Elements Conspire but Erwin, Slaughter House Persevere

It isn’t often that our haunting party has so few but on Friday night it was only myself and John, the faithful Disco Devil, that were able to participate in what turned out to be a very fun night of haunting. Large portions of the state had experienced rain throughout the day and indeed as we departed the roadways along our path were mostly rain soaked, but it takes more than a little rain to damper our haunting hearts. With John executing his deft skills behind the wheel we arrived in South Lyon at Erwin Orchards just before the eight o’clock hour.

BARN OF HORRORS, CORN STALKERS MAZE FUN FOR ALL AGES

It isn’t easy to strike the right balance of fun and fright but the operators at Erwin Orchards have done just that, successfully creating haunted attractions that can be enjoyed by people of various ages and haunting experience. When we paid the price of admission we weren’t given tickets but rather some quaint, wooden tokens — one for the maze, barn, and one redeemable for free cider and donut. Complimentary treats, I think, are a nice way for haunt owners to show their appreciation to their customers (both the donut and cider were quite tasty by the way).

It certainly wasn’t a busy night at Erwin Orchards but that didn’t stop us from getting acquainted with some fellow haunters, joining us on our wagon was a 20-something couple with roots in Pennsylvania and a mother with three excited boys, aged 10-11. The couple from Pennsylvania confessed that they too were avid haunters and spoke highly of a recent trip to the Niles Haunted House Scream Park in Niles, Michigan. They also talked about their experiences working at a haunted house in Pennsylvania called Hundred Acres Manor. The couple adamantly professed the attraction to be genuinely haunted, regaling us with stories about volunteer groups who routinely report a party of four boys that mysteriously becomes three. As they tell it, the sightings occur routinely and always at the same location in the haunt. It’s an attraction that I’ve heard of before but don’t know much about. I’ll certainly read up on it after the stories I was told.

Once our wagon reached the destination, John and I entered the line for the Barn of Horrors and were as it turned out the first patrons of the night. A bat-like humanoid harassed waiting guests, a giant sized glowing clown stood ominously at the entrance. A friendly witch approached us, beckoned us into the Barn of Horrors and to my surprise failed to collect our wooden tokens (more on this later). The Barn of Horrors turned out to be a very fun haunted attraction, the fear factor wasn’t very high but that’s not to suggest that the workers were at fault, in fact several of them delivered quality startles. The haunt featured a good pace and well placed actors — there were no long lulls in the action or awkward empty spaces. In terms of design, layout, and props the Barn of Horrors reminded me of the Tent of Terror at the Boneyard in Stockbridge which in my mind is a good thing. Neither of these haunts are particularly terrifying  — they aren’t exactly old school but nor do they rely heavily on animatronics, what they offer is more of a mix of styles and as we’ve witnessed the results are generally positive.

The scenes were a bit of a mishmash but there seemed to be enough of a thread to pull the whole thing together. The earliest rooms resembled a haunted estate before giving way to a swamp atmosphere which turned finally into an industrial wasteland that put me in mind of Grosse Ile’s former haunt, The Lab. A few of our favorite features included a hallway with an infinity floor where neon colored portraits of classic Hollywood monsters adorned the walls. There was also a warped Grandfather Clock with a human face where the time plate should’ve been and an arm where the pendulum belonged. We were also mesmerized by a blue vortex effect that had us believing we could walk through walls.

I was particularly taken with the swampland area — foliage covered the walls while a combination of fog and lasers created a disorienting effect that caused me to question whether or not the floor was literally shifting beneath us. I’m not sure if that’s a regular side effect of the illusion or if my equilibrium is simply loopy, but it was pretty cool all the same. We also traversed a rope bridge while a massive alligator patrolled a nearby bank, were assailed by zombies from below and snakes from above, and assaulted with knives, chainsaws, and one incredibly foul odor! The adventure ended with a trek through the familiar vortex tunnel.

Once we had exited the witch who had first directed us into the Barn of Horrors approached us once more and said that she didn’t believe her monsters were quite ready when we entered and thus offered us a second trip through the attraction. As I’m sure many of you have guessed, we graciously accepted her offer but not before we checked out the Corn Stalkers Maze!

Admittedly, the haunted maze is not our preferred choice of haunted attraction but the setting was right amidst the corn and as it turned out the attraction wasn’t without merit. Appropriately timed at roughly twelve minutes, Corn Stalkers Maze featured a fair amount of ghouls, the most notable being a mischievous deadite who asked us not to eat the dead body he was saving for dinner. We soon found his meal, it was being devoured with relish by a canine-like man who issued a warning in the form of a low growl as we passed. There was also a hefty, chainsaw wielding Letherface who made for an imposing sight near the end of the maze.

Rating: 3 stars

After that we headed back to the Barn of Horrors where we sought refuge from the elements under the umbrella of fellow haunters. The man reminded both John and I of a certain family we know, the resemblance and mannerisms were uncanny. For what it was worth we exchanged a few tasteless jokes and some laughs and would later encounter the inebriated pair once more inside the attraction. To the Barn of Horrors credit the second pass was no less enjoyable than the first, the cast no less rollicking. I had a bit of fun with the first actor who shakes patrons hands and asks them for their name. He had naturally forgot my name and when I pressed him for an answer he insisted that my name was Jeremiah — I admired his cool under pressure. In the swamp area we caught up with the aforementioned couple who were shrieking with delight and clinging to each other as if their lives depended on it. For seasoned haunters like John and I it was a highly amusing experience. We halted in a chainsaw room in order to give the couple a minute to separate from us and the actor there did not disappoint and simply stand idly. No, this boy went full gear sawing into a corpse then ditched the chainsaw and with wild abandon tore into the prop with his teeth — full marks for that, my friend. The worker resembled the actor that played Van on Reba and because of this I sort of felt like I already knew him and playfully suggested that he squib the prop. He laughed quizzically and then said, “What?” I left it at that.

In the next room was our absolute favorite moment from the Barn of Horrors. A massive, bearded dwarfish creature was trapped in some kind of contraption — it looked as if something were yanking his head right off his body! And then it happened, his head was torn asunder…and yet…the hulking body shambled forward! This was all pulled off to great effect during the first walkthrough, the second go around was just as fun and ended with a bro hug between John and I and our new headless friend. As I mentioned earlier we were chased out of the attraction by a smell most unpleasing and that smell was indeed the cheesy scent only vomit can produce. No worries, it was all part of the show — a barfing animatronic spilled spew into a barrel near the end of the attraction, the smell of course was added for realism. It worked, a little too well — John and I were covering our faces and gagging quite literally.

The Barn of Horrors was a very enjoyable haunted attraction featuring a lively cast, above average visuals, and a couple of neat surprises. A bit more length wouldn’t hurt nor would a little more emphasize on narrative or interaction.

Rating: 3.5 stars

“…and one more thing, don’t eat the corn.” 

“People eat the raw corn?”

“We’ve had problems.”

-Ghoulish Girl and myself while she explained the rules of the Corn Stalkers Maze

Once we’d consumed our cider and donuts we hit the road to Fowlerville but, as is the custom here in Michigan, we were rerouted due to construction. We ended up on some darkened, strange road and witnessed a large, ominous structure that rose up out of a valley and towered over the road. We always seem to find a least one odd structure on our haunt excursions and we dubbed this one the Buno Road Bizarro Estate. Forty minutes later Erwin Orchards and the weird building were firmly in the rearview mirror as we arrived at Grand River Corn Maze and Slaughter House Adventure!

SLAUGHTER HOUSE DAZZLES WITH CHARACTER AND ILLUSION

I mentioned in a post last week that I’m a sucker for barn haunts and as John and I approached the towering red structure before us I was immediately impressed. This barn had character and a ceiling that rose to a crest at least fifty feet above our heads. I soaked in the decorations and ambiance as a witch near the haunt’s entrance explained the rules of the house. A short while later the door was opened and we were beckoned into the dark depths of Slaughter House.

We emerged roughly fifteen minutes later having witnessed an excellent show highlighted by theatrical performances and dazzling illusions. It isn’t a stretch to say that Slaughter House now resides on our short list of favorite haunted attractions, it is precisely locations such as this that keep us on the road searching for that next great haunt fix.

Slaughter House relied heavily on interaction between haunters and actors.  This strategy can sometimes backfire, if an actor’s timing is off or their improvisational skills lacking the interaction will come across as awkward and disjointed and the show will suffer as a result. However, this was not the case at Slaughter House – by and large the cast was well timed, enthusiastic, and in command.

The various rooms were well designed and adequately detailed, thematically each scene was relatively consistent with the one that proceeded it – save for a few exceptions but these did not detract much from the overall quality of the show.

Without giving too much away one of our favorite features was the most convincing elevator simulation I’ve experienced at a haunted attraction. We also enjoyed the increasingly ubiquitous spinning vortex tunnel and a shockingly tight Womb of Doom. There was also a very cool hallway designed with diagonal walls. There should be no doubt however about the engine of Slaughter House – character and illusion.

There was Billy Wonka, an eccentric inventor, who delighted in his creations most namely the spirit remover or spover as he called it. And how could I forget Junior, the rather special son of Billy who found himself in need of some extra restraint, shall we say. We were also treated to an exorcism, a beheading, and a hanging – all of which left us both impressed and amused. Slaughter House also does something else I’ve never witnessed at another haunted attraction – don’t be surprised if you make some friends along the way and try not to take it too hard when those friends are sent straight to the depths of Hell!

The grand finale to all of this wonderful magic involved a séance of sorts led by an elderly actress who was great in her role. It was oddly refreshing to see someone of her age working a haunted attraction. We particularly enjoyed the ending because it was so unique and full of energy.

Slaughter House was quite simply a blast. Of course not all of the illusions were as impressive as the ones I’ve hinted at above but that’s largely due to the fact that the ones I’ve covered set the bar so high. My favorite scenes and accompanying illusions involved actors persecuting what seemed to be innocent victims. These scenes were visually stunning and the cause of much laughter. My only complaint is that Slaughter House wasn’t longer but heck I say that about most of my favorite attractions. It isn’t often that we find a Haunt of the Year contender this early in the season but surely Slaughter House is in the running. We cannot wait to get back and check out both the Haunted Maze and Blood Bath and Beyond Hayride.

Rating: 4.5 stars

YOUNG UPSTART HAS POTENTIAL, NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Our night of haunting came to a conclusion in Webberville where we checked out two haunts at one location. A Nightmare on Elm Road is the primary attraction, The Sequel is billed as the sidekick but in reality the two are essentially the same haunt. Guests pay $10 to experience the first and an additional $5 for the latter. I don’t bear a grudge to anybody trying to make an honest buck but in all fairness I feel the entire location would have been more appropriately priced at $10, but enough talk of money — there’s a haunt to be reviewed!

A Nightmare on Elm Road seems to be situated at the rear of a homeowner’s property — a shantytown of sorts is propped up near a cluster of trees. There was scarcely a wait as John and I quickly found ourselves shut into a small room. A rather forgettable video played before our eyes, a man dressed half-heartedly like Freddy Kreuger spoke of the horrors to come. The video presentation ended and we entered through a second door and into darkness. I enjoyed the early stages of this haunt quite a bit — the design may have been a bit crude but the twisting passages and oddly angled, low lying doorways harkened back to haunting of old.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the presence of a sound system through a good deal of the semi-outdoor haunt but this was tempered by a dearth of actors. I’ve said before that there’s great strategy in allowing haunters to wander through dark passages for a time unbothered — there is nothing greater at building anticipation than the imagination and in the dark the mind runs wild. However, eventually that anticipation requires a pay off and if it never materializes then much has been wasted. However, we did stumble upon one memorable scene when we strolled into some slovenly living quarters. A body lie covered by a sheet on a couch, blood seeping through the material — a prominent blade jutted out of the area near the genitals. I was digging this scene when suddenly an armed redneck entered the room and stuck a shotgun in our faces! He demanded to know what we were doing in his home — his drawl whether authentic or imitation was convincing and a little unnerving. I jokingly conceded that we were “thieving” which prompted him to cock his gun and retort, “I reckon you’d best get your ass on outta here, unless you wanna leave with a limp.” He pursued us for some time, muttering warnings but ultimately left us whole and intact for which we were grateful.

Technically the portion of the haunt titled, The Sequel began as a haunted trail — one guarded by a bulky demon seated atop a throne. We were granted passage and in this area we encountered a greater concentration of actors. Unfortunately they weren’t very skilled in the art of scaring, a couple of them were merely children. Eventually the path weaved through numerous outbuildings, one was a bit of a maze which concealed a simpering, tricksy harlequin — she was the second most enjoyable actor in the entire attraction. Shortly thereafter we came to the rather uninspiring psycho-with-a-chainsaw finish.

A Nightmare on Elm Road and The Sequel didn’t blow us away but we did have fun. The attraction certainly had an amateurish feel but the operators employed a few haunting fundamentals to their advantage and it was of decent length. Unfortunately there simply weren’t enough live bodies to cover the grounds — there were a couple of scenes that would’ve made for great ambush points but alas no trap had been laid. The semi-outdoor feel reminded me of the Woods of Darkness in South Rockwood and much like that attraction I hope the folks at A Nightmare on Elm Road continue to tweak and grow their show. It’s upstart attractions such as these that can really capture the essence of what haunting is all about.

Rating: 2 stars

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