If you make a habit of chasing the high that only haunting can provide, you’re sure to often find yourself in a race against the clock. Such was the case last October when we rolled into the Dreadlands Haunt of Davison. We turned onto a narrow wooded trail that didn’t seem fit to accommodate more than a single vehicle, we spotted a man to our left who held a sign that read: Sold Out. We chatted with the man briefly who seemed as confused as we were, ultimately we decided to continue down the path and hope for the best.
We wouldn’t regret that decision.
The Dreadlands Haunt of Davison seemed to be winding down for the night but that changed drastically once we began the terror triathlon comprised of The Research Labs, Proving Grounds Trail and Zombie Sniper Arena. Eager as ever, we darted for The Research Labs and never looked back.
A ONE-OF-A-KIND LABYRINTH OF HORROR
The Research Labs was a flurry of activity from the word go. Someone named Amy was on the loose and she had marshaled an army of zombies. We were whisked into a room where a large map of the United States was displayed on one wall, the area had the feel of a haphazard military bunker. A pair of soldiers engaged in a spirited debate over how to best contain the threat. The debate quickly escalated into argument which devolved into a physical altercation; one of them wound up unconscious or dead. We were ushered into the next room and left to our lonesome.
The Research Labs was mostly comprised of small, cluttered rooms filled with all manner of objects; including fish tanks that featured floating human heads. If Hoarders and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre got together for one supremely horrifying crossover it would resemble The Research Labs. Each space induced a sense of disorientation and claustrophobia. Several rooms seemed to be dead ends at first blush but further investigation revealed hidden passages disguised as a refrigerator, locker and even a closet full of moldy clothing.
The cast was plentiful, energetic and youthful if not a bit green, but boy were they vocal. Shouts and screams rebounded off of every corner of the structure, a tempest of human anguish bombarded our ears. All throughout the multi-level haunt offbeat spooks emerged from the shadows or groped at our limbs through strategically placed grabby holes. The multi-level aspect was a real stroke of brilliance which challenged haunters to climb ladders fashioned from wooden pallets. In one instance we emerged from a hole in the floor and found ourselves inside a cobweb infested attic, the planks beneath our feet sinking with every step.
Oh yeah, it’s hard to top that kind of authenticity.
We were also impressed by a library flush with shelves of books and yet another hidden exit. As fortune would have it I would even play the central character in an interactive electrocution scene! What can I say? I never turn down the opportunity to become part of the show. Shortly thereafter, we emerged outside into the night air a top a narrow spiral staircase, but once we’d descended to ground level we were fed right back into the unique edifice.
We pawed through the darkness of a maze searching for an escape when we happened upon trees. Trees? Yeah, trees. Full grown trees inside of a haunted house?! Okay, without even checking my records I know this to be a Horrorlust first. Riveted and bewildered as we were, we managed to push ahead where we would later encounter a manic scientist, who was definitely on the spectrum. We also crossed paths with a rather sinister mother who was all too matter-of-fact when she revealed that her baby had been burnt to a crisp.
Rating: 4.5 stars
PROVING GROUNDS TRAIL HOME TO WOODLAND WEIRDOS
We stood at the edge of the woods and listened to instructions from a believable young corporal, when he had finished with the briefing we were led into a large tent. Here, we were introduced to a nebbish scientist who rambled about an anti-virus, Ebola and even engaged in a spot of scatological humor. Once his interesting spiel had concluded we exited the rear of the tent and were swallowed by the darkness of the woods.
The Proving Grounds Trail was not for the faint of heart; the entire journey lasted nearly a solid half hour. The path was lined with ramshackle huts and other outbuildings of various shapes and sizes which afforded ghouls a great many places from which to launch an ambush. In one unforgettable instance, a slovenly, middle-aged man lurched toward us on wobbly legs. His speech was heavily slurred, his mannerisms stuttered and exaggerated; in one hand he grasped a brown paper bag that concealed a bottle. When we inquired about his state he indicated that he was both “special” and intoxicated; indeed all signs suggested that both were true. He told us that his name was Simple (of course it was) and then warned us of his brother, George. With caution fresh in mind we journeyed deeper into the woods; Simple shambled off in the opposite direction.
The uneven, earthen path was strewn with a great many objects, all in a state of disrepair and decay. There was a moonshine still (likely Simple’s watering hole), a full-size above-ground pool and even a dilapidated pick-up truck which we were forced to crawl through. The woods featured a mixture of captives and cretins who roamed the territory unchecked; it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe and as a result we eyed all who approached with suspicion. The wind had begun to rip through the trees and screams echoed throughout the woods in every direction.
The trail came to an abrupt end at the front door of a small cabin, we heard the distinct sound of a gun being cocked. I knocked on the wooden door and an unseen voice told us to enter. A portly, bearded man stood in the living room brandishing a shotgun. His choice of decor made for an odd mishmash — raggedy, leopard skin furniture lined the room, a single Ansel Adams print hung on one wall.
This was George, brother of Simple.
As George told it, a big family reunion was on the horizon. He instructed us to stay off of his carpet despite the fact that we were all standing on plain, wooden boards. A noise was be heard beneath our feet. The preponderance of evidence suggested to me that perhaps George was a tad unhinged and no sooner a portion of the floor erupted! A frail, teenage girl sprung from a trap door and began to scream. George shoved the gun in her faced and forced her back into the spider hole. We took this as our cue to exit.
We would wander the bleak woods for some time still and eventually came to a large wooden structure where we ascended a set of stairs. Once at the top we were loaded one by one into a zip line contraption that sent us soaring through the trees; it proved to be a thrilling finale complete with a heart-racing gag.
Rating: 3.5 stars
ZOMBIE SNIPER ARENA MIXES INTERACTION & EXCITEMENT
I generally have very little interest in any presentation of zombie paintball but it was clear that the Dreadlands offered a different beast altogether. We wouldn’t be firing at static props or even enjoy the comfort of a protective barrier, no we would enter a maze flush with brain munchers. We geared up, listened intently to safety protocals and accepted our mission — the recovery of a highly valuable anti-virus.
It was obvious that the military brass and the grunts on the front lines were at odds with each other, a Captain Hudson argued forcefully with a superior official of unknown rank. Tensions rose so high that people became distracted and careless, a makeshift door was breached and Captain Hudson vanished into a sea of writhing, rotten flesh. In a state of panic we were thrust into the maze.
The sound of zombies hailed from every direction (we would later find out that a sound system pumped in the recorded moans and groans of the actors). After some initial confusion in which my gun seemed to jam, Steve, John and I fired upon the undead menace with wild abandon that I daresay bordered on glee. To our great shock, we found Captain Hudson, alive! The crafty military man had utilized a table to shield himself from the army of corpses. Following a quick reload we were able to gun down the remainder of the meat bags, recover the anti-virus and save the world!
Rating: 4 stars