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

08/10/2017 – Alton Towers: Scarefest

I’ve been a huge fan of Alton Towers’ Scarefest since I first went a few years back when The Sanctuary was still running – the set, story, and effects really dragged me into the experience and whilst it wasn’t inherently scary, it really had the atmosphere and creepiness necessary for a haunt to work for me: since then I’ve always made an effort to trek up to Stoke-On-Trent to drop in, and with Alton Towers boasting a brand new haunt as a pre-cursor to SW8, it would have been rude to not drop by this year!

 

Upon arrival, it was clear that Alton had really gone all out again: all signs had Scarefest branded signs, Main Street had been decked out with pumpkins, hearses, a huge Scarefest sign, and their signature children’s show characters performing on a stage right at the base.

 

Our first haunt, or rather, attraction, was House of Monsters. I’ve deliberately not called it a haunt as it is so much more than that: it’s immersive theatre, pantomime, escape room, magic show, and haunt all rolled into one – it’s easy to see why House of Monsters got such rave reviews from others last year! The characters are extremely engrossing and animated, making puns and (intended or not) double entendres throughout that had us absolutely doubled over at points! As you make your way through the attraction, you interact greatly with the characters who get you to do one or two tasks in order to get you to escape, which ends up in a fun little haunt with some scares that we really weren’t expecting (and definitely made all of us jump!); don’t worry though, it’s not an intense scare – the haunt part is very comical and very Scooby-Doo in nature (if you imagine Shaggy and Scooby being chased about by the bad guys in and out of rooms in corridors). I absolutely loved this attraction, so much that we bought an extra ticket and went through again! It’s definitely not the scariest attraction at Alton, but it definitely surpassed my expectations!

 

Our first haunt at Scarefest was Sub Species: The End Games. I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this last year, so I was excited to get back down into the labyrinthine haunt hidden deep in the basement of the towers. It very much started out the same as last year with a creepy introduction swiftly followed by actors grabbing you and dragging you through the maze; unfortunately, this year didn’t seem as chaotic as I remember it – it felt like there was a lack of actors in the labyrinth which definitely detracted from the chaos (but make no mistake, it was still insanity trying to find the exit without an actor pushing you in the right direction). Once you’re through the labyrinth, you’re treated to some incredible scenery and a corridor that’s pitch black before finally being chased out the exit. Still a strong haunt despite the lack of actors.

 

Our second haunt was Terror of the Towers, a gothic vampire haunt that snakes its way through the towers themselves. Whilst not the strongest attraction for scares, it definitely leaves its mark with theming, use of smells, and creepy actors: the strongest element was the strobe maze, as there were a number of lights working with each other to disorientate you as much as possible; having said that, the haunt requires everyone to go in a conga line and all the scares seem to happen to the front of the queue – I’d love to see the conga line scrapped seeing as it’s the least intense haunt at Scarefest and the only haunt there to actually implement it. Definitely a good introduction to haunts if you’ve not been to one before.

 

Our third haunt is Altonville Mine Tours which has received a more memorable name than last year, though it’s still very much the same attraction, albeit with an extra added scene. Out of all the “adult” haunts at Scarefest, this was definitely my favourite: everything had improved since last year and the run at ScareCon! The helmet this year had much better effects programmed into it, making some parts much more intense as the light bouncing off the fog really limited how much vision you actually got. Alongside this, the incredible detail to the theming both visually and aurally complimented each other perfectly to create an unpleasant atmosphere at times. The actors themselves were on top form too, as some jibbered on about nothing, whilst others said things to you early on in the haunt and actually remembered what they said when you met them again later! Another brilliant thing the actors did is completely invade your personal space to add to the creepiness that resides within. Unfortunately, I’m still not entirely sold on the finale: it’s a clever twist and I can appreciate that, but there’s nothing grand to it that says “this is the finale” and leads you on to think that there’s still more to come, when you actually find yourself outside. Definitely my favourite haunt at Alton Towers this year.

 

Our fourth and final haunt was the anticipated The Welcoming: Be Chosen. We had our tickets booked for as late as we could reasonably do before we travelled home at stupid o’clock, so it was nice and dark when we went through (for those that don’t know, it’s an outside attraction which means natural lighting may or may not affect the experience). All I can say is: wow! Whilst at an intensity level of maybe a smidge above Terror of the Towers, the theming is just incredible. From the moment you step into the haunt, you’re transported to a medieval celebration of Halloween, where paganistic characters dance and swoop as they celebrate: I loved the scarecrow beings (for want of a better description) and the person that dropped to the floor and started inscribing runes onto the ground in front of us, partially blocking the way – a great touch to add to the creepiness! I wasn’t a big fan of the hooded section as I’m not entirely sure what they were trying to portray here and the finale, however everything else felt like walking through a cinematic piece – definitely worth doing once it gets dark!

 

Alongside these attractions, there was also the Freak Show scarezone, which was rife with creepy takes on the classic circus shows (ringmaster, bearded lady, strong man, etc), all of whom use the billowing clouds of smoke to their complete advantage to hide and scare unsuspecting victims – definitely a great laugh when you’re making your way through!

 

Alton Towers have created another fantastic Scarefest, despite the few gripes I had with the attractions – I’m definitely glad that we added it to our lineup this year, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back again next year!

 

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08/10/2017 – Alton Towers: Scarefest

29/08/2016 – Terror 13: Asylum

 

After seeing their panel at ScareCON in May, I made it my mission to give Terror 13 a visit; it turns out that New Brighton is only an hour away from Blackburn where we experienced Snuffhouse the night before, making it a great weekend to go and a fantastic warm up to the Halloween season!

 

On four hours sleep, we meet up with some friends in the early afternoon and hang out around the beach before heading to our time. The two weeks leading up to our tour we had been poking and prodding the monsters dwelling beneath the streets of New Brighton, agitating them for our tour. We arrived at our designated time slot to find music befitting Bioshock floating on the breeze outside their doors. We knocked and were greeted with a grotesque monster who pointed toward the front desk where we paid the very cheap admission and were led down into The Asylum.

 

We were given a guided tour of The Asylum by the monster that greeted us at the door and as we progressed, we realised that there was quite a disturbing story unravelling.

 

We met some of the disturbing “patients” that tormented us and actually got a few jumps out of us at points before they were calmed down and set away by our very unnerving guide who had no issues with invading our personal space and playing with us.

 

After a quick reminder of the rules of the haunt (no touching the actors, no running etc), we were bought into the main attraction itself where we were split up and made to take part in the show ourselves, locked away in claustrophobic spaces whilst the rest of our group were tormented, and forced to watch some really horrible experiments with some absolutely incredible props, especially with the twins (fantastic scene right there!). We were then led down a lurid corridor painted with loads of UV paint and UV streamers hanging from the ceiling, where we met Sad-o the clown (who I genuinely felt sorry for), but he got his own back!

 

We also met a pair of extremely creepy dolls that freaked me out when we saw the costumes at ScareCON; they were much creepier up close in the haunt! They were absolutely fantastic in the way they communicated with us and how they encapsulated the dolls’ personalities – the second scene with them was a fantastic twist!

 

We saw plenty of other scenes that need to be experienced to see how powerful they are before being chased through some dark, winding corridors and up a set of stairs, we found ourselves back in the brilliant sunlight a whole 45 minutes later.

 

This is a very strong boo haunt that feels like it takes inspiration from Goosebumps and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects as well as the acid trip from the Beavis and Butthead movie, rolls all the inspiration up and throws it inside a mental asylum to bring you a spine-tingling and dark humoured journey through the tunnels beneath New Brighton. We’ll be heading back at Halloween for their Karnevil show, which we’ve been told will be absolutely terrifying!

 

 

 

29/08/2016 – Terror 13: 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