31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

So the haunt scene is slowly coming out of hibernation, and my friends and I were feeling really antsy to get our asses to a haunt ASAP and get our fix of scares! After spending a long time hunting for something, we stumbled across Nightmare Asylum in Nottingham: a haunt that’s only been open for a few days. We reserved our tickets the night before (30th) and continued on with out night.

The next day, we trek from Birmingham to Nottingham all hoping that Nightmare Asylum would be worth it whilst also thinking it was odd that we only reserved a ticket and didn’t actually pay for them, and we began to wonder if it was legit. We arrive outside a warehouse that looks like it could have been a small car repair shop at some point with a banner hanging above the shutters reading “Nightmare Asylum” – at least if this wasn’t legit, they spent a little bit on our demise…

We ring the number on the Facebook page and tell the receiver that we’re here – a few seconds later, a man steps out from the side of a building and beckons us in through the security fence and into a sizeable room with a kitchen in the corner; thinking this is part of the escape room (hold that thought…) I instantly start scanning the bare room for any signs of clues… nothing: turns out, it was just a break room.

We’re handed waivers and, in our naivety we blindly signed them (I haven’t learned from other times I’ve been handed waivers…), and we’re then given the basic run down on how the haunt works. The haunt itself is a peculiar blend of escape room, haunt, and maze all rolled into one: you’ll come across padlocks that need keys or codes to open them and you’ll have to find your way around the haunt blind, all while being tormented by invisible actors.

We’re taken back into the corridor connecting the entrance to the kitchen and our hostess pulls back an unassuming white curtain we must have ignored as we walked in, to reveal a stairwell covered in bloodstains and threats that lead up to a closed door. We’re handed a torch and we sheepishly climb up the stairs before opening the door and walking into the gloomy room in front of us; as we enter the room, the door behind us slams shut with a loud bang and we all scream. This, I’m afraid/amused to say, is very much how the rest of the experience went for us…

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Without giving too much away, but Nightmare Asylum is almost what it says on the tin: yes, it was an absolute nightmare and had us saying “I don’t like this” and pushing each other to be the first through the room whereas we’d usually be fighting to be at the front; however, there wasn’t anything themed around what I’d consider an Asylum – hell, there didn’t seem to be any theme or story behind it at all: it was very disjointed and almost like a horror movie game, but this really, really worked well and actually made it feel like it lasted a lot longer than it actually did (great once we got out, but not so great when we were in there).

The haunt is so strange I’m actually struggling to write this part of the review!

The actors know the haunt like the back of their hand, and you’ll know why I put that when you go. It’s a full contact haunt and you are grabbed and pulled at mercilessly throughout which, when combined with the situation you’re in, quickly becomes stressful and spooky (in the right way).

The only criticism I have is that some of the sounds didn’t properly sync up with what we were doing – I’m not entirely sure whether the audio is triggered manually or not, but a sensor or something that monitors the object the sound is meant to sync up to would definitely be a vast improvement. Usually I like seeing the sets a little more, but for some reason the way Nightmare Asylum is done currently, you really don’t need much light at all.

I have no idea why we were so scared throughout – looking back there’s nothing groundbreaking or mindblowing, but for some reason the “less is more” mantra really worked well for Nightmare Asylum, and with the team behind it, I really hope they’ll be scaring us for many years to come!

 

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31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

Walking up the stairs toward Take Me Home’s Horror Within, I had no idea what to expect: I’ve done haunts with the tiniest possible floor space possible that have really packed a punch and left a mark over the last few years, however when I heard that there would be live actors inside the impossibly small room looming from the balcony above, I was curious as to see just how this would work.

We were ushered inside and told to take a seat at a table in this gloomy early-1900’s drawing room, smoke hanging still in the air to create a haze. As we’re all sat and made comfortable, we’re asked to turn off our phones and tuck our belongings in under our chair and we wait as atmospheric music washes through the room, trying to stir up a joke with each other which are followed by short-lived nervous chuckles as nobody had any idea what to expect, myself included: the lights went out and a music box dances its way through the darkness…

What happened over the course of the next hour is really hard to fully encapsulate in words: I could tell you every little detail, every line that was said, every glance over the shoulder, but that just wouldn’t carry the same weight that the atmosphere created by the Take Me Home team managed to create: I can’t speak for anyone else in this performance but I was very much eating out the palm of all the actors hands throughout the performance.

Given that this was the premiere performance, I was a little concerned as to how rough it was going to be as I had spoken to the producers they were entirely, and understandably, nervous themselves; however the actors took this all in their stride and rolled with whatever hiccup had happened, which lessened the impact of the issue entirely – something that definitely isn’t easy, especially when some of the pieces were narrative!

There are a few changes that I’d make that I thought might have a better impact which have already been passed onto the team but won’t be posted here as they’d give away elements of the show that are best left unknown: having said that, if the actors can see that the audience is really eating out of the palm of their hands, definitely draw out poignant sentences and embellish motions more. I very much look forward to returning to see the full show later this week!

The world within the four walls of Jacob’s drawing room is so beautiful and rich that it’s entirely easy to forget the outside world exists at all: the actors and effects blend beautifully together to create an atmospheric and haunting show that’ll stick in your mind for a very long time!

 


 

UPDATE: I’ve just returned from my second showing of Take Me Home: Horror Within and I walked out just as impressed as I did the first time! A lot has changed: entire scenes have gone, new effects have been introduced, and what worked in Tuesday’s show has been improved on since, and the actors have really settled into their characters which made their interactions much more believable: I was thrilled when I found out the show has been extended and I urge you to go, even if you’ve already experienced it!

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/takemehomeplay/

Tickets: https://www.thebroadwaybarking.com/sales/genres/drama/take-me-home–horror-within

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16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

16/12/2017 – Scare Kingdom’s Christmas FestEVIL

The frequency of my visits to Mrs Dowson’s Farm are becoming more and more frequent: after learning about their out of season events during Jason Karl’s talk at Scare Kingdom, I made a point of attending Scare Kingdom this year for their Christmas FestEVIL event, in which we see the famous Manormortis evolve into a new and creepy yet fun Christmas themed attraction! Alongside Manormortis, and for the first time at Scare Kingdom, the impressive Body Snatchers opens its doors again, with Psychomanteum: BloodMASS, The UK’s sickest attraction, also opens its doors once again for those truly looking to be grossed out.

 

Manormortis – The House of Living Toys

Setting itself apart from the Halloween run, Manormortis brings another aesthetically beautiful world in which living toys are running rife and giving warning to all who pass through, though not all toys are friendly! With a nice twist on the pantomime theme and all the prose written in rhyme, this attraction removed itself from the jump scare scene and firmly planted itself in the creepy and atmosphere section of the haunt world thanks to its extremely theatrical nature and the actors within – huge shout out to the soldier in the courtroom and the ballerina for really bringing their characters to life! As with all Scare Kingdom attractions and pantomimes in general, some of the scenes and prose really toed the line with its content and whilst it could be said that it should be kept innocent, Manormortis did it with such confidence that it came across rather tastefully: got to give a round of applause to the Russian doll for putting up with my crap banter.

I truly loved this show as it didn’t feel like we were rushed through the attraction, meaning we were able to take in the beautiful sets and costumes; having said that though, some scenes did start a bit too early meaning that us lot stood at the back missed out on the beginning of some scenes or couldn’t hear the actor over the music, which is a shame. I’d have also liked the monster in the finale to have had more time in the strobe so we could take in the beauty of the costume.

 

Body Snatchers – A Christmas Presence

Stepping out of the gorgeous Manormortis, we follow the path through the entrance of Prey and instantly out the exit and straight to Body Snatchers, another stunningly themed haunt that opened its doors for the first time this Halloween. Themed around a seance led by the quirky and over the top Florence Cook, this attraction had a lot of potential and a real name to live up to, given it immediately follows Manormortis.

We step into the cobbled streets of what feels like a Sweeney Todd style London road and are welcomed by the hilarious Fishy Fanny who entertained and flirted mercilessly with the crowd, much to the amusement of the audience, who only became more amused as the famous Dougie steps out from the house and tries to bring the crowd back into the mood they should be in, with very little help from Fanny. With a huge grin on our faces, we enter the funeral home and meet Florence Cook who guides us through the Seance with great gusto and, as I’ve said before, over the top manner that you’d expect from actors in Pantomimes: we were shown a rather clever magic trick before being guided into the rest of the attraction.

Whilst I really enjoyed the two scenes described above, I feel like the rest of the attraction fell flat as soon as we ducked through the fireplace: we hit a corridor and an actor seemed to break character before splitting us up into twos for the rest of the haunt, which was identical to the Halloween season, except for the monsters hidden within just seemed to guide you to the exit of their scene and didn’t attempt to do much else. Given it was a funeral home that we were holding a seance in, there could have been a lot of exploration with malevolent spirits and poltergeist activity and such. It just felt like it had this beautiful set up into something rather elaborate and as impressive as Manormortis’ story, but nothing came of it, which was unfortunate.

 

Psychomanteum: BloodMASS

I both love and hate the NDA we sign upon entering this attraction, as I always feel like I’m writing the same review each time, but honestly, BloodMASS was what Snuffhouse Bloodbourne was if delivered under the Psychomanteum title: I spent the entire time going between feeling uncomfortable, gagging, and laughing through each of the scenes… right up until the finale where the actor actually said my name – something that always throws me off-guard and unnerves me (and now the whole world knows). BloodMASS was much grosser than the other two iterations I’ve done and felt like it lasted a lot longer than at Halloween, which is incredible as it never let up the whirlwind of filth and Debauchery that can only be found in Psychomanteum: there were certain scenes in there that I really didn’t expect despite being told what I’d be up against (I’ve got to be careful with what I ingest). Only improvement I could suggest is that certain elements be warmed up so they feel how they’re meant to feel – otherwise, as usual, I had a right blast and can’t wait for February!

 

16/12/2017 – Scare Kingdom’s Christmas FestEVIL

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

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