31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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31/03/2018 – Nightmare Asylum

23/04/2016 – Cracked-Survival Experience

“Explain your experience in three words”.

 

I’ve always been a fan of being scared. I’ve done most of the title holding rollercoasters residing in the UK and have attended countless haunts over the last decade, and whilst they were fun, I knew I was safe at all times so the scares didn’t really get to me – I needed an extreme haunt.

What is an extreme haunt? Unlike boo haunts (the kind of haunts at theme parks where someone jumps up and yells “boo!”), Extreme haunts are generally physically and mentally demanding, and require the guests to be the main characters of the story. Generally speaking, you will be armed with a safe word, be put in a very small group (with some making you go through alone!), and sent on your not-so-merry way.

About a year ago, I discovered a few extreme haunts in America and read all the reviews I could on them, trying to figure out their stories and what happened inside: I needed to do something like this, that made the scenario you’re in feel real.

 

Out of nowhere, I get a message simply saying: “look up Cracked Survival”.

 

After a bit of Googling and Facebooking, I find myself requesting access to the New Recruits page – a page specifically set up for the promotion and general chit chat around Cracked from those that have been and those that are interested in going. When asking about what took place inside, everyone kept their lips sealed, or responded with “we are all Blake” – a rather cryptic message.

 

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I ended up buying a ticket for a friend and myself (I definitely wouldn’t have shown my face if I didn’t have someone I know with me). As soon as I had paid for the tickets, I found myself being added to a secret group with other attendees where questions were asked of us over the course of three months, allowing Blake to slowly and surely embed himself within all of us. As each question was asked, I found myself trying to analyse them, try and find out what was in store for us and break the game before the game got a chance to break me. Blake’s presence grew.

 

Friday 22nd April came around, and at 19:00 on the dot my phone vibrated. “Dear Subject 3, it is now 24 hours until Cracked: Experiment 2.0 begins.” My heart skipped a beat and my hands went clammy. I stood with my friend in the middle of London at rush hour on a Friday night, workers rushing to catch the earliest train how they could, partygoers heading to their first venue of the night…. and us two, heading to a hotel way up north to experience something that only a handful of people have experienced before us.

 

Saturday day was surreal: it was almost like being in purgatory. We had a low key day watching stuff on TV and YouTube, generally saving energy before the big event. 18:00 eventually comes around, and we go to meet the two other subjects in our group. 18:45 soon came around and we headed off to the pickup location, speculating what could happen to us. We round a corner and immediately meet a stern faced woman. Any sense of joy dissipated quickly. We handed her any earthly possessions we had on us and, get directed down a dirt path and the experience began…

 

Within minutes of the event starting, our meager group of four were slowly being chipped away, bit by bit, in the middle of the countryside by Sarge (a character you do not want to be on the right side of, let alone the wrong side) who worked us until we were lying breathless on the floor at his feet, before being loaded into the back of an army van, and bound and hooded and taken to the real location.

Over the next 90 minutes, Blake, Sarge and the small army of assistants continued to erode at our physical being, the assistants making sure we did exactly what Sarge wanted us to do, to make sure we wouldn’t cut corners or to correct us if we were doing wrong. I found myself saying “sorry Sarge” more and more as my body slowly broke down.

After doing one particular task that I failed miserably at, I get punished and I crack: I scream the safeword and I lay there absolutely disappointed with myself. My time was over.

Blake was instantly there along with one of the assistants offering their hand to help me up, and I’m guided away from the rest of the group (who continue on with the tour for another 2 hours before cracking – see her review here).

I meet the stoney-faced woman from the beginning of the experience at the top of the stairs, except she had dropped the cold, clinical persona and was absolutely sweet! She asked how I was physically and mentally, asked what happened to make me safeword, then offered me a hot drink, though a bottle of cold water was much more appealing. I took the bottle of water and shook Blake’s and her hand, and made my way outside to my chariot back to the hotel whilst they returned to torment the remaining subjects.

 

Photography by PastaCore Alternative Photography

 

It took almost two hours for the adrenaline to finally clear my system – I went on a good hour walk just to try and figure out what I had gone through, but I just couldn’t: there was just far too much to process. I was extremely disappointed that I cracked at something so basic – I found out after that I was extremely close to getting into the next scene, and all I needed to do was choose a better way to vocalise my panic: the safeword really and truly was not the noise I wanted to make.

That night I managed to get to sleep at about 02:30. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see Blake’s mask there, almost as if it had been permanently imprinted in my mind’s eye. I finally do find myself passing out, though the sleep wasn’t very fitful as the fatigue was quick to set in.

Cracked is an extremely fast paced, intense, and uncomfortable haunt. It is designed to push you to breaking point and beyond. You need to be both mentally and physically tough to survive the full six hours, and realise that your worst enemy in there is not who you think it is.

 

“Explain your experience in three words”

I am Blake.

23/04/2016 – Cracked-Survival Experience

15/04/2016 – Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later

I’ve heard a lot about Secret Cinema in the past with most, if not all, reviews being extremely positive; however, I had never wanted to visit them due to the movie selection… until now.

 

After its release almost 15 years ago, a new movie bought new life into the zombie genre by bringing Jim, a simple courier, out of a coma and into a deserted UK populated by the infected. Since then, it has grown so huge that it formed a cult following so big that Secret Cinema decided that they would explore the post-apocalyptic horror that is 28 Days Later.

 

After joining the official event, my facebook feed exploded with posts, pictures, and short clips advertising the event: I’ve followed several new pages set up just for this event that spoof some very British institutions, ran a “home test” to see if I had been infected, and even signed up on the NSH (that’s National Service of Health) website and watched (fake) news reports from the BBCC explaining what’s going on.

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The day of my appointment came around. I met up with my sister who also had an appointment at the same date and time, got changed into our costume (the best bit about Secret Cinema is that you must dress up) and made our way to Canada Water station, getting odd looks from the commuters as they headed home from a hard week at work.

 

We arrive and instantly join the crowd of patients as they trickled from the station to the event. We arrive to an army-controlled environment with speakers blaring out a repeated quarantine message as we’re sent from post to post, being asked for our appointment card, having our bags checked, and being asked to put our phones in a sealed envelope (we don’t want the illusion of the apocalypse ruined!)

 

We’re handed an appointment card and got told to remember it, else we wouldn’t be admitted to the treatment centre. We’re then led inside, and the experience, our treatment, begins…

 

Secret Cinema went beyond the movie with a very clever set-up that uses effects that I have yet to see be used in boo haunts. The scenery and the actors blended well together to create a fantastic atmosphere that was easy to lose yourself in, though the large groups definitely detracted from the experience, especially if the narrator is quiet. Despite this, the guys at Secret Cinema effectively took you through some of your favourite scenes from 28 Days Later and left us feeling rather happy and amused.

 

As this is a big event that needs to be accessible to everyone, do not expect anything extreme or challenging. There are some points where it can be very tense, but there’s nothing beyond the general immersive theatre/theme park horror mazes except running, there is a lot of running.

 

All in all, despite having high expectations of it being terrifying (we had a lot of ideas that would have made it scarier), it was still a fun and enjoyable night.

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I would also like to give a huge shout out to the army personnel that helped my sister find me at the safe house – it was an absolute delight that you went above and beyond in remembering her and her description of me, and calling out to us!

 

With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now we’re sleeping with you. Don’t wake up.

15/04/2016 – Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later