Sinister Jolts the Night with Surprise Twist

The plot of land that Sinister sits upon isn’t eye catching and when we arrived the scene wasn’t cause for a whole lot of excitement. I didn’t know a great deal about this haunt — it was a wild card in the truest sense of the phrase. With all of this in mind I wondered aloud if we weren’t about to experience a dud, and perhaps that should’ve been my first clue of the greatness to come. Three years ago, nearly to the day, similar circumstances brought me do the same thoughts about another haunted attraction that in the end, turned out to be one of the very best we’ve ever encountered.

The location in question was Haunted Hollows in Armada and in 2009 the tagline for the haunted barn was Bowbee’s Nightmare. All of us in attendance that night considered the attraction an instant classic, it went on to win our Haunt of the Year award and the name Bowbee became synonymous with haunt royalty. Sadly, that December the barn that housed Bowbee’s Nightmare burned to the ground. I became aware of this fact the following September when I began planning for the 2010 haunt season. It was a major disappointment and because we could never return the legend of Bowbee grew within our circle.

So, here John and I were on a Friday night in October at an unknown haunt — imagine our surprise when we spotted a sign atop part of the attraction that read: Bowbee’s Nightmare. I stopped dead in my tracks, perhaps a bit too dramatically but I am a haunt fiend after all, and indicated the sign to John. It was a tantalizing suggestion but was it merely a coincidence? We were hopeful that the same folks who had once given us one of our very best outings had migrated here, but what were the chances? For the moment we agreed it was probably a strange coincidence — perhaps the term Bowbee’s Nightmare was simply a horror reference with which we were unfamiliar.

We purchased our tickets and made our way over to the short line and as we stood there soaking in the night my thoughts tugged at me. The doorman seemed oddly familiar as did the disheveled humanoid bird who flanked him. The neurons in my brain were alight with fragments of memories — the cadence of a voice, the flick of an eye. No, this could not be mere coincidence, something was afoot at Sinister. I brushed the needling thoughts aside attributing them to an overactive imagination. John and I relinquished our tickets and approached the entrance of the haunt — if there was anything to my suspicions we would soon have our answers.

As we entered, the sound of simpering insanity filled our ears, it quickly turned to guttural grunts and clicks. A young girl appeared wearing a humble, old fashioned dress and quickly ran off into the next room speaking a mile a minute in some foreign tongue, and I knew she was speaking the language of Bowbee’s people. She ran in circles, twirled and finally came to rest in a bizarre upside down pose with her eyes fixed pointedly on John and I. There was pure magic in the air as a rush of memories exploded in my head — this was no coincidence Bowbee’s had been resurrected! Every scene we traversed and each character we encountered had burned into its soul the distinct mark of Bowbee.

The set designs were comprised mostly of every day items — a child’s tricycle in one room, walls adorned with rag dolls in another — the same creepy, kitsch appeal that helped differentiate Bowbee’s Nightmare from the competition in 2009. The cast blends into this backdrop flawlessly, they are a twisted and absolutely committed team. The interaction and improvisational skills are second to none; these range from bizarre vocalizations to spasmodic, frenzied, and even perverse mannerisms. This crew has the ability to think on its feet and alter their performance for individuals or groups. Inquire about a casket? You might just find yourself locked inside of it for a couple of minutes. Foolish enough to offer up an appendage as a treat? The ghouls here may just oblige with a bite. From timing, to physicality, right through to theatrics this cast is phenomenal.

In Bowbee’s realm there are no dead spots or awkward transitions, each turn features high energy action — all of these elements combine to set an ideal pace. The structure of the haunted attraction is also instrumental in this regard sending haunters through a smart combination of indoor and outdoor scenes. Finally, there is the high energy, visually stunning finale. There’s blood, lots of blood. A blinding strobe light bounces off a scene of cinematic brutality. Bowbee himself wields the stern hand. Sinister achieves something substantial with such a finale — with a little creativity and some fundamental tactics, Sinister has added a new wrinkle to an old troupe and the end result provides for an exciting and darkly refreshing scene.

Upon exiting John and I took our sweet ole time basking in the glow of such an excellent attraction and even as we did this we watched actors prowl the grounds, some of them squirming flat on the ground, to frighten unsuspecting guests. We were approached by a man who turned out to be the owner, Larry. He confirmed that indeed this was largely the same cast that had once dwelt inside the barn at Haunted Hollows. We kicked the can back and forth with him for a few minutes talking about haunted houses and then he kindly allowed us a second pass through his stellar attraction. The disheveled bird man was still working the guests waiting in line except now he had a wooden chicken in his hands, cracking wise with mature word play. This guy was a pro and staying in character seemed to come naturally to him. His costume wasn’t much but he sold every last inch of it, very few actors would be able to pull much out of such an odd and ratty ensemble. We briefly swapped stories with the doorman once more, now recounting our 2009 trip through Bowbee’s Nightmare.

Our second trip through was no less enjoyable than the first and that is a true testament to this attraction. Even knowing where all of the scares were coming from didn’t diminish the experience. In fact, the second go around may have surpassed our first pass. I was both surprised and impressed to find some of the actors in different locations, they were even interacting with us differently. I’ve had the opportunity to run through a few haunted attractions multiple times in the past and often the actors are caught off guard, momentarily frozen by the presence of a repeat customer — but not these freaks, it was as if they’d never encountered us before.

One character, who we dubbed the Mad Humper, assailed a corpse with even more zest and vigor than he had on our first meeting. We’d already witnessed him defile said corpse with his fist and I’ll be damned if he didn’t find a way to up the ante — imploring me to shove my hands inside the bloody mess only to wildly cram his entire head inside of it when I refused. Elsewhere, a ghoul held another haunter captive who was now separated from his group. It felt as if John and I were invading on something personal and so we took the opportunity to crack a few jokes. Once more a member of the cast here did not disappoint, he deftly included us in the odd scene by introducing us to his macabre doll Popcorn which he then contorted to reveal a second doll inside — this was Kernel. Never before has a session of show-n-tell been rooted in such deranged humor. I loved it.

When we exited for the second time it was the same as the first — with smiles on our faces. We soaked in one final treat from this epic attraction as Bowbee emerged from his murder hut to participate in a chainsaw duel with a trench coat wearing maniac! There simply aren’t a lot of haunted attractions that feature this kind of all around precision or professionalism. It’s a gem of the Michigan haunt scene and I feel fortunate to have been entertained by this excellent cast once more.

On a related note, I don’t believe we’ve ever witnessed Haunt of the Year contenders so early in the season on back to back weeks. There is no doubt though that both Sinister and Slaughter House fall firmly into that category.

Rating: 4.75 stars

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4 Responses to “Sinister Jolts the Night with Surprise Twist”

  1. Sinister!!!

  2. This is easily my favorite review we have ever gotten. Well written with key observations. Our favorite customers are old school barn folk. Thanks. Ill be sharing this.

  3. Thanks for the awesome detailed review.
    we all miss the barn at hollows so much! But we found a new stomping ground and are mostly all together. 🙂
    We all really appreciate the great review, keep coming back!

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