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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Manormortis – The House of Living Toys

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

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

 

Body Snatchers – A Christmas Presence

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

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

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

 

Psychomanteum: BloodMASS

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20/10/2017 – Xtreme Scream Park

Located at Twin Lakes theme park, Xtreme Scream Park promises some of the longest haunts with some of the most diverse concepts and impressive effects I’ve seen!

 

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Revenge of the Zombie Clowns

a mix of funhouse meets circus, Revenge of the Zombie Clowns brings the heat to the beginning of the night: the vortex tunnel and crazy rooms with slanted walls and floors really set a fun tone as creepy music travels through the air, leading to a disorientating maze of curtain dividers which unfortunately starts getting repetitive. As one of the oldest attractions there, it’s definitely feeling a little dated and unloved – there’s a lack of actors, props for the actors to use/hide behind, and with no finale. Definitely the least scariest of the bunch, but it’s still a fun way to begin the night. Was very impressed with the way the safety announcements were done for this, as the actor personalised her character perfectly.

 

Stilton Hall Hotel and Hell Spa

Our second haunt for the evening was an absolutely beautiful haunted hotel attraction with a very intense and chaotic introductory scene, which throws you into even more chaos as you pass through room after room of this incredibly long haunt that sets a high standard with regards to theming and keeps it at that high level throughout the entire attraction, including scents and sounds that really help immerse you. The scares come quick and fast as characters pop out of props and linger about, creating some tense and funny moments. The effects found within were very novel, one of which I’ve never seen done before in an attraction, but the most effective was the pitch black rooms which really seemed to freak people out!

 

The Pie Factory

Another brilliantly long haunt, The Pie Factory takes guests through (as the name suggests) a pie factory. Theming throughout was grisly and downright disgusting at points, with strobes and scents that make you question whether what you’re looking at is real! This was definitely my favourite at Xtreme Scream Park thanks to the mixture of actors that really knew what to say and how to use their space to get the best scares! Definitely not for those with a weak stomach, this sensory overload of a haunt will definitely terrify even the hardiest of people!

 

Ash Hell Penitentiary

Probably the longest haunt at Xtreme Scream (and if it’s not, it certainly feels like it!), there were some incredibly effects that I’ve never experienced before in any attraction! There are plenty of hiding spaces for actors to utilise, though I legitimately felt like it was seriously lacking them; having said that, the actors we did meet were absolutely brilliant once I realised that they might be a bit inflammatory with their script (maybe worth adding this to the safety briefing!). Like with the two haunts mentioned above, Ash Hell utilises what I can only describe as “reverse light”, i.e. only giving very quick bursts of light to give you enough time to take a glance at where you need to go, and the actors really know how to use this against you! With plenty of scares and some incredibly dark themes/visuals at points, this claustrophobic haunt definitely delivers! It’s a shame that there seems to be a complete lack of smells to make scenes (like the toilets) to be more realistic.

 

Hoo Doo Voodoo

Part hooded, this haunt is themed to the typical imagery you think of when you hear the word “voodoo”. Whilst I’m not a fan of hooded attractions, the hooded section here is the best I’ve experienced, as the actors get up close and interact with you using a wide variety of techniques as you blindly stumble your way through, your hand brushing against various surfaces – more narrative here would be really appreciated, as it’s so close to being a strong hooded haunt, but just falls short. The rest of the attraction, which you go through without a hood, rises up to meet the high standards set by the park: sets were beautiful, costumes were on point, and both worked together to create exactly what I wanted in a Voodoo themed haunt – the only jarring scene that left me scratching my head was the UV box room.

 

The Village

As the most anticipated haunt at Xtreme Scream Park, I decided to leave it to last as the hype surrounding it really made it out to be great: whilst it was fantastic, it definitely didn’t live upto the hype. The concept was well developed (although actors’ speech pushing the narrative would have made it greater), the theming was the pinnacle of all the other haunts! As you travel through the scenes, the lighting (or lack of) really works against you to create some really creepy and uneasy experiences, which are only worsened (or made better?) by the ambient sounds, claustrophobic elements, and your own paranoia! The final scene is definitely one of the darkest scenes I’ve seen in a haunt this Halloween, and I couldn’t be more excited to get to the exit! Whilst not inherently filled with jump scares, this haunt relies on creating an unnaturally creepy atmosphere and keeping you on the edge of paranoia to help further your fear. Look out for the professor – he’s sure to terrify you!

Generally speaking, Xtreme Scream Park has some absolutely beautiful haunts with narrow walk ways where you have to squeeze past props, actor costumes and face paint that really pops and wows, and huge props that are really impressive and startling! Unfortunately I experienced a lot of back up in all of the haunts where we caught up with the group in front – it didn’t really detract much as it gives you the chance to see all the theming and the actors are great at improvising and keeping you on edge.

The only thing that’s missing from the park is atmosphere – I can’t quite say what it is, but it just seems to lack the buzz that other scare parks have. Still, a great evening out – just be sure to wrap up warm and get there early!

20/10/2017 – Xtreme Scream Park

04/10/2017 – Scaresville at Kentwell Hall

After my first visit to Scaresville roughly this time last year and really enjoying myself (despite a few small critiques), I knew I had to return this year – and was I glad I did!

Scaresville, for those that aren’t in the know, is dubbed a “haunted village” and quite rightly – when you visit most scare attractions, there are multiple individual haunts that last 10-20 minutes which can be done in any order; Scaresville is a ~90 minute walk around a small section of Kentwell Hall that has a number of different scenes that last from 30 seconds through to 15 minutes, and you see and experience everything!

As I stated in last years review (and I’ll no doubt mention it again next year), I’d usually review each of the haunts one by one, but as you go through so many little scenes during your visit, it’s impossible to remember every little thing you experience, so I’m going to review the whole attraction as one supersize haunt.

First off, The Unfairground made a return: it was almost the same as last year, though the magician had been traded out by some areal acrobats that performed once in a while which was impressive (despite the sound issues) – definitely worth a watch if they’re performing when you’re there. It would have been nice if there was some sort of schedule at the entrance of the big top (if it is there, ignore this). I really enjoyed The Unfairground this year, despite the fact there’s still a lack of things to do and see – a pumpkin shy or apple bobbing thing wouldn’t go amiss! Nonetheless, the atmosphere in this area was truly electric, and as the lights hanging from the browning trees swayed with the breeze and with the announcer calling out group numbers, it really and truly felt like a Halloween festival – the local airborne wildlife definitely added to this feeling!

After grabbing a hot drink and watching the acrobatics, it was our turn to queue up and watch the safety announcements where we’re told the rules and such, and there were two rules I really did like: you must change positions, and if you catch up with a group you must wait. This is the only place I’ve ever heard these rules though the first you kind of have to do as keeping in the same order for 90 minutes sucks, but it’s rare for haunts to actually encourage you to slow down, and it’d honestly be rude to not slow down and ensure your group is all together as some of the scares used are much, much more intense when everyone sees it the first time!

What is a really nice touch is that the owner of the event sits just before you start your tour of the haunted village – it’s clear that he’s there as an equal to greet his guests and welcome them to his creation and he does with great gusto and pride – and he really should be proud of what he has created.

The scenes themselves this year were as brilliant as they were last year – there were some I recognised from last year, some that had been used in years before, and some that were brand new, so even though there were scares where you knew what to expect, enough has changed for you to be kept on edge – especially in the forest.

Usually if there’s sound bleed between haunts I’d be the first to jump on it and critique it; however, as all the scenes in Scaresville are small the constant screams coming from the distance really adds to the atmosphere that settles over Scaresville like a thick fog as you’re never sure if they’re coming from scenes in front of you or behind you.

The scares themselves are extremely clever, often using misdirection and the cover of darkness in order to illicit a scream from you, though that’s not always the case – some scares are in plain sight and it’s not until the scare has happened that you realise how obvious it was! I was also seriously impressed with the angles the scares came from – one actor hanging about in the forest especially got me after I walked into his limb by accident!

I could honestly go on and on about how great Scaresville is, and it really is incredible. The only improvements I’d make is to add a little more scenery/games to The Unfairground, and whilst it’s probably not completely curable just look out for the batching as you get a little bottlenecked a few times (though it really wasn’t a big issue at all). Overall a very tense, atmospheric, scary, and fun attraction that I will be returning to again in the future.

 

PS: bring wellies and wrap up warm!

 

 

04/10/2017 – Scaresville at Kentwell Hall

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

26/10/2016 – Tulleys Shocktober Fest Scream Park

After getting my mojo back from Alton Towers earlier in the week and after hearing all the positive reviews from other haunters, we hit the road once again and made our way to Tulleys for their Shocktober Fest.

We collected our tickets and entered the scream park and were instantly blown away with what they had: 8 individual haunts (which I’ll get onto in a minute), 3 fairground rides, sideshow stalls, 2 stages, lots of food and drink outlets, and shops galore – it legitimately felt like we had entered a Halloween festival, and it was BEAUTIFUL.

We spent a little time wandering round, taking everything in and generally exploring before we hit our first haunt of the night: Hell-ements.

 

Hell-ements

Despite not enjoying hooded haunts, this has got to be the strongest one I’ve done to date. A brief video introduction to set the scene, we don our hoods and take hold of the rope, and I seem to stampede ahead in front of the group in this twisting and turning haunt without realising! Exploring the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire), everyone who steps inside has their wits and mettle challenged. As far as hooded mazes go, there was a lot that made me uncomfortable, including one actor that decided to remove my hand from the rope! An absolutely fantastic hooded haunt that really went on for a very long time, even if parts of it were ruined slightly by how light it was still – my bad for being so eager!

 

 

Creepy Cottage

Living up to its name, the Creepy Cottage was the second haunt we visited. This is definitely a haunt to visit early on in the evening as it’s all completely indoors and, if the queue is short, you’ll get to go through in a small group (which makes haunts that bit better). With loads of automated effects and a few live actors, we had a scream trekking through the cottage with scenes that flowed together so smoothly it was easy to believe that you really were in a cottage.

 

The Cellar

Without much story, it felt like we were transported to an abandoned house in the middle of a bayou in Louisiana or another similar state. With lots of claustrophobic elements and things dangling from the ceiling obscuring your vision, this dark and twisted haunt had lots of jump scares at the front of the conga line, with the actors being creepier the further back you were positioned which worked fairly well as the monsters lurking within were highly unsettling. This was an absolute treat for all the senses.

 

Pan-DEMON-ium’s 3D Carnival

Another haunt that’s completely indoors, this maze is like experiencing an acid trip on steroids! Themed around a carnival (hence the name), guests meet a number of creepy side show hosts before being told about the evil that awaits us further inside still. We don the 3D glasses and everything starts popping off the walls, confusing your brain and distracting you from all the horrors that use the darkness to their advantage! Whilst this was the best clown attraction I’ve experienced on my tour, it still felt like it lacked actors at points (especially in the first half of the haunt), but the clowns inside definitely make up for it. I also liked that we were permitted to go through in our own small group as nobody seemed to realise there was a haunt there. Shout out to the host that laughed as we reeled off the briefing before entering!

 

The Colony

After seeing some rather interesting themes this Halloween season, I was absolutely ecstatic to find this post-apocalyptic themed haunt hidden away! Whilst it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite haunt from Tulleys (and in general), The Colony just about steals it due to the theming. Feeling like you had entered a Psycho’s den in Borderlands, this humongous haunt uses both outside and inside areas to immerse you in the apocalypse, with bonfires and such dotted around to distract you; one of my favourite bits was the pitch black corridor with the lone actor standing at the end – that was visually stunning and very unnerving! The costumes and acting was incredible with a mixture of creep and jump scares, and the ending was absolutely phenomenal and a unique twist on the chainsaw. Bravo to the actor that was in there!

 

The Horrorwood Hayride

Based on a backstage tour of a movie studio, this hayride takes you through all sorts of hellish scenes that are not only legitimately jumpy, but are incredibly clever with how they’re executed! A speaker narrates a story as you pass from scene to scene, interacting with a wide range of characters, props, and special effects: possibly the best thing about this haunt is it doesn’t need to be night for it to be effective – I’d definitely consider doing this as the first haunt.

After an unsuccessful hay ride at the beginning of our trip I was kinda skeptical about this one, having both high and low hopes for it: needless to say, this rekindled my faith in hayrides and really think they are a strong and interesting way to scare!

 

Coven of 13

With a witch theme, this haunt is extremely clever in the way it uses lighting and smoke to create an illusion that can’t be described in text – you seriously have to go through the haunt to understand what I’m saying! After such a strong introduction to the haunt, I found it hard to see where they could go next; however, after attending a spellcasting and entering the home of the damned, the finale absolutely blew me away!

 

The Chop Shop

the final haunt of our visit was a little trip through a hillbilly garage that seems to be doing more than just chopping and trading parts for automobiles…

With very little story at all, this haunt was a complete attack on the eyes and ears which was completely disorientating, so much so that I’m sure we went through the same scene a few times. As soon as it was over, I had to take a deep breath to calm myself down, it was so intense! Definitely a strong maze, but needed to be a little bit longer in my opinion to make you feel like it wasn’t going to end.

 

All in all, Tulleys Shocktober Fest Scream Park is definitely one of the most breath taking haunt attractions I’ve experienced to date, there was a number of times I found myself saying “this is absolutely incredible” at all the different things there was to see and do, the crowd and queue management, the entertainment on both stages, and all the sideshows themed to Halloween in some way. I will definitely be back next year to see how this attraction evolves!

On a final note, I would like to give a special mention to the two roaming zombie nurses we bumped into for their acting, they were absolutely hilarious! Thank you!

26/10/2016 – Tulleys Shocktober Fest Scream Park