Archive for the Review Category

Screwball Cast Ignites Exit 13

Posted in 2013, Exit 13, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by bluefall8

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The final haunt of the season always brings with it a mixture of excitement, sadness, and a tinge of disbelief. For the better part of two months my companions and I eat, sleep, and breathe haunted attractions and when the season inevitably draws to a close there’s a lot of information to process. We believe in going out with a bang and we could think of no other place to be on the final night of the haunt season than Exit 13 in Mt. Morris.

Our first trip through Exit 13 came in 2012 and both John and I were very impressed with what we witnessed. Ownership of the attraction changed hands last winter but the iconic name stuck and the new crew set out to top their predecessors. John and I arrived past the eleven o’clock hour on a chilly, dreary night eager to inject that final haunt fix directly into our veins.

Our journey began in front of a black door, a narrow slot had been inlaid at eye level. Suddenly the slot was thrust open, a bushy handlebar mustache was accompanied by a pair of bulging eyes. After a brief exchange the door was opened and I couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just been sucked into some bizarre Wizard of Oz scenario. Once inside the wizardly wanna-be got a bit physical before he allowed us to continue on our trip.

As we delved deeper into the darkness of Exit 13 we would discover the ghastly cast to be energized, abnormal, and without restraint. We were attacked by a mustachioed, little man in a dress, accused of terrible acts during a forced confessional, and roughed up by a gruesome gal who wildly spun yours truly about and then pinned me to a wall (and she didn’t even charge!).

In other areas of the attraction we enjoyed some scenery and a few jump scares. While we traversed a dense woodland area populated by frightening tribal figures, one creep emerged from the brush to deliver an effective moment of terror. Conversely, we were also treated to some humor when we were violently admonished for ogling the mountainous breasts of a convalescing grandma.

However, Exit 13 had saved the best for last as John and I would soon find out. We found ourselves in a strobe-lit hall, in the shadowy distance a sinister shape lumbered toward us. As the figure drew closer the ghoulish features of its face came into full view — darkened eyes leered at us hungrily above a mouth full of jagged teeth. The whole hideous facade was caged behind a metal box that had been mounted to the freak’s head.

Moments later we entered a neatly constructed room that featured cornstalks, a scarecrow, and a murder a swirling crows. And just as we departed that inventive scene we found ourselves first inside of a crypt and then an adjacent cemetery where we were pursued by some famished zombies. We fled that nightmare landscape only to soon find ourselves surrounded by a pack of disturbed clowns who first threatened and then tickled us with buzzing chainsaws.

We were very impressed with the job that the new staff was able to do. The operators overhauled much of the attraction from 2012, in addition many of the scenes or gags that were left intact from the previous season had been successfully tweaked. But make no mistake, the heart and soul of Exit 13 was the lovable cast of loonies who displayed such passion for their craft. The gang here was a versatile bunch equally skilled in both fun and fright.

Once we had emerged from the darkness of Exit 13 we had a lengthy conversation with the owner and a senior staff member who has served as a helping hand at Exit 13 since its introduction to the Flint horror scene. As we learned from the tandem, in 2014 Exit 13 will undergo a complete overhaul and that is an exciting prospect.

With shades of old school, in-your-face aggression, and instances of tasteless, odd ball humor — Exit 13 has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit during the haunt season.

Rating: 4.25 stars

Village of the Living Dead Preys upon Victims with Classic Scares

Posted in 2013, Review, Village of the Living Dead with tags , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by bluefall8

The final night of the haunt season brought with it wind and rain, but we plowed through the elements en route to St. Charles’ Village of the Living Dead; our furthest visit of the season. I loved the ad for this place inside the Fear Finder, something about it harkened back to a bygone era of terror — perhaps it was the water tower looming ominously in the background, whatever the case Village of the Living Dead had the aura of a small town with a monster to hide.

When John and I first entered the haunt we came across a ghoulish freak who smoothly held out his hand and uttered the word, “token.” His voice was strangled but calm and offered just a hint of curiosity. Was he considering us for his next meal? Did he simply desire a new skin suit? My reverie was interrupted when his cold voice stated the utterance once more. Guests here are provided a token upon purchase of a ticket, the token resembled a poker chip — perhaps these tokens are a form of currency amongst those who dwell in the village.

We soon found ourselves traversing an uneven bridge, our vision obscured by a thick blanket of fog. Orbs of blurred light floated through the haze and served more as a tool of disorientation than a source of direction. We entered a cemetery and groped our way along the winding path, the orchestral tones of the Undertaker’s theme music blared throughout the area.

In one narrow passage the fog had grown so dense that a dead-eyed clown was able to materialize directly in front of my face and offered both John and I quite a fright. The fog swirled around our faces and curled about our bodies — it was as if it had taken on a life of its own. The fog was so prevalent that it created a bizarre and unsettling form of sensory deprivation. It was as if we’d been swallowed up into some abyss and lost all sense of direction.

As we transitioned into the middle section of the haunted attraction the oppressive fog began to thin. In one room our only option was to crawl through a small opening near the floor which led to a meat locker. Swinging corpses were hung from the ceiling and in our current position I felt vulnerable and exposed. It was the perfect chance for an enraged butcher armed with a meat cleaver to harvest additional flesh, but to my surprise no such being would manifest.

I do hate to see such opportunities go to waste but as it were this incident was the exception and not the rule inside the Village of the Living Dead.

Later, we were briefly led outside where an angry redneck assailed us with a weapon. He swung convincingly and with great force, a metallic clang exploded behind us. Swiftly, we entered back into the building through another door.

This final stage of the haunted attraction was rife with darkened hallways and false passages. Eventually we found ourselves in a cellar — we certainly had the distinct sensation of being underground anyway. Again, we were made to crawl and I began to have flashbacks to Demonic Demons in Detroit. Our hallway came to a dead end but above us hung a rope and with it we were able to hoist ourselves onto a platform. We crawled on and shortly came to a slide. And who doesn’t love a slide in a haunted attraction?

The horror was nearly at an end now, and we would soon escape the danger of the Village of the Living Dead but not before we were attacked by a pair of feisty pig girls who would’ve liked nothing more than to find us in the bottom of their slop bucket.

The Village of the Living Dead resonated with us on several levels. It was a haunted attraction in the traditional sense — it was frightening. The cast was vocal, animated, and not without a physical edge. The heavy use of fog throughout the first half of the attraction was a masterstroke that established the tone for what was to follow. With just a few additional well-placed and talented actors, St. Charles’ Village of the Living Dead could be that much more terrifying and memorable.

Rating: 4.25 stars

Death Knell for the Scream Machine

Posted in 2013, Review, Scream Machine with tags , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2013 by bluefall8

A steady rain had begun to fall as we neared our final destination on Devil’s Night — the relocated Scream Machine. The one time Downriver power house has slipped over the years, but we had hoped a change of scenery would breath some new life into the sputtering attraction.

Sadly, relocation has only seemed to exacerbate the problems that have afflicted the Scream Machine in recent years. What we witnessed during our visit on Devil’s Night was a haunted attraction teetering on the brink of death.

The popular Hellivator has been eliminated as has the vortex tunnel that followed it at the previous location. Instead we began our journey in the church setting that has been a staple at the Scream Machine; often it has appeared in the middle of the attraction or near the end. I didn’t mind this shift but the dummies seated in the pews seemed to be the exact same props used in years past, and they looked as worn as ever. There was one live plant amongst the stiffs and he was all too easy to spot.

Still in the church, a panel opened to our left. A large, masked actor proceeded to provide what was perhaps the most listless scare we’ve ever witnessed. He issued a growl so thoroughly devoid of all emotion it was almost as if he purposely meant for it to carry a mocking tone. Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come as the rest of the cast seemed just as disinterested and passionless.

As we wound our way through the darkened halls it became painfully obvious that there was little creativity that went into the uninspired design of the attraction. It went from bad to worse and then some how sunk even lower. It was a pathetic and shameful display from what used to be a highly entertaining haunted attraction.

The cemetery scene, although diminished as well, was at least enjoyable from a visual standpoint — a small alcove decorated with numerous pumpkins was a nice touch. Other than that, John and I were hard pressed to come up with anything that was enjoyable, inventive, or exciting. Each scene, prop, and scare was merely rehashed fodder that the Scream Machine has run into the ground in previous seasons.

Incredulously, the Scream Machine ended as it has for years — by winding guests through the same leftover hallways that used to serve as part of the Carnevil of Lost Souls 3D attraction. I suppose it was a fitting finale for a haunted attraction that had us wishing for the end by the halfway point.

The cast, as I mentioned above, was particularly detrimental to the overall experience. In as blunt of terms as I can put it, the cast of the Scream Machine was abysmal. They displayed no ability to adapt, no penchant for improvisation, and their interaction was amateurish at best. A group of three or four actors tailed us through much of the attraction and appeared briefly to bang on objects in order to elicit a scare, and when that didn’t work they just banged some more…and then banged some more.

John and I would later agree that, collectively, the cast seemed annoyed by our very presence. It was as if we had interrupted a break and we picked up an almost antagonistic vibe. We’ve witnessed poor casts before, our 2011 jaunt through Anxiety Alley comes to mind, but this experience was without a doubt the worst. Never before have we been treated to such unprofessionalism by a cast that plainly lacked a knowledge of or passion for a proper haunted attraction.

It gives me no pleasure to write such a review. I absolutely love haunted attractions, but this was a travesty. Without knowledge of the inside story, I am at a loss to explain how this once prominent haunted attraction declined so rapidly. I would rather see the doors chained and the windows shuttered than watch it linger on in such a state; the once mighty Scream Machine is dead.

Rating: 0.5 stars

Hush Lowers the Boom

Posted in 2013, Hush, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by bluefall8

A new haunted attraction has the ability to excite me like few other things on this wonderful planet, so when my eyes first fell upon the Fear Finder ad for Hush Haunted House I was intrigued. I checked out the Hush Facebook page and discovered a well produced video promoting the haunted attraction.

The story of Hush is told from the perspective of a lone mental patient. This concept was reflected in the sleek video presentation and on display once more when we arrived at Westland’s latest house of horrors.

The namesake of the haunt was prominently displayed above the front door, beneath it stood a mustachioed, portly, middle-aged man, he introduced himself as Dr. Phineas Phun — that’s Phun…P-H-U-N. Dr. Phun as it were was the resident medical professional on site and he seemed particularly smitten with yours truly. He leaned in for a lingering sniff and later mouthed the words, “Call me.” This sinister surgeon, however, was not limited to awkward exchanges — the man behind the character was simply one of the best doorman we have ever witnessed at any haunted attraction.

He was quick on his feet and seemed to enjoy his role, calmly he deflected my sarcasm and countered with a pointed wit of his own. Near the beginning of our exchange I introduced the good doctor to my cohort and indeed he looked in John’s direction but uttered not a word. Later, as our conversation drew to a close I referenced John once more and it was then that Dr. Phun began to question my sanity and suggested perhaps I become his next patient.

It dawned on me that the man had never actually acknowledged John and had solely conversed with me. Dr. Phun then asked, “Do you always speak to imaginary friends?” I couldn’t help but laugh as I had walked right into his plot. I stammered and gesticulated my objections, John too was enjoying a hearty laugh. Dr. Phun continued, “You should bring this Disco (John’s nickname) next time; I should love to meet him.” And with that we were ushered into Hush.

It was clear from the onset that Hush was going to be an in-your-face, mile-a-minute haunt romp packed to the gills with lively scenes that were creepy and comical. The highly vocal cast, which seemed to come in all shapes and sizes, served up plenty of laughter, startles scares, and supercharged zaniness. Hush made good use of tight passages and pint-sized drop panels, and bizarre yet inventive characters.

Inside the very first room we were chased by a lunatic with a television set for head. Monitor Head stomped his way down the hallway hot in pursuit, bashing his cranium from wall to wall as he went. We fled the oddball abomination and soon found ourselves traveling down a narrow hall lined with doors on either side — the noises that echoed all around informed us that these rooms were occupied.

We pressed on and were assailed by a demented monk who seemed to issue threats in Latin or some other equally dead tongue. We then turned a corner and found a disturbed young lady a top a shelf or bunk bed; one cannot be sure of such things given the circumstances. Her hair fell in front of her face as she sang a lifeless, strangled rendition of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

Once free from her bubble of insanity we encountered yet another madcap freak when we were held at gunpoint by a squat disciple of Uncle Sam who barked orders in our direction. Again, we soldiered on.

We made our way through a candlelite cavern and then had the displeasure of meeting a second crazed medical professional. This one had recently lobotomized a patient and spoke excitedly of his experiment. The dimwitted invalid soon rose from his chair and spouted off some stilted, yet humorous dialogue.

John and I put some distance between ourselves and the ghastly pair and soon found ourselves engulfed by a twisted carnival. The floor zigged and zagged at odd angles. Soon the path led us to a small stage, upon which a life-sized marionette puppet resided. Lights flashed, music blared and the puppet’s strings began to dance. Suddenly animate, laugher and taunts began to issue forth from her mouth, and to her right was the puppet master — a fat clown who’s eyes suggested he’d love nothing more than to defile us in our sleep.

Hush ended with the buzz of chainsaws, a humongous, marauding alien, and one snaggletoothed hillbilly who professed a preference for sloppy butt love.

On all accounts and by any standard, this was one hell of a first year effort from the team at Hush Haunted Attraction.

Rating: 4.75 stars

A Bloodbath on Devil’s Night

Posted in 2013, Review, Wyandotte Jaycess with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2013 by bluefall8

Devil’s Night arrived dreary and wet but with the haunt season coming to a close it would take a lot more than that to keep us off the road. Our first stop brought us to the Wyandotte Jaycees 2013 haunted house — Bloodbath on Biddle. The Jaycees were fortunate to obtain the building that until recently housed City Hall, it’s large and centrally located in downtown Wyandotte.

John and I entered and talked shop with some of the team, some of you may recall that project lead Jon Dehring appeared on an episode of the Mud Puppets during October alongside several of his favorite ghouls. You can watch that episode right now, as well as a behind the scenes tour, by clicking these links: Murder Mystery and Bloodbath on Biddle: Behind the Scenes Tour.

As we talked I noticed a desk to my right, atop it sat a newspaper not unlike the Fear Finder. It was entitled Terror Tracker so I snatched one up to peruse at my leisure. I’ll ruminate more on this publication in a future post. John and I wrapped up the conversation with the Jaycees crew and trudged forth into the bloodbath.

In the past the Wyandotte Jaycees, not dissimilar to many volunteer groups, has struggled to staff their attraction with seasoned scarers. The organization took a step in the right direction this year — the cast may not have been battled scarred veterans, but on the whole the group displayed a lot of heart and energy. In the end we determined that the kids were alright and we appreciated the effort.

There were some standouts too, such as the freakishly contorted handwalkers in the whiteout room. These tortured souls issued primal screams that hastened our departure.

In another room we encountered  a criminally insane young woman who had been strapped into an electric chair and for good reason as we would soon find out. Initially she attempted to convince us of her innocence and asked if we’d free her from the restraints. Skeptical, we questioned her further and soon learned, by way of her own admission, that her current predicament was the result of an incident which involved an oven and some babies.

Her voice was calm, cold while she made this confession, a comical glint danced across her dead eyes — but before she could elaborate further someone threw the switch and sent a current of voltage ripping through her now spasming body!

The halfway point of the haunted house presented us with an interesting choice — Heaven or Hell. We decided that Hell was our best course of action but to our great surprise the route was a circuitous one which inevitably sent us to Heaven…well, maybe an offshoot of Heaven. A preacher had been hung by the neck and in the shadows lurked a devilish dame with a gash for a mouth and a whip for a tongue.

“I don’t know. Is this your idea of Heaven,” she quipped. Philosophers and psychos all under one roof, go figure. As she slunk out of the shadows with the confidence and poise of one who likes to play with her food, I found myself not just pondering the query but also fighting off the litany of inappropriate responses which had instantly flooded my mind. I know, I know — it’s a testament to just how deeply depraved I am that my mind so readily drudges up such things, but hey, it’s a fun way to live.

There was a handful of signature scenes throughout Bloodbath on Biddle which were all decorated and detailed quite well. We traversed a morgue, a carnival sideshow, and one room that featured a very curious wall of televisions.

There was also a pair of scenes inspired by cherished fairytales, granted the interpretation was twisted, but Snow White and Alice were represented nonetheless. Gruesome artwork highlighted these areas — a beheaded White Rabbit for Alice and a dwarf that hung from a tree for Snow White. Which of the seven dwarves, you ask? Un-Happy, of course!

I especially enjoyed the set pieces used in the latter two scenes — a pair of trees and a water wheel in Snow White’s forest and then a large, colorful tea cup found in Wonderland. Another eye catching sequence was found at the end of the attraction when we traversed a front yard and then several rooms in the accompanying house.

As visually impressive as all of the scenes were such inspiration did not lend itself to execution. For various reasons the actors in these prime areas just didn’t muster up a scare worthy of such settings. For instance, the room with the wall of televisions that I mentioned earlier featured a scare that depended almost entirely on timing and unfortunately the  technological and human elements were simply not in sync.

Two scenes in particular that I thought were loaded with potential was the aforementioned sideshow and the closet near the end of the attraction. The sideshow was neatly dressed with whimsical banners that advertised the oddballs who populated the big top. In the middle of the room was a large box but it’s potential went widely unrealized. Similarly, the closet which had clothes hanging in front of our eyes failed to capitalize on the creativity that went into designing the room.

I had also noticed that the actresses portraying Snow White and Alice were different from the pair who usually staffed those positions. I knew this because it was this duo who had joined Mr. Dehring for the interview mentioned near the beginning of this review. The original tandem was very effective in their respective roles and unfortunately their stand-ins didn’t own the characters in quite the same way. I would later learn that the girls had experienced a bit of haunt fatigue and were actually stationed at other positions in the attraction.

It’s a shame that the best scenes weren’t accompanied by more powerful scares and startles because the Wyandotte Jaycees did a lot of good things with Bloodbath on Biddle. The attraction spanned two floors, sported a large and mostly vocal cast, and lasted for more than twenty minutes. The attraction made use of false doors, integrated props well, and featured cool artwork and several detailed scenes. I hope to see the group build on these successes in the seasons to come.

Rating: 3.25 stars

Inventive Scenes, Lush Environments Highlight Slaughtered at Sundown

Posted in 2013, Review, Slaughtered at Sundown with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by bluefall8

The air had grown cold and the hour late as the headlights of our vehicle cut a swath through the rich blackness. John and I arrived at Slaughtered at Sundown just prior to closing time — the hayride had already ended for the night and considering the biting winds, I couldn’t blame operators.

A fair amount of patrons were already waiting in line for their chance to enter the haunted house when we stepped into the queue area. WRIF was on hand for the night and while the rock music was a welcome addition, some hot chocolate or roving ghouls would have made the lengthy wait more bearable. We did chat briefly with a family in front of us who had toured Slaughtered at Sundown previously.

Interestingly, our journey began and ended with nearly identical scares and oddly the effect was very well executed. Both the first and last rooms in Slaughtered at Sundown are covered in streaks and splats of neon colored paint, it looked as if a radioactive rainbow had entered the area and spewed bile in spasmodic fits. An actor in a blackout suit which had been painted accordingly lurked in the shadows and jolted guests with lightning quick startles.

Slaughtered at Sundown offered a good balance of haunt fundamentals and old school tactics mixed with modern props and technology. This provided an ideal setting for the actors who performed admirably, one memorable monster was dressed as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, the costume was finely detailed and highly convincing complete with elongated angles and oversized knife.

We aslo enjoyed a dark hallway that featured a spongy floor, our feet sank with each step which created a mild sensation of floating. Soon thereafter we turned into a hall which used lasers and mirrors to create misdirection and disorientation.

The most detailed scenes were saved for the second half of the attraction. Inside a lifeless nursery, a bony corpse rocked and infant to eternal sleep and later we came upon a wall that resembled a honeycomb but there was no sweet nectar to be had. As we approached the structure a pair of undead arms reached out of the wall and attempted to draw us inside.

The scene was visually striking and something we hadn’t quite seen before; it reminded me of the brief, but jarring dream sequence in 1985′s Day of the Dead when a dozen pair of zombie arms burst from a dormitory wall and clutched at one of the main characters.

Slaughtered at Sundown also featured an excellent swamp full of fog and was inhabited by a mangy Skunk Ape who harassed any who dared to traverse the bridge that spanned the bogland. There was also a greatly detailed cave which even had a thick layer of sand spread across the floor.

Our only complaint fell to the group in front of us which was a family of 6-8 people who now hold the record for the slowest group to ever traverse a haunted attraction. On at least three occasions we attempted to separate ourselves from them but they moved at such a snail pace it was impossible without creating a traffic jam behind us as well. Due to the size of their group and the fact that they entered each room ahead of us, the family commanded the lion’s share of attention from the actors and that was detrimental to our experience.

Aside from that, Slaughtered at Sundown did a great many things right — the detailed scenes and shifting environments kept things interesting. A touch more intensity and improvisation would suit this cast very well.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Big Crowds take a Bite out of Blake’s

Posted in 2013, Blake's, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2013 by bluefall8

We were in high spirits when we arrived at Blake’s were business was booming; the parking lot was packed and there seemed to be people everywhere. There was a country store, a petting farm, a dance floor, and one monstrous pile of hay! Oh yeah, there was also the haunted attractions — Blake’s 3-Story Haunted Barn and Nighttime Spooky Hayride. We’d waited a long time to sample Blake’s haunted offerings, finally we had arrived — and we were ready to have our fill.

RETRO VIBES STALL INSIDE HAUNTED BARN

Our first clue to the nature of this haunt came while we waited in line where a large wall read, “Welcome to the Loonie Bin Gallery”. A series of holes lined the walls and inside of each depression was a video monitor. Every screen displayed a lunatic in a state of excitement or confusion, some babbled nonsense while others merely leered. I came to think of them as the special cousin or pervert uncle that everybody tries to avoid at family gatherings.

The first level of the barn put me in mind of a dark ride, those old staples of countless county fairs. There wasn’t a single actor in this area, rather it was filled with numerous animatronics — most of which were somewhat outdated. It felt more like a fun house than a haunted barn, although we did get a kick out of the large monkey who clung to a fence while being electrocuted.

As we came to the second floor I thought perhaps the lack of live monsters on the first was just a tactic to catch us off guard; perhaps the dusty automatons were simply meant to elicit cheap chuckles? Were we being softened up for what was to come next? For a moment it seemed like that might be true; as we began our trek on the second level we came to a stop.

A top a small stage, a man sat in an electric chair. A metal box covered his head, his face visible only through a the monitor at the front of the contraption. The switch was thrown and as the electricity coursed through his body, the man screamed in agony. When the current had ceased he slumped over dead, the box was retracted from his head.

His body hung limp for a moment, and then the charred cretin sprung into action and hurled himself at the barrier between us and the stage. The close proximity revealed detailed make-up effects, his face and head appeared to have been burnt to a crisp. This was by far the most effective scene in the 3-Story Haunted Barn.

The design of the haunt had potential — ramps, narrow passages, and low ceilings were all present but the remainder of the attraction featured only a handful of actors who seemed to simply go through the motions. Outside of the aforementioned electrocution, we didn’t witness any creative scenes or even come across a noteworthy prop.

As we neared the conclusion of the 3-Story Haunted Barn we did encounter an intimidating sight, the Big Boy Clown — dubbed such for both his stature and his girth. He would lead us through the Black Hole, a spinning vortex speckled with a thousand pinpricks of laser light. Admittedly, this was an eye catching site as the area near the vortex appeared to twinkle with the reflection of innumerable crystals.

I expected more from Blake’s 3-Story Haunted Barn, the throwback appeal of the first level never reached full potential and there was just too little of anything else to make an impact. We didn’t find the experience all together unenjoyable, it just felt like a lot of prelude without much rising action or climax. In the halls of our haunted history, Blake’s 3-Story Haunted Barn is likely to blend into the background.

Rating: 2.25 stars

NIGHTTIME SPOOKY HAYRIDE EQUIPPED WITH TRICKS AND TREATS

As I stated, I was disappointed in Blake’s 3-Story Haunted Barn but I wasn’t altogether surprised. An acquaintance of mine had previously informed me of his experience and his overall sentiment proved to be true, but this realization actually heartened me because he also went on to rave about the hayride — and his enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced.

The Nighttime Spooky Hayride was a good length, featured an energetic cast, and even made a stop in the middle of the apple orchard so that guests could enjoy complimentary cider and donuts.

The madness all began when our jovial guide, a thin man with a skeletal face who will henceforth be referred to as the Wagon Keeper, explained the rules of the land. However, before our wagon could gain any traction we were attacked by a pair of wild harlequins. The duo frightened and harassed various patrons which yielded comical results — a number of teenaged girls screamed and cowered to the delight of all.

The path wound through plenty of scenes and silos, riders were assailed by explosive leapers, a collapsing sign, and outlandish executions. One maniac chopped off the head of an unlucky lass and then chased after the wagon while he waved the head in the air.

Elsewhere we watched as an accused witch burned in spectacular fashion, shortly thereafter we encountered a man who begged for our help — his head in a noose, and his toes barely touched the box beneath him. Suddenly, yet another witch (and quite a sexy one at that) emerged from the darkness and punted the box from beneath the man’s feet! He swung he did, he swung.

In another fun scene a woman broke loose from a prison, but was brought down shortly when an ill tempered guard chased her into the corn and fired a round into her back. It was all wonderful fun but I had the distinct feeling that the recently deceased were likely innocent of the crimes they had been accused. Oh well, we cheered their deaths just the same.

As we neared the end of our ride we pulled through a structure that the Wagon Keeper referred to as the Tunnel of Love. A disco ball hung from the ceiling and jets of light danced romantically all around our carriage. Several expertly still characters sprung to life as we passed. The whole experience put me in mind of a scene from 1962′s Carnival of Souls.

However we weren’t free just yet — those dreadful clowns who had kicked off our journey decided it was time to have some more fun. As our wagon chugged along the path, I noticed a small shack to the right and to the left was a garish gallery of marionette clowns. The exhibition featured half a dozen or more stiffs and I found it darkly fascinating.

As I absorbed the striking scenery a sudden, bright flash from the shack left many of us temporarily blinded and beneath such cover the horrible harlequin attacked our party once more. He was soon joined by his cohort who was, of course, a plant among the hanging puppets.

The Nighttime Spooky Hayride was an undeniably fun romp through orchards and corn fields. It featured a plentiful cast and enough laughter and shrieks to keep things interesting.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Bound in Purgatory

Posted in 2013, Purgatory's Revenge, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2013 by bluefall8

It was by a considerable amount of chance that we came to visit Purgatory’s Revenge in New Haven on October 25th. Originally, John and I had planned to visit House of Fear in Hazel Park but we discovered that Purgatory’s Revenge worked much better with our route for the night which included stops at Blake’s and Slaughtered at Sundown in Armada. As we are always on the lookout for new attractions, it seemed like a natural fit.

In several ways Purgatory’s Revenge put me in mind of Sinister in Utica, it’s constructed outside and must be completely dismantled once the haunt season has concluded. Secondly, it featured a dedicated, in-your-face cast. Several of the standouts prowled the grounds, stirring up scares. The ring leader was a strange creature indeed and can best be described as the result of a demon who had possessed the corpse of a deer. He may have walked upright but the creature displayed a marked animalistic instinct, his speech and actions were certainly something other than human.

The entrance of the attraction is well detailed and created the sensation that haunters had entered into a tomb. We would find out soon enough that Purgatory’s Revenge prided itself on basic haunt fundamentals, a strategy that served this location well. Thick patches of fog swept throughout many areas of the haunt and when coupled with strobe lights, created a highly disorienting effect that had us groping the air as we searched for a path — easy prey for any lurking deadites.

The haunt also utilized a good mix of pitch black hallways, an increasingly underutilized element in haunted attractions. Such perfect dark can wreck havoc on the psyche and has the added benefit of providing fertile ground for opportunities to launch a scare. In one such hall I received one of the best jolts of the season. As I blindly fumbled in the dark I was surprised when I felt my hand come in contact with some sort of barrier — mesh, perhaps fencing? Immediately an unseen actor lunged from within the structure and provided a quality startle.

The use of tactile sensation was yet another fundamental technique put to good use. In the area above, there was merely a change in the texture of the wall and as soon as my mind began to process that information the trap had been set. This tactic worked in rooms with greater visibility as well, for instance, one narrow path forced us to claw our way through a series of thick spider webs. As another example, various areas had thin veils that hung at odd angles from the ceiling — these too we had to push aside. Additionally, the veils served to block our line of sight which in turn created a mild sensation of misdirection; all of this forced us to carefully concentrate on the path.

All of this talk of tactile sensation, misdirection, and darkness may not sound too impressive but when used correctly these old school techniques will enhance any haunted attraction. Sure, a particular haunt may succeed in spite of such attributes — for instance, a great cast may collectively steal the show — but why deny such a cast the opportunity to ply their craft on an ideal canvas? The proper application of haunt fundamentals will always enhance the experience.

The final room of the haunted attraction also played upon such fundamentals, although here it was accomplished when those principles were turned on ear. Generally, haunted attractions will send guests through a series of tight passes which is a great method used to heighten a condition like claustrophobia, but what would happen if those same people were suddenly thrust into a very large space?

This was exactly what the final room put to the test and the result was a sudden sensation of exposure and vulnerability. Those small, narrow spaces do produce a particular kind of fear and suspense, but in such a limited area the inevitable scare has precious few options from which to originate — in an odd way it can almost begin to feel, safe. A wide open space has the opposite effect, suddenly patrons are naked  in the dark and highly susceptible to attack from all angles.

As I mentioned earlier, Purgatory’s Revenge featured several characters who treated the scare as an art form, and the first one that we encountered was the aforementioned Demon Deer.

When we first entered the haunt a strangled voice used bird calls to attract our attention and then beckoned, “Heeeere humans, heeeere humans.” The nightmarish abomination led us to a vacant church and after he had muttered what seemed to be mindless ravings, we were directed into opposite rooms. One was labeled “Men’s” while the other read “Women’s.” John and I briefly separated before the paths wound back into each other. It was a fun bit of interaction and an idea I’d love to see the operators expand upon in the future.

Another scene of interest was a detailed swamp complete with a bridge. Here, we were introduced to a miniature pet alligator and when I crouched to stroke it’s head, we were blasted by a spray of water. The owner bade us farewell (although he did so rather ominously) and we entered into the next room, a vibrantly painted area flush with disturbing depictions of Barney the Dinosaur aside children who bore, what I can only assume, were drug induced grins. The theme from the once popular television show echoed throughout the room, lending a distinctly perverse quality to our surroundings.

What the hell were we about to witness here? My mind ran wild. Would we find girls bound and gagged (Could we be so lucky)? Was a half naked Barney to be found waltzing with the corpse of Baby Bop? Or would we simply discover the purple dinosaur tweaked out on the floor with a needle in his arm? Yes, these are the things that run through my head; it’s a weird place.

Okay, none of the above came to pass, but we were attacked by a large dog with a purple head which gave John a fright, and a good startle is always worth a mention. Even though the bizarre visions in my head did not manifest, it is precisely these kind of creative ideas that keep us on the road chasing that next great haunt fix. The skewering of pop culture isn’t exclusive to late night comedians, it’s also prepackaged fodder for the haunt industry. When viewed through a particular lens just about anything can become creepy, surreal, or downright horrifying.

2013 was the sophomore season for the folks at Purgatory’s Revenge and it definitely didn’t seem to have suffered any kind of a slump. The team here is led by a mixture of seasoned veterans and bold, new blood. With a solid cast on hand, strong emphasis on haunt fundamentals, and plans to expand, it would seem that Purgatory’s Revenge has many souls yet to ensnare.

Rating: 4 stars

Creepy Crawlers Infest Funeral Home

Posted in 2013, Funeral Home, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by bluefall8

The fun and lively lyrics of “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show delighted our ears as we waited in line to enter the Funeral Home in Inkster. We happened to be the only people waiting in line, an ominous quality crept into the air the longer we stood there — alone. A heavy door stood before us, firmly shut. A singular peep hole was inlaid into the center of the door and we began to get the impression that we were being watched.

No sooner had this unsettling realization crept over us, a voice called out from the other side — a woman, begging for our help. Madison and I weren’t in a helping mood and therefore the stranger’s plea were met only by mild amusement. Suddenly, there was a second voice. This one belonged to a man and he wasn’t happy with the owner of the first voice. We heard the sounds of a struggle and then silence followed once more by the male voice which said to us, “You didn’t hear anything.”

The door swung open with some force and before us stood a stiff in a suit, his skin a bluish gray hue. Silently he took our tickets and with a wave of his arm ushered us into the Funeral Home.

The dead heads inside were amped up the moment we crossed the threshold, after all, a pair of fleshies don’t simply wander into the domain of the dead without attracting a fair amount of attention. Shrieks and catcalls reverberated through the air, a raucous pounding caused the walls to tremble; an utter cacophony of noise exploded throughout the place and accompanied us for the duration of our journey.

The vast majority of the cast wore full face masks just as they had during a visit in 2011; a fact that I bemoaned at the time. I think this haunt would be much more frightening if the cast were in face paint or perhaps even half masks but I’ve come to accept the Funeral Home for what it is. Some actors appeared as horror icons like Michael Myers or Jigsaw’s Puppet while others portrayed a litany of common Halloween staples such as skeletons, clowns, witches, and ghouls.

The rambunctious cast succeeded in many startle scares and displayed fair improvisational skills. Our favorites included a talkative, agile goblin near the beginning of the haunt who lacked an understanding of personal space. We also had a fun exchange with an elderly harlequin who had an interesting collection of toys. Mid-way through the attraction a witch peered down at us from a top a wall and let loose a scream so full of primal rage it was almost comical, her face all aquiver. Elsewhere,  a skeletal creature clawed at us from behind a window and then suddenly appeared around the next turn to confront us face to face (okay, face to skull).

The conclusion of the Funeral Home put a welcome spin on an old troupe, Maddie and I were led into a room were a flash of light offered us a brief glimpse of our surroundings — we weren’t alone. A ghoul with a bloated face was armed with a chainsaw and as the room plunged once more into darkness, his weapon roared to life. I made a conscious effort to drag my feet as to allow my fiendish friend ample time to terrorize my beloved sister-in-law. I believe it took all of two seconds before she she jabbed her hands into my back and urgently yelled, “Go! Go!”

The design of the Funeral Home won’t win any awards and the overall length definitely left a lot to be desired. With those shortcomings in mind the Funeral Home still offered an enjoyable, if not standard, haunted house experience.

Rating: 3 stars

Elements and Ambience Rule Realm of Haunted Minds

Posted in 2013, Realm of Haunted Minds, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2013 by bluefall8

When I set out late two Fridays ago, it was to visit a pair of local haunts, and first on that list was the pride of the Huron Turkey Farm — Realm of Haunted Minds. Twice before I’ve visited this location (2008 & 2011) and I found each trip to be memorable and fun.

This time around I brought my sister-in-law Madison along, who’s a creep in her own right but inexperienced in the ways of haunting. Earlier this year she began reading Horrorlust; shortly thereafter I introduced her to the Haunt Guide and Fear Finder. She seemed fascinated by the images on the pages; I knew then I might have a budding haunter on my hands.

So there we were on a chilly Friday night as we soaked in the idyllic atmosphere of the Huron Turkey Farm. The county store was adorned with it’s usual lights, inside a ghoulish array of characters lined the walls. As we made our way to the haunted attraction we explored the miniature town scattered over the grounds, which is something of a playground for kids and big kids alike. The quaint structures provide an excellent place to stage a spur of the moment prank and can also be used for a unique photo op.

Once we had entered the queue area, we were asked to stand at the blood line. A quick glance at the floor indeed revealed there to be a blood soaked stain on the ground, but before we could ask any questions a ghoulish bust flickered to life and began regaling us with the rules of the house. This particular effect utilized a projection system and is immensely more effective and entertaining than having an exhausted employee recite the same rules to each group of patrons every night for the duration of the haunt season. I’ve always advocated that the show should begin before a guest even enters the haunted attraction and indeed Realm of Haunted Minds has put that philosophy to good use.

Realm of Haunted Minds isn’t the type of haunted attraction that’s going to overwhelm guests with high tech animatronics or eye popping props, that kind of thing is sprinkled in to be sure but the driving force here is simply old fashioned haunting. Realm of Haunted Minds successfully fused the mood of a fun house with the ambience of a classic haunted house.

Neon splattered walls and a robust sound system set the scene quite well, while the use of tried and true haunt troupes such as drop panels, misdirection, and hidden passageways further supplement the concept of bedrock fundamental principles. When done correctly, there’s simply no substitute for these time honored elements.

The attraction was of an ideal length and featured a fair amount of actors and if jumping and shrieking can be interpreted as enjoying oneself then Madison had a blast, I was amused to see a fresh haunter caught off guard by a bounty of techniques that are so familiar to me. In one early room a zipper-faced clown stood slightly slumped over, his wrists chained to a wall. As we turned our backs and began in the direction of the next room I waited patiently for the payoff and without missing a beat ole Zipper Face struck! Maddie, convinced the figure was a prop, nearly leaped out of her shoes.

Later, we were pursued by a tongue-wangling fiend who gave Maddie a serious case of the heebie-jeebies when he determinedly scaled the walls of his cage and began to crawl over the top of the structure. In another instance we traversed a narrow hallway and at the end, where the path took a turn to the right, tucked into the corner sat a stone skeletal bust a top a pedestal. I first encountered this gag last year while touring House of the Dead at TerrorTown — it startled me then and without fail it put a little pep into Maddie’s step.

The Realm of Haunted Minds is a good haunted house at a wonderful location and is suitable for all ages. I would suggest that fog and strobe lights be put to greater use as a means to disorient and confuse; the tight quarters would be very conducive to this effect and would serve to ratchet up the tension.

I also felt that the opportunity for a big scare was missed at the conclusion of the ghoul’s rules at the beginning of the attraction. There was a door to the left of us as we stood at the blood line, it bore something of a resemblance to an Iron Maiden. When our decrepit host had finished with his speech the doors opened automatically and we plunged into the attraction, but how wonderful would it have been if a chainsaw wielding nut, for example, had burst forth from the same structure and forced us to scramble around him?! The timing was perfect for just such a scare and what better way to keep haunters guessing than by turning a vintage staple on its ear?

Rating: 3.75 stars

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