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

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

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

20/10/2017 – Xtreme Scream Park

Located at Twin Lakes theme park, Xtreme Scream Park promises some of the longest haunts with some of the most diverse concepts and impressive effects I’ve seen!

 

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Revenge of the Zombie Clowns

a mix of funhouse meets circus, Revenge of the Zombie Clowns brings the heat to the beginning of the night: the vortex tunnel and crazy rooms with slanted walls and floors really set a fun tone as creepy music travels through the air, leading to a disorientating maze of curtain dividers which unfortunately starts getting repetitive. As one of the oldest attractions there, it’s definitely feeling a little dated and unloved – there’s a lack of actors, props for the actors to use/hide behind, and with no finale. Definitely the least scariest of the bunch, but it’s still a fun way to begin the night. Was very impressed with the way the safety announcements were done for this, as the actor personalised her character perfectly.

 

Stilton Hall Hotel and Hell Spa

Our second haunt for the evening was an absolutely beautiful haunted hotel attraction with a very intense and chaotic introductory scene, which throws you into even more chaos as you pass through room after room of this incredibly long haunt that sets a high standard with regards to theming and keeps it at that high level throughout the entire attraction, including scents and sounds that really help immerse you. The scares come quick and fast as characters pop out of props and linger about, creating some tense and funny moments. The effects found within were very novel, one of which I’ve never seen done before in an attraction, but the most effective was the pitch black rooms which really seemed to freak people out!

 

The Pie Factory

Another brilliantly long haunt, The Pie Factory takes guests through (as the name suggests) a pie factory. Theming throughout was grisly and downright disgusting at points, with strobes and scents that make you question whether what you’re looking at is real! This was definitely my favourite at Xtreme Scream Park thanks to the mixture of actors that really knew what to say and how to use their space to get the best scares! Definitely not for those with a weak stomach, this sensory overload of a haunt will definitely terrify even the hardiest of people!

 

Ash Hell Penitentiary

Probably the longest haunt at Xtreme Scream (and if it’s not, it certainly feels like it!), there were some incredibly effects that I’ve never experienced before in any attraction! There are plenty of hiding spaces for actors to utilise, though I legitimately felt like it was seriously lacking them; having said that, the actors we did meet were absolutely brilliant once I realised that they might be a bit inflammatory with their script (maybe worth adding this to the safety briefing!). Like with the two haunts mentioned above, Ash Hell utilises what I can only describe as “reverse light”, i.e. only giving very quick bursts of light to give you enough time to take a glance at where you need to go, and the actors really know how to use this against you! With plenty of scares and some incredibly dark themes/visuals at points, this claustrophobic haunt definitely delivers! It’s a shame that there seems to be a complete lack of smells to make scenes (like the toilets) to be more realistic.

 

Hoo Doo Voodoo

Part hooded, this haunt is themed to the typical imagery you think of when you hear the word “voodoo”. Whilst I’m not a fan of hooded attractions, the hooded section here is the best I’ve experienced, as the actors get up close and interact with you using a wide variety of techniques as you blindly stumble your way through, your hand brushing against various surfaces – more narrative here would be really appreciated, as it’s so close to being a strong hooded haunt, but just falls short. The rest of the attraction, which you go through without a hood, rises up to meet the high standards set by the park: sets were beautiful, costumes were on point, and both worked together to create exactly what I wanted in a Voodoo themed haunt – the only jarring scene that left me scratching my head was the UV box room.

 

The Village

As the most anticipated haunt at Xtreme Scream Park, I decided to leave it to last as the hype surrounding it really made it out to be great: whilst it was fantastic, it definitely didn’t live upto the hype. The concept was well developed (although actors’ speech pushing the narrative would have made it greater), the theming was the pinnacle of all the other haunts! As you travel through the scenes, the lighting (or lack of) really works against you to create some really creepy and uneasy experiences, which are only worsened (or made better?) by the ambient sounds, claustrophobic elements, and your own paranoia! The final scene is definitely one of the darkest scenes I’ve seen in a haunt this Halloween, and I couldn’t be more excited to get to the exit! Whilst not inherently filled with jump scares, this haunt relies on creating an unnaturally creepy atmosphere and keeping you on the edge of paranoia to help further your fear. Look out for the professor – he’s sure to terrify you!

Generally speaking, Xtreme Scream Park has some absolutely beautiful haunts with narrow walk ways where you have to squeeze past props, actor costumes and face paint that really pops and wows, and huge props that are really impressive and startling! Unfortunately I experienced a lot of back up in all of the haunts where we caught up with the group in front – it didn’t really detract much as it gives you the chance to see all the theming and the actors are great at improvising and keeping you on edge.

The only thing that’s missing from the park is atmosphere – I can’t quite say what it is, but it just seems to lack the buzz that other scare parks have. Still, a great evening out – just be sure to wrap up warm and get there early!

20/10/2017 – Xtreme Scream Park

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

14/10/2017 – Faceless Ventures: Diary of a Deceased

A dead body. A diary with all but four pages ripped out. This is the fractured story of John Doe and his encounters with monsters and noises in the dark.

We descend the stairs to the morgue silently, as instructed. A nurse stands to greet us silently as a heavy atmosphere descends around us: in her hand is the Diary. In a melancholic and calm tone, she begins to explain how John Doe and his diary came into her care. She opens the diary to the first undamaged page and begins reading.

We are instantly transported back to John’s childhood, led by his former self. We hide in a den and play a game of Noughts and Crosses; a safe space, the child explains, from the things outside. We relive his night time routine, then it goes dark. Do you hear noises in the dark? We do. They get closer and closer. We escape.

Back in the morgue. We meet John’s love interest; they met in America where she was studying at the time. We enter a room with American flag and bunting, a shadow facing a huge American flag as The Last Post plays. She told us how she didn’t believe him when he told her about the noises, but that all changed. A speech begins to play, growing in volume; the American anthem joining the aural intrusion. Nightmarish creatures appear from the darkness, creeping around, tormenting us, disembodied by flashing lights that allowed them to move unnaturally. The shadow facing the flag leaves the room, and everything returns to normal. What is normal anyway?

We’re back in the morgue. We’re told to follow the voice as a hauntingly beautiful and overwhelming rendition of My Immortal wafts through the air. We follow the voice: in front of us, John sits, arms upturned to show his bloodied and slashed wrists: an unknown figure looms over him, singing his swansong, mourning. In death, his childhood and love are returned to his past: the only gift left to give is death, which was given to us.

Up the stairs and back to reality. Is this the end, or merely the beginning?

 

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Diary of a Deceased has truly left me stuck for words: I know for a fact that what I experienced could never be transposed into words: it was intense, haunting, and utterly beautiful!

What sets this apart from other haunts/attractions is that it relies heavily on the narrative and the actors ability to set the atmosphere in each scene, which they all did perfectly! From the whimsical and lighthearted atmosphere when visiting his childhood and playing games through to the melancholy of his relationship, through to the soul crushing end of John Doe, it was impossible to not get sucked in!

The one tiny piece of criticism I have is the haunt ending – I loved what it was trying to portray, and it portayed it well; however, some more effects such as a wind machine and strobes would further push the idea.

Despite the one little teeny-tiny improvement I could think of (and that’s all it is), this production definitely set the bar high for future immersive theatre, as people were moved to tears in the 30 minutes the show lasted. I cannot wait to see where this goes, if it goes anywhere: as a singular story it is perfect, but as I somberly climbed the stairs leading away from the morgue, I was definitely craving more! Well done to everyone involved!

14/10/2017 – Faceless Ventures: Diary of a Deceased