Haunt Season Awakens with Visit to Scarefest Scream Park

I can only hope that our record breaking trip to Scarefest Scream Park is an omen of things to come for the 2012 haunt season. This past Saturday, John, Richard and myself made the journey to the village of New Haven, Michigan to explore, of course, the frights and sights offered at one of Michigan’s numerous scream parks! We were lured to this particular location due to the half off special the haunt offered last weekend. Ordinarily, Scarefest Scream Park charges patrons $45 to experience four unique haunted attraction and that is indeed a steep price. Haunters can find coupons available online and in the Fear Finder, there’s a $5 off coupon which can be used on a single attraction or a $10 off coupon good for the all inclusive package. Anyway, we decided to check out the Castle of the Dead and Hayride of Doom which cost us a grand total of $15 — all in all not a bad price to start the haunt season.

I was struck by just how many people had attended the event this early in the season, we’ve gone to haunts many times during the last weekend in September and aside from the Homer Mill in 2008, they’ve always been very slow. The Scarefest Scream Park was alive with fun and fright however — I would guess that was due in no small part to the half off promotion. We headed first for the Castle of the Dead and were delighted to witness some fine line entertainment. It’s easy for talent at such attractions to view these so called preview weekends as being less important than the October dates but these creatures of the night were up to snuff. A young, energetic ghoul ran up and down the queue line, spouting silly phrases and providing laughs for waiting guests — he even copied my stance as I spoke to John and Richard and cracked wise with us for a few moments. Before long though, it was time to approach the large double doors that served as the entrance to the castle.

All in all, Castle of the Dead was a fairly average haunted attraction perhaps even slightly above average. On the positive side there were ample workers (I counted roughly 20) and it was of fair length, clocking in at nearly 15 minutes. The majority of the workers performed quite well but nobody stole the show or provided us with a particularly memorable moment. Those that did stand out include a black and white checkered hallway where a long haired, stilted ghoul impeded our path as well as a clown room with walls decorated with painted, neon balloons. There was also a cross dressing, bi-polar nutter who made ridiculous remarks only to apologize for his behavior moments later, and finally a funeral setting where an energetic deadite enthusiastically told us the story of how he killed his wife and implored us to lay hands upon her casket. We would learn shortly that she wasn’t dead at all, at least not dead enough — she bounded in from behind us and the two deranged love birds made sure we fled the scene.

Another highlight included the character we met before we even entered the castle walls. Atop the stairs was a couple of sorts decked out in wonderfully elaborate garb and make up. They mocked us according to their custom and then beckoned their brother, Mathias. Mathias was a physically imposing sight, measuring an estimated 6’4″ and 375 lbs. Mathias however was not simply an overgrown brute, he possessed a wit and theatrical knack unmatched anywhere else in the Castle of the Dead. He poked fun at us while displaying good comic timing and improvisational skills, and was a true artisan of his craft.

However, I did mention that Castle of the Dead was by and large an average haunted house. There were several aspects of the attraction that left a lot to be desired. The best example of this is likely the lack of a consistent theme. The haunted house is called Castle of the Dead and indeed the external facade suggests such as did the dress and manner of Mathias and his cohorts but the rest of the attraction was a mishmash of familiar haunt troupes — there was the aforementioned clown and funeral scene but also a radioactive room and a slaughter house setting. It felt some what lackadaisical and uninspired.

We also felt that the transitional hallways were too plain and in some instances too well lit. In my opinion one of the primary benefits of such passages in haunted attractions is the opportunity for guests to psyche themselves out but that doesn’t happen on a clearly lit path, had these hallways simply been dark with possibly some artificial fog this could’ve been accomplished. Our last major complaint was the lack of an interesting ending — what we saw was the all too familiar crazy-with-a-chainsaw. Don’t get me wrong, the chainsaw chase is a classic and it works in the right setting, but not here. Here would have been an excellent chance to rely on the established theme — why not an executioner chasing guests with an oversized axe? He could even slam it into the wall dramatically to spur on those hardier souls.

The haunt also employed a series of interactive rooms, wherein guests are asked to sit down or are told a story. Whatever the case may be, it’s all a set up for the next scare and in some instances this can work very well but as it did here, in conjunction with the inconsistent theme, provided a disjointed experience. The first occurrence of such took place in the first room of the attraction, an area designed to look like the room in the original Saw — this was where Mathias and his cohorts bid us adieu. It had promise but in the end there was little payoff. The second instance was the funeral scene which as I mentioned was one of the haunt’s highlights and the third was the execution we watched with the bi-polar cross dresser. The latter two in particular worked well on their own but as I’ve mentioned already, simply didn’t flow with the rest of the house.

Castle of the Dead wasn’t a bad haunted attraction by my standards but it didn’t provide any truly frightening moments, interesting environments, or cohesive theme. The majority of the cast did a fair to good job with several of them providing above average interactions but at the end of the day it was a pedestrian haunted experience.

Rating: 2.75 stars

The wait for the Hayride of Doom was considerably longer than Castle of the Dead as the crowd had swelled in size, once more I was struck at just how many people had attended the event this early in the season. When we did board our wagon we found our narrator to be a tall, slim male clad from head to toe in black. His dark hair hung in greasy strands across his pale face, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Manson. Throughout the duration of the ride he provided an impassioned and sometimes humorous account of the turmoil that had befell the land, he was excellent in this role.

The operators here have implemented a quiet stroke of brilliance — fitting the underside of each wagon with a series of strobe lights. This widely eliminates the need for lighting at individual scenes along the route, undoubtedly saving boatloads of both time and money. The hayride was a good length, I’d estimate it lasted anywhere from 15-20 minutes as we wound our way by a multitude of haunted landscapes including a village, prison, church, butcher shop, various graveyards, and finally a refugee camp. We passed through a massive barn at one juncture, crossed several bridges, and laid our eyes upon both a giant humanoid bat and an even larger creature that defied conventional description. Each scene supported a fair amount of prowling ghouls, my favorites of which included living doll girlies and , of course, zombies. The zombies ran about wildly thrashing and gnashing as they do — I even saw one haphazardly riding a Big Wheel bike in pursuit of the wagon! In my opinion however, it was the creepy living dolls that stole the show. These femme fatales dominated the landscape in one particular scene and emerged from the woods with a menacing gait that suggested their limbs were indeed molded from plastic and socketed into place. I also enjoyed the church scene near the end of the ride, a wooden walkway rose above the wagon and stretched across the path. A priest or druid of sorts was located in the middle of the structure wearing the skull of a steer of all things, angrily gesturing toward our wagon. The scene seriously put me in mind of the main village and certain baddies in Resident Evil 4 — I have no doubt that it was at least, in part, inspired by such.

The Hayride of Doom may not have been the raucous, rain drenched, Devil’s Night melee we experienced at the nearby Haunted Farm of Terror in 2009 but it was still very good. There was a lot to take in and I wish we could’ve made the trip once more — not only to soak in a more complete view of the scenes but also to enjoy the superb commentary that punctuated the hayride.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Scarefest Scream Park does feature two additional attractions — Terror Zone Maze and 3D Haunted House as well as Forest of Darkness and Yappo’s Fun House. We decided to skip those due to underwhelming experiences with 3D and maze attractions in the past (and the testimony of an acquaintance who attended the event last year). Personally, I would have preferred to check them out if for no other reason than we were already there but I do keep the feelings of my haunt brethren in mind and on this night I did what I rarely do and agreed to skip these final two attractions.

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One Response to “Haunt Season Awakens with Visit to Scarefest Scream Park”

  1. Thank you very much for those kind words, we work very hard to please our victims.

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