28/04/2018 – Ghoulies Haunted House: Ghoulies X

For the first time at Scareflix and Thrill, this review is a collaboration from James, Frankie, and Liam.

After learning about Ghoulies Haunted House from the recent SCAR award announcements, we decided to trek all the way up to Liverpool to experience Ghoulies X, an extreme haunt that features state-of-the-art animatronics, masks, costumes, live actors, and special effects – we simply couldn’t refuse the sound of this!

On the way to the attraction we soon began to question our nerves despite having done other extreme attractions in the past – we just couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out why we were so scared, but there was something about Ghoulies X and the Facebook advertisements that managed to rattle us to the point of considering a refund as we got closer and closer to the attraction, and our doom.

After some reassurance and peer pressure from everyone, we all gritted our teeth and signed the waiver. We stood in front of the famous Black Gate waiting to be let in, only to hear a gravelly voice yelling out to be fed from beyond. The gate opened and we all took in a deep breath before reluctantly stepping into the first corridor, which set out the haunt’s plot perfectly as we navigated our way through. We approached the red door – our door – and pause, grimacing to each other before I pushed the handle down and opened the door.

As soon as we enter through the door, the experience began: we instantly met two of the characters who had absolutely no issue invading our personal space and ensuring we’re as uncomfortable as we can be. After a rather brief introduction (most of which was missed by James as he was too busy being harassed by ghouls within the wall), we were selected and roughly moved from room to room, separated but still as a group to be tormented; the attraction was taken to the next level when the ghouls broke the fourth wall by addressing us all by name!

Soon enough, chaos broke out around us and we were soon screaming in shock and crying with laughter as we passed through what can only be described as an unnerving acid trip from hell: the actors engaged in strange conversations with us about famous murderers as Frankie was wearing a t-shirt from the Museum of Death in LA, all while Liam was being tormented by the dentist and I was being freaked out by the clown! The engagement with the characters is unmatched – we counted maybe 5 characters in total, though it definitely felt like a lot more than that as the actors were able to jump a scene in order to get ahead of us without us even noticing they had vanished!

After passing some really impressive animatronics that had us yelling loudly, we enter an extremely intense finale that had the safe phrase on everyone’s tongues. Soon enough, it finished: we were pointed toward a double door and climbed the staircase with the biggest grins on our faces, as we enter the Ghoulies bar, which is almost a haunt in its own right!

Ghoulies X is a missing valuable link in the extreme haunt industry: the sets are very basic, but it’s not the sets you’re really paying attention to: it’s the actors, all of whom use the right amount of aggression and force when interacting and moving you about. It’s clear that everyone involved in the attraction is passionate about horror and haunts as each character had their own personality and they all really played up to their character when we were in their scene while the other characters took a slightly more passive role. Alongside this, each dialogue felt absolutely genuine from all the characters and it felt like you were able to respond to questions and make comments and the like – James was (jokingly) offered candy floss and cocoa as he waited for his turn in the finale!

Ghoulies X is the most aggressively funny extreme haunt that assaults all your senses in many different ways, which will leave you screaming in both fear, laughter, and sometimes both! We dare you to take on the ghouls hiding in Ghoulies Haunted House!

We’d like to say a mega thanks to John, the creator and owner of Ghoulies Haunted House for coming out at the end of the night to chat with us – it was a pleasure to get to chat to you! We look forward to bumping into you again soon!

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28/04/2018 – Ghoulies Haunted House: Ghoulies X

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

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

Located in the tunnels beneath Waterloo train station in central London, The Vault Festival puts on a series of shows and immersive experiences that spread far and wide across all mediums and genres; this year, one stood out in particular: The Pendulum by The Tom Sawyer Effect. Billed as “a hyper reality horror experience blending virtual reality with immersive theatre”, there was no way I could turn this down – even if I am a sceptic of virtual reality.

It’s time for me to experience The Pendulum. I arrive in the tunnels and am greeted by the usual hustle and bustle of the underpass: a mix of people hanging about outside The Vault itself, street jugglers, professional photographers, and graffiti artists litter the tunnel, creating create this electricity that buzzes through the air but always seemed to be dampened as if it’s only for the select few in the area.

An usher arrives and asks if I’m here for The Pendulum – “Yes” – “Follow me”. We walk down the tunnel and away from the main hub of the festival in complete silence despite my best attempts at striking up a conversation, which unsettled me a bit. We approach a completely unassuming door right at the end of the tunnel and I’m ushered into the blackness, where someone is sat at a table with a sizeable waiver and a pen. I’m asked to read the waiver and backstory and sign on the line, and I do. I’m then handed a red boiler suit and am instructed to put it on and take a seat on the chair off to the side. The usher approaches and covers my head with a cloth, and the experience begins.

What happens over the course of the next 20 minutes is difficult to put into words, but there’s no hyperbole in synopsis: from the moment I was guided from my seat into the 5 metre by 5 metre room where the one-on-one experience is held, I was completely immersed in their universe. Sure I didn’t think that I was this super hacker the interrogator was talking about, but that’s not the point: the actor had me eating out of the palm of his hand for the entire show; not only that, but the way in which the virtual reality was used wasn’t jarring at all as it has been in other attractions – it had a legitimate reason for being used.

Despite me erring on the side of caution with regards to virtual reality (never work with computers, animals or kids in show biz!) and having unfortunately experienced tech failures during haunts that rely heavily on it, I was very much expecting it to be dreadful: I was proven wrong, and man am I happy about that! I don’t want to go into too much detail as there’s a lot that you need to experience for yourself, but the most bizarre and jarring (in a positive manner) thing was that the room went from being 5 metre square to a tunnel that looks about 10 metres deep and 50 metres wide.

 

The Pendulum is a truly impressive piece of theatre that is quick to immerse you in its universe and make you question what you perceive as reality, from the story through to the actors to the technology used, it is a real pleasure to see and experience something of this calibre – well done to absolutely everyone involved!

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

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

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