20/05/2017 – Down the Rabbit Hole

Bare with me here, it’s one thing reviewing a haunt where the theming is constantly changing in the 15mins or so you’re in there and a completely different ball game to review what happens for an hour in a room.

Going back a few years, I was lucky to get to take part in what I believe was the first escape room in the UK. it was tough and stressful, and whilst I had fun, I wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing again. Sure, since then I’ve done other events that had escape rooms, but they weren’t *pure* escape rooms – they usually had a piece of theatre which made up for the escape room bit for me.

Anyway, a friend won two tickets to Down the Rabbit Hole and invited me along, teasing that it was a scare escape room and that other reviewers had given their previous escape room fantastic reviews, so I rather happily accepted

We arrive at Escape Room Southend and had a chat with Wayne (one of the owners) about upcoming shows whilst the previous group finished up. Once they were out, we were ushered in and realised that we’d be trying to escape on our own – probably not the greatest idea seeing neither of us are any good with puzzles!

So the story is the White Rabbit got infected with a virus and, rather foolishly, escaped down the rabbit hole and back into Wonderland where he began to infect the other residents: it was up to us to solve the clues, escape, and release the antivirus! After a few nervous glances as we realise how screwed we were, we were taken through to Wonderland and the game began!

We started off like headless chickens, grabbing bits of random scenery that we thought might be of some help, figured out where all the puzzles were and what locks linked to what clues, then brainfarted as we looked at each puzzle. Bit by bit, and with a gentle push here and there, we slowly managed to digest and solve each puzzle, even whilst being tormented by the infected.

This single room escape is, without doubt, the best I have ever done. It was stressful, tense, challenging, and the things coming from both of our mouths as we were subjected to the horrors of Wonderland were utterly hilarious and cringeworthy at the same time! The puzzles themselves were a little above our IQ level, but we managed to escape with just under 90 seconds to go! I definitely had a blast in there, and will definitely be back to see what they have hidden within their walls over the next few months! A big well done to the team there for living up to the hype!

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20/05/2017 – Down the Rabbit Hole

24/02/2017 – Delectably Dead

It has been a long time since I last saw or heard anything from the depths of Southend as Hide and Shriek went silent shortly after their Halloween plans, which had me a little worried as there’s very little in the way of haunts down in Essex and they’re one of my favourite event organisers, so when Delectably Dead came onto my radar, I was all over that like a zombie on brains!

From what I knew about the show before entering, I knew it was going to be a mix of theatre and dinner at the same time. I did one in Disneyland or something years back that was themed to cowboys and you got served dinner whilst stuntmen did acrobatics and all sorts on horseback, so I was kinda basing my judgement on that: I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right either.

Upon arrival, it was clear that the intent was to completely immerse you from the second you stepped into the event. We were served drinks in the function room next to the room Delectably Dead was hosted which had caution tape wrapped around pillars and amusing signs dotted around the walls, and when the main doors opened we were given a little booklet that we had to fill out which was also riddled with Hide and Shriek humour (which I absolutely love).

Once we had filled out our rations booklet, we took our seats on our designated table, which was unfortunately further away from the stage than I had liked but we can’t win it all, I guess? Anyway. Looking around the room at the theming on the tables, in the rations book, and on the screens dotted about the place, it was clear that there was a lot of inspiration from the Fallout game series which I highly commended and actually got loads of positive feedback from friends when I showed them the pictures. If you can imagine sitting at a diner with caution tape stuck to the tablecloth whilst hanging industrial/miner lights flickered on and off to simulate being run off a generator, whilst 1940s/1950s-esque music played on repeat in the background and the characters wandering around whilst introducing themselves to you, you’d kinda get the bizarre mixture of haunt meets dining experience feeling.

The room filled up to the brink with a bizarre demographic: the ages ranged from their teens right through to their 40s and maybe 50s, wearing either t-shirt and trousers or smart casual. It was clear that it had bought the dining experience crowd and the horror/haunt crowd together in a room for an evening, which was absolutely lovely as we found ourselves making fantastic friends with people dotted all throughout the room during the course of the event.

Soon enough, it was showtime! The characters all popped into action and the generic zombie story began, with lots of thrills and spills, and a surprising amount of violence and rude language, which was surprising seeing as the other Hide and Shriek events I had been to definitely lacked these – definitely not a negative point as all the actions and language had its reason to be there. Not long after the show began, we got treated to Hide and Shriek’s trademark introduction video (I won’t lie, I was looking forward to this). For those that have never been to a Hide and Shriek event, it’s basically the generic safety briefing you get just as you’re about to enter a haunt (don’t touch the actors, they might touch you blah blah blah) but done in the style of the show, with lots of humour. I really and truly hope they never get bored of these, because I absolutely love them!

 

I guess this is the bit where the it gets tough to write about the event because it wasn’t a haunt, it wasn’t immersive theatre, it was a dining experience. For those that don’t know what that is (I didn’t know until 24 hours ago either), it’s basically a theatre show with a number of intervals dotted throughout in which you get given a chance to eat, go to the loo, top up your drink, have a smoke, etc. As someone who came from a haunt/theatre perspective, it really didn’t work for me – it felt like just as we were getting immersed in the show, we were ripped away from it to eat.

In my opinion, there were three different factors that ruined the experience for me. I’m not including the immersion issue above as that’s not an issue with the show per se, it’s my expectations coming from the haunt/theatre scene as opposed to faults in the show.

The first is the volume of the actors: whilst they did well to project their voices so that the ~200+ people could hear them, it was nigh on impossible to hear and understand what was going on through entire scenes in some cases due to the positioning of the actors and the general background noise (and not-so background noise, in some cases) from the audience. I’d suggest radio throat mics that hooked into the same PA system the projector and TVs were using.

The second is alcohol. I get that it’s nice to have a drink when you’re out at a theatre show, but there were some incredibly drunk people there that were yelling at inappropriate moments and generally treating it as if it were a pub, which the actors tried to combat but drunks are just complete and utter cunts at times, and none were more cunty than the cunt that was sat on our table yelling out the most vile shit I’d only expect at a Britain First rally. The actor receiving the abuse dealt with it in a fantastic manner and manged to keep himself composed extremely well, but fuck me I have no idea how she woke up this morning with just a hangover! The worst bit is, there were bouncers at the only entrance to the room that should have seen she was just getting drunker and louder as the event progressed and could have stopped her from re-entering the room for being too drunk, but all they did was give her a warning. I get that she had spent money to be there, but so had another 200 odd people and the last thing we wanted was to hear a load of racist bollocks instead of the show. I’d have either had a dry event or limit the alcohol to a bottle of wine between two people, with the bottles sat on the table, and then the bar open at the end. This could have potentially saved the actors from having to scream and yell so much that they were getting hoarse voices by the end of the show.

The third point is the number of people. Where we were sat (Zone E) was the opposite side of the room from where the action was taking place. With the two factors above and having a number of bodies obscuring our view, we had no idea what was going on and honestly started getting bored of sitting there trying to figure out what was going on, and only a handful of times would an actor come by our table for the briefest of moments – I feel sorry for the tables that were right at the back by the bar, it’s hardly surprising that they were just drinking and having their own little fun. I’d definitely consider having the number of tables one row, or maybe two rows, deep so that everyone is included in the show and it’s easier to follow.

 

 

Moving onto the positives of the show, the amount of detail in the very minimalist scenery was incredible – the posters that I mentioned in the bar were placed in the advertisement spaces in the loos, the little jokes on the ration book and in the intro video, the little stickers on the food, it all had something amusing that related to the apocalypse and zombies, and really added to the dining experience side of the event.

Also, from what I could hear I’d honestly say that without the dining experience bit and with the right crowd, this would have been a really tense and gripping piece of horror/thriller theatre. The combination of live actors and video really meshed well together, and really pulled off the horror tropes and paid homages to pioneering people and movies well. Sure it’s “another zombie show”, but the level of dedication the actors poured into their characters was so high that it would have been easy to have believed everything they said and for it to feel like it wasn’t just “another zombie show”, which actually really made me sad that all this effort was poured into the show only for it to be ruined because it felt like people couldn’t give a fuck about the show.

 

On reflection, I’m happy to chalk this down to a bad audience as all the other Hide and Shriek events I’ve attended have received nothing but praise from me in the past, though I don’t think I’ll be returning to another horror dining experience in the near future.

 

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24/02/2017 – Delectably Dead

10/02/2017 – Valenterror

The Christmas period sucks for haunters. Sure, I did Zombie Infection at the beginning of December (though apologies for no official review, was feeling burnt out after the Halloween season) but that was still over 2 months ago, so I was super excited when a group of friends said they were up for Valenterror at Scare Kingdom!

Scare Kingdom is one of my staple haunting grounds (ha): the scenery is fantastic, it’s set far away from everywhere else which adds to the creepiness, and there’s not been one haunt there that I’ve thought negatively of, so when the opportunity arises I’ll be there in a heartbeat (haha, goddamn these puns).

Anyways, this visit was for their Valentines event, aptly named Valenterror (see where the pun went yet?). Manormortis opened its doors for one weekend for brave couples to enter the haunted manor armed with just one lone glowstick and face the zombies that hide inside.

Upon arriving outside Manormortis we were met by Dougie, the resident grave digger, who explained to us that he was just digging up bits of bodies to sell on a popular well known auction site, when all of a sudden the bodies started moving about on their own and that they had all been trapped in Manormortis: he also pointed out that one of us would be entering alone.

We enter the attraction and I get handed a glowstick – my friends decided to throw me under the bus and give me the satisfaction of going through the haunt alone (won’t lie, it was absolutely *great!*). I ducked through the fireplace and started my slow and winding journey through the pitch black corridors with a glowstick that did absolutely nothing to light my way, though the zombies had no problem finding me: I was charged at, had zombies appear in front of me from nowhere, and slowly stalked from behind – these zombies knew exactly how to work the darkness and their little lights to create some fantastic jump scares and illusions that’d give everyone the heebie-jeebies, including myself!

Travelling through a haunt alone is really bizarre – I usually use other people as a source of distraction from anything that might make me jump, but I couldn’t depend on that this time, and there were a few scenes, one including a painting, that caught me by surprise even though I had seen them all in action the previous times I had been through!

We, or rather, I, finally made it to the end scene (which hadn’t changed since Halloween), and anyone that knows about it knows what to expect; let me say it is a completely different ball game when you’re on your own and getting some lovely one on one time – it’s been a long time since a boo haunt made me nervous, and that actor really hit the nail on the head.

As quickly as it started, it was over, which was a shame because it was great to be able to walk around a haunt on your own and get all these personal interactions with nobody else around, especially in a haunt as special as Manormortis, which I feel is a side effect of the lack of lighting as there’s so much to see in there when everything’s lit up – there were definitely scenes that really fell short due to the lack of lighting, though the corridor of wine bottles was actually much, much more claustrophobic with the lack of lighting and being alone. If I had to choose a favourite scene, it was either the wine cellar or the tunnel after the boiler where I was charged at by a zombie.

All in all, I definitely had fun and enjoyed myself, even though there were a few negative comments, not that you could really do much about them – long haunts with short through-puts are few and far between and aren’t too popular, and glowsticks never have and never will be a fantastic torch, but I’m glad I managed to experience my first glowstick lit haunt, and to get the 2017 season started!

10/02/2017 – Valenterror

21/10/2016 – Yorkshire Scare Grounds

After a quick re-shuffle of haunts due to timings (I really didn’t plan this tour at all…) I found that we had a date missing a haunt, so we decided to sneak this one in!

We were put in a group of 12 and were sent on our way through the scare grounds…

 

House of Arachnia – Mutation

The first haunt on the tour played on the fear of spiders. The character setting the scene was rather quiet and the voice he put on made it hard to understand what the story was, but I figured it had something to do with spiders taking over a house due to all the cobwebs everywhere.

It was a very basic haunt with few characters, most of which didn’t make sense whilst in there, but the bedroom scene has a really neat little trick that was kinda cool.

What was disappointing was that all the scares were aimed at the first person in the queue, meaning we got nothing right at the back and we started to get bored.

 

Forest of Freaks

As the name suggests, this theme was freaks in a forest. The forest itself was perfect for these clowns to run around without being seen, and they did that extremely well, but as with the haunt above, all the scares were aimed at the front of the queue. By this point we were so bored at the back that we started making the rest of the group jump to entertain ourselves.

 

The Chapter – Order of the Raven

With a sinister feel, I found this long-ish haunt rather interesting: we were constantly ducking between indoor and outdoor scenes but as with all the other haunts at this attraction, all the scares were aimed at the front of the group.

On a more positive note, the Raven’s costume was really impressive!

 

Lockdown – They’re Out!

This is where the haunts seemed to pick up a bit more.

Greeted by a soldier, we were given a nice long intro story to the haunt that set the tone. From actors that were hidden in plain sight through to the zombies banging on the fences as we went passed, it was a disorientating and complete sensory overload that had us on edge: we especially liked the use of water in this haunt as well! The only issue I had was the zombie wearing glasses: it just kinda broke the illusion a little.

 

The Tomb – Afterlife

This was, by far, the strongest haunt there. Themed around Ancient Egypt, we were led into a tomb that’s protected by a curse that comes to life as you progress through this clever and innovative haunt! The scenery throughout was incredibly detailed and at points it was impossible to tell the difference between a prop and an actor, which played to our disadvantage in the strobe maze! The tomb corridor was the highlight of the haunt and the attraction!

 

The attraction started off rather weak but definitely improved as you went through. If you do decide to go, try and work it so that you’re at the front of the conga line to get the most scares, and toward the back if you’re jumpy.

 

Also, definitely have a photo taken in their photo booth, and take a look around the gift shop – one of the actors draws as a hobby and was selling some pictures when we went through, and I got this amazing picture of an evil blue critter that I absolutely love!

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21/10/2016 – Yorkshire Scare Grounds

18/10/2016 – Twisted Attractions Terror Park

Located in a pitch black field on the outskirts of Birmingham, Twisted Attractions brings their own brand of terror to Lower Drayton Farm for the first time!

After a fun trip to Twisted Attractions a few months ago (read the review here), we were excited to be back up in Birmingham to see what they’d be delivering for Halloween, and it’s no small feat!

Upon entering the Park, you’re greeted by the heat and embers spurting forth from the firepit along with the smells of food and hot drinks from the various stalls surrounding, a fantastic place to warm yourself up before experiencing the chills of the haunts and the funfair!

After grabbing a drink in the bar and watching the evening’s entertainment (a groovy saxophonist and singer duo by the name of The Lady and the Sax), we decided to hit up our first haunt of the night!

 

House of Insomnia: The Revenge

The first haunt for the night is based on the legend of the Demurrer family, who kept their twins up all hours of the day and night working hard, starving the boys of sleep. With a very hillbilly/redneck theme, we stepped inside the house and met some very disturbing and creepy characters.

This managed to start off really strong with some fantastically powerful characters and amazing scenery but as we got toward the outside section, the tension and atmosphere seemed to taper off, with some scenes that whilst they were clever, more needed to happen.

 

Destruction: Zombie Hayride

This was my first ever hayride, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it… except zombies. Unfortunately, there was definitely a lack of zombies which was evident as we entered the danger zones and nothing happened, despite all the potentially awesome hiding places and storylines that could have taken place. It’s a fun place to start if you want to get into scares

 

The Priory Fields

This corn maze definitely needs more development – there was a distinct lack of storyline (which didn’t really make sense in the context of the corn maze) and, whilst the actors were creepy, there definitely wasn’t enough of them. Would have loved to have seen an alien or scarecrow maze here.

 

Mrs Piggots Pie Shop

This was, by far, the strongest and best haunt at the event! Mrs Piggot has opened her doors to her famous shop where she lovingly prepares her pies! Despite being the shortest of the haunts, this one seriously packs a punch – with possibly the most disorientating strobe mazes and creepy pig-people, this haunt was absolutely amazing! The only fault I had with it is how short it was! Mrs Piggot has got to be one of my favourite character in a haunt, ever!

 

All in all, Twisted Attractions Terror Park was a really fun event that definitely has more of a mini festival feel decked to the nines in halloween spirit!

18/10/2016 – Twisted Attractions Terror Park

16/04/2016 – Hide and Shriek: Dead Centre

In a short space of time, Hide and Shriek has grown into one of the bigger boo haunts outside London and theme parks. Created in 2015, the company has gone from strength to strength in bringing an immersive horror experiences that is easily available to the masses.

With very little hype surrounding Dead Centre I had no idea what to expect from the event at all. Hints were dropped in the email we received, but absolutely nothing more than “you will be running” was given away.

I arrive at the Victoria shopping centre and flashed my ticket to security, who opened the door to the centre. Upon entering, I’m bombarded with rather creepy, almost Saw-like music and a darkened shopping centre, barricaded about 20ft in. We’re told to wait to one side for our timeslot to be called forward.

Eventually, our time approaches and we’re given a waiver to sign as well as a patient form which asks for our blood type and allergens (my favourite being human flesh). We hand back the forms and we’re immediately checked for cuts and bruises by a doctor before being moved into the first scene of the show.

As with all zombie break-outs, it starts with a virus. We’re given a more extensive test as a trio of soldiers watch over us with eagle eyes from behind masks. We all pass except for one, then everything went horribly wrong…

A medic appears from behind us and the chase is on! Remember when I said most events only require a light jog? This breaks the mold: We sprinted as fast as we could to keep up with the medic who takes us on a journey that traverses fire escape routes, car parks, service routes, and the mall itself – all of which are void of any and all life, including the undead!

The zombies were absolutely fantastic – if they weren’t jumping out at you from a hidey hole, they were lurching toward you at a disturbingly quick pace: they were also able to open doors, much to our/my surprise and horror!

After being chased across various car park levels, we find ourselves inside running back down to the ground and into a pitch black room where we had to wait for a little while, which gave us all a bit of time to get our breath back from sprinting everywhere for 20 minutes.

We’re then treated to the longest run of our lives to the Hide and Shriek shop. We’re taken into the back, guided by the medic’s rather creepy UV flashlight. We’re then handed two torches and sent on our own way through this part of the show – we had to navigate through the back corridors using only the two torches. Easy right? Nah. It wasn’t.

I was holding one of the torches and the other was in another woman’s hand, so we led the way. It started off really easy – slowly moving from room to room, peeking around each door frame before entering the room, then both of our torches malfunction: mine shuts down entirely, and the other torch would only work if you hit it. We were in almost pitch black, trying to grope our way through corridors and rooms so dark that you genuinely couldn’t see the hand in front of your face!

We made it through and met up with our medic, or rather, he found us and helped us through the rest of the blackened corridors and back to the shop floor when we realise that one of the group had gone missing! After a small, unsuccessful, search and rescue mission we’re pointed across the shopping centre floor, which was littered with a handful of zombies. Following the medics orders, we charge through a few upturned benches and through the zombies to the finishing line, to everyone’s relief.

 

I had a few minor negative points that, whilst they didn’t detract from the event all that much, I did end up questioning them on my journey home.

Firstly, the characters at the beginning of the experience definitely lacked an air of authority. We had made it to the safe house, and whilst checks were done, they were taken lightly and the doctors/nurses were joining in with jokes – I’d have expected them to be a little more stern and sterile with the signing of the waiver and showed our tickets (I’ll excuse the security guard as I couldn’t tell if he was mall staff or an actor).

Secondly, we were told that we would need to make it to the roof of the car park to wait for the pick up, but when we were taken back inside and down into the shopping centre, it wasn’t clearly explained why our destination had changed. Also, there was no explanation as to why we couldn’t just keep going up the first stairwell we reached – maybe some zombies coming down from the above levels would have killed that thought.

Thirdly, whilst the finale was new and unique (I’m far too used to being chased from behind), it definitely lacked something. I wouldn’t say it was anti-climactic, but it wasn’t as explosive as it could have been. Maybe if a handful of zombies had chased from behind as well as from the left hand side so we’re made to go the route we’re meant to, it would have been better.

Finally, the show seemed to end just as we were getting sucked into the story. I appreciate it’s hard to create a huge story in such a tight space, especially when the space is open and there’s a risk of other groups crossing paths at any time, but the 30 minutes didn’t feel like it was long enough to really get in the role.

 

HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT THOUGH, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it was clear to see from everyone else (including the pessimistic 14 year old whom was genuinely entertaining whist standing in the dark) that it was a fantastic event.

I have a few favourite aspects to our trip:

Firstly, the medic was a credit unto himself for remaining in a sense of panic throughout the entire event. I didn’t buy into it to begin with, but as time went by, the sense of urgency was definitely there.

Secondly, oh my God they had the ENTIRE shopping centre to play with! Do you know how awesome that is? Like that’s more space than the theme parks get! The fact that there was no obvious path through the show was definitely a treat – we were checking the door windows on all the floors to make sure no zombies would come bursting in to try and attack us.

Thirdly, what I’m nicknaming “the corridor from hell”. Having to find our way through complete and utter darkness was insanely disorientating which only made it more hellish. The two torches shutting down as they did, whether it was planned or not, definitely added to the experience! If they’re rigged in some way, they were a fantastic investment!

Finally, the scene with the chaser zombie was definitely terrifying – I rarely jump at these events, but you got me good and proper chaser zombie! (I’d write more so the directors knew which bit I’m talking about, but I don’t wanna give that bit away. Scott/George: Drop me a message if you wanna know!).

Honourable Mention: the Alien Escape poster in one of the stairwells for making that event a meta event that could have happened if the apocalypse didn’t happen. I’ve no idea if it was intended this way, but I found it hilarious.

 

All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic evening despite all the sprinting we did. Walking out of the shopping centre, I was grinning from ear to ear and absolutely buzzing off the adrenaline! An incredibly strong second show, and I’m glad that a third date was added! I will definitely be returning for all future events to see them grow from strength to strength.

 

Note: We had a group photo taken at the end of the event, so as soon as I receive that I’ll post it here. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

16/04/2016 – Hide and Shriek: Dead Centre