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

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

Back in 1865 the great MacGuffin circus was the talk of the town. It’s owner decided that he would step out of the spotlight and let his son take his place; however, much to his father’s dismay and disgust, the son had no interest in running the circus, favouring inventing. Sure enough, the son created this incredible machine that monitored the entire circus: the machine became too powerful and overthrew its creator and completely destroyed the whole circus, leaving it to rot. 150 years later and intrepid adventurers are given the opportunity to step inside the abandoned circus to figure out what went wrong…

 

From the moment you step inside The MacGuffin Project’s building, you are transported into their world: pipes and lights in cages line the wall, bunting hangs from the box office facade, jaunty seaside songs waft through the air, and the face of The MacGuffin Project all welcomes you not only inside the retail unit, but also their world – it’s very easy to forget that you’re in Bournemouth and not in this steampunk universe.

Once we had signed our lives away and stored our belongings we knocked on the entrance door, which swung open as an assistant threw himself out of, making us all jump, before welcoming inside. We watched a short video in the style you’d expect to see in early era of videography – sepia tones, warbled sounds, that sort of thing, before the video went wrong. The assistant excused himself and in his absence, the video continued though this was even more themed to the 1800s – muted sound, sepia tone, glitches from where the reel had burned and warped itself from heat, the whole lot.

Another door swings open, making us all jump once again, and we’re taken through to the room where The MacGuffin Project was created. We were told where to start, and the countdown began: 58.5 minutes later, we pulled the final lever: we succeeded in our mission!

Whilst this escape room isn’t inherently designed to be scary, there are definitely some jumpy bits throughout that caught us off-guard, and the whole atmosphere and story that developed throughout the show was definitely creepy: from skeletons of animals through to scribbles hidden throughout, through to the audio and lighting, it was incredibly easy to find yourself lost inside this universe for the time you’re in that room. The theming doesn’t falter at any point either – the artefacts found inside all have reason to be in there.

The detail I love about the puzzles is that it’s not all combination locks: without trying to give too much away, it’s almost like taking part in The Crystal Maze but all the mental and physical skill challenges are all rolled into this one room and you’ve got an hour to figure everything out. Cryptic, I know, but I really don’t want to detract from how clever the room is, especially as the puzzles all flow into one another and you’re constantly re-using

The little piece of detail that I really loved (that most escape rooms don’t do) is that small puzzles build up to a big puzzle, which then feeds into another puzzle somewhere else in the room which really added to the flow as everything fell into place. My favourite detail, and this is just me being a great big geek, is that the entire room runs itself: all the puzzles you solve are all monitored by a computer that lets you know when you’ve done something right and triggers the next part of the game, which is really incredible and honestly mind-boggling when it comes to some of the puzzles being solved!

If you’re ever in Bournemouth, or you want to try an escape room that blends puzzles and immersive storytelling into one, get yourself to The MacGuffin Project!

 

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

23/09/2017 – Hide & Shriek: Dead Centre

Roughly this time a year and a half ago, I found myself on the way to Southend Victoria to scope out this brand new attraction called Dead Centre run by Hide & Shriek, a relatively new company in the scare industry at the time. Soon enough, they’ve become a company I regularly return to not only because they’re on my doorstep and run year round, but also because I thoroughly enjoy what they do and I know that critiques will be taken on board and rectified for following shows, which is something that I thoroughly appreciate as a reviewer as while I do this for fun and for you readers’ entertainment, I also do it to help the industry improve somewhat.

 

Having said that, this might actually be my hardest review of one of their shows to date as I was both an actor and a participant, and knew a good handful of the actors within the attraction too but don’t worry, I’m not letting these bonds get in the way of my review – I’m still gunna be as harsh as ever!

 

On arrival at Dead Centre, our tickets were scanned and we took our seats on a bench in a semi-protected safe area whilst we waited for our turn: a two tier pyramid of barrels stood on one side of the shopping centre corridor and a wall with a screen built in displayed the title of the experience on the other, whilst eerie atmospheric music played on a loop that echoed throughout our little area, which emphasised the fact that we were completely alone in the shopping centre… or were we?

Soon enough, it was our time to enter the experience: we’re given the generic haunt brief (you are expected to run, no zombies will chase you on the stairs, etc) and we were sent down a service corridor. As we reached the end of this corridor, two shopping centre security guards, an Australian called Jake (though he insisted on being called Maverick and I am so down for that) and another whose name I forgot so I’m gunna call him Dan, welcomed and ushered us closer. He explained that the safe haven we were in has never come under attack thanks to the stringent security checks we have to go through – our first was to prove that we hadn’t been bitten and, rather typically, my small group of friends ended up having to do blood tests to prove we were safe – as it turns out, one of us was The Chosen One, someone whose blood cannot be infected by the zombies! Just as he had explained this, a loud bang as something hit the wall next to us got us moving into the next area.

 

We ran down another service corridor, chaperoned by the two guards that seemed to be a bit uneasy but continued to ensure us that we were safe and it was just probably another guard playing a prank. We soon stopped as we hit a set of doors whilst the service corridor continued off to the right, and Maverick gave us a quick demonstration on how to check for zombies by knocking and asking “are there any zombies?”, pausing, then saying “no” before moving onto the next – this is when I began giggling. He came back and confirmed that it was all safe with this dumb grin on his face whilst Dan just looked at him in disdain. We were then taken through the doors, across the floor of the shopping centre, and into another service corridor where we were told we’d have to go through the Loading Bay in order to reach The Reverend, who’ll know what to do with the blood.

 

On the way down to the Loading Bay we learned a little bit more about The Reverend, and both Dan and Maverick – both of whom were very new to this role, and by this point completely clueless as to what to do, though that didn’t stop them from trying to ease our fears (though I’m still giggling at this point). Maverick did his thing and checked for zombies before running back yelling “gogogogogogogogogogo” as quickly as he can: we’re led through another set of doors and Dan slams them closed behind us once everyone was in, then Maverick explained that he saw a mouse – his worse fear! The laughter continues.

 

We reach the loading bay and just as we pass a van, the alarm goes off and a small horde of zombies chase us through the loading bay and up a ramp and into another maze of service corridors and stairwells. Soon enough, we’re in a slightly more open service corridor where a cart full of water is sat, so we all take a bottle. Just as that happens, one of the service lift doors slams open and a disgruntled shopkeeper comes out and accuses us of stealing his water. The two guards start to fight him and the shopkeeper is left tied to a pillar, just as another small horde of zombies chases us down yet another service corridor and back into the shopping centre.

 

The aim of our mission changes from finding The Reverend to basically calling in a helicopter to rescue us, as the guards finally admit to not having a clue what to do. We make our way up several flights of stairs to the top of the car park where we were to lay down an SOS so a helicopter could come and pick us up. We reach the top of the car park and find a conveniently placed box that had some sheets in for us to make an SOS. Just as we finished, another car alarm went off and a zombie fell out of the car, chasing us down two levels peppered with other zombies before we finally went into another stairwell and went down to the shopping centre where The Reverend could be found.

 

We inch our way forwards to give ourselves a better vantage point to see if there were any zombies about and Maverick being Maverick did his own special check which had me absolutely doubled over in hysterics to the point where I was almost getting stitches from that rather than the running! We got given the all clear and I pull myself together enough to run from where we were stood to the Hide and Shriek shopping unit, where an odd character in a white vest, underwear, and doctors robe met us. He examined the vial of blood and confirmed it was good we came, and we were led into the pitch black corridors to meet The Reverend. We find ourselves back in another service corridor before we reach The Reverend’s door and are ambushed by another small horde of zombies, which we try to hold back with a wheelie bin though this was futile without four of us trying our hardest to hold them back whilst the rest of the group struggled to open the door.

 

Finally the door was opened from the inside by Maverick who had managed to disappear in the havoc and let us in. We re-entered the darkness and barricaded the door behind us. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, it became apparent that we were very much in a hospital/laboratory thing, the home of The Reverend. He introduced himself and reiterated that the blood could save lives, and he was determined to show us – he took us through to his back room where an infected lay on an operating table. People were picked out of the crowd, myself included, and we were given specific actions – one of us had to inject The Chosen One’s blood into the infected and the other had to take note of the heart rate as it was yelled out. As the infected was injected with the blood, he slowly came back to life and started convulsing uncontrollably: the lights went out and the infected had vanished! We were ushered into a seated area behind two sheets as the lights in the room strobed at an unpredictable rate, causing the shadows of the zombies to flicker across the sheets as they maul The Reverend. In the madness, the zombies were shot at and we were quickly ushered through more rooms before we found ourselves in an unused shopping unit. We were then told we just had to run in order to escape the hordes and find our own way to the next Safe Haven – the doors to the shop opened and we all sprinted to the exit of the shopping centre, laughing and cheering all the way.

 

Comparing this year to last year, there have been a huge amount of changes based on feedback from last year: the reasoning for going to each of these locations was clearly explained and followed a storyline, and they added a rather effective and well executed piece of theatre within their shopping unit. Alongside this, the shopping centre security guards that took us through the experience were a great touch, not only because army soldiers are done pretty much everywhere else, but also because they bought the trademark comedy to the show which definitely couldn’t have been done with soldiers.

 

Having said that, I do have a few criticisms (of which I know couldn’t be helped), but having chatted to others that had been through as well as the H&S team, it seemed to just be me that picked up on it: there was a lack of zombies. The Loading Bay scene had potential for a good 10 or so zombies to flood the area and make it really chaotic – this was also noticeable in the Car Park and the Service Corridor scenes, though the security guards yelling did add to the confusion a bit. It also would have been nicer for the zombies to get closer too as none of them really felt like a threat until the Finale chase where you had no choice but to weave in and out of them: we had a good ol’ run around the car park and the zombies had a decent enough area to chase us in, but they ambled about and were so scattered about the place that, had it been a real apocalypse, the 17 or so of us in the group could have easily just taken them out.

Continuing on the zombies, whilst I got the idea that in each of the zones the zombies were meant to get progressively more and more zombified, it didn’t really show – there were zombies that did they make up professionally and some that hadn’t, and whilst 99% of the time it wasn’t noticeable, it definitely was toward the end when we had our photo opportunities with them.

Also, something like fake barbed wire between the barrels and wall in the foyer bit right at the beginning of the experience would have been cool, but not a necessity.

The one final thing I want to shit on (in the nicest way possible) was the scene within the unit. I understand it’s a small area, but those bloody seats that were facing side on so you had to turn your head really didn’t do anything, and in fact kinda detracted from the experience a little as you had to hold an uncomfortable position for a short while. I’d have also had the lights flash a little bit quicker, but that’s just personal taste – the way the shadows projected onto the sheet really added to the visuals and helped soften the brightness of the strobes.

Despite these few critiques, I honestly enjoyed myself and whilst it wasn’t a scary experience, it sure was fun, entertaining, and hilarious! If it makes a return (and I hope it does), I very much urge you to go.

 

23/09/2017 – Hide & Shriek: Dead Centre

02/09/2017 – Hide And Shriek: The Seance Brave it Alone (Preview)

I’m starting to let my fanboy show with all these trips to Southend, especially as I went back to the sunny seaside town for another viewing of The Seance – this time, I was going alone!

Brave it Alone experiences offer the victi guest a new perspective on the experience as there’s no way to divert nervous energy, actors tend to feel like they’re picking on you and will get up close and potentially touch you, meaning the experience feels much more intense and personal without it being too “extreme”: if haunts were subject to ratings like films, boo haunts would either be rated PG or 12A, brave it alone haunts would be rated 15, and extreme haunts would be rated 18.

So after talking to Scott and George of Hide and Shriek, they mentioned that they were curious about running a Brave it Alone experience for Seance to see if they could do it, and me being the weirdo and sucker for a good scare, I jumped right on board and got a ticket for the first showing I could actually attend, which was probably not the best idea in hindsight as it gave the guys very little chance to up the scares.

I arrive at the venue already pretty nervous and wait for my turn. Beyond the doors at the back of the shop, I can hear muffled screams from the group before me which doesn’t exactly help settle my nerves: I begin to wonder why I’m doing it alone and then remember that this anticipation and fear is exactly why I’m sat here like a goon in a retail unit in a shopping centre with everyone staring at me through the window. The screen next to me quickly changes from the The Seance clip to the oh so famous Hide and Shriek introduction video (which is a thing of beauty in itself). The video finishes, the doors to the left of the screen open, and I’m led into the pitch black corridor awaiting me.

We come to a stop in front of the doors and in this inky darkness, it becomes incredibly clear just how alone this brave it alone experience will be. I repeat the escape word and head onto the set (this is honestly the only way I can describe it). I enter the house and take a seat at the table in front of the only playing card on the table. I really and truly am on my own from here on out.

A radio fizzles to life to the left of me and an all to familiar voice starts talking, explaining that the house is haunted and really setting the scene. At this point in time, I was truly tense: I kept finding myself talking to nobody, shuffling about, and trying to make light of the situation, but that doesn’t mean anything when there’s nobody about to react to the jokes – if anything, it only made it worse and I had completely forgotten that this was just an attraction put on by some friends.

What happened over the course of the next half hour was very much the same as the first round, though the beauty of the Seance is that you can sit in any one of those seats and get an entirely different show each time, and sitting at the head of the table with the open doorway behind you really really starts playing on your paranoia – at least the last time I did it, my back was to a wall! Whilst most of the effects remained the same in this run, there were a few extra additions that I really was not expecting, one of which actually managed to get a scream out of me, and it’s been a long time coming!

The Seance in a group is a good show in itself, but being alone in that pitch black living room with things bumping around you really does add a new layer to it and, whilst what I got was tense and jumpy, I’ve been told that come October they’ll have a lot more in store for those brave enough to enter! I very much look forward in returning to the house for a third time and seeing how it has developed since!

02/09/2017 – Hide And Shriek: The Seance Brave it Alone (Preview)

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)

17/06/2017 – Hide and Shriek: The Seance

A few month’s after Hide and Shriek’s last endeavor Delectably Dead, I found myself in Southend once again for their brand new show titled The Seance. Based on a true story, a group of up to six hauntees (that’s you, dear reader) enter a rotting old house to take part in a private seance in order to unravel the house’s dark and mysterious past, and, hopefully, survive!

Having done a few seance themed haunts previously, I was intrigued to see how Hide and Shriek would explore this serious genre whilst still keeping their trademarked humour in tact; however, bar the pre-show briefing video (spot on as always!), they’ve completely abandoned their humour for this show and by amazing use of lighting, sound, and incredibly detailed scenery, created the unnerving and tense atmosphere you’d expect when trying to contact someone from beyond the grave.

We follow the instructions given to us before entering the show room and take our designated seats at the table, the tension already getting to us, and wait. A radio fizzles to life and a voice explains that we’ll be performing the seance ourselves with his direction. A medium was chosen, and the seance began…

What happened over the next half hour was something I’m having trouble describing. It was incredibly intense, unnerving, and extremely immersive to the point where even I was worried of what was behind the locked door! The absolute beauty of this haunt is that you feel isolated from the real world and completely vulnerable, even though you’re just sat at a table – here were definitely times where I’m sure there was more than just us two in the room. Another incredible thing is, even though you might be in a group of 6, everyone will have their own “version” of events, as the special effects are everywhere in the room!

For a company that has only been around for 18 months, Hide and Shriek have really pulled something special out of the bag with The Seance and are well and truly paving the way for experimenting with new ideas and new attractions, and I look forward to following and supporting them wherever they go. For the established producers out there: be worried, these guys are about to get huge!

17/06/2017 – Hide and Shriek: The Seance