front).

The finale was probably the best bit of the haunt, and the haunt itself lasted possibly half an hour. I won’t give away what it is, but the only reason why it was effective was because it was loud and where it was hosted helped reverberate the sound even more.

There are so many ways this could have been better here: I’d have personally themed the barn around the final soundclip that’s played, or an old person’s home filled with zombies of old people with tables fully laid out with cake, bunting, the works, as that would have been surreal enough to get a laugh and would fit in with one of the scenes, or just skip the barn entirely and have the walk back be in the corridors in the barn with the same scares as everything after the barn was disjointed: I really felt that this was an incomplete attraction that took maybe a week to design, and I was really hoping for something grand after the video set the story.

 

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Our third haunt of the night was The Offering, themed to a group of cannibalistic creatures lurking in the sewers. We watched another video which set the scene (and got a good jump scare in), and entered the sewers through a claustrophobia chamber, which was a clever way of “transporting” you into the underground sections. This haunt had a lot of dark areas where you had to duck for an extended period, which made it easy to bump into the scenery (as I found out the hard way!).

Despite being so dark, the theming itself was great and the sloped walkways, intentional or not, added this bizarre layer of disorientation that added to the atmosphere. The actors here were also particularly strong, paying a mix of both creepy roles and jump scares throughout the attraction – I especially like that they spoke and communicated in their own language, which added to the “lost civilisation” trope they were playing on.

We were told that the sound wasn’t working for our run and, whilst I’d have criticised that, I honestly think the lack of sound added to it! Maybe some ambient sounds like dripping pipes or quiet chanting voices would add a layer, but an entire soundscape would lose half the appeal in my opinion. Definitely one of the haunts I enjoyed.

 

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Next up was Wonderland, a twisted take on the already twisted Alice in Wonderland (does that make this normal then?). We were led into a room and again shown a video that both had sound and visual issues, and went on a little bit too long – just as I thought it was done, the character started speaking again (though I’m impressed with the fact it was a dark poem).

I honestly can’t say much about this – the best bit was the revolving tunnel, but I’m a sucker for big pieces like that. Most of the scares were from actors screaming (please make sure they don’t do damage to their voice box…) as there was no atmosphere at all, and I guess the actors were screaming because they were having to fight over the creepy music that had to drown out the music from the stage the attraction was hidden behind. The group was split up and I think we walked through a set of doors only to re-join the other group, though as you’re only allowed to go through once with how the ticketing system works, you never find out what happens on the other route.

Two other memorable scenes was the use of UV paint in the Cheshire Cat room and the way the actor slunk about her stage blocks, and the card room (though holding the guests in that room for a few seconds before the next room opens would be a great way to add to the intrigue there). The finale was also clever, but is only effective for those at the front of the conga line.

Overall, it felt like this haunt was unfinished and built just to up the number of haunts available to the public.

 

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Finally, we moved onto Seance – the haunt I was looking forward to most. As with all the other haunts, we watched a video which had the whole audio/visual issues but would also freeze at certain points which broke the flow of the story. The actor in the video seemed very ditzy and almost as if this video was his first ever attempt at urban exploration and really didn’t fit in with the story at all, and this theme continued throughout with the other actors that weren’t ghosts.

Despite the happy-go-lucky and bouncy nature of our “guide”, the seance was a clever and fun pre-show to the haunt though I felt it was let down with the use of blue floodlights alongside the strobe – it really detracted from the fact that we had summoned a demon or something that was out to kill us (the actor was pretty good in her movements though).

The rest of the attraction was highly decorated and was extremely impressive in comparison to the sparse sets used in the rest of the haunts, and I especially loved the use of strobes toward the end. Having said that, I think I counted three attempts at an actor trying to scare me through the walkthrough, which was a shame as there were so many places for actors to be hiding. There was also one prop that needs to have the pole painted black so it’s not quite so obvious it’s an animatronic.

I honestly feel that for theming, this was the best attraction there.

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I’d like to make a point that was noted in all the attractions bar the Haunted Hayride: the batching process was absolutely awful. We never bumped into the group in front of us and never had the group behind us catch up; however as the queues were so small for all the attractions (there were maybe two or three groups of friends in any queue at any time we joined), it might be worth considering allowing groups of friends going in one by one than having a “full load” enter all at once. On quieter nights, this would very much reduce the need to repeat scares for the front of a group as well as the back, and guests would feel more vulnerable.

 

So what’s my verdict? It was very hit and miss, but ultimately I didn’t enjoy it even though I tried. Some haunts had some pretty strong scenes that worked well, but overall the attractions weren’t great, unless what you’re looking for in haunts is actors jumping out at you and screaming; however it doesn’t feel like that’s what Frightmare is reaching for as the concepts to the haunts are detailed. I feel like maybe more was bitten off than could be chewed, which meant all the haunts suffered – had there been two haunts and the hayride that were completely developed and themed well, I’d have been more than impressed and happy. I do hope that this was just an off night and that the rest of the season improves for the Frightmare team.

30/09/2017 – Frightmare at Over Farm

15/07/2017 – Frequent Fear Podcast: Fraternity

Conspiracy theories these days run rife. From Big Pharma to the Illuminati, people either believe or disbelieve. Me? Well, I wasn’t a believer, until recently…

Back in March, GNG Entertainment posted “Five years ago, for the first time in the UK, we asked the question ‘how far is too far?’. This year, we find out!” with a picture of the word “Fraternity” in a Greek stylised font. Five years before, for those that don’t know (and I didn’t until late last year) refers to Project Fear, which sounded like a short if intense and extreme haunt where guests entered alone and were subjected to a number of horrible tasks designed to make you uncomfortable, and boy were they successful! Alongside this, the Frequent Fear Podcast released an entry, revealing Lee Conway, Gary Crompton, and Sarah Wilson were the masterminds behind the show, with the podcast exploring the set up of a haunt, its complications and their solutions, in a transparent manner; soon enough, concept artwork began surfacing.

 

Jump to the beginning of April: a Dr Henry Issac, out of the blue, decided to follow me on Twitter. Why’s this a big deal? Well, whilst the Twitter account exists, it is rarely used and just sits there (seriously, follow me on Facebook if you want to be kept in the loop). A quick scan of his profile and I see the word “conspiracist” in the About Me section and smile to myself. Why was a conspiracy nutter following me, and what was The Ordre d’Elysium? I dig even further into his profile and it looks like his previous accounts had been taken down with no reasoning. I got the urge to follow him back, and with one click of a button my entire life changed.

He began posting cryptic and almost inspiring quotes, in a similar vein to that “hang in there!” slogan printed over a picture of a cat struggling to hang onto the branch of a tree. It was amusing for a conspirator to be posting these kinds of things, but that soon began to change: he started explaining that the name of the Fraternity was the Ordre d’Elysium and that he had spent decades following them after discovering a piece of parchment he had found whilst looking into theories on the Holy Blood and Holy Grail, which promised people unlimited power and riches. We explained to Henry that a scare attraction called Fraternity had just been announced, and he was confused at first: what were the Frequent Fear Podcast doing, and how could they ever be linked to the Ordre d’Elysium? We didn’t know: we all knew the guys behind the attraction personally so it didn’t make any sense to us and we shrugged it off to begin with, but seeds of doubt had been sewn, even if nobody wanted to admit to it.

A number of days passed with us chatting about conspiracy theories to Henry, and we explained that we wanted to help as we were now curious as to what was going on – wouldn’t you be the same? With the initiations happening once every decade and with 2017 being the next opportunity, we placed all our trust into Henry and leapt into the unknown. He shared the parchment with us as a test to prove ourselves and our loyalty to him: it was our first riddle, our first step in finding the Ordre. This parchment somehow found its way onto the Fraternity website with the text “Ternion will start your path, and lead you through degrees to the promised land.”

 

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Collectively, and with no help from Henry other than being told to look into the Priory of Sion, we began looking for anything that’d point us in the right direction, obsessively scouring the text for anything strange written within such as words capitalised when they shouldn’t be, letters that seemed out of place for whatever reason, that sort of thing. Theories soon began surfacing and grew with each passing hour, growing to the point where we were looked into astrology and planetary alignments in order to help solve the riddle, but to no avail: we were unsuccessful. Despite the lack of success, Henry showed mercy and uploaded a video to YouTube explaining the extremely complex solution, which revealed the dates of the initiation – was he impressed with how much effort we put into solving the puzzle? Who knows: we were just happy that our efforts seemed to have impressed him enough for him to extend an olive branch.

One of the group shared the date Henry uncovered with Lee who confirmed that those were the dates, and asked how we found out. Naturally, we explained that a Dr Henry had contacted us and told us it was an initiation ceremony and had deciphered the dates from the image: Lee laughed it off, saying he was just some conspirator nutjob and to ignore him. Had we known what we had let ourselves in for, we probably would have followed his advice.

A few days pass, and nothing was heard from Dr Henry. Maybe we were being played and it was someone getting his rocks off to us solving weird riddles for him, when three of our group received an email from magendavid1897@gmail.com, each entitled “Getting closer to initiation” with an encrypted message. The sender referred to themself as “Deep Throat”, but after a little research on the internet, we settled on the notion that the username referred to the Star of David, which made an appearance in the parchment Henry found.

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The binary was the first to be decrypted – a simple binary to text conversion helped with that; however, the other two proved to be much, much harder. Many methods surfaced and none of them worked, making us worry that DT had used multiple layers of encryption. Finally, LEIGGS1910 was uncovered to reveal “SCHOOL 1910”, but we didn’t get round to being able to solve the repeating numbers puzzle.

Alongside all this codebreaking, we were constantly in communication with DT in order to figure out just who we were dealing with. Whilst we never got more than a name, we did learn that he/she was born inside the Ordre and that before each initiation, this highly secret society opened communication channels to the outside world with the permission of the Elders, though DT hadn’t consulted with them and found him/herself in great danger. DT soon started to worry that we wouldn’t figure out the final code as we reached out for help, and we got a new clue “Mechesburg 01709SE4700”, which we deciphered to be Mexborough. We also started getting nicknames DT would use to address us by, based on Greek mythology – some of which had rather grisly meanings behind, and we soon started to worry that not only were the Ordre onto us, but the Ordre had very specific plans in place, and these nicknames were an insight into what to expect. We all began questioning each other, wondering if our actions would be paid for by someone else within the group.

DT fell off the face of the planet. We tried everything to get in contact, but never heard anything back, until one member of our group got the following: “Tomorrow for 30 mins the window will open. If I get the chance I will inform you all 15 minutes before with a call out. Initiation is around the corner.”, and several members got what looked parts of a waiver detailing what we might be subjected to throughout the initiation after we put the emails in order, the most interesting being that we would be given a ceremonial gown. As promised by DT, one of us received a text message stating that DT had inserted a glitch in the Ordre’s website which would take us to a page where we could gain entry to the initiation. Nothing stood out to us when the webpage loaded, so we resorted to randomly clicking about, hoping that the glitch would be that simple – jackpot! We sent this information to Lee, Gary and Sarah once again who were absolutely clueless as to how we were able to get tickets when tickets weren’t available for another three days, though our sales were still to be honoured.

DT sent through another text message saying that another glitch was being added so we could learn more about the Ordre, and as promised, the glitch was live. This time, we were re-directed to a “Contact Us” page, which most of us eagerly filled in, asking for more information.

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A day passed and DT came back to us with an aire of panic in their email, stating to not use the Contact Us page on the site, as any message would be sent straight to the hands of the Ordre’s security officers – it was a trap, and we had all fallen for it! Fortunately for us, there was a chance that we could have those emails intercepted should we be able to decipher three codes in a week, and that the importance of this is “more important that life or death”, which panicked us greatly.

 

Soon enough, one of our group was sent an email with the first clue – it was a simple morse code which we deciphered in a matter of hours, which translated to “THIS IS A TEST CODE.”. We received confirmation, and the next cipher was sent:

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Once more, theories flew about and grew faster than wildfire, only to be halted dead in their tracks. A secret Facebook chat for everyone in the group, sans Henry, was created as our trust in the “Doctor” began to wane – whilst he was trying to be helpful, he always stated the obvious, and it began to feel like he was trying to ride our coat tails, and we weren’t having that. We got the understanding of the riddle but just couldn’t apply it, hell, I even tried to write a piece of VBA in Excel that’d help out in some way, but even that was unsuccessful! Finally, the code was cracked, revealing a passage from Ezekiel: The turn is come unto thee, O inhabitant of the land; the time is come, the day of tumult is near, and not of joyful shouting upon the mountains. We sent this back to DT on the third day, and it was confirmed correct and the final cipher had been sent.

The final clue was written in Braille, so a quick look at a few converters finally helped us work out the final cipher – it turns out that JFK almost gave away the Ordre’s existence in a speech he had made in April 1961! With no help from Henry once again and him now throwing out his own mad theories on why we’re having to break these codes for DT, we realised that we had never actually seen a picture of Henry, and our suspicions were raised even higher: we decided as a group that anything relating to the Ordre we get, we discuss in the Facebook group away from Henry just in case: our trust for him hit an all time low.

 

One final cipher came through, with the promise of an honest answer for three questions we ask:

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If you’re sat there staring at the screen and scratching your head, you’re as clueless as we were. We figured the number 10 had something to do with it and the letter “C” where the two lines intersect with each other were relevant, but we tried all sorts of encryption methods and codebreaker websites in order to solve the puzzle, but we just couldn’t. It took days for us to finally figure out how to solve the clue (you create 10 columns and starting with the “C”, you put a character in each column horizontally, then read the text vertically) and send it off to DT, unbeknown to Henry – we felt that Henry shouldn’t know as he’d ask all sorts of questions and might even attempt to send the questions off behind our backs.

DT fell silent once again, this silence lasting a week before Henry pointed the silence out. We urged Henry to get in contact with an encrypted message of his own seeing as he was under the Ordre’s watchful eye, but he didn’t. We were worried that DT had been caught. Another three days passed and a video from DT herself was sent, begging us with all the desperation she could muster for help on the real reason why she decided to reach out to us, but she never explained what.

We finally received confirmation that our answer for the final cipher was correct and that we were allowed three questions. After painstaking debate, we decided to ask what makes OdE so dangerous, what’s it like to be a member, and finally, whether we could trust Henry. We were told to wait for a few days so DT could get her thoughts together, before signing off as “Magen”.

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Another long silence passed before Henry uploaded a video to his own account – he’s never posted there before, on’y in ODEWatch. It looked like he had been trapped in a building and was trying to escape, his breath heavy as he ran from room to room, banging on windows looking out over nothing, trying to attract some attention, then it ends. ODEWatch spurs back to life and questions were raised once more. We contacted DT to see if she could help, but we got no response. We waited.

The next day, Henry posts: Hello this is Origen. Shit! We were rumbled! Henry in all his stupidity, hadn’t put a password on his phone and got caught! We texted DT to see if she could help. We got a response almost instantly: “Thank you for letting me know, I’ve confiscated Magens phone too. Origen.”. Double shit! We had no way of finding out if either of our cohorts were OK. We could do nothing but attend the haunt and hope that we wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Dr Henry.

The event drew near and after a 4 hour journey to the initiation site, we meet up with three other hopefuls in the car park. We receive a call and get invited inside. We enter the building and take a seat. We’re about half hour early, so we grab a drink and take a seat on the sofas in this huge hall, absorbing the deafening silence when we’re not talking, and the echoes when we do speak. Slowly, more hopefuls arrive. A smartly dressed boy of maybe 11 enters through one of the double doors leading off from the hall and announces “can James Collins follow me please”. I rise to my feet, taken slightly aback by the assertive tone coming from a child and step forward with a nervous laughter from myself and the rest. I follow in complete silence and enter through another set of double doors. I’m handed a waiver and get told to read and sign, which I do. I’m then beckoned beyond the table where the waiver signing takes place by the boy and get taken into a darkened stairwell.

 

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A chair sits facing the stairs as they descend with a piece of laminated paper stuck to the wall next to it, and a basket beneath. I’m told to read and follow the instructions: disrobe to your underwear, put on the t-shirt, sit on the chair, and ring the bell. I disrobe, my heart in my throat, and slip into the t-shirt, which reaches down beyond my underwear. I place my clothes in the basket provided and take a seat. I take in a breath and ring the bell three times, the chimes echoing up and down the stairwell as I sit back in my seat. The chimes vanish to nothing and time slows down. From the darkness, a shadow appears. With an outstretched hand, I am beckoned. I descend the stairs at a pace similar to the gesture from the shadow with my footsteps bouncing off the walls. I’m taken by the hand and led into another room: the initiation began…

Most of what happened after this can’t be shared; however I was bathed, anointed, asked to prove my trust in the Ordre by a member with dozens of mousetraps, and eventually being reborn into the society in a journey that was both serene and yet chaotic as my path crossed those of Dr Henry and Magen. 30 minutes later, I’m sat blindfolded in front of a cloaked figure speaking in what sounded like Latin as a warmth spread through my wrists. The figure stops speaking and the blindfold was removed, revealing the mark of the Ordre where the warmth was moments ago. I am welcomed into the fraternity by the cloaked figure, my new Brother, and am guided to a door where I’m told never to talk about the Ordre before being shoved through it and back into reality – initiation complete.

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15/07/2017 – Frequent Fear Podcast: Fraternity

14/07/2017 – Southend Room Escape: The Cabin (Preview Night)

After the roaring success of its predecessor (Down the Rabbit Hole) and with a SCAR Award under their belt, the team at Southend Room Escape quickly began boasting about their brand new addition to the growing list of horror themed escape rooms: The Cabin. We were invited to a preview night to give the room a test run, and I’ve still not entirely decided who was tested more: us, the actors, or the room!

Inspired by the legend of the Blair Witch, participants enter a long forgotten cabin hidden deep in the woods where a number of people had been vanishing, and it’s down to the participants to solve the clues and save the kids from their impending doom!

From the moment we stepped into the building, it was clear to see why they needed two weeks to redecorate! The scenery was absolutely incredible and as soon as the front door opened, it was easy to believe that we were in an old abandoned lodge. A dead radio in the corner fizzled to life and explained the rules, and we left the starting line… albeit very slowly.

We spent the next hour sweating over the most easiest of easy riddles, trying (and succeeding!) to hack locks and clues (much to our detriment…), and even trying to appeal to the actors soft side in order to get a hint on how to solve the clues (you really need to have your thinking cap on for some of these), and screaming as we’re attacked by a benevolent force as the claustrophobic cabin and intense darkness were used against us.

Once again, the team at Southend Room Escape weaved their magic and bought their universe to life in their little pocket of Southend. This is truly not for the feint of heart, and really does require everyone in the team to be able to cope under stress. We will definitely be back later on in the season to see the full show (clues were being changed after we left, so don’t ask us for clues!) and to see if we can best our time!

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14/07/2017 – Southend Room Escape: The Cabin (Preview Night)

29/04/2017 – Walpurgis Night: Half Way to Halloween

Scare Kingdom Scream Park are back once again with another fantastic haunt hidden within the walls of Manormortis, and the final show of Snuffhouse Alone!

 

Hyde and Seek

Themed around the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, guests are bought into the dark and dingy world wherein a secret elixir, created by none other than the doctor himself, gives the person imbibing it the gift of eternal life with some unfortunate side effects, which the doctor wasn’t shy about demonstrating on an unfortunate victim. Soon enough, the victim had turned and we were rushed away from the pair and into the main attraction.

 

As we progressed we encountered a range of characters, from an old and rough scullery maid through to an overtly camp (and utterly hilarious) aristocrat, all of whom added their version of the story into the fold until you were so immersed that you felt you were playing a detective in a murder mystery movie, all while Jekyll’s previous victims lunged at us from the hundreds of hidey holes dotted around the manor. It all came to a head when we managed to get into the wife of Dr Jekyll’s bedroom to talk to her about something before she sent us on our way to find her maid, and before we even knew what was happening, the lights went out and a strobe light flickered, illuminating Mr Hyde before he disappeared into the night again.

 

This was, for me, my favourite story to be played in Manormortis. It had absolutely everything that is needed for someone to go in, get spooked, come out, and laugh and talk about after. From the hilarious Aristocrat with his “crossfire” skit (it has been a long time since I laughed like that) through to the creepy priest, almost everyone’s character was on point – unfortunately the lawyer in the upside down room and nursery fell short just a little in comparison to how strong the other characters were. Otherwise, everything about the characters was perfect!

On top of this, the bit I loved the most (well, bits – they kinda go hand in hand) was the storyline. How I bloody love a storyline, and to get me so immersed t(o the point where a character said “come closer” and I did in the 15 minutes we were in there) just goes to show that a haunt can provide scares and story, and because each scene lasted a good few minutes, we were able to actually look around and take in the beauty of Manormortis, which is usually missed as everyone gets rushed through.

Overall, Hyde and Seek was an absolute blast of a show that blended comedy, scares, and downright sexual acts together tastefully to provide one of the greatest haunts I’ve experienced at Scare Kingdom.

 

Snuffhouse Alone – Bloodborn

Snuffhouse is, as many people know, an extreme attraction that costs an extra fee to take part in. Lasting roughly 10 – 15 minutes (depending on if you use the safeword), victims are at the mercy of The Tormentors who, as their titles imply, are there to make your life hell.

This is the first and unfortunately last time I took part in Snuffhouse Alone, and I’m glad I didn’t miss out! With an all female cast, some fantastic reviews from the last few runs, and the knowledge this will be the only time I would be able to take part, I stripped down to my t-shirt and jeans (hey! It’s cold up there and I didn’t think I’d be able to participate!) and stepped in the queue.

From the moment I entered Snuffhouse, I was hooded, bound, teased, degraded, interrogated, beautified, and generally abused, but I couldn’t help but grin all the way through from what I had just experienced or what I was told to do, it was just an absolutely fabulous run with some fantastic ideas and clever tricks that I’ve not experienced before in a haunt!

Fortunately for me, I can’t do any of the eating scenes (yay for chronic illnesses! (I’ll let you decide if I’m being serious or not there)) so I didn’t get the “full shebang”, but what I did experience is the perfect introduction to the extreme haunt scene, and I would have thoroughly recommended it to anyone who has ever wondered why extreme haunt fans like their extreme haunts. I totally regret not going back through!

 

Overall, Walpurgis Night was an absolute blast, and it’s such a shame that it didn’t run for more than one night to allow more chance of people to see those two absolutely stunning haunts.

 

 

29/04/2017 – Walpurgis Night: Half Way to Halloween