Tetralogy of Terror at The Fear Experience

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It was a dreary Friday night when John and I set a course for the Cleveland area; a two and a half hour trip that seemed to pass relatively quickly. Our first stop brought us to The Fear Experience located on Brookpark Road in Parma, Ohio which we would shortly discover was a veritable feast for the senses.

The parking lot alone was larger than most haunted attractions and the building that housed The Fear Experience is, according to the haunt’s website, in excess of 100,000 square feet. A large banner hung above the entrance, music pumped through speakers; there was certainly a big event feel to The Fear Experience.

We entered the structure, purchased our tickets and were ushered through a detailed facade which led us to the massive queue area. The entire space was bathed in an eerie blue hue and covered in a thin fog. Rock music ripped through the scene while a handful of characters tenderized those waiting in line. A couple of mausoleums added additional atmosphere to the queue area.

I was thankful that John and I had arrived when we did because the line was only growing longer and when it came time for us to entire the first attraction, Zombie Uprising, we had waited nearly an hour. However, our wait was about to pay off as we embarked on a breakneck adventure through four haunted landscapes.

Upon entering Braxton Estate I was immediately struck by the level of detail — we traversed fully furnished rooms and highly convincing hallways where tattered cloth hung from the ceiling; it was undoubtedly an immersive experience. The whole of the house was infested with the undead; something had caused this once proud manor to fall to ruin. Everywhere there was clutter and grime; no longer a warm homestead, Braxton Estate had been rendered a slovenly Shangri-La.

There were large holes in the walls, so large in fact a flesh eater had managed to wedge herself inside of one and utilized it as a point of ambush. Her torso jutted from the wall and swung in our direction as we passed as if it were attached to a swivel. We encountered more dead heads near the conclusion of Zombie Uprising when we roamed through a ghostly playground connected to Braxton Estate.

Zombie Uprising featured one room that stood out over all the rest — a small dining room that required us to walk at a forty-five degree angle. The floor, walls, and furniture were all slanted which created a fun and memorable experience. Another design feature that I enjoyed was a series of box fans that had been placed inside the walls throughout Braxton Estate. It was something different that played with sound and light in interesting ways and was just one more element that contributed to the overall atmosphere.

Rating: 4.25 stars

We exited Braxton Estate and were immediately ushered into the Centralia Mental Facility which was nearly identical to Zombie Uprising in terms of length and amount of actors. Centralia Mental Facility was perhaps not as detailed as the aforementioned Braxton Estate but it was no less immersive. In one memorable instance as we navigated the shadowy passages, I was surprised to hear The Dixie Cups’ 1964 hit “Chapel of Love.” The sweet melody stood in stark contrast to our surroundings and as such created a distinctly odd, ominous and even cautiously humorous moment.

Inside this den of lunacy we witnessed a surgeon gleefully wield an electric bone saw at any who crossed his path, passed an exhibition of caged nutters and were even forced to enter a padded cell complete with a patient who lent the term wallflower a whole new meaning. The Centralia Mental Facility presented many solid startle scares, the best an enormous circular saw that buzzed near the tops of our heads. Fortunately, we were able to escape by way of an inordinately long and suspiciously loose womb-of-doom.

Rating: 4 stars

We experienced a short wait once free from Centralia Mental Facility and it seemed our time spent amongst the patients had created in us a yearning for cotton candy and games of chance, so we did the logical thing and made our way to the Centralia County Fair. We exchanged pleasantries with the ticket taker at the fair’s entrance who asked in less than decent terms if we’d enjoyed our trip through the mental facilities’ peculiar finale. I got the distinct impression that he may have had something to do with the womb-of-doom’s present condition.

Fortunately, we were spared further speculation and allowed entrance into the Centralia County Fair which possessed a dark and magical allure. We entered into an abandoned midway full of tents, carnival games and prizes galore. The level of detail was substantial, my brain couldn’t process the information fast enough. The midway was capped with the classic test of strength game — the High Striker. I had visions of setting a new high score, bright lights flashed across my face as a cheering throne of fairgoers applauded my triumph. There I was looking like Dennis the Menace, holding some cartoonishly over-sized plush toy aloft while my faithful friend John stood beside me patting me on the back as he smiled at the roaring crowd and proclaimed, “This is my buddy, this is my pal!”

My reverie was broken by a lone carney who roamed the midway and instead of issuing a challenge he suggested we be on our way; scuzzy jerk didn’t want to part with any of the goods. Next, we traveled a narrow path — to our left was a wall littered with flyers of missing persons and aged posters that advertised the Centralia County Fair from years gone by. I had a strong and sudden sympathy for the central characters in R.L. Stine’s The Beast.

We left the eerie scene behind us and came to an area where I imagine patrons once purchased funnel cakes, corn dogs and candy apples but the carnival had fallen silent. Again, I was impressed and awestruck at the excellent level of detail. Before we were assailed by another angry carney, we plunged into a nearby funhouse rigged with a brilliant array of lights, mirrors and multi-colored ropes that hung from the ceiling.

Later, we clawed our way through a disorienting maze full of hanging, striped tarps only to then happen upon caged side show freaks. Once free of the curiously named figures we found ourselves back inside the funhouse, now surrounded by large, brightly colored boxes and pillars. We bobbed and weaved through the vivid scene and in the far corner found a very curious exit. It required us to duck a bit but a small, long passage seemed to be our ticket to freedom; a white inflatable pushed down on us from above and of all the sights at the Centralia County Fair it might’ve been that glowing, half womb-of-doom that filled us with the most glee and bewilderment.

Rating: 4.5 stars

The last leg of The Fear Experience was District 13 which had a cold, industrial feel. There were green lasers used to disorient guests at the beginning and end of the attraction which was an unsettling journey through a series of tall chain-linked fences. It was difficult to gauge the size of the space due to the heavy fog, strobe lights and harsh music but it felt voluminous. In one corner, a frightening mime repeated the same stuttered movements like an animatronic in need of repair — his eyes were cold, lifeless, soul-sucking orbs.

While inside District 13, I couldn’t shake the notion that we were akin to rats in a maze. As we staggered along the route we were subject to a loud, intermittent banging. Would we be rewarded with a food pellet if we reacted with the desired response? Was I supposed to leap with fright, run headlong into a wall or spectacularly wet myself?! I wasn’t sure but that noise was setting me on edge and it only served to heighten the sensation that we were being watched for the amusement of some unseen audience.

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Fear Experience offered an enjoyable selection of haunted attractions and did from beginning to end provide quality entertainment at a reasonable price. Of course, there were a couple of drawbacks, such as the feeder system with which guests are funneled through the haunted attractions. This was particularly detrimental to the experience inside Zombie Uprising and Centralia Mental Facility which featured plenty of actors but little time for interaction as we often crossed paths with other patrons.

Centralia County Fair on the other hand would’ve benefited immensely from additional actors as it seemed quite scarce on live bodies. Unfortunately, those that were present didn’t offer much outside of standard interaction and that was truly a shame because this setting provided wonderful opportunities for storytelling.

It would’ve been thrilling to engage in a game of chance with a shady carny or to have been loaded onto a questionable ride or offered a dubious treat from the food truck. Why not encounter a distraught mother who sought to reunite with a missing child or be presented with a doomed fate by a mysterious fortune teller?

Still, John and I have toured plenty of haunted attractions that employed a carnival theme and none did it better than Centralia County Fair. The minds behind the madness at The Fear Experience have built a wonderful stage for which to act out future plays; perhaps next year all the crucial roles will be cast.

 

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