Thrills & Chills Dominate Hilda’s, Feargrounds and The Boneyard!

Friday October 14, 2011 turned out to be the monster night of haunting it was predicted to be. John, Cikalo, Richard, and I departed from Wyandotte at roughly a quarter past seven with three haunted attractions in our sights. If all went well we would have completed our maiden voyage to Krazy Hilda’s, Chelsea Feargrounds, and The Boneyard in a single night. The deft driving skills of the Disco Devil had us cruising down I-94 in no time en route to our first stop — Krazy Hilda’s and her formidable Barn of Doom.

WITCHES, GOBLINS, AND GHOULS RULE KRAZY HILDA’S

The atmosphere at Krazy Hilda’s has all the charm of a family owned farm because that is precisely what it is. A darkened, old farm house greets haunters as they exit their vehicles. A bon fire flickers in the night providing warmth for guests, nearby a large tent complete with tables and chairs offers patrons a place to relax while swapping stories over cider and donuts — here is a quintessential snap shot of Michigan in the fall.

It was a clear, beautiful night in Saline and there was scarcely a wait to enter the Barn of Doom, I think that’s called harmonic convergence. We came to the entrance of the barn and spent several minutes in conversation with the ticket taker a short, 40-something woman with a great sense of humor. The position of ticket taker or doorman is often an under appreciated in the industry. A ticket taker, whether in costume or not isn’t going to make or break the show but when done right this individual can enhance the overall experience and that is exactly what the friendly lady did here. One of Hilda’s goblins was armed with a radio and in contact with our new friend who informed the creature that she had “Four, overgrown chicken nuggets” to satisfy their hunger.

Cikalo and I entered the Barn of Doom first and immediately discovered that the operators at Krazy Hilda’s still remember what scares people, the dark. So many haunted attractions have lost sight that darkness evokes humanity’s most primal instinct, fear. Such perfect dark engages imagination and will send guests to the wandering unknown inside their mind. This approach provides fertile ground for actors lurking in dark places and the creatures dwelling inside the Barn of Doom took full advantage of this delivering numerous startles to us helpless victims.

In one of the earliest rooms we were confronted by ghoul who used a severed head as a puppet, the tongue lolling and licking at us as we passed. Elsewhere a militant creep demanded I drop to my knees and touch my nose. When I’d done so several of Krazy Hilda’s minions mocked me relentlessly. The path eventually led us outside the barn and into the corn where we followed twists and turns down a treacherous path. Here the gang at Hilda’s made great use of threatening dummies which eyed us from the corn. It was here that we were pursued by an imposingly large horror icon and when we stumbled upon a mess of body parts a heartless harpy assailed us parroting my comments by shrieking, “Look what they’ve done! Look what they’ve done!”

We continued our journey which brought us to a graveyard washed in an eerie bluish-green light. A crooked, gnarled tree straight out of Sleepy Hollow welcomed us into the cemetery. The dead stirred here and the living were not welcome, Cikalo and I made our way up a ramp that led us back into Krazy Hilda’s Barn of Doom. The end of the attraction was highlighted by a pair of rooms – the first was painstakingly painted in what I’d estimate was 1 x 1 squares, each square painted with a symbol from a playing card. I loved the effect, I felt as if we’d been dropped into some sort of bizarre Alice in Wonderland detour. The final room was neatly decorated with brightly colored props and several sinister circus clowns.

We exited the Barn of Doom but Krazy Hilda wasn’t quite through with us just yet. In order to gain our freedom we had to brave one final horror, a familiar haunt finale but one that works so much better when executed properly as it was at Hilda’s.

Krazy Hilda’s has a great fall atmosphere and features a haunt with a good pace and a fun layout. The volunteer staff delivered some of the most consistent startle scares I’ve ever witnessed. The scenes inside and outside of the barn employ an effective mix of creativity and haunting fundamentals. I urge anyone who appreciates the art of haunting to get to Krazy Hilda’s this fall.

Rating: 4.25 stars

CREATIVE INSANITY REIGNS AT FEARGROUNDS

The haunted attraction at the Fairgrounds in Chelsea is held in a very large modern pull barn. The show begins before patrons even buy a ticket. A bat-like humanoid revealed an impressive wingspan on a small hill near the haunt’s entrance, a silent octogenarian moodily pushed a walker around the grounds, a neatly placed statue cast a massive and foreboding shadow against the exterior of the building. A large castel facade dominated the lobby area, to the left of this a fun photo-op is available to haunters for a mere $1. We would take advantage of this once we completed our journey through the haunted attraction.

The Chelsea Feargrounds was a veritable grab bag of haunting elements, there was old school, there was new school and just about everything in between. There was a narrative about a mad scientist but this functioned more as a reason to showcase several gizmos and animatronics more than it did to explain any story line. It reminded me of Terror Town although it was clear the this place was less about bumps in the night and more interested in the wow factor.

The first several rooms featured characters who expounded on the think narrative rather than delivering scares and I was happy when that trend ended. Ironically enough it was indeed one of these rooms in which one of my favorite moments occurred. A female ghoul prattled on about the history of the aforementioned mad scientist but what caught my attention was an excellent fortune teller machine in the corner of the room. Those creepy contraptions have always given me the willies. A wild-eyed monkey madly slammed cymbals together from inside the box where the mystic stared out at us with dead, frozen eyes. As we moved forward to texit the room the evil seer lurched form his seat and slammed his hands against the glass! This was no wretched robot! This turbaned future caster was genuine flesh and bone!

Another area of interest further exploited fear of the carnival variety. First, a large floor to ceiling mirror combined with hanging, white ropes and a strobe light created a disoriented, glowing experience. Later a labyrinthine hall of mirrors amused us with visions of our own foul mugs when suddenly one mirror changed and revealed a devilish jester leering at us from behind it. Lastly we came upon a narrow passage that featured a simple yet clever illusion using what we believed to be mirrors.

Once we escaped the Horror at Mirrorland we entered a small, filthy kitchen where insects scattered across the dinner table and a deranged cross dresser offered us the latest meal. I wasn’t surprised when Richard greedily grabbed at the grub for he would as my Grandpa Irv likes to say, “Eat the ass out of an elephant and have the nerve to ask for more.” I was however a tad surprised when I grabbed a handful and began shoving the worms into my mouth.

Near the end of the attraction I was excited to enter one of my favorite scenes, the creepy doll room. Always, these rooms feature fantastically ghoulish play things — some with glowing faces or moving heads. A number of them may even wield weapons and if you’re lucky one of the pint sized deadites will even attack your group! Unfortunately the worker puppeteering the miniature maniac was one of the most unenthusiastic and unimaginative goofs to ever set foot in a haunted attraction. The initial scare was cut short when the worker abruptly stopped the puppet half the distance to our group. I offered my hand up for a good slashing as to allow the worker a second chance but junior wasn’t biting. I made several more taunts in hopes to elicit a response — hell I stopped short of tickling his chin — but nothing.The worker simply stood there like a dolt, a pox on what was otherwise a fun filled haunted adventure.

The haunt did conclude in an exciting manner, after exiting a greenhouse that contained chomping plants we were urged by what appeared to be a S.W.A.T team too quickly clear the area. The reason, you ask? Brain munchers, man!! A pair of sharply dressed dead heads attacked from behind and then a second pair appeared at our side. Soon several others emerged and we were surrounded, but the gunners did their part in dispatching the undead menace whilst Cikalo and I disarmed at least one flesh eater with nothing more than our irreverent wit.

The Chelsea Feargrounds haunted attraction featured superb props and animatronics — a chomping toilet, a faucet that poured blood, and a flatulent deer’s behind (complete with smell) were just a small sampling of the strangeness that greeted us here. We witnessed a rock formation spring to life, traversed a room full of murderous mannequins, and were blasted with sticky, white globs. You read that right. The costuming and make up was done well and the actors as a whole put forth a worthy effort. My only complaint is that at $17 ($15 w/coupon) the attraction could afford to be a little longer.

Once we emerged from the haunt we took advantage of the fun photo-op I mentioned earlier. The staff seemed particularly amused at our willingness to cram four grown men into a small space for the sole purpose of acting like complete idiots.

Rating: 4 stars

TENT OF TERROR HEADLINES THE BONEYARD

When we arrived at The Boneyard in Stockbridge the air had become noticeably colder but such trivial matters have never put a chill in this haunter’s blood. Here patrons claw their way through the Tent of Terror before hitching a wagon ride to Deadwood Forest and finally navigate through the thick fields of corn in Scarecrow Hollow.

Tent of Terror was an elaborately detailed attraction, so immersive in fact you will completely forget at times that you are in a tent. Our journey was punctuated by the hard driving musical stylings of Rob Zombie — an excellent choice for any adrenaline pumping haunted attraction. Tent of Terror was some what reminiscent of County Morgue at Chainsaw Creek in 2008 and that fact put a smile on my face. The attraction was positively brimming with ghouls and freaks — one popped out of a suitcase, several inhabited a macabre nursery, a quartet of clowns appeared as if from nowhere in yet another room issuing insults and threats. No solitary actor or scene really stole the show or outshone the rest but that certainly doesn’t suggest that these tent dwellers weren’t up to snuff. The scenes had a flow to them and the actors worked in a steady cohesion to provide an overall consistency in the scares.

Several memorable moments included a corpse that was skinned clean of all flesh, a black hallway blazing with dancing beams of blue, red, and green lasers, and finally a hung, left for dead pilgrim who lunged at us from death’s door. My favorite moment however came when we were herded down a narrow shaft, forced to crawl down a ramp. Where the ramp leveled off there was a small, strangely distorted window. A dagger-mouthed, beady-eyed, monster with wild, jet black hair was staring out at me hungrily growling, tilting its head to and fro. Its features were oddly misshapen by the glass and illuminated from beneath by an eerie purple light. It reminded me of something similar I saw years ago as a child at Anxiety Alley in Lincoln Park.

Rating: 4 stars

We hopped a wagon to the woods where we were dropped off at the entrance of Deadwood Forest, a western ghost town where the dead rule. Essentially a haunted trail, Deadwood Forest was impressively detailed featuring scaled down versions of Western mainstays such as a saloon and jail house, among others. There were intermittent blasts of fire scattered throughout the forest, a hunchbacked, hobbling hag and a fun, falling wall gag.

Considering the length of the trail it is scarcely populated which leads to more dead spots than are useful. A lack of actors in such an open space also facilitates aimless wandering and a fair amount of second guessing where the path is concerned. Additional actors would have increased the excitement of this attraction considerably.

Rating: 2.75 stars

The forest wall broke and we entered Scarecrow Hollow, a long corn maze full of dead ends and chattering chainsaws. The disorienting trek through Scarecrow Hollow was quite fun but it’s also one of the few times you’ll hear me criticize an attraction for being too long. The majority of the actors seem to be concentrated at the beginning and end of the corn maze which works well in those areas but also creates lengthy lulls throughout much of the attraction. Highlights of Scarecrow Hollow included the corn fed fiend who repeated the liens of passing haunters, although he was presented with a line he would not repeat as we passed, the clearing where we were ambushed by strobe lights and chainsaw touting lunatics, and of course the man with the demon horns who awkwardly participated in our crude jokes.

Rating: 3 stars

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