Haunt Season Home Stretch

This post comes to us from Sunday, October 21, 2007 and as you’ll read, it chronicles an outing to Pontiac’s twin terrors — Erebus and The Realm of Darkness. We have visited the acclaimed pair six times each over the years; that total trails only the Wyandotte Jaycees (7) and the current leader, The Scream Machine (8).

Last Friday was a big haunt night as I joined the usual tandem in a return to Pontiac. Last year the three of us hit The Realm of Darkness and Erebus on Halloween night and having never previously visited these haunts I came away from the experience delighted. Needless to say I was ecstatic for the return as I viewed the trip as the likely pinnacle of the haunting season. Our first stop was The Realm of Darkness where I looked to avenge last year’s defeat to the elusive Wizard.

There isn’t much to criticize at The Realm of Darkness; the haunt delivers on all fronts. The attention to detail is amazing, each room is elaborately decorated which creates a unique atmosphere absent from many other haunts. The video that precedes the haunt has been vastly improved and the large fireplace remains a fun way to enter the haunt. The live actors are the best I’ve encountered at a haunt this season. These people are committed to the act and several of them unleash some shockingly loud screams. A few that stood out include the screaming girl in the swinging cage, the massive demon, the clown that stood stock still in the black light lit tunnel, and the man on stilts who would not relent in terrorizing Jason until I yelled rape.

The props too are first rate and utilized very effectively. Most haunts do a half-assed job when propelling a puppet in the guests’ direction but ROD pulled it off expertly on numerous occasions. Visual diversions and timing are the crucial elements when springing these traps and I’ll be damned if ROD doesn’t have it down. Another wonderful prop, perhaps my favorite, occurs immediately upon exit from the room with the dropping spiked ceiling. Actually, to be entirely accurate, the guests don’t even exit the room when the door springs open and a gigantic, stampeding gargoyle charges forward. It’s an impressive sight and if it fails to elicit a scream it’s only because the rubes will be to busy shouting “Holy shit!”

I am a big fan of interactive haunts and ROD does this well allowing guests the chance to collect jewels from ghoulies. These jewels of course tie into the greater theme of the haunt which is the defeat of the vaunted wizard. Speaking of the wizard, well I wish I had a daring tale of peril and triumph to share but I don’t. The fucking wizard eluded us once more and I was left to curse his wretched name for another year.

There is one last part of the haunt that I would like to share before I bring this review to a conclusion. Just prior to meeting the “Black light Clown” guests are forced to cross a drawbridge which happens to be home to an ax-wielding zombie. I like when haunts use the rare actor like this essentially turning the haunting adage on its head. It’s a different kind of fear and suspense when you are forced to cross the unknown willingly as opposed to being repeatedly surprised. It was truly a nice touch and a spot that will stand out as one of the most unique of the season for me.

The Realm of Darkness misses not a beat and annually visitors will only be disappointed at the slightly familiar layout. I’m finding that to be a theme at haunts and it can be a major detraction. Familiarity breeds a sense of direction which can lead to comfort and that is a nasty formula for attractions that thrive on the unknown.

Rating: 5 Stars
Following the festivities at The Realm of Darkness we made the very short drive to Erebus. Last year Erebus made Halloween and I was looking forward to a repeat performance but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being slightly disappointed. Yes, you read that right, the vaunted Erebus was disappointing. Now don’t go nuts with that statement, Erebus remains one hell of an impressive haunted attraction, the experience simply wasn’t the same as it was last year. This could be due to various factors the most uncontrollable of which may have been the fact that the excitement of Halloween night added to the adventure one year ago. But there were plenty of tangible signs of slippage readily available in the haunt itself.

The swamp that Erebus features toward the end of the haunt is quite innovative creating a sensation of both claustrophobia and suffocation achieved through a combination of fog, inflatables, and a steadily steeping path. The effect proved wonderful last year but this time around left something to be desired. The fog was too thin allowing guests not only a better view of the room at large but also the oppressive inflatables pressing in from either side. It is crucial to the success of such an effect that the ability to see is kept to a minimum.

The ball chamber, which was a highlight of the season last year, has been omitted and that was a serious detraction for me personally. The structure of the haunt itself was varied in a number of spots but the majority of the layout is similar or the same and just as it did at ROD the sense of familiarity detracts from the sensation of fear and suspense.

The actors at Erebus are good but there is room for improvement and it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more live actors, particularly in the swamp. The back story of Erebus adds an interesting layer not emphasized at most haunted attractions. The introductory video was a great touch this year especially the climax at which a giant insect burst trough the screen and hovers mere feet above the guests.

I like Erebus, I like it a lot but for me it has less of a feel of a traditional haunted house and more of a funhouse on crack. The puppets and animatronics are no doubt the best I’ve witnessed at any attraction but an inanimate object can only invoke so much fear.

Erebus is a lot of fun but this most recent show left me in reveries about how good it was last year.

Rating: 4 ½ stars

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