Nightmare Sanctum another Mixed Bag from Wyandotte Jaycees

It was with high hopes that John and I set off last Friday for the 2012 haunted house from the Wyandotte Jaycees, Nightmare Sanctum. We’ve visited the haunted offerings of the Wyandotte Jaycees each year since 2007, and as I’ve written before the results have been mixed — this year was no different. When we pulled into the empty lot that served as parking, a mangy looking man raced after the car, chainsaw in hand. He was certainly older and more imposing than the typical worker found inside most Jaycees attractions — perhaps they had turned over a new leaf?

Once we had bought our tickets we proceeded to the line for the haunted house and there we discovered that the Jaycees had wrangled themselves both a former mechanics garage and a house. This was similar to the set up the group enjoyed in 2007 when Hell’s Hospital revealed itself to be a stone cold, old school classic. A pair of ghouls stalked about at the base of the stairs leading to the house, scattering jumpy teenagers. There was a large, wooden water wheel spinning slowly on the porch — an interesting focal point if nothing else.

A pair of teenagers, a male and female, served as gatekeepers to the entrance of the haunt and they performed their duties rather poorly. Some may find it ridiculous to criticize the ticket taker but I feel that it’s an immensely under appreciated part of haunted attractions. Sure, at the end of the day all the doorman has to do is collect tickets and help control the flow of traffic, but when the doorman becomes part of the act the overall experience can be greatly enhanced. This pair failed to hold the attention of waiting guests even long enough to explain the few basic rules of the attraction and this in large part was to do with the fact that they acted as teenagers do — greeting ever other teenager in line as an acquaintance, swapping trivial stories of daily life as a high school student while the rest of us waited to get into the haunted house. Quite simply, I’m of the opinion that a capable adult should work the door.

The attraction itself had it’s share of highs and lows and we’ve found this to be typical of haunted houses produced on a low budget, but the problem with the Wyandotte Jaycees is that the lows are crushingly low. I did like the overall pace created by the combination of the house and garage although the house in particular wasn’t used to maximum effect — it seemed as if we were in and out in no time. It appeared to be a two story house from the outside with a basement as well, it felt as if we breezed a path directly through the center of the main floor. Why not capitalize on the houses naturally occurring ambiance by sending haunters upstairs or to the basement?

However, there was one standout scene inside of the house. One room was decorated as a macabre nursery and bathed in the familiar glow of a black light, three girls dressed as rag dolls chanted a slow, mournful rendition of “Ring Around the Rosie” that sounded more like a dirge than a children’s nursery rhyme. Two of the girls sat at a small table, a tea party long gone cold. The third sat inside of a crib and peered up at us with dead eyes. It was a very nicely balanced scene.

However, the very next scene was a shining example of the repetitive problems that plague the Wyandotte Jaycees. We entered a dilapidated bathroom and our eyes were drawn to the sliding glass doors affixed to the shower, a perfect opportunity for a scare or a bit of comedy but we were offered neither, nothing happened — merely a dead spot where an actor should have been.

There were several other highlights though and I’d like to chronicle those before I come to the worst transgressions of the attraction. There was a good blend of scenes and dark, winding hallways; fog was also used appropriately.

One scene that we enjoyed was also featured last year but was enhanced this season with the addition of two actors. The scene featured various barrels, each with brightly colored toxic waste spilling over the lid. Neon colored tubes ran along  the walls, pumping a liquid to and from parts unknown. As we soaked in the vibrant landscape a lively brain muncher lunged at us only to be quickly put down by a masked gunmen.

And now we come to the part where the wheels came off — the second half of Nightmare Sanctum was wrought with very bad workers. An appropriately detailed butcher shop was wasted on a pair of underwhelming pig boys, a room adorned with glowing Jason masks saw an actor clumsily stumble and then blatantly break character when one of the masks attached to his body came unstrapped and fell to the floor. Worse still, near the end of the attraction we encountered a series of actors who were terrible. Their timing was abysmal and their subsequent performance, listless. In addition, Nightmare Sanctum employed no sound system — yet another annual detraction, and at times we could clearly hear the workers communicating with each other.

I understand that the Jaycees operates on a limited budget but there are solutions to these recurring issues, for instance, in key areas simply conceal a CD player to cover monster chatter — the themes from Halloween, The Exorcist, and Poltergeist generally make for ideal haunted house music. Furthermore, the operators need to take better care of actor placement — perhaps individually certain workers are ineffective at delivering scares, so put them together and perhaps they’ll feed off of each other emboldened by strength in numbers.

On a final note, I took my nephew to the Friendly Monster Event held here a mere two days later and in the final room of the attraction I spotted a painting on the wall — something I hadn’t noticed when John and I had visited. The painting depicted a forest in the fall and possessed a dark beauty. Some creative fellow had the good sense to make a few alterations — creepy figures were hidden amongst the trees, one swung from a noose. It was an unsettling image but rendered completely useless during our nocturnal visit because no attention had been drawn to it. If only a spotlight had guided our eyes to the spooky portrait we would have been easy picking for a prime scare.

Rating: 2.25 stars

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