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

06/10/2017 – Tulley’s Shocktoberfest

Located in Crawley, Tulley’s Shocktoberfest is the definition of what a Halloween festival should be – spine chilling haunts, creepy roaming characters, and live bands and fairground rides all night, there really is something for absolutely everyone who goes!

As soon as you arrive, your ticket is quickly checked and you’re given a stamp as well as a slip that’s used by staff to mark when you enter a haunt: you then sift into the main hub of the festival with haunts lining the left hand side, a stage and food stalls on the right, and rides and even more haunts straight ahead: this year, Tulley’s boast seven haunts, a hayride, and a 3D cinema!

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After taking in all the sights, we decide to go to the first attraction of the night: Creepy Cottage. We were put in our own group of four (a nice little touch, I must add) and entered the house. Corridors snaked all over the place throughout this dark and dingy house, passing from room to room as actors charged, jumped out from hidden areas, and towered over us: nowhere was safe! From the makeup on the actors to the special effects were used to make it look like props had a life of their own, this haunt was a great start to the evening.

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Our next haunt was Twisted Clowns 3D. Last year only part of the haunt was in 3D; however, this year it was the entire thing. We were told to put on our 3D glasses and listen to the safety announcement, which had a sinister rhyming scheme that was informative but also added to the atmosphere. As we went through, the 3D effect was extremely successful: pictures jumped off the pitch black walls and disorientated us as we tried to make our way through the attraction, unable to see where some of the actors were considering their outfits blended in with the 3D effects – there was even a special element quite close to the beginning which had actor and guest alike jumping with fright! The music warbling through the air and the trippy 3D illusion definitely felt like a drug trip gone wrong, which was only exacerbated (though I loved it) by the vortex tunnel. Overall a great haunt, though the middle definitely got the majority of the scares for this.

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By this time, the sun had set enough for us to be happy to do the Horrorwood Haunted Hayride: sure it definitely doesn’t have to be dark for this to be great, but there’s always something about the cover of night that just adds to the experience. With a layout almost exactly like last year, this is the best haunted hayride I’ve done to date: the actors were creepy, the effects were as incredible as they were last year, and the experience as a whole was extremely fun; the only downside to the hayride is that it requires a decent group of passengers (moving vehicles where you’re not strapped in must be a health and safety nightmare which is ruined by boisterous people who think they’re being funny when they’re threatening to jump out of the trailer), and that the volume on the trailer itself needs to be much, much louder.

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VIXI, Helement’s replacement, was our next choice, given that it was now pitch black and hooded mazes seem to suffer when outdoors in the light. We donned our hoods and entered VIXI, led by only our sense of touch and a piece of rope that’s rather easy to drop. The special effects through the first bit were from Helements and didn’t really make sense in the context of VIXI, but the finale definitely made up for the bizarre mish-mash: we were greeted once again with Tulley’s expert attention to detail and theming as fire and loud bangs exploded around us, while strobes made it hard to navigate! I personally didn’t enjoy the hooded section, but the finale definitely made up for that: one piece of criticism would be that the drums didn’t fit in with the medieval vibe throughout the area they were in – a simple paint job or something would really finish off this area perfectly.

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Our fifth attraction for the evening was The Cellar, an extremely well themed journey into what feels like a run down basement in a house located in Louisiana. I’m pretty sure that this was almost identical to last year, but this didn’t detract from the experience at all – the scares came quickly (but only at the front), the strobe maze was disorientating and creepy (though I’d have loved for it to have been longer), and the whole aesthetic just gives off this grimy, dingy vibe. This is definitely not as scary as some of the others, however that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism – it’s still a beautiful attraction to wander round. Only improvements I’d make is for it to drop the conga line (as it’s the only haunt that has that requirement) and to extend the strobe maze (but I’m an absolute sucker for them, as you’ll soon find out).

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We were now down to my three favourite haunts from last year and the 3D cinema (which is new this year). Our next attraction of choice was The Chop Shop, a car repair service that hides a dark secret that will leave you in pieces! Once again, the actors and scenery was what we’ve come to expect from Tulley’s by now: intricate design with great attention to detail. The reason why this is my second favourite Shoctoberfest attractions is because one half of it is a complete and utter sensory overload of flashing lights, loud bangs and grinding sounds, heavy metal music, and the heavy stench of petrol: it’s a 10 minute long strobe maze that disorientates you so much that you’re sure you’re repeating the same rooms over and over again until you’re spat out at the end! The actors in this attraction are a mixed bag: as you start off, everything seems innocent enough with young girls with southern American accents drawl on about cars and the like until you hit the freezer where this “friendly” vibe is ditched and all the actors from this point onwards are huge intimidating guys that really know how to wield chainsaws and navigate strobe-ridden corridors – this was the one haunt at Tulley’s that actually had me feeling uneasy, as one of the characters loomed over me, chainsaw idling away at his side, as he stalked and breathed down my neck: I was glad when he turned back and left me alone! I love this haunt as it is, but if this were to be expanded, I’d absolutely love to see sparkers used to add to the illusion that the chainsaws could do harm!

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The Colony came next as the queue for it was right next to The Chop Shop’s exit. Themed around a post apocalyptic hive of beings, this haunt is beautifully decorated with lots of Fallout aesthetics and Borderlands sounds/quotes. The beauty of this haunt is that it utilises both inside and outside scenes which complement each other greatly and really transports you to this new realm. This haunt is laden with jump scares, though there were a number of scares that were more creepy (shout out to the female who runs down a pitch black corridor so that you only see her silhouette!). Unfortunately, this was my highlight of Shocktoberfest last year and a lot of it has stuck with me ever since, so it was quite obvious when scenes and routes were identical – having said that though, it’s completely breath taking if you’ve never experienced it before, especially the special twist on the finale!

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Finally on the list of haunts was our most anticipated attraction last year: Coven of 13. Themed around witches, this haunt was definitely the strongest attraction again this year: as soon as you step in through the entrance you’re transported into an 18th century witch hunt where angry witches stalk swamps, forests, and houses marked with runes. This also has an extension this year that just makes the haunt more attractive as a whole, and the change to the finale, while not as dramatic as last year, still had a strangely dark atmosphere and rather than fear, I experienced a slight amount of sorrow – something I definitely wasn’t expecting at Tulley’s!

 

The last attraction on the list was the 3D cinema. Not much can really be said about it as it is what it says on the tin. The effects were really good and really leapt out of the screen; however there wasn’t much in the way of a storyline and there didn’t seem to be any order to it. It’s fun, there are a few scares in it, and it’s cool that Tulley’s is the first scream park that I’ve been to that has a 3D cinema, but it really doesn’t compare to the level of detail, scares, and atmosphere in their live haunts.

 

Once again, Tulley’s has really sealed the deal in being a Halloween festival: the atmosphere throughout the park was electric and everyone there was buzzing from the energy, the roaming actors were a mixture of creepy and scary (and in the case of the nurses, utterly hilarious! Ask them for a little song if you can!), the bands performing really knew how to get the crowd moving, and all in all, it really looked like everyone was having the time of their lives: I’m glad I returned this year to review!

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06/10/2017 – Tulley’s Shocktoberfest

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)

29/04/2017 – Walpurgis Night: Half Way to Halloween

Scare Kingdom Scream Park are back once again with another fantastic haunt hidden within the walls of Manormortis, and the final show of Snuffhouse Alone!

 

Hyde and Seek

Themed around the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, guests are bought into the dark and dingy world wherein a secret elixir, created by none other than the doctor himself, gives the person imbibing it the gift of eternal life with some unfortunate side effects, which the doctor wasn’t shy about demonstrating on an unfortunate victim. Soon enough, the victim had turned and we were rushed away from the pair and into the main attraction.

 

As we progressed we encountered a range of characters, from an old and rough scullery maid through to an overtly camp (and utterly hilarious) aristocrat, all of whom added their version of the story into the fold until you were so immersed that you felt you were playing a detective in a murder mystery movie, all while Jekyll’s previous victims lunged at us from the hundreds of hidey holes dotted around the manor. It all came to a head when we managed to get into the wife of Dr Jekyll’s bedroom to talk to her about something before she sent us on our way to find her maid, and before we even knew what was happening, the lights went out and a strobe light flickered, illuminating Mr Hyde before he disappeared into the night again.

 

This was, for me, my favourite story to be played in Manormortis. It had absolutely everything that is needed for someone to go in, get spooked, come out, and laugh and talk about after. From the hilarious Aristocrat with his “crossfire” skit (it has been a long time since I laughed like that) through to the creepy priest, almost everyone’s character was on point – unfortunately the lawyer in the upside down room and nursery fell short just a little in comparison to how strong the other characters were. Otherwise, everything about the characters was perfect!

On top of this, the bit I loved the most (well, bits – they kinda go hand in hand) was the storyline. How I bloody love a storyline, and to get me so immersed t(o the point where a character said “come closer” and I did in the 15 minutes we were in there) just goes to show that a haunt can provide scares and story, and because each scene lasted a good few minutes, we were able to actually look around and take in the beauty of Manormortis, which is usually missed as everyone gets rushed through.

Overall, Hyde and Seek was an absolute blast of a show that blended comedy, scares, and downright sexual acts together tastefully to provide one of the greatest haunts I’ve experienced at Scare Kingdom.

 

Snuffhouse Alone – Bloodborn

Snuffhouse is, as many people know, an extreme attraction that costs an extra fee to take part in. Lasting roughly 10 – 15 minutes (depending on if you use the safeword), victims are at the mercy of The Tormentors who, as their titles imply, are there to make your life hell.

This is the first and unfortunately last time I took part in Snuffhouse Alone, and I’m glad I didn’t miss out! With an all female cast, some fantastic reviews from the last few runs, and the knowledge this will be the only time I would be able to take part, I stripped down to my t-shirt and jeans (hey! It’s cold up there and I didn’t think I’d be able to participate!) and stepped in the queue.

From the moment I entered Snuffhouse, I was hooded, bound, teased, degraded, interrogated, beautified, and generally abused, but I couldn’t help but grin all the way through from what I had just experienced or what I was told to do, it was just an absolutely fabulous run with some fantastic ideas and clever tricks that I’ve not experienced before in a haunt!

Fortunately for me, I can’t do any of the eating scenes (yay for chronic illnesses! (I’ll let you decide if I’m being serious or not there)) so I didn’t get the “full shebang”, but what I did experience is the perfect introduction to the extreme haunt scene, and I would have thoroughly recommended it to anyone who has ever wondered why extreme haunt fans like their extreme haunts. I totally regret not going back through!

 

Overall, Walpurgis Night was an absolute blast, and it’s such a shame that it didn’t run for more than one night to allow more chance of people to see those two absolutely stunning haunts.

 

 

29/04/2017 – Walpurgis Night: Half Way to Halloween