Archive for the 2012 Category

Adults Only at Darksyde Acres A Must See

Posted in 2012, Darksyde Acres, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2013 by bluefall8

Darksyde Acres is a haunted attraction not quite like any other. You won’t find an army of flashy animatronics here, nor is the show exactly old school — hell, it really isn’t anything in between either. Darksyde Acres is entirely something else. Having visited the location previously in 2011 I knew my group and I were in for an unforgettable night of haunting on November 3, 2012 — the night Darksyde admitted adults only.

A phrase like that can produce a lot of images for a reader and prospective customer, and that’s precisely the point. I’m not going to give away all the surprises either but suffice it to say, you’ll see and experience things on this night that you aren’t likely to see at many other attractions. I know I haven’t and I’ve visited a lot of haunted attractions. By and large the cast and crew at Darksyde Acres is deranged, energetic, and willing to take the act just about as far as any given patron is willing to push it. Oh, I’m not kidding — go ahead, push it.

After purchasing our tickets we headed first for the new maze, The Labyrinth! This attraction isn’t haunted but it was actually a lot of fun and likely the hardest maze we’ve encountered at any haunted attraction. Without the occasion ghoul to correct your path it’s easy to become a bit disoriented — when we initially arrived at the entrance a couple who had been lost inside for half an hour was just emerging. Although truth be told that may have been due to some spur of the moment hanky-panky and when I jokingly presented that possibility to them it was meet with giggles. A young guy dressed as a panda was the gatekeeper here and we had numerous and interesting conversations with him throughout the night — Richard somehow mistook him for a girl, revealing this to me during a conversation while we were lost in the maze.

“She smelled good,” he said. As I peered about the maze for an available opening I turned to him and replied, “Who?” He answered with, “The Panda.” I looked at him quizzically, wondering if he was making a joke but he seemed completely genuine. We both paused, momentarily forgetting that we were lost in a maze. He left me with no choice but to matter-of-factly state, “That was…a guy.” There was an awkward pause and then Richard said, “Oh…well…he smelled good.” Just one of those little things that only seem to happen when you’re out haunting with friends.

THE CATACOMBS AND RUSTHOLE SET TO TITILLATE

As we approached the main entrance we saw a sexy girl performing various eye-catching moves with a hoola-hoop, meanwhile a split-tongued fellow with a blue mohawk beckoned us to enter inside the feature presentation.

Beyond this door is a large queue area dotted with a variety of scenes guests must first wind their way past, and oh what a trek it was. It was here that we came across the first of many haunt hotties to populate the attraction. One dressed as a bunny (a really hot bunny) was full of pep, her counterpart was a dead school girl (a really hot dead school girl) who acted innocently enough but held deliciously devilish deeds in her eyes. The pair accompanied us to the front of the line, entertaining us the whole way — they even made Cikalo dance under the threat of entering the haunted house by himself. Soon he and I entered the long hallway that transports guests into the belly of the beast. I soaked it all in knowing that this was the final night of the 2012 haunt season.

Within the confines of the Catacombs and Rusthole there were certainly some scares but what truly fueled this attraction on adults night was humor…and the transfixing sexiness of the female cast. It all added up to a frenzied night of fun and laughs. In one area a young man assailed us in nothing more than what can only be described as a nugget pouch and he was quite proud of this fact — gyrating his hips and pelvis before turning his backside at us and bouncing backward down a passageway chanting, “Boo-ty, boo-ty, boo-ty, boo-ty. Boo-ty, boo-ty, boo-ty, boo-ty.” It was ridiculous, but bless his heart he was determined not to let the girls have all the fun.

In another area we pushed our way through a series of hanging sheets, familiar music could be heard faintly in the distance. Something told me we would soon encounter the untamed harlequins known as Bubbles and Pickles. However, when we emerged from the jungle of sheets we found before us an interesting site indeed. A large, bushy haired woman stood before us, a  serene smile on her face. She was topless save for the miniature tortured faces that covered her breasts. She was very happy to see us, she spoke as if she knew us and as she did so the horrifying reality began to sink in — she thought we were the fathers of her children! So delighted by our return she flung open the door to her right and urged us to go meet our bastards. The room was bathed in the glow of a black light, neon-colored paint jumped out at us from every direction. The sounds of Creature Feature’s The Greatest Show Unearthed blared throughout the room — now I was positive that Pickles and Bubbles were near!

A curiosity to our left attracted our attention — it seemed to be a mannequin sitting a top a large box, one leg stretched out above it’s head. Surely this was a dummy of some sort. However it looked strangely alive, but no person could sit so still in such a position. Suddenly, she sprang to life. Yes, it was a she and a scorching hot one at that. Her petite frame moved with a creepy grace as she bobbed around us, ponytail swaying as she went. She wore a frilly skirt and little else, her barely covered breasts were the best instrument any hypnotist could ever ask for. Her face was painted white and beneath the black light the effect was both startling and alluring, like something from a vibrant nightmare. Obvious observations aside she was one of the most unique characters I’ve come across in all my travels to haunted attractions. As she spun and slunk her way around the room she was joined by her brother, the wise cracking Bubbles.

Bubbles however didn’t arrive alone — in his hand was an extra large member…not his own (geez, get your mind out of the gutter) but he threatened us with a good time all the same. All of a sudden a buzzing sound whooshed through my ears as I felt something tickle my hindquarters. The pale-faced beauty had snuck behind us and was engaging in her own brand of fun aided by an electronic baton. As we made our way through the rest of the room we encountered the youngest of the clown clan who seemed a bit more shy and nervous than his elder siblings, and finally there was Pickles. As we exited the room he followed us out where we again encountered the woman who had spawned these children, but before she could confront us for child support Pickles grabbed her from behind and began…well, pickling her. She cried out in ecstasy, we could only howl with laughter at this absurd example of incest.

Soon thereafter we encountered a tall and portly man who wore only a diaper and bore a striking resemblance to Sloth from The Goonies, given his stature and possible state of mind I decided it was best not to point out this particular observation. The path forward descended into complete darkness as the Rusthole took hold. There was a lot of groping, grabbing, and feeling about in this area…because it was so dark (my goodness, leave it alone you perverts)! We would encounter a couple more of Darksyde’s femme fatales before exiting the Rusthole including Casey the resident pole dancer.

I’ve experienced this attraction during a normal operating night (normal being a relative term to describe Darksyde Acres, of course) and now on a night when only adults were welcome and I can state without hesitation that both live up to expectations. I’ve come away both times with only a couple of complaints, the first being that a few more actors would’ve fleshed out the attraction nicely. There are a couple of areas where a scare would keep haunters on edge particularly while fumbling their way through the blacked out Rusthole. My second wish is that the attraction is expanded. I noticed a number of doors leading to various rooms that seem to be ripe for terror. And after what I’ve described above, who wouldn’t want to spend more time in this haunted house?!

Rating: 4.25 stars

DAMNED MARINERS, LUSTY WENCHES PROVIDE HAUNT ROMP ABOARD THE DARK ABYSS 

The Dark Abyss is a noticeably shorter haunted attraction than the lethal combo of The Catacombs and Rusthole but it’s filled with the same wanton spirit of raunchiness and unrelenting tomfoolery. The buxom wenches aboard this once sea fearing vessel possess a sharp wit and shaper weapons. Armed with acerbic attitudes and ample attributes they’ll entertain any wayward sailors with the stones to keep them company. Mind your tongue though or you might lose your head (and not the one between your shoulders). One feisty lass was affronted by our cheek and let it be known that the cleaver she held wasn’t just for show. One mysterious lady near the end of the attraction was so kind to show us the Captain’s bountiful treasure — and my word did he have a lot of treasure!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Darksyde Acres isn’t perfect; there’s room for improvement as well as expansion but it is like no other show you’ll see. The interaction here is so far above and beyond what the vast majority of haunted attractions have to offer — the cast is dedicated, friendly, and wonderfully weird. It was nearly closing time when we exited the final attraction and we made a pit stop near a large bonfire to warm up. A number of Darksyde’s denizens were gathered around as well and much laughter and craziness ensued. Memorable stories were swapped, the hoola-hoop hottie teased, and one freak in a kilt challenged a customer three times his size to a wrestling match. The good natured man accepted and the results were hilarious and wild. Darksyde Acres is a special outpost on the haunted landscape, one untouched by the traditional rules of the industry and unhindered by common societal mores.

Spirit Endures through Wet, Dreary Halloween

Posted in 2012, Dimensions of Darkness, Review, Terror Town with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by bluefall8

Each year it seems that the final couple of reviews get delayed and for that I am sorry. I’ve made great strides over the years to ward off procrastination but sometimes the old girl wins out. Well, it’s been long enough — here’s the chronicle of Halloween 2012.

PROMISE AT DIMENSIONS OF DARKNESS

It was dreary and overcast as John and I departed the apartment. Last Halloween we found ourselves in the Flint area where we paid visits to St. Lucifer’s, 13 Feet Under, and The Crypt — this year we’d strike out in the opposite direction with our sights set on Dimensions of Darkness and Terror Town both just south of Toledo. As Trick r’ Treating drew to a close we arrived at our first stop, the third your haunted attraction — Dimensions of Darkness.

The event was held in a strip mall which reminded me somewhat of Extreme Scream, I hoped that the similarities wouldn’t end there. There wasn’t much of a line or crowd of any sort — perhaps the weather had suppressed the nightly horde, sadly my festive mood was dampened by all of this as well. This was Halloween damn it! Let there be a raucous!

We entered the haunt shortly and were directed to sit in some large, wooden chairs positioned in front of a series of video screens. Soon, a fast paced video began to play which was done well enough, but displays such as these work best as distractions and I eagerly awaited the payoff. Intermittently, our chairs buzzed to life — it was neat but not the payoff I had hoped for.  This would have been an excellent setting for the falling ceiling gag.

Despite this underwhelming start, Dimensions of Darkness was successful on many fronts, combining haunt fundamentals with a stark contrast of dark corridors and radiant rooms that exuded a phosphorescent glow. The cast was a highly energetic and vocal group featuring screamers of all shapes and sizes, some crawled as vermin about the floor, one even performed a grotesque crab walk.

One area that stood out featured my favorite sect of the monster community, zombies. We crossed a narrow path, motionless flesh eaters surrounded us. My past experiences told me that most of the shadowy figures were merely props, camouflage for the one or two actors who would eventually lurch forward and deliver a scare. Imagine my surprise when half a dozen zombies sprang to life and moved in for the kill! One of the actors seemed to have a ghoul attached to each side of his body which moved in unison, a very cool effect.

Another interesting area had the look and feel of a control room, but this one had been deserted. A single, tortured eyeball stared out at us from the various monitors. The room was alight with the prospect of malevolence, the collective glow of the monitors cast unnerving shadows and left this haunt adventurer feeling vulnerable to attack.

In another room a black box hung mid air suspended by chains — a nod to this groups’ logo which is prominently displayed on their website. A lone creep crawled from beneath the box which admittedly wasn’t all that spectacular of an act but the box was an interesting visual and such a scene has loads of potential for interaction and creative scares.

The haunt did end anticlimactically which is something I often lament of haunted attractions. Following a series of rooms that resembled sordid medieval labs we entered a small morgue where a deranged doctor and his freakishly tall assistant had clearly been up to no good. The assistant wore a medical mask, the doctor sported a halo which had been bolted to his skull — the costuming and make up were well done.

The interaction was fairly well done too — the pair presented us with the choice of two doors although they did not specify which doors they meant and as there were several paths that could have passed as doors we were some what confused. I thought, or perhaps hoped is a better word, that one of our choices was to crawl through one of the various hatches on the wall. I tried the handle to one but it was not functional, so with the various corpse chutes ruled out this left two standard doors — one unimpeded and one blocked by a creepy mannequin. I inquired about the blocked door but was informed that was incorrect. It became clear which door through which we had to proceed and as it turned out there really wasn’t a choice in the matter. We took the only door available and promptly exited the attraction.

Despite the lackluster finish I enjoyed many aspects of Dimensions of Darkness and hope to see this group grow and evolve in the years to come. The actors made good use of their environment, an environment that was expertly lit which allowed the actors to deliver many startle scares. The decor in particular was eye catching and exuded ambience — the multitude of glowing oddities encased in mason jars possessed a creepy kitsch quality that won’t soon be forgot.

Rating: 3.5 stars

There was a distinct chill in the air when we arrived at Terror Town, and although the crowd here was considerably larger than the one at our previous stop, I remained disappointed by what I considered a small turnout for All Hallow’s Eve. We exited the car and stomped through the muddy parking lot of the Lucas County Fairgrounds toward the ticket booth.

SUBTLE TWEAKS BOLSTER BIG TOP TERROR

Our first target here was the 3D attraction called Big Top Terror. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll probably remember the very lows marks I gave this particular attraction last year and it deserved every bit of it, but I’m happy to report that Big Top Terror has made strides in the right direction this year although drawbacks still exist.

When we entered the first area a large entryway stood before us, painted in the fashion of a gigantic clown face. A spunky harlequin emerged and playfully taunted us before granting us passage through the brightly decorated door. It was a nice bit of interaction that could have provided a little more substance but it was a decent start nonetheless. Midway through the attraction we came to a series of white and red flaps (the type you might see on a circus tent). Each time we pushed one aside we’d find ourselves in an identically small room, perhaps a 3 x 3 space. It was claustrophobic, amusing, and themed appropriately. We tore through those flaps wondering as we pushed each aside if we’d come across some horror. The whole segment was pulled off quite well and served as a fresh twist on what could have otherwise been an uninspiring maze.

The circus tent section, as we came to call it, helped increase the length of the attraction which was one of the primary detractions during last year’s experience. Another point of contention last year wasn’t just the utter lack of workers in Big Top Terror but also the lethargic performances those actors delivered. This area too was improved upon but could still use some work. There was certainly more live bodies this season and these ghouls definitely outperformed their predecessors from a year ago, but two particular scenes that held a lot of promise fell flat due to the absence of an actor.

The first scene included a dunk tank, a wonderful prop for a carnival inspired attraction and something I can say I’ve never witnessed anywhere else, but it was nothing more than mere scenery. I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities this room held. Why wasn’t there a hapless rube in that dunk tank? Why wasn’t a snaggle-toothed carnival barker urging me to heave a ball at a target and sink the son of bitch!? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what could be done with such a scene. Needless to say, it was an opportunity lost.

The second area I mentioned came shortly after the room with the dunk tank and was just as visually striking but also featured no actors with which to interact. As we entered this particular room a counter stood to our right, behind it the wall was decorated in large, brightly colored tubs of popcorn. Once again ideas exploded in my head — why not a shifty carny tempting us with blood splattered confections? Perhaps guests could be lured near the table where a series buckets stood, overflowing with popcorn and when the moment is right an arm or head burst forth from one of the buckets?! That’s the kind of interaction and creativity that I love as a haunter. These rooms were visually appealing but there was potential for so much more and it would have improved the overall experience of this attraction considerably.

The vortex near the end of Big Top Terror forced us to maneuver past a creep in an atomic orange morph suit — this wasn’t exactly frightening in any way but it was different and mildly amusing as I cannot help but think of the Putties from Mighty Morphin Powers Rangers any time I see these suits. After exiting the vortex, we came to the final room of the attraction. A comically large button was affixed to the wall in front of us accompanied by a large sign that read “Don’t Push the Button.” The fine gentleman assigned to the area however kindly asked that I do push the button, so I did and was promptly sprayed with water through a small hole in the wall for my obedience.

On one final negative note, there were a couple of malfunctioning props or animatronics inside of Big Top Terror. Unfortunately we’d discover that this was also the case on more than a few occasions inside of the House of the Dead, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Rating: 3 stars

CLUTTER ABOUND IN HOUSE OF THE DEAD

House of the Dead is a special, interesting, and different haunted attraction. Each year the operators add some new, animated craziness — it is perhaps the only haunted attraction that I’ve  encountered where props and animatronics can deliver an excellent show without much assistance from live actors. However, I think the practice is finally catching up to the minds behind the madness here, amidst the shuffle of scenes, characters, and gags over the years something has been lost. Terror Town has become a haunted attraction rife with maddening highs and lows. Without question the special effects and animatronics (when functioning properly) are among the most impressive we’ve encountered. On the negative side what used to be a simple lack of a few key actors has now turned into an almost complete dearth of such. Some areas are elaborately designed and feature a highly convincing atmosphere while others appear as if they were thrown together haphazardly with only a fraction of the attention paid to detail. It’s almost as if the place was designed by a manic-depressive hoarder. It is both an interesting and frustrating cross section of the haunted attraction industry.

For those of you who have never visited Terror Town the main attraction, House of the Dead, is divided into several sections spanning several buildings and a cemetery. The building where guests begin their journey used to be a separate haunt but in 2010 the operators added it to the main attraction and it’s all been billed as the House of the Dead since. Each area is distinct from the next — the first building is greatly detailed, darkly lit and requires roughly ten minutes to traverse. This leads to a second building where haunters pass through a massive vortex tunnel. After this a path leads outdoor and weaves guests through an elaborately decorated cemetery before finally coming to the main building where detailed decor gives way to plain hallways and rooms dominated by larger than life animatronics. Each area has it’s strengths and weaknesses but I rate it all as one attraction as it is billed as such.

I feel that the first area was as well done as I have ever witnessed it. The layout had been sufficiently altered from a year ago, successfully blending new scenes with old favorites such as the shifting bookshelves and the realistic hologram of a maggot infested poo pile inside of a toilet that sprays curious onlookers in the face! There was a fair amount of workers in this area as well which only further makes me question the decision to go so scant in the latter building. Undoubtedly, the coolest and most atmosphere inducing aspect of this first building is the effect that is done with the sound and lighting. Thunder can be heard rumbling throughout the house and lights flicker according — a particularly large rumble will cast your party into total darkness momentarily. The effect is timed expertly and does a great job of creating that authentic haunted house feel — a competent ghoul could really use such an effect to create unforgettable scares.

The cemetery did feature a couple of noteworthy scenes as well. Upon entering we passed beneath towering gates, sitting a top loomed an imposing grim reaper which directed a large scythe at all who dared to enter. Ahead I spotted a mausoleum which housed an enormous floating ghoul bathed in black light, as we approached this creature of the night danced forward effortlessly in mid air. As we came to the end of the cemetery and entered the final phase of the House of the Dead we passed a stone pedestal featuring a skeletal bust. I approached the statue to admire the craftsmanship and detail and was provided a genuine shock when the stony skeleton made a grab for me! It was an ingenious blend of costume and prop and that’s precisely the kind of thing that keeps me going back to Terror Town.

Up to that point things had been clicking along pretty well and with the heart of House of the Dead coming up I was holding out for big things. Unfortunately this would be the area that was most sloppily constructed. Upon entering this section of the attraction, haunters are loaded onto an elevator or Hellivator as some attractions call it. Terror Town uses it to tell the story of the House of the Dead — each year guests are transported by the Hellivator to a new level of the this house most macabre. It’s always a fun way to begin any haunted attraction and House of the Dead features one of the best we’ve ever experienced.

As I stated earlier the usual killer animatronics were on hand — there was a Sasquatch tearing a man in half, a man eating plant, and what I can best describe as a cloven-hoved demonic yeti that seemed to tower somewhere in the range of 14 feet. Stuff like this is always visually stunning but when an attraction hits you with it one after another after another it loses it’s effect. Worse, as we traversed the halls of Dead House we discovered a number of the animatronics non-functioning; it seemed there was a problem with the pressure plates by which the creatures are controlled. Worse still, in several instances there were actors in plain view operating the controls to various props. Initially, I didn’t realize exactly what they were doing and so expected them to offer up some scare or interaction when John and I made our presence known. Would you believe they wouldn’t so much as look at us? It was as if they thought by not making eye contact they were some how rendered invisible. I understand that sometimes actors are caught out of place or like these guys are sometimes required to operate a prop or animatronic but typically the latter is hidden as they aren’t a part of the show. It was very odd to see them seated in folding chairs just toying with controls and pretending that we didn’t exist.

Sadly, a part from those we witnessed in this fashion there was precious few workers to speak of — this last section of House of the Dead was as devoid of live actors as any attraction I can recall, and there were certainly instances were actual people would have greatly enhanced a scene. For instance, not long after we’d departed the Hellivator we heard the unmistakable moan of a zombie horde. We turned a corner and came to a pair of double doors — the type of ones you might see in a hospital — a wonderful holographic display of brain munchers was splashed across the windows inlaid in the doors. The doors had even been rigged to sway back and forth as if the hunger bastards might come tearing through the door and consume us! it was a great effect and my adrenaline got pumping, surely we were about to be assailed by zombies…but nothing. The effect was cool but without human interaction it loses it’s edge; after that I didn’t hold out a whole lot of hope for in the flesh actors.

House of the Dead is a cool concept for a haunted house but the event is staged in a large building on the Lucas County Fairgrounds — perhaps it’s a pull barn. The ceilings are very high and while haunters are enclosed in themed portion of the haunted attraction if you simply look above you can see the high ceilings of the pull barn. It’s something that really dampens the overall effect for me; I love haunted houses and even though I love to critique and analyze them in this fashion I go into them completely willing to suspend my disbelief. In my heart of hearts I’m not a critic, I’m a fan — but it’s hard to suspend that disbelief when I look up and there’s a giant gaping void in the scenery. I would suggest the use of camo-netting which is ubiquitous in the haunt industry and can go a long way in preserving atmosphere.

Even with all of these complaints in mind, House of the Dead has always been a good to great haunted attraction other oddly it’s never delivered a truly killer finale and this year was no different. As we neared the exit we were confronted my the same mutant dwarf prop we witnessed early on during the season in the Barn of Horrors at Erwin Orchards so we knew what was coming but we never bust a performer’s balls just because we’ve witnessed a particular gag before. We played along and waited for the moment that the head would detach from the body which is the cue for the actor to charge guests. It was an uninspiring performance to say the least — it’s a very convincing scene and honestly it takes somebody just not making an effort for it to fail. I doubt anybody who hadn’t previously witnessed it wouldn’t have been surprised, shocked, or scared as well after such an anemic performance.

Alas, we came to the final room — again we could see a worker sitting in a chair operating a control; he made no attempt to conceal himself. Less than suddenly a large garbage truck plowed through the wall opposite us and slowly proceeded toward our party with horns blaring. It was a super-sized version of the old car through the wall trick and it would have been very cool if it had been pulled off correctly but the truck proceeded so slowly it couldn’t possibly have been viewed as threatening.

This review may sound fairly critical of Terror Town but that’s only because I’ve seen better from this location and I hope with a little house cleaning and some tweaks it can exceed my best expectations. I would still recommend a visit to anyone who has not yet experienced it — it’s fun and you will see things you aren’t likely to see anywhere else, but attention to certain fundamentals has been replaced by a glut of props and animatronics; the overall effect has been a detrimental one to this storied haunted attraction.

Rating: 3 stars

Scream Machine, Haunt for Hunger

Posted in 2012, Haunt for Hunger, Review, Scream Machine with tags , , , , on November 28, 2012 by bluefall8

The final Saturday of October isn’t one to be spent sitting at home, it’s one of the last good chances for haunters to explore the season’s offerings. All of my usual running buddies happened to be out of town so I called up ole Deadly Ted who told me he had not indulged in a haunted attraction since his freshman year of high school (1996) — for shame. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we decided to hit a couple of local attractions — Haunt for Hunger, a yard haunt in Allen Park, and The Scream Machine in Taylor, a staple of the downriver haunt scene.

Haunt for Hunger is a yard haunt that benefits Gleaners Food Band, admission this year was a donation of four canned goods or $4. I was impressed by the detail that had been put into the facade, a back wrought iron fence stood before a grey stone wall. As it was a yard haunt, Haunt for Hunger was fairly short but that was to be expected. The small passages did feature a few neat props including a couple of full sized, high quality dummies. There was also a sound system which is more than some Jaycees haunts can boast and the 7-8 workers who prowled the shadowed corridors performed admirably. With some creativity and ingenuity, yard haunts like Haunt for Hunger can become quite special.

Rating: 3 stars

SCREAM MACHINE GOING HOARSE

When we arrived at the Scream Machine the place was positively buzzing — I hadn’t seen it that busy since a visit ten years ago on Halloween. The Scream Machine still possesses some neat features like the Hellivator, and superb scenery such as the elaborate graveyard in the center of the attraction. In fact, the graveyard scene here is one of the most complete and well balanced sets I’ve witnessed anywhere. There was a new room near the end of the attraction as well — a medieval temple of sorts complete with windows that flashed red as if a terrible storm raged outside. All of this however wasn’t enough to mask what has sadly become a repetitive haunted attraction.

In recent years the Scream Machine has fallen into the trap of changing very little from year to year. All of the usual rooms, gags, and props were present once more and were scarcely different in terms of placement or location from a year ago. The saving grace of the Scream Machine has often been the solid performance of the actors, but that wasn’t the case during our visit this year. Unfortunately, the attraction seemed a bit understaffed and the majority of those present didn’t put forth anything in the way of an inspired effort — the scares were bland, predictable, and disappointing.

The oft lamented lack of a proper finale remains a glaring weakness of this attraction. I’ve suggested before that the Scream Machine relies far too much on past achievements and that has never been more apparent than this year. The foundation for a very good haunted house is still there, but the Scream Machine is in dire need of some fresh blood to shake things up.

Rating: 2.25 stars

Blood Bath and Beyond Hayride Wows with Creativity

Posted in 2012, Review, Slaughter House Adventure with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by bluefall8

We arrived at Slaughter House Adventure later than I would have liked and because of this we would ultimately miss the opportunity to check out the Haunted Maze nor would a return trip through the now legendary barn manifest — none of this however was going to stop me from enjoying the Blood Bath and Beyond Hayride! When we arrived at the loading area we found a few other haunters milling about — kindred spirits as it turned out. As is our custom, we swapped stories from the road and the most interesting they had to tell concerned a little known haunt in St. Charles, Michigan called Village of the Living Dead. I read a little about it last year and thought it sounded intriguing but after hearing it described by these haunters as “terrifying” I find myself penciling it in for the 2013 haunt season. After a bit of back and forth, our wagon arrived and we were in for a full half hour amidst the cornfield and through the woods.

The Blood Bath and Beyond Hayride takes its cues from the Slaughter House Barn very well — fusing elements of comedy and illusion with basic haunt fundamentals. The result is a spooky fun ride through the Fowlerville wilderness highlighted by unique visual effects and quirky characters.

In the early stages of our journey the wagon was assaulted by clowns and then briefly accompanied by the Headless Horseman; we even saw a movie come to life — in a manner of speaking. While riding through the woods we witnessed a melee of odd folk, such as the fisherman who taunted us when our tractor had trouble pulling through his fishing hole and a man named Ed who had a liking for, what else, the dead. Elsewhere — a nutter swung between trees armed with a chainsaw, a super-sized vulture eyed us hungrily, and one poor fellow was found doubled over a barrel puking his guts out whilst he lamented his choice of Taco Bell for dinner!

And the madness didn’t stop there. Near the woods’ edge we encountered an alien crash site where some bloke prattled on about being the victim of a probing, we witnessed the escape of Harry Potter’s evil twin, and stood aside as an Army gunner mowed down some shambling zombies.

My favorite startle scares however occurred while we were still in the woods — the first took place just after we’d fled Ed and his dead. The headlights of a car could be seen to our right off in the woods and the car began a mad dash toward our wagon! I won’t give away the entire scene as not to spoil it but suffice it to say that the entire sequence was pulled off surprisingly well — it’s amazing what a little attention to details like perspective and timing can do. The second gag involved a couple of ghouls who had taken to chopping down a tree and they didn’t exactly have our safety in mind. It was a neat trick that I’ve yet to witness on any other haunted hayride.

The conclusion of the hayride did not disappoint either as it featured a wonderful set piece, an anarchist pyromaniac, and a surprise return! It made for a fitting end to a very fun and interesting haunted hayride. There was certainly a lot of production value put into the Blood Bath and Beyond Hayride and quite frankly there are things here that the average haunter just isn’t likely to see at most other hayrides. When you consider the amount of attractions at Slaughter House Adventure and the detail and planning put into each, it’s easy to see that this location offers haunters a great bang for the buck.

Rating: 4.25 stars

Krazy Hilda’s Unleashes Spooks on Campground

Posted in 2012, Krazy Hilda's, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2012 by bluefall8

It was a long ride from Wyandotte to Chelsea but it was one made with much excitement. Last year we paid our first visit to Krazy Hilda’s and instantly fell in love with the Barn of Doom, ultimately granting it our Dark Horse Award. As some of you may know, Krazy Hilda’s was at a different location last year, partnering with Coleman’s Corn Maze in Saline, but this year the old witch has relocated to an abandoned campground in Chelsea. As we drew near our surroundings grew increasingly dark and rural. Shortly, we were traveling across dirt roads flanked on either side by thick woods — Hilda and the gang were well off the beaten path this year.

We pulled into a vast clearing, illuminated by powerful work lights. Once we had parked, we exited the vehicle and were directed toward a wooded path which led to the camp grounds. Now, there weren’t any scares during this brief jaunt but it did allow us the chance to soak in the natural ambience, and heck you just can’t help but wonder if something is lurking in the woods.

We bought our tickets and had a nice conversation with the lady at the window who kindly provided us with discount coupons after we’d left ours in the car. When we inquired about the change of venue she informed us that the owner of Coleman’s Corn Maze had given them a raw deal — Hilda and her minions had no choice but to relocate. There was no line for the attraction and this made me sad for two reasons. The first being that the staff and operators here deserve better, they draw more out of what they have perhaps better than any other group I’ve witnessed. The second reason was simply because the lady who collects tickets is a joy to converse with and no wait meant our discussion was cut short (we swapped stories of Taylor’s former haunt, Extreme Scream).

Hilda’s featured some seasoned scarers who were well trained in the art of the startle  and one could hardly ask for a better back drop on which to ply such a craft. Here and there cabins dotted the landscape, the haunted trail left us feeling completely exposed. Our favorite moment occurred early in our trek, as we were marching up a hill there was a disturbance on the ground to our right. A rotting flesh eater clawed his way out of a bed of leaves and staggered after us expressing a desire for our brains! I must admit that the actor did a great job of pursuing us and whatever instrument he used to create such an unique vocalization was an excellent choice. His agonized moans for “Braaaaains” could be heard across the neighboring hills and valleys and provided a most unsettling effect.

I appreciate the fact that Krazy Hilda’s makes use of homemade dummies, some may argue that they look cheap and unconvincing but the practice brought me back to my youth. These dummies also provided a distraction for guests who may otherwise have spotted a lurking monster eager to deliver a scare. One cabin had a pair of cellar doors located at the rear and as you might have guessed, the doors flew open with malice as we approached them. A menacing, female ghoul emerged with expert timing and stalked us down the path.

Some of the workers were equipped with milk jugs (a strange tool for a monster you may be thinking) but these jugs weren’t filled with milk rather they contained something hard and numerous, small rocks perhaps, and when shaken abruptly at just the right moment served to heighten each scare. Simple, yet effective tactics such as these are often ignored at many haunts always to their detriment; scaring is done right at Krazy Hilda’s.

My only disappointment was that our path never took us through one of the various cabins we saw along the haunted path although the staff did seem to indicate that they planned to run at the location going forward so perhaps this is something they’ll integrate in the future. I trust that the minds behind Krazy Hilda’s realize what they have and will make full use of their facilities in time.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Nightmare Sanctum another Mixed Bag from Wyandotte Jaycees

Posted in 2012, Review, Wyandotte Jaycees with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2012 by bluefall8

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

Legion of Terror Breathes Life into Bloodview

Posted in 2012, Bloodview, Review with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2012 by bluefall8

It was apparent from the get go that the actors at Bloodview were cut from a different cloth than those at the Haunted School House and Laboratory. The ghouls and goblins here bill themselves as the Legion of Terror and claim to be the oldest improvisational troupe in the United States.

Every weekend the brains behind Bloodview change the theme of the attraction and it was by no mistake that our trip coincided with an outbreak of the undead. As we passed through the wrought iron gates to the grounds I watched a pair of zombies shamble lively after guests. As we waited in line to buy tickets a rotund zombie, once an officer of the law, stumbled about near guests, his mouth agape — death it seemed did nothing to curb his appetite.

The queue line area was certainly among the best I’ve ever seen, everywhere you looked reanimated meat bags pursued, harassed, and terrified haunters. The zombies here were of all sorts — air suckers and grabbers, chompers, droolers, and aimless bumblers. There seemed to be no less than a dozen of these characters who assailed waiting patrons in revolving waves. The performance of these actors was impressive and their dedication to the craft, inspiring. They were as entertaining as anything at Bloodview and that is not a knock against any other aspects of the show.

Soon we entered the first area of the haunted attraction, a large garage that helped set the tone for what was to come. The decor was simple and grotesque, the walls consisted merely of wooden slats. It had a bit of a chop shop vibe that fit well with the unique vortex tunnel near the exit that was flesh colored. The spinning fabric appeared to be adorned in chunks of long rotten meat. The overall effect was actually kind of sickening, but I liked it. Once outside we traveled into a lightly wooded area and across a small bridge to a location known as Baby Doll Island. As you may have guessed dolls of all shapes and sizes (and degrees of dismemberment) litter the landscape. Haunters wind their way through wooden outbuildings while a few gibbering nuts ask strange questions, one of them hung upside down from a support beam, grinning at guests with a joyful malice. This area of the attraction was of fair length and kept guests engaged with a smattering of small buildings through which we were forced to travel. This setup provided plenty of hiding places for hungry ghouls intent on scoring their next warm meal. Near the end of the trail, a man restrained a female zombie with a leash. Her particular death hue and characterization but me strongly in mind of the zombies from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. She fought against her restraints, valiantly struggling for a piece of tender flesh. It was humorous for obvious reasons but due to her convincing portrayal, it was also quite creepy — by night’s end she certainly stood out as one of my favorite zombies.

We reentered the queue line where the mass of undead seemed to have swelled. Standing beneath this pavilion I soaked it all in, the spirit of Halloween was alive and well. A radio report brought us periodic updates on the zombie crises and filled the lulls with fitting music like the theme from The Walking Dead. I noticed a zombie dressed in old fashioned garb, she walked haphazardly in a confused state and generally put me in mind of some of the lady villagers in Resident Evil 4 — she gave me the willies much worse than any of her energetic counterparts.

As the undead menace terrorized haunters in all corners of the pavilion it was our time to enter the main attraction and we would not be disappointed. Bloodview featured a good deal of old school fundamentals — tight passages and a disorienting, claustrophobic design. Much of the attraction was comprised of bayou style shanties, each detailed with odd artifacts, like stained glass windows with eerie depictions, and dizzying floor plans. There were choke points near elevated platforms which a clever brain muncher could utilize to launch an attack. Near one of these a girl could be heard rambling near incoherence about mortal coil and immortality. She was excellent in her role, taking care to scold us for not heeding her earlier warnings when we found ourselves passing the prior mentioned elevated area that happened to wind back near her original location. Later, we found a large zombie standing on a platform and strapped to the wall. He groped wildly at passing haunters and looked, at times, as if he’d break free of his bonds. It was an intimidating sight as he towered above the group from his platform, swinging precariously — another highlight of the attraction.

As we neared the conclusion of the haunted house, we wandered into a darkened corridor which turned into another and then another. It was one of those moments where we seriously thought we may have accidentally stumbled into an area not meant for haunters, but the path continued to wind and strangely not a zombie sought us out. The combination of near perfect dark and multiple, twisting pathways caused us to become separated and this just so happened to coincide with unhinged excitement. Other haunters had followed us into this area and several attempts to back track had created quite a log jam of bodies. At one point I wandered the darkness in solitude, occasionally Richard would call out to me but I couldn’t discern in what direction his voice had come from.

Eventually I found Jason and we discovered an apparent end to the confusing maze. It ran into a longer hallway, this one with a little bit of light, and near the end a white robed figure stood eerily still, watching. Jason was the first to spot the apparition and still unsure if we’d taken a wrong turn we decided to back track once more. I, of course, couldn’t help but take a look at the mysterious phantom and when I did she began a slow stalk in my direction. A truly well timed performance — that moment of hesitation really helped sell the whole scene. Jason had already rounded a corner when I too struck back into the safety of the blackened maze, after all we had to find the rest of our party. Our paths soon crossed and indeed, in tow, there was a gaggle of other haunters. If the zombies would have struck at that precise moment the rotting bastards could have feasted for a week.

It was a flight to freedom from here, a mad dash through a series of ghoul infested scenes. We survived the horror and broke out of the haunted house onto the grounds of Bloodview where the teeming mass of undead still scurried in their fashion after anything that moved. Ultimately, Bloodview won’t fall on the list of all time best haunted attractions but it was highly enjoyable with a few moments that just bristled with infectious energy. The line entertainment as I mentioned previously was among the best we’ve witnessed; these folks aced Zombie 101 and smashed the advanced course as well. I suppose my only complaint would concern the pace which often seemed too breakneck; a few more key actors inside of the main attraction wouldn’t have been unappreciated either. With all of that said, I came away a fan of the Legion of Terror — I hope to make it back some day.

Rating: 3.75 stars