24/10/2017 – The Howl at Mead Open Farm

By day a farm for kids, by night a terrifying series of attractions for adults: The Howl at Mead Open Farm hosts five haunts that all get under your skin and spook you silly!

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First for the night is Topper’s Twister, a delightfully deranged blend of circus and funhouse with plenty of terrifying clowns stalking through the attraction. With some amazingly used elements that make you feel unsteady on your feet and rooms peppered with lasers and swirling lights, this disorienting haunt is a great mixture of laughs and screams from everyone! With some great actors that are brilliant at improvising lines and finding the best hiding places, I was disappointed that an actor didn’t hide in the ball pit: it’s such a simple scare that’d catch absolutely everyone off guard – as the floor is on a slope, it’d be easy to reset each time too! A brilliant start to the night, especially if you’re in a small group!

 

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Still grinning from Topper’s Twister, our next haunt of choice was House of Hounds: a werewolf themed haunt! As a concept, werewolves are absolutely brilliant but so difficult to do, but The Howl really does it justice! I really appreciated that the characters became more and more feral as you progressed, the way the entire attraction was pumped full of smoke constantly, the use of chicken wire fences and solid walls to break up the haunt, the actors’ abilities to be threatening throughout, and the incredible finale, House of Hounds is an intense and terrifying experience! The only improvement I’d make is to try and hide the main smoke machine a bit better, and to move the strobe light from behind the final character so you can see it in all it’s glory.

 

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Hotel de Basquervilles was our next choice on the lineup: themed around a haunted hotel, this beautiful haunt really gets going from the moment the safety briefing ends! The whispering soundtrack that permeates throughout from nowhere really sets a creepy vibe that is broken by actors that spring from out of the most unlikely of places! Once again, this haunt is strongest in small groups as most of the initial scares are at the front of the queue, however the actors are brilliant at maintaining their character as the rest of the group passes. Before you know it, the haunt is over: there’s no real finale, which is a real shame seeing as the corridor you travel through feels like it’s just leading to another scene.

 

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Our penultimate haunt was The Shed, a haunt themed round, well, a shed and what you’d find in a shed. There was no real story or setup to this attraction as far as I could tell, but it was still a brilliant attraction that was extremely creepy and filled with feral beings that were extremely nightmarish! The atmosphere throughout was one of impending doom, and the effects and natural smells of the decorations within really helped add to that atmosphere! Absolutely loved the lighting throughout, and was really impressed and surprised by the clever re-hash of the chainsaw finale, a breath of fresh air that blew me away, if you know what I mean! Definitely my favourite haunt at The Howl, especially as it seems like the conga line rule is ignored (and quite rightly to!)

 

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Squealer’s Yard was our final haunt for the night. At first I was concerned about how good it was going to be as we were sent in as a group of 15 while every other haunt was sending us through in groups no bigger than 6 , though that really didn’t matter once you made it through the incredible opening scene! The group is split up, and you make your way through all sorts of scenes as you try to escape from the freaky cannibalistic creatures hiding within! A strong attraction that sees actors climbing all over set pieces and ad-libbing lines to freak you out as you make your way to a finale that really lets the rest of the attraction down, especially as the intro and most of the attraction is really intense.

 

Alongside the haunts, there’s also a few food stalls, a couple of roaming actors that felt like they blended in with the general public at points (I only saw two characters when walking about), and an undercover area with a stage for a band to perform on. I was aware of it being part of Tulley’s last year, and it’s definitely bringing some of the Shocktoberfest vibe with it, and I’m sure this festival style air will develop as The Howl becomes bigger and better: I was honestly surprised with how empty the attraction was, given the great ticket prices and amazing entertainment! Definitely one to visit, if you haven’t already!

 

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24/10/2017 – The Howl at Mead Open Farm

24/10/2017 – The Haunted Castle at Warwick Castle

Located on the beautiful grounds of Warwick Castle (if the title hasn’t already given that away), The Haunted Castle is a great place to go for brave youngsters who love Halloween and all things spooky!

Haunted Hallows was a beautiful walk through a series of extremely well themed sections that had some great scenery and fun and friendly actors that felt friendly whilst performing a jump scare, which is extremely clever given that it’s aimed at kids! Feeling more like a scarezone than a haunt, the lighting, effects, and music all came together perfectly to create a creepy yet familiar vibe that mimicked the atmosphere in Scooby Doo: even as an adult, this was good fun!

Dolls House was up next: a eerie piece of theatre with a very strong opening scene that set a high bar for the rest of the attraction, though the rest of the scenes felt like they fell flat after such a strong introduction. The set pieces within were great and utilised well, and each scene told it’s own story, it just felt like the actors were running through a script and there was no way for them to add their own “flavour” to their character. Really enjoyed the clever ending though!

After wandering around a bit, our time for Seance came up – the haunt itself is identical to what we experienced in Birmingham last year which you can read here, but it was still very effective and creepy!

Our final haunt at The Haunted Castle was Outbreak 1349, a journey through an exhibit that is re-themed every day to host the haunt. With no story line and nobody to set the scene, I had real trouble discerning whether the actors inside were meant to be plague ridden or zombies: neither their actions, noises, or costume indicated one way or another – the only way we knew was because of the set pieces we saw after we had past the very few diseased: there was one or two good jump scares, but we missed them as we were at the back and the scares were aimed at the front of the (unnecessary) conga line. I feel like I might be being a bit harsh seeing as it’s still aimed at kids but with it’s scare rating being the same as Seance, I was expecting something just as creepy. I’d very much like to see the exhibition closed off for the Halloween season and see something a bit more “permanent” inside even if it is just a marquee, as this would stop people from leaving prematurely given that it opens so late in the day.

As a small note, it’d be great to see some characters in the Horrible Histories maze getting kids to re-enact small things (such as roaring for the Viking bit, marching int he Army bit, etc) in order to get the stamp or a sticker or something.

Overall, it’s a decent starting point for kids who love Halloween and their parents. Despite having to hang around for each attraction to open at their specific times, it was a good day out.

24/10/2017 – The Haunted Castle at Warwick Castle

22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

Screamfest Burton popped up on my radar late last year, so I made sure to visit this year.

Freak Out is a funhouse style haunt riddled with clowns, strobes and choices the guest could make as they were going through. The clowns pretty bog standard (imagine clowns in a circus) and felt like they were lacking energy throughout: the only elements carrying the atmosphere in this haunt was the lighting and music unfortunately, as the facade is beautiful and lurid, and that luridness didn’t present itself inside – a UV strobe section would definitely be an improvement, if done right.

Soul Seekers was up next, and this was definitely a step in the right direction: the theming and set design was incredible, and the introduction scene was very well rehearsed and extremely effective at creeping everyone out; however, each actor was trying to steal the spotlight which, in quite a narrative driven section, definitely worked against them: the person doing the narrative needed to command the stage whilst the rest toned it down a bit. Absolutely loved the use of strobes during, though.

Love Hurts is a brand new concept to me – it’s the first time I’ve shared a toilet cubicle with so many people! Once again, the set both inside and through the queue line was very impressive and clever, though the plot needed to be explained/explored a little more as it felt like it got lost throughout. There are some rather bizarre and clever set pieces that I honestly never expected (see the first point in this paragraph) and some of the scares were well hidden but needed to be brushed up on: once again, I wasn’t buying into the characters desperation for help, and the audio needed to be louder, but the finale was absolutely brilliant and possibly one of my favourite ways that a chainsaw was used – well done there!

Demonica, my favourite haunt at Screamfest Burton, looks absolutely beautiful on the outside with ponds of water and smoke lit red with the sign spouting fire at intervals, while a demonic character guides victims to one of four doors: the scene inside these rooms is absolutely incredible and the strongest use of an element like this! Once through, a twisted and dark soundtrack pierces the air as you make your way through almost pitch black corridors and a cage maze filled with strobes and more screaming from the soundtrack. I’d very much like to see this have more actors in it and have the actors touch you in this section as it’d definitely feel more threatening, and I’d like to see the huge speaker right in the middle of the strobe maze moved off to a corner so it’s hidden under a strobe (and therefore invisible) or hidden above you somehow.

 

Dia De Las Muretos is Screamfest Burton’s cornfield maze and their most developed concept, which it has to be seeing as it definitely puts it’s foot across the line with regards to sensitivity and theming: it’s themed around a day of the dead festival that’s been overridden by a Mexican gang that’s out to kill. The trailer ride over was fun as the actors and radio show helped set the scene, but once inside the haunt itself it kinda falls flat: there were lots of sections that had very little interaction with actors, who all felt a bit 2D and lifeless when we did interact with them – the first set of chainsaws we met were the only characters that felt alive, which is a shame as there were some real possibilities for actors to really sell themselves to us. The finale definitely needs a re-think as it almost felt like they were grasping at straws in order to use the prop that is used. I enjoyed the use of lighting and the possibility for the group to get split up.

 

Overall, the attractions felt very weak: the actors across all the haunts felt like they could be dressed up in a costume and chucked into any of the haunts and they’d be able to work the attraction: whilst this is clever, it also feels like you’re watching the same thing happening again and again and again every 30 seconds, which (for me) gets tedious quickly. The haunts themselves are well themed and use sound and lighting (or the lack of lighting) well, and whilst none of them were particularly strong, there was a number of scenes through each that I honestly loved and thought was very clever.

 

 

22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween

After hearing about Chessington World of Adventures putting on a Halloween event, I was extremely curious as to what they’d do. When I added them to the huge lineup, I hadn’t had much exposure/experience/whatever with kids haunts (except a backstage tour of Spooks in the Straw), so thought it might be something a bit different, and I was glad I added it to the lineup after doing House of Monsters, Alton Towers’ very own kids haunt.

Unfortunately for myself, I only had a limited amount of time at Chessington as I had to make my way across London in order to catch the next leg of my journey, so I wasn’t able to experience Trick or Treat Wood; but from what I could hear and see when walking past it, it looked like great fun with some very enthusiastic actors to boot!

My first haunt at Chessington was Creepy Caves Unearthed, a haunt created with young teenagers in mind. I’ve no idea what young teenagers they did their market research on because I honestly could not believe how intense the haunt was! The storyline is well thought out and very captivating from the get go, with some amazing actors delivering the narrative (though I’m not sure why they had American accents, but you know, just a minor detail that has no negative impact on the attraction itself) and scenes and sets that compliment the story being told. The theatrics give way and all hell breaks loose as you’re sent through the creepy caves in order to survive as mutated humans come charging toward you from absolutely everywhere! The finale had a very nice twist as well, with some more scares as you’re chased out of the attraction!

Parents, please please PLEASE take note of the age restriction! Whilst Chessington is a family friendly attraction, Creepy Caves Unearthed does not fall into this category: it is honestly as intense as some of the haunts I’ve done aimed at adults, though it’s much shorter. When we were waiting for our timeslot, we were seeing kids coming out in tears! I was extremely impressed with the attraction, and really couldn’t find much fault with it – the time you do it doesn’t have any effect as you’re all indoors anyway, the actors really got into their roles and managed to make me jump a few times, and the sights and smells really popped and stood out, making Creepy Caves Unearthed a brilliant addition to the park!

 

After taking a bit of a breather to calm down, I moved onto Curse of the Lost Tomb, a story driven show that mixes theatre with a few scenes that mimic an escape room. All the actors inside are extremely captivating and really fit in with their scenes well, improvising lines and interacting with the audience beautifully as you make your way through. Whilst not rated as too scary by the theme park, it can be very tense at points as there’s quite a lot of flashing lights, an eerie atmosphere, and a finale that used some effects that I really wasn’t expecting! Great fun for the whole family, but as with Creepy Caves Unearthed, definitely take the age restriction into consideration as younger guests might not enjoy it.

 

Overall though, Chessington World of Adventures has put on a series of fun and brilliant shows and haunts, and plenty of roaming characters that will thrill you with their amazing moves! Well done to everyone involved!

 

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween

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