Trio of Downriver Haunts Spark Season

Few nights of haunting contain three separate attractions as enjoyable as those we experienced in this post from Thursday, October 8, 2009. And as you’ll read we were in desperate need of such a night after suffering a disappointment of historic proportions just one week earlier. It pains me to say that all three of these haunted attractions are no longer in existence.

When the book is closed on the 2009 haunt season it’s likely that we’ll point to Friday, October 2 as the night that saved the Haunt Trinity. One week earlier we had suffered the most disappointing outing in our history. The experience had left us skeptical about the 2009 season; our enthusiasm had noticeably waned. We needed a night like last Friday, an outing that will forever be enshrined in Haunt Trinity lore as Redemption Night.

The night began when Jason, Richard, and Disco arrived at my apartment just past 8:00 p.m. We planned to hit three area haunts and after a little debating we decided to start at The Scream Machine in Taylor. We skipped Scream Machine last year because previous visits in 2006 and 2007, although quite enjoyable, were fairly similar. We plopped down our $15 and enjoyed the castle facade before entering the haunted halls of The Scream Machine.

In 2006 The Scream Machine premiered The Hellevator, a cursed elevator that wildly transports haunters to the bowels of a forgotten land. It’s always a lot of fun and a great way to start any haunted adventure. We’ve experienced this feature at several other haunts but we have yet to find any place that does it as well as Scream Machine. The Hellevator is pitch black as you enter and when the door shuts the wild ride begins with violent tremors followed by electrical noises and flashing lights that reveal a long, black-haired girl creeping out of the far corner. When the Hellevator comes to rest an unsettling whisper seeps into your skull, “We’ve been waiting for you.” I’m positive that the line is from a horror movie although the title escapes me at the moment nevertheless the effect is well timed and very creepy; it feels as if the sound has actually formed a cushion around your head. The ride comes to an end and guests are released into a spinning vortex tunnel before entering Scream Machine proper.

The majority of this attraction sends haunters winding through an elaborate cemetery complete with dank crypts and prowling creatures. This is the same basic layout that The Scream Machine has employed in the past except this year it’s much more immersive, so much so that Jason likened the experience to The Realm of Darkness. The scenes are highly detailed featuring a great blend of still props and animatronics that provide the eye candy that has become a staple of Scream Machine.

Eye candy is great but live actors are the heart of almost every haunt and The Scream Machine had warm bodies in spades. On the whole the actors were committed and persistent with several ghouls assailing our group more than once. The actors were also very well timed in fact the crew here made Jason jump more than he ever has at any one haunt. A great number of those scares came from an old trick of the haunting trade: drop down panels. There is nothing spectacular about this gag as a matter of fact they’re usually easy to spot, for example if you see a picture or a squared shaped panel on a wall it’s a safe bet that a monster will appear from behind the wall but The Scream Machine integrated them so well into the attraction that we were surprised numerous times. Deadites sprung from wooden boxes adorned with skulls and materialized behind casket shaped designs covered with skeletons that had been in-laid into the walls. It was a new twist on an old trick and it served the overall effect of the haunt very well.

The Scream Machine also features a church scene which has been a favorite of mine since my first visit in 2002. In that year as well as 2007 haunters are made to wind their way through a series of pews where a gruesome assortment of characters await your passing. In this year’s version the church is significantly scaled down which does detract from the overall grandeur of the scene but in its place is a sense of foreboding intimacy. Guests enter the room and travel a single, narrow path flanked on both sides by a set of pews containing half a dozen freaks and weirdoes. An actor does pounce on your group but it isn’t one of the seated patrons of the church which I feel would be the most appropriate scare in this setting; however this is merely a minor, even subjective flaw in what is an otherwise great attraction.

Yet another scene of note is the chop shop setting near the end of the attraction. Haunters are treated to a prelude of this scene while traversing a dark hall in which the right wall is made up of wooden planks. The gaping boards offered a glimpse into the next room which contained a pasty faced ghoul who eyed our gang hungrily as he cocked his head to and fro sizing up his potential meal. Once inside the room we discovered a smattering of body parts hanging from the ceiling and no sooner were attacked by the pasty faced one and a deranged buddy of his. Pasty Face pursued us through the chop shop and into a room with jars of pickled body parts.

We shook him as we entered a series of rooms that were formally used as part of Carnevil of Lost Souls, a 3D attraction that once followed The Scream Machine. These attractions are universally distinguishable by the special paint used to decorate the walls, paint that glows underneath a blacklight. The change of scene did not seem disjointed from the rest of the haunt and I think it was a cool decision by the operators to incorporate some of this space into this year’s version of The Scream Machine. A cackling jester pranced about the maze like rooms and seemed to delight in our inability to navigate the structure. Eventually this happily demented creature pointed us to the exit, pleasantly cackling the entire time.

If I had to describe Scream Machine in one word it would be execution. Nearly everything here from the actors to the props to the very pace of the haunt is executed with extreme precision. There is room for improvement but any such changes would be described as subtle at best. The $15 price tag does sting a bit but if you live in the downriver area and want to experience an excellent haunted attraction without driving a half an hour or more then The Scream Machine will suit yours needs nicely.

“I’ve been threatened with a pickling!”

-My warning to the rest of the group when a sadistic mad man threatened me after I observed a jar of pickled eyes

“The big one’s jumpy!”

-A nasty ghoulie alerting his monster brethren to Jason’s nervous nature

“The antithesis of stretch face.”

-Richard, commenting on a shrunken faced skeleton that put him in mind of an unsavory lass

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Next up was a stop at the Wyandotte Jaycees’ 2009 effort, Hellblock 13. Located at the corner of Biddle and Ford Avenue the haunt is located in what used to be a police station. However, when we arrived the place was oddly deserted and lit rooms were plainly visible through the windows from the street. The haunt was supposed to open on Thursday night but an employee informed us that it wasn’t quite ready and it would instead open on October 8th. I would think that a local group that has placed ads in both the Fear Finder and Haunt Guide would be open on time but clearly I’d be wrong. It strikes of unprofessionalism and brings to mind the disappointing effort we witnessed from this group last year. It remains to be seen if we’ll find the time to return to this local venue.

This set back would do little to deter our haunting spirit as we immediately decided to head over to the old school haunt Extreme Scream. There was only one group of people in front of us when we arrived and thus our wait was minimal. If you find yourself at Extreme Scream take a moment to appreciate the throw back artwork splashed across the walls while you wait in line, it puts me in mind of the Halloween imagery of my early childhood.

The haunt stumbled out of the gate when I began to open the door to the first room and saw three actors making a slow exit. I purposely delayed to allow them a moment to scram but they seem disoriented and out of sync as we traversed the first series of rooms. Luckily business picked up from here and we experienced yet another knock out, old school effort from Extreme Scream.

The hallways were pitch black as usual which naturally heightens the other senses for the eventual scares just around the corner. I enjoyed the off beat sound effects employed here, a mixture of breaking glass, power tools, and other loud disconcerting noises of a similar vein. The sound system did go oddly quiet at times and the overall experience would have been better served had it not because during these brief lulls distant chatter could be heard. Thankfully it was brief as such a thing can kill the atmosphere of an attraction; we witnessed this last year at Templin’s Night Terror in Wyandotte and boy was it lame.

One feature I absolutely love at Extreme Scream is the creative ways in which haunters are made to traverse the haunt. We experienced this in 2004 when we were made to crouch through a hallway only to be loaded into a cart at the end and then again last year when we were forced to crawl through entire passageways and shuffle sideways through others. This year guests come upon a hallway lined with lockers and when that hall dead end’s into more lockers a hidden ghoul emerges and reveals a hidden passageway within the lockers. Haunters crawl through a narrow passage while creeps stalk from above offering threats and insults.

I also enjoy the unique strobe effect employed at Extreme Scream. Most haunts use a standard strobe effect which pulses quickly making movements appear staggered or jittery and while that’s visually startling in its own right Extreme Scream has mastered a technique that serves its purposes well. Here the strobe flashes very slowly perhaps one burst of light every five seconds. In this way guests get a very quick glimpse of their surroundings before being swallowed by total darkness once more. The effect is similar to that of a camera flash and in this way it is blinding.

Another room of great interest was what we came to call the silhouette room named for the outlined druids surrounding the walls perimeter. As each outline is painted black haunters are left to guess which outline will act as a door and guide them to the next room, it’s simply another example of old school tactics put to good use. This room led to an interesting scene indeed something we’ve never witnessed before, a scene so bizarre that perhaps it would have been more at home at Terrortown’s House of the Dead. Initially the room was pitch black like many others but one of those patented strobe blasts later I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a painting of the head of a massive monster on the wall. There was a hole near the top of the wall and from that void was draped a massive tongue which gave my leg a grazing lick. I had just been violated by a 13-foot monster tongue and it amused me something fierce!

The haunt draws to an end with a series of narrow hallways which routes guests into a room with thin PVC pipes hanging from the ceiling. A feature like this may not sound very impressive but it compliments the haunt well and adds just a tinge of fun house flavor. The finale is slightly improved over last year replacing a rather mild puppet in an electric chair with a hefty live actor who gets zapped instead and issues shrieks of agony. This scene leads haunters into the final room where the archetypical chainsaw wielding maniac makes sure that you vacate the grounds.

Extreme Scream is a hell of a bargain at just $10; you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger bang for your dollar. This haunt is a throw back in every sense of the word and any self respecting haunter would be wise to pay Extreme Scream a visit. Attractions like this are a dying breed and that’s a shame because this is what haunting is all about at its roots. Extreme Scream isn’t perfect in fact some additional training for the actors would serve the haunt well, but the up side here far out paces any shortcomings and therefore Extreme Scream should be an essential destination on anyone’s list of must see area haunts.

“It’s just a junkie in his bed.”

-My reaction to the guy who squirmed from beneath bed sheets and ordered us out of his room

“Extreme Scream…old school haunting done right.”

“Was that your attempt to be quoted in Hallowblog? Cause you’re gonna fuckin’ have to try harder than that.”

-Jason delivering a line so bad it was good followed by my derisive retort

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

The final destination of the night resided on the isle of Grosse Ile at a little haunt known as The Lab. This particular attraction was not on our radar last season but we were eager to see if it had improved since our last visit in 2007. The haunt is in a great location; located near the southern tip of the island it borders woodland that provides an ominous rustic ambience. We were allowed to select one of four Lab buttons with the purchase of our ticket, a nice bonus to a haunt nerd such as myself.

The infamous Dr. Pickles engages haunters at the entrance of the haunt flanked by an armed guard meanwhile a 9-foot mutant insect harasses guests. We were not made to wait long as the line was quite short. The good doctor has us step into a hallway as he explains a few basic rules before allowing us to proceed into a small lobby where a second armed guard is present. Here haunters view a short video featuring a Gen-Tech Labs scientist who explains the bizarre situation into which you and your friends are about to be thrust. I’m a fan of the video introduction even if it is slightly corny but I wish the creative team here would use this opportunity for a fun scare. As I mentioned this takes place in a small lobby so there isn’t a lot of places to hide but the room does have this cool balcony that would be an ideal place to spring a surprise. Maybe a dummy could be thrown from the perch or perhaps a crazed ghoul attempts to lower a noose over the neck of an unsuspecting rube. Better yet, perhaps a mutated scientist could emerge and warn your party of the folly upon which you are about to embark only to be gunned down by the armed guard. Now that would set the tone of the haunt quite nicely. Anyway, after the video the guard asks your group to pick a leader, the person who will carry the data collecting keycard around their neck and this year Jason was afforded the honors.

Two years ago one of my biggest complaints about The Lab was its lack of live actors but to their credit they improved in this area offering up plenty of warm blooded monstrosities. The first creature of note was an irradiated skeleton lodged in a barrel of toxic waste, a comically creepy scene indeed. As we ventured deeper into the madness of Gen-Tech Labs we were assaulted by spitting lizards and nearly chomped by an enormous plant creature with a bulbous head. Later we came upon a research lab which contained alien fetuses preserved in large tubes. When we leaned closer to the glass that separated us from the room a fiendish ghoul smashed his face against the glass. As we departed this ghastly scene we came upon a hallway filled with ankle deep smoke, green lasers swept through the mist creating a swamp like atmosphere; an effect I like very much.

Shortly after we entered a lab and were greeted by an eccentric nutter who called himself Dr. Sprinkles. Apparently, as he informed us, Dr. Sprinkles had been conducting experiments with cadavers in an attempt to raise the dead. He made a spectacle of demonstrating his technique and became excited to the point of orgasmic euphoria when it seemed his wretch of a specimen would indeed rise. However, the experiment went awry and Dr. Sprinkles became incensed demanding that we leave the room. As we exited his creature rose and the doctor returned to his blissful state.

It wasn’t long that we came upon yet another doctor, Dr. Pickles. Apparently the situation inside The Lab had become dire enough as to pry him away from his post at the entrance. A werewolf burst forth from a crate and Dr. Pickles diligently fought the furry fiend off with a crowbar. He offered up some solid banter before urging us to strike forward. I shook his hand for valiantly defending us which the doctor told me was foolish owing to the fact that everything in The Lab was contaminated, I’d been hoodwinked. We left Dr. Pickles to deal with the werewolf and were meet shortly thereafter by a creature who would have felt at home in the Black Lagoon. He made desperate gurgling noises and gestured wildly for us to continue down the path. It was a neat sound effect and quite appropriate for the character in question.

We were nearly at the end of the haunt when we entered a dark room where a fair, young maiden lay gutted on a slab. More than one member of our group had their heart set on a juicy squibbing but those hopes were dashed when the keeper of the room emerged with his chainsaw. A light flashed before us and a second girl screamed from behind a door urging us to flee the scene. A few twists and turns later we found ourselves traversing a uniquely shaped triangular hall illuminated by orange lights beneath grates in the floor. The smoke filled room gave me the impression of a giant honeycomb which caused me to flash on that scene in the 1998 X-files film where Mulder and Scully find those weird structures that contain genetically modified bees.

The shouts of an armed guard called out to us as we passed a security room containing a petrified corpse, a shrieking harpy assailed us from the right and then offered a flirtatious greeting which Jason took as evidence to support his long standing claim about females that work at haunted attractions. He would not however get the opportunity to explore the situation further as the armed guard appeared and insisted that we dart down a nearby staircase. We did as he suggested and found a hungry T-Rex snapping at our heads from above but we avoided the beast and came to the bottom of the staircase, turned in the keycard, and exited The Lab.

The 2009 offering at The Lab surpasses the effort we witnessed two years ago. There do remain a number of scenes involving prop animals and plant creatures which served as a detriment in 2007 but the haunt has been balanced nicely by the addition of many live actors. The layout of the attraction has been modified as well, it isn’t a total overhaul but the tweaks that have been made serve the theme of the haunt well. I love the structure of this building especially the area near the end with the ramps. There’s still work to be done here if The Lab is to join the ranks of the elite but the show is heading in the right direction.

“I think he said he’s got an itchy taint.”

-Me, attempting to translate the swampland gibberish of the Black Lagoon creature

“You moron, now you’re infected too.”

-Dr. Pickles, after I insisted on shaking his hand

“Nothing could redeem last week.”

-Richard, responding to claims that our successful night of haunting had a redemptive nature after our lackluster visit to Jackson’s Underworld and Homer Mill one week prior

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

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