07/10/2017 – Scare Kingdom Scream Park

With nine years under its belt, Scare Kingdom descends once more on Mrs Dowson’s Farm, where all sorts of evil creatures stalk the darkness…

 

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As with all Scare Kingdom Halloween events, the first stop is to a small intro scene that sets the tone and gets you ready for the scares ahead – this year, Billy Redneck (a famed killer clown hunter) welcomes you to the mayhem, with a brilliant special effect that really packs a punch!

 

The Sickness 2: High Hopes Hospital

New last year, High Hopes Hospital is a sequel in the The Sickness “franchise”. Hosted by Doctors Lockjaw and Van der Blood, this extremely theatrical haunt will blow you away from the fascia sitting outside as you approach and the dank corridors hidden within, to the creepy and alluring way the actors manage to portray themselves, this fun haunt is a great expansion on what was laid out last year.

 

Manormortis

Manormortis is definitely a treasure to behold in the haunt industry: it’s beautiful, so incredibly themed within, and the numerous immersive stories that are told within it almost feel like American Horror Story’s Murder House; the only thing I can fault with it is that the entrance isn’t decorated to be a grand manor house like High Hopes Hospital! As with all Manormortis haunts, it is extremely theatrical and has a great mix of story and scares that blend together greatly to completely immerse and lose you in its world! Got to give recognition to the female in the finale – that scream is terrifying!

 

Prey

Following the grace and beauty of Manormortis is no easy feat, and unfortunately I feel like Prey doesn’t even try to stand up. Themed around vampires, the external theming sees the building turn into a beautiful chapel that looms over the audience as they approach, almost giving off a hauntingly forboding atmosphere on its own; however when you step inside, the complete lack of theming really ruins the attraction. What could have been a beautifully creepy attraction turned out to be a haunt that relies completely on jump scares every few feet that become predictable and boring by the time you’re half way through. Don’t get me wrong, the pitch black walls press in on you greatly and create this sense of creeping claustrophobia, but so much can be done with it as we saw in 2015 – I really hope it returns to that soon.

 

Body Snatchers

Brand new this year, and the most anticipated haunt at Scare Kingdom, you are invited inside Brimstone & Black funeral parlour where not everything is as it should be. This is honestly on par with Manormortis with regards to storytelling, and the scenery and costuming is absolutely beautiful and really fits the theme. There are a number of effects and scares dotted throughout that are sure to catch you off guard, though most of the scares were aimed toward the front… until the finale, which is guaranteed to get you no matter how brave you are! Definitely the strongest haunt at Scare Kingdom this year!

 

Black Widow

The last of the boo haunts is Black Widow – a hooded haunt themed to arachnophobia. The set up was really quick and fun, but as soon as the hood is on and you enter the haunt, it loses momentum: from the constant “are you scared of spiders?” being yelled to what’s obviously hands grabbing you, it’s more fun than scary. Having to run your hand over something furry/spiny to make it feel like you’re brushing against a spider, or parts of the rope covered in something sticky to feel like web would definitely add something, hanging lengths of string from the ceiling to simulate strands of web, and even a leg tickler section would really add that little extra that it’s missing at the moment.

 

Psychomanteum

With the departure of Snuffhouse, the sickening Psychomanteum makes its return, and boy does it really pack a punch! This extreme haunt is the only one of its kind that can make me go from laughing hard to feeling extremely uncomfortable and back again in milliseconds, and it’s easy to understand why! I am honestly so glad that Psychomanteum is back, as it’s honestly my favourite haunt at Scare Kingdom (I’m a sick f*****, after all). Definitely one to avoid if you’re not comfortable with being put in scenarios that really toe the line sexually; if not, get your ticket and get ready for the chaotic whirlwind inside!

 

 

What can I say? Scare Kingdom has really pulled it out of the bag once again, and I’m glad that I returned once again this year. If you’ve got a free weekend, I definitely suggest a visit!

 

07/10/2017 – Scare Kingdom Scream Park

30/09/2017 – Frightmare at Over Farm

For my second attraction of the day, I headed over to Over Farm along with Controllers and Creds and Park, Scares and Glitter to experience Frightmare as the first scare ground of the season!

Upon arriving with some Halloween song blaring through the car, we saw no signage to point us to the location- had we not known where to turn off, it would have been extremely easy to overshoot and get lost. We were directed where to go to park our car, then headed toward the huge “Frightmare” sign and huge spotlights. We were allowed to join the queue a little early but were told we would have to wait for the 7pm intake to go before we were allowed in; unfortunately for the 7pm intake, they weren’t allowed to enter until about 7:15pm which only gave them 15 minutes before we were let in (and we were let in on time).

Whilst waiting, we had two car parking assistants that looked like they had just experienced a hit and run, and a street magician that kept most people entertained, though it was obvious that everyone was anxious to get in and go through a haunt (not that anything could be done to cure that, but having to get out of the way for an actor who had roamed too deep into the queue every few minutes started to get a bit grating).

Our tickets were scanned and we were handed our pass to enter the haunts, and we made our way immediately to the portaloos to relieve ourselves after our 2.5 hour drive, only to find that the only light entering them was natural, and there unfortunately wasn’t much on this drizzly evening – a string of fairy lights to provide a little more light wouldn’t have gone amiss, and even one or two at the start of the queue for those cut short by the call of nature.

We walked through the plaza which was populated by a number of shops, a stage with some performers (mainly fire eaters when I was paying attention, though I did see some props for acrobats and aerial gymnastics), and a food and a drink stall. We decided to join the three person queue for Caged as our first haunt of the evening – the weakest attraction there last year, we were told.

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The first thing I noticed was the theming in the queue and the facade – the queue itself was very much metal fencing that weaved in and around itself and looked quite disorientating, though it was never used as the event was unfortunately quiet. The facade and lighting gave off an uneasy vibe of the chaos hidden from view. We were told that we’d have to wait for another group to join us before we were allowed in.

We enter the first room and watch a video to set the scene. The video was unfortunately grainy, and the volume far too quiet – we were stood right in front of the speaker and we were having trouble hearing it over the screams from the victims ahead of us. The video ended, and we entered the darkness.

We ended up weaving through numerous rooms painted black that were sparsely decorated, and it felt a little bit lacklustre as there were no effects and the only time we encountered a cage was the finale, though I was happy to overlook this as all the actors were powerful, and made us jump a number of times – especially in the outside scene! Also thoroughly enjoyed the finale as an actor climbed on the frame over our heads and reached down at us – that was really unsettling! As soon as the haunt started to gain traction, it ended; however, it was still a brilliant run through – adding a smoke machine and maybe a strobe would really add to the chaotic nature the actors were putting across.

 

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Next up, we decided to go on the Haunted Hayride as we were tipped off on the queue getting longer toward the end of the night. Whilst queuing, we were entertained by a selection of songs related to Halloween as this rather creepy clown did creepy clown stuff, such as balancing a broom on his chin, and playing with his rat, all while giving off this melancholic aura that juxtaposed the smile painted on his face – in my opinion, this actor was the strongest by far.

After a 20 minute wait, we were ushered into a pen with about 20 others and another TV flickers to life as an enthusiastic farmer sets the scene for the haunted hayride, quite a fun and interesting concept with room for comedy throughout, and I hasten to add that the volume on the TV was perfect, though the video was still very pixellated. We board the trailer and the comedy begins instantly, though it was very hit and miss as the actor had a hard time projecting her voice over the rumbling tractor engine.

The tractor sets off and were treated to a soundclip to help further the story as we make our way to our first scene, which was rather amusing. The actor here was able to make herself heard, although we were clearly on the wrong side of the trailer as we didn’t see what was happening (even though we clearly knew what was going on). This would very much be the theme for the rest of the hayride section – a soundclip followed by acting, both of which were disjointed from whatever preceded and followed them, with the acting generally trying to be comedic, but unfortunately not landing. Shortly afterward, we were asked to disembark the trailer and two actors up in front of us were doing something, then we were sent into a pitch black maze with automated scares and maybe two actors at most inside. I love the use of animatronics in place of actors as they can be very effective, but some never triggered (either due to not working or because they were resetting) and had no link to the story (though this maze added nothing to the story), and I was far too focused on not tripping over stage blocks etc as people tried stampeding their way through to get away from the scares.

We left the barn and entered another scene which was actually linked to the story from the video, and the actor made great use of the props to hide before charging at us. We walked for another 5 minutes and entered this car park area, which also didn’t really fit in besides having zombies roaming – there was even just one random actor that greeted us cheerily as if nothing was wrong before giving away what the finale was (though it was quite obvious being right at the back and hearing it happen to the group in front).

The finale was probably the best bit of the haunt, and the haunt itself lasted possibly half an hour. I won’t give away what it is, but the only reason why it was effective was because it was loud and where it was hosted helped reverberate the sound even more.

There are so many ways this could have been better here: I’d have personally themed the barn around the final soundclip that’s played, or an old person’s home filled with zombies of old people with tables fully laid out with cake, bunting, the works, as that would have been surreal enough to get a laugh and would fit in with one of the scenes, or just skip the barn entirely and have the walk back be in the corridors in the barn with the same scares as everything after the barn was disjointed: I really felt that this was an incomplete attraction that took maybe a week to design, and I was really hoping for something grand after the video set the story.

 

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Our third haunt of the night was The Offering, themed to a group of cannibalistic creatures lurking in the sewers. We watched another video which set the scene (and got a good jump scare in), and entered the sewers through a claustrophobia chamber, which was a clever way of “transporting” you into the underground sections. This haunt had a lot of dark areas where you had to duck for an extended period, which made it easy to bump into the scenery (as I found out the hard way!).

Despite being so dark, the theming itself was great and the sloped walkways, intentional or not, added this bizarre layer of disorientation that added to the atmosphere. The actors here were also particularly strong, paying a mix of both creepy roles and jump scares throughout the attraction – I especially like that they spoke and communicated in their own language, which added to the “lost civilisation” trope they were playing on.

We were told that the sound wasn’t working for our run and, whilst I’d have criticised that, I honestly think the lack of sound added to it! Maybe some ambient sounds like dripping pipes or quiet chanting voices would add a layer, but an entire soundscape would lose half the appeal in my opinion. Definitely one of the haunts I enjoyed.

 

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Next up was Wonderland, a twisted take on the already twisted Alice in Wonderland (does that make this normal then?). We were led into a room and again shown a video that both had sound and visual issues, and went on a little bit too long – just as I thought it was done, the character started speaking again (though I’m impressed with the fact it was a dark poem).

I honestly can’t say much about this – the best bit was the revolving tunnel, but I’m a sucker for big pieces like that. Most of the scares were from actors screaming (please make sure they don’t do damage to their voice box…) as there was no atmosphere at all, and I guess the actors were screaming because they were having to fight over the creepy music that had to drown out the music from the stage the attraction was hidden behind. The group was split up and I think we walked through a set of doors only to re-join the other group, though as you’re only allowed to go through once with how the ticketing system works, you never find out what happens on the other route.

Two other memorable scenes was the use of UV paint in the Cheshire Cat room and the way the actor slunk about her stage blocks, and the card room (though holding the guests in that room for a few seconds before the next room opens would be a great way to add to the intrigue there). The finale was also clever, but is only effective for those at the front of the conga line.

Overall, it felt like this haunt was unfinished and built just to up the number of haunts available to the public.

 

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Finally, we moved onto Seance – the haunt I was looking forward to most. As with all the other haunts, we watched a video which had the whole audio/visual issues but would also freeze at certain points which broke the flow of the story. The actor in the video seemed very ditzy and almost as if this video was his first ever attempt at urban exploration and really didn’t fit in with the story at all, and this theme continued throughout with the other actors that weren’t ghosts.

Despite the happy-go-lucky and bouncy nature of our “guide”, the seance was a clever and fun pre-show to the haunt though I felt it was let down with the use of blue floodlights alongside the strobe – it really detracted from the fact that we had summoned a demon or something that was out to kill us (the actor was pretty good in her movements though).

The rest of the attraction was highly decorated and was extremely impressive in comparison to the sparse sets used in the rest of the haunts, and I especially loved the use of strobes toward the end. Having said that, I think I counted three attempts at an actor trying to scare me through the walkthrough, which was a shame as there were so many places for actors to be hiding. There was also one prop that needs to have the pole painted black so it’s not quite so obvious it’s an animatronic.

I honestly feel that for theming, this was the best attraction there.

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I’d like to make a point that was noted in all the attractions bar the Haunted Hayride: the batching process was absolutely awful. We never bumped into the group in front of us and never had the group behind us catch up; however as the queues were so small for all the attractions (there were maybe two or three groups of friends in any queue at any time we joined), it might be worth considering allowing groups of friends going in one by one than having a “full load” enter all at once. On quieter nights, this would very much reduce the need to repeat scares for the front of a group as well as the back, and guests would feel more vulnerable.

 

So what’s my verdict? It was very hit and miss, but ultimately I didn’t enjoy it even though I tried. Some haunts had some pretty strong scenes that worked well, but overall the attractions weren’t great, unless what you’re looking for in haunts is actors jumping out at you and screaming; however it doesn’t feel like that’s what Frightmare is reaching for as the concepts to the haunts are detailed. I feel like maybe more was bitten off than could be chewed, which meant all the haunts suffered – had there been two haunts and the hayride that were completely developed and themed well, I’d have been more than impressed and happy. I do hope that this was just an off night and that the rest of the season improves for the Frightmare team.

30/09/2017 – Frightmare at Over Farm

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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