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Horrorlust Haunt Awards: A History

Posted in Awards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2014 by bluefall8

The haunt awards, like Horrorlust itself, are the result of an evolution. The 2013 crop will be the sixth annual edition for most of the awards — Rotten Pumpkin, Eerie Vibrations, Dark Horse, Killer Automatons, Pulse Pounder, and Monster all debuted following the 2008 haunt season. The Prop Master and Samhain Awards were both added at the conclusion of the 2011 season, thus making this the third consecutive year for those respective distinctions.

The oldest award that we recognize is of course, Haunt of the Year. This award predates Horrorlust, indeed Haunt of the Year goes back even further than Hallowblog, the predecessor to this blog. Not long before I began chronicling all of these wonderful haunted adventures my merry band of travelers and I would simply agree upon the best attraction of the Halloween season. And so you’ll notice that in the annals of Horrorlust, that the Haunt of the Year Award is officially recognized as having originated in 2005.

As an interesting aside, it’s worth noting that these awards were initially called the Haunt Trinity Haunt Awards. If you delve into the depths of past Horrorlust posts you’re sure to come across such a phrase. The Haunt Trinity was a nickname I fashioned once a upon a time for a frequent trio of haunters. The group was comprised of myself, Jason (my older brother), and our good friend John who is sometimes referred to in these posts as the Disco Devil or simply, Disco.

I used to get a kick out of the name; I even spun spur of the moment rhymes about it and haunted attractions but mostly I think it merely served to annoy everybody else. After a time, it was rarely just the three of us participating in the beloved haunt excursions; a half a dozen or more friends and acquaintances regularly rotated in and out on any given night. My brother began to joke that the nickname Haunt Trinity was a misnomer.

A couple of years ago he found work in a new field and his schedule changed drastically; allowing him to partake in the haunted festivities only a time or two per season. This roughly coincided with the advent of Horrorlust and so it has been since 2011 that the annual awards have shared the namesake of this blog.

Readers, if you need a refresher on any of the awards please refer to the other posts under the “Awards” category, where full descriptions are posted. As a historical footnote, it’s worth mentioning that we began to recognize an honorable mention for each award in 2009 although those are not listed in this post. Interested parties are referred to the aforementioned entries found under the “Awards” category.

Fun Fact: No haunted attraction has ever been named Haunt of the Year on more than one occasion. In fact, there exists just two haunted houses that claimed the same award in multiple years. House of the Dead (Terror Town) won the Killer Automatons Award four consecutive years from 2009-2012. Deadly Intentions secured the Monster Award in back-to-back years during the 2008 and 2009 haunt seasons.

 

Rotten Pumpkin

2008: Templin’s Night Terror (Wyandotte Jaycees)

2009: Jackson’s Underworld

2010: Leo’s House of Horror

2011: Anxiety Alley

2012: Scream Machine

 

Eerie Vibrations

2008: Homer Mill

2009: Bowbee’s Nightmare (Haunted Hollows)

2010: The Haunted Farm

2011: Catacombs & The Rusthole (Darksyde Acres)

2012: Bloodview

 

Dark Horse

2008: Realm of Haunted Minds

2009: Extreme Scream

2010: Woods of Darkness

2011: Krazy Hilda’s Barn of Doom

2012: Dimensions of Darkness

 

Killer Automatons

2008: Erebus

2009: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

2010: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

2011: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

2012: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

 

Pulse Pounder

2008: County Morgue (Chainsaw Creek)

2009: Bowbee’s Nightmare (Haunted Hollows)

2010: Demonic Demons

2011: Catacombs & The Rusthole (Darksyde Acres)

2012: Slaughter House (Slaughter House Adventure)

 

Monster

2008: Deadly Intentions

2009: Deadly Intentions

2010: Realm of Darkness

2011: Catacombs & The Rusthole (Darksyde Acres)

2012: Sinister

 

Prop Master

2011: Tent of Terror (The Boneyard)

2012: Barn of Horrors (Erwin Orchards)

 

Samhain

2011: October 14, 2011 (Krazy Hilda’s, Chelsea Feargrounds, The Boneyard)

2012: October 12, 2012 (Erwin Orchards, Slaughter House Adventure, A Nightmare on Elm Road)

 

Haunt of the Year

2005: Nautical Nightmare

2006: Erebus

2007: Realm of Darkness

2008: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

2009: Bowbee’s Nightmare (Haunted Hollows)

2010: Demonic Demons

2011: Catacombs & The Rusthole (Darksyde Acres)

2012: Sinister

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Elements and Ambience Rule Realm of Haunted Minds

Posted in 2013, Realm of Haunted Minds, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2013 by bluefall8

When I set out late two Fridays ago, it was to visit a pair of local haunts, and first on that list was the pride of the Huron Turkey Farm — Realm of Haunted Minds. Twice before I’ve visited this location (2008 & 2011) and I found each trip to be memorable and fun.

This time around I brought my sister-in-law Madison along, who’s a creep in her own right but inexperienced in the ways of haunting. Earlier this year she began reading Horrorlust; shortly thereafter I introduced her to the Haunt Guide and Fear Finder. She seemed fascinated by the images on the pages; I knew then I might have a budding haunter on my hands.

So there we were on a chilly Friday night as we soaked in the idyllic atmosphere of the Huron Turkey Farm. The county store was adorned with it’s usual lights, inside a ghoulish array of characters lined the walls. As we made our way to the haunted attraction we explored the miniature town scattered over the grounds, which is something of a playground for kids and big kids alike. The quaint structures provide an excellent place to stage a spur of the moment prank and can also be used for a unique photo op.

Once we had entered the queue area, we were asked to stand at the blood line. A quick glance at the floor indeed revealed there to be a blood soaked stain on the ground, but before we could ask any questions a ghoulish bust flickered to life and began regaling us with the rules of the house. This particular effect utilized a projection system and is immensely more effective and entertaining than having an exhausted employee recite the same rules to each group of patrons every night for the duration of the haunt season. I’ve always advocated that the show should begin before a guest even enters the haunted attraction and indeed Realm of Haunted Minds has put that philosophy to good use.

Realm of Haunted Minds isn’t the type of haunted attraction that’s going to overwhelm guests with high tech animatronics or eye popping props, that kind of thing is sprinkled in to be sure but the driving force here is simply old fashioned haunting. Realm of Haunted Minds successfully fused the mood of a fun house with the ambience of a classic haunted house.

Neon splattered walls and a robust sound system set the scene quite well, while the use of tried and true haunt troupes such as drop panels, misdirection, and hidden passageways further supplement the concept of bedrock fundamental principles. When done correctly, there’s simply no substitute for these time honored elements.

The attraction was of an ideal length and featured a fair amount of actors and if jumping and shrieking can be interpreted as enjoying oneself then Madison had a blast, I was amused to see a fresh haunter caught off guard by a bounty of techniques that are so familiar to me. In one early room a zipper-faced clown stood slightly slumped over, his wrists chained to a wall. As we turned our backs and began in the direction of the next room I waited patiently for the payoff and without missing a beat ole Zipper Face struck! Maddie, convinced the figure was a prop, nearly leaped out of her shoes.

Later, we were pursued by a tongue-wangling fiend who gave Maddie a serious case of the heebie-jeebies when he determinedly scaled the walls of his cage and began to crawl over the top of the structure. In another instance we traversed a narrow hallway and at the end, where the path took a turn to the right, tucked into the corner sat a stone skeletal bust a top a pedestal. I first encountered this gag last year while touring House of the Dead at TerrorTown — it startled me then and without fail it put a little pep into Maddie’s step.

The Realm of Haunted Minds is a good haunted house at a wonderful location and is suitable for all ages. I would suggest that fog and strobe lights be put to greater use as a means to disorient and confuse; the tight quarters would be very conducive to this effect and would serve to ratchet up the tension.

I also felt that the opportunity for a big scare was missed at the conclusion of the ghoul’s rules at the beginning of the attraction. There was a door to the left of us as we stood at the blood line, it bore something of a resemblance to an Iron Maiden. When our decrepit host had finished with his speech the doors opened automatically and we plunged into the attraction, but how wonderful would it have been if a chainsaw wielding nut, for example, had burst forth from the same structure and forced us to scramble around him?! The timing was perfect for just such a scare and what better way to keep haunters guessing than by turning a vintage staple on its ear?

Rating: 3.75 stars

Haunting By Numbers: 2012 Haunt Season

Posted in Haunting By Numbers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2013 by bluefall8

Another haunt season is nearly upon us and like those that have come before it, 2013 is sure to be filled with its own memorable nights of fright. Every season has its highlight reel moments, from five star haunts to eye popping scenes to one of a kind characters. Truly each fall that we set out on the open road is special in its own right. Here’s a look at some of the pertinent numbers behind the October magic.

22: The total number of attractions that we visited last year at 16 separate locations; this total falls just one shy of the record 23 that we toured in 2011.

8: Moonlit nights spent pounding the pavement throughout Michigan and Ohio in search of fun and fright.

10: Haunted attractions that we hit for the first time; a single season record.

11: Counties throughout Michigan and Ohio where we stopped to visit haunted houses; another single season record. In Michigan we traversed Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Ingham, Genesee, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, and Livingston. And in Ohio we cruised through Lucas, Cuyahoga, and Summit counties.

242: Cold hard cash spent on our beloved haunted attractions. This figure reflects solely what was spent on admission and does not take into consideration what was spent on gas, food, or other necessities of the road. As best as I can tell from past figures, this too is a high water mark.

1203: The staggering amount of miles traveled going to and from Michigan and Ohio’s scariest places; yet another single season record.

161: Miles of road between home and the most distant haunted house of the season — Akron’s Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory. This figure falls just short of the 170 miles we traveled in 2010 when we paid a visit to the Haunted Hoochie.

5: Consecutive years that we have braved the horror of Terror Town’s House of the Dead.

0: Strangely, the number of attractions that received a perfect 5 star score in a season that featured a gaggle of great shows.

 

2012 Horrorlust Haunt Awards

Posted in Awards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2013 by bluefall8

The Midwest Haunters Convention was held this weekend in Columbus, Ohio and that means two things — Summer has arrived, and with the passing of MHC the official countdown to the haunt season has begun! I loved the EC Comics inspired promotional piece for the 10th anniversary of this event.

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So as the Midwest Haunters Convention wraps up tonight and haunt vendors, owners, and enthusiasts look forward to the fall, let us take a few moments to look back at the best that last season had to offer.

Horrorlust recognizes nine dreadful categories. Our traditional seven categories include: Monster, Killer Automatons, Eerie Vibrations, Pulse Pounder, Dark Horse, Rotten Pumpkin, and of course, Haunt of the Year. In 2011 the Prop Master and Samhain Awards debuted; descriptions precede each award.

Rotten Pumpkin – The Rotten Pumpkin award is given to the haunt considered to be the most disappointing of the season. Disappointment may be the result of an over hyped marketing campaign or the failure of the haunt to live up to expectations set forth in previous seasons. Whatever the case may be let there be no doubt that the haunt receiving this unwanted distinction truly dropped the ball, failing to provide a worthwhile show.

2012 Rotten Pumpkin: Scream Machine

Dishonorable Mention: Nightmare Sanctum (Wyandotte Jaycees)

This wasn’t an easy decision because the Scream Machine is not a bad haunted attraction, but it has become stagnant and predictable. I’ve visited this attraction more than any other over the years and the 2012 incarnation was guilty of mailing it in more so than at any other time. It lacked precision, passion, and any truly pulse pounding moments.

Eerie Vibrations – The Eerie Vibrations award is given to the haunt considered to exude the best overall atmosphere. Atmosphere is defined by the mood of the haunt itself but can also be fostered by immediate grounds or even the surrounding area.

2012 Eerie Vibrations: Bloodview

Honorable Mention: Krazy Hilda’s Camp of No Return

A malevolent aura permeated throughout Bloodview from the moment we stepped through the gates that bore its’ namesake. It featured both indoor and outdoor attractions that seemed to pulsate with the energy of 1,000 lost souls.

Dark Horse – The Dark Horse award is given to the haunt considered to have the most potential for growth. Criteria for this award include the ability to deliver an entertaining show at a relatively small venue and at a reduced rate. Think of the Dark Horse award as the Horrorlust’s way of recognizing the little haunt that could.

2012 Dark Horse: Dimensions of Darkness

Honorable Mention: A Nightmare on Elm Road

All of the fundamental elements are in place for Dimensions of Darkness to become something special. Dark, in-your-face, actor driven haunted attractions are becoming rarer with the passing of each Halloween season, but with a few inspired tweaks the gang here might just have the moxie to deliver old school back to the mainstream.

Killer Automatons – The Killer Automatons award is given to the haunt that best integrates animatronics into its attraction. When determining this award several factors are considered including timing, prop placement, realism, and sheer wow effect.

2012 Killer Automatons: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

Honorable Mention: Haunted School House

Despite a number of ill timed or malfunctioning animatronics last year, House of the Dead still offered enough impressive robotic baddies to win this award going away. Without fail the operators here take care to integrate a couple of new mechanical monsters into the show each year. Indeed, House of the Dead has a stranglehold on this category, winning the Killer Automatons Award four years in a row.  

Monster – The Monster award is given to the haunt considered to have the best live actors of the season. In order to claim this award workers must display a certain level of intensity as well as a refusal to break character. Also crucial is the ability to improvise lines or actions when adapting to an individual guest or group.

2012 Monster: Sinister

Honorable Mention: Bloodview

The cavalcade of creatures at Sinister worked as a cohesive unit, the group was so in sync it was as if their minds had forged a singularity. This was a collection of professional scarers who regard haunting as a craft and worked tirelessly to hone their formidable skills. The staff here simply did not miss a beat and wasted no opportunity to engage guests. The vocalization, physicality, and improvisation were all expertly executed.

Prop Master – The Prop Master award is given to the haunt considered to have best implemented props into the attraction. A prop may be considered a piece of furniture, a weapon, or a dummy. The haunt that claims this award will have paid special attention to placement, function, and realism.

2012 Prop Master: Barn of Horrors (Erwin Orchards)

Honorable Mention: Haunted Laboratory

The use of props inside the Barn of Horrors put me in mind of 2011 winner, Tent of Terror. Nothing was overdone or out of place, each prop provided a key visual element for its’ respective scene. The warped clock with a human face and giant dwarf stand out as favorites.

Pulse Pounder – The Pulse Pounder award is given to the haunt considered to be the most intense attraction of the season. Intensity can be gauged by a number of factors including commitment of actors, gory or realistic scenes, and harsh or loud music and sound effects. However, the most important element when considering this award is genuine fear factor.

2012 Pulse Pounder: Slaughter House

Honorable Mention: Bloodview

Admittedly this year’s selection of Slaughter House is a bit of a departure for this particular award which traditionally has gone to the scariest haunted attraction of the season. Slaugher House certainly offered some spine tingling moments but their specialty was more fun than fright. None of this is a knock on Slaugher House, quite the opposite in fact, it’s a testament to what the haunt did so well. Heart racing scares were supplanted by mind boggling illusions, the race to freedom was replaced by the race to the next room where another eye popping stunt was lying in wait. Slaughter House was a refreshing mix of fun and fear that got the blood pumping to be sure.

Samhain – This award recognizes the most enjoyable night of haunting in a given season. A plethora of factors are considered when deciding this award but at the end of the season it comes down to the night of haunting that provided us with the most scares, laughs, and memories.

2012 Samhain: October 5, 2012 (Erwin Orchards, Slaugher House, A Nightmare on Elm Road)

Honorable Mention: October 12, 2012 (Deadly Intentions, Sinister, Exit 13)

The night of October 5th didn’t get off to a promising start due to the weather but the magic of the haunt season would not be denied. As fate would have it we braved the Barn of Horrors twice, witnessed a haunt classic at Slaughter House (and made a friend to boot), and capped off the night with a visit to the charmingly ramshackle A Nightmare on Elm Road. It isn’t often we get to experience such a wide spectrum of the haunted landscape in a single night.

Haunt of the Year – The Haunt of Year award is given to the haunt considered to be the best overall attraction of the season. When deciding on this award several factors are taken into consideration including the timing and intensity of actors, the pace and length of the haunt, attention to detail, use of special effects, realism of props, and most importantly the lasting imprint left on guests.

2012 Haunt of the Year: Sinister

Honorable Mention: Slaugher House

Our experience at Sinister was pure happenstance, a visit that seemed to warp the very fabric of space and time, the sort of thing that usually only occurs within the confines of The Twilight Zone. On every measurable scale the cast was brilliant; somehow providing John and I with a fresh and, dare I say, even more energized experience during our second pass. It was like being in one of your favorite films except all of the familiar scenes had been supernaturally charged and then quite amazingly we discovered new scenes and characters who hadn’t existed moments before. Sinister spun a rare gem in 2012 and will live on in haunt lore for years to come.

A Brief Note on Awards and Ratings

Many haunted attractions that we hold in high regard did not receive any awards in 2012, but that does not mean these attractions do not deserve recognition. The most notable of these are Darksyde Acres and Exit 13. Darksyde Acres’ Rusthole & Catacombs scored 4.25 out of 5 stars, the 3rd highest rating out of the 22 total attractions we visited last year. Similarly, Exit 13 was rated 4 out of 5 stars and ranked 5th overall in our ratings.

So how can it be that neither of these haunts garnered so much as an honorable mention? Well, I’ve stated numerous times that the ratings are a reflection on each individual haunt and should not necessarily be used to compare one attraction to another. So what does this all mean? I think it speaks to two things — the diversity of the awards themselves and the quality of attractions we were able to visit during the 2012 haunt season.

Blood Bath & Beyond Hayride (4.25 stars) also rated very well and it’s counterpart at Scarefest Screampark, Hayride of Doom (3.5 stars), didn’t do too shabby either. Hayrides, like corn mazes and other haunted off shoots while undeniably related to haunted houses are, in my opinion, different beasts altogether. We currently have no specific award for these attractions due to the fact that we simply don’t visit enough of them each season.

2012 Star Ratings

Posted in Star Ratings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by bluefall8

For each haunted attraction I visit a 1-5 star rating is ascribed. This list is intended to reflect those ratings only and does not indicate any other type of rank such as favorite to least favorite. Nor is the star ratings system meant to pit one attraction against another it’s just my way of summing up the overall effectiveness and enjoyability of that particular haunted attraction.  A lot of factors are taken into consideration when I determine the rating such as — actor performance, theme, quality of props and special effects, originality, and level of excitement — just to name a few but at the end of the night the rating comes down to my raw gut feeling of the overall experience. Below is a complete list of the haunted attractions I visited during the 2012 Halloween season ranked by their corresponding star rating. Again, it’s important to note that the star rating isn’t meant to serve as a way to compare one attraction to another rather it’s a reflection of how well each individual haunt executed what it set out to accomplish.

2012 Star Ratings

1. Sinister – 4.75 (Utica, MI.)

2. Slaughter House – 4.5 (Slaughter House Adventure – Fowlerville, MI.)

3. The Rusthole & Catacombs – 4.25 (Darksyde Acres – Jonesville, MI.)

4. Blood Bath & Beyond Hayride – 4.25 (Slaughter House Adventure – Fowlerville, MI.)

5. Exit 13 – 4 (Mt. Morris, MI.)

6. Bloodview – 3.75 (Broadview Heights, OH.)

7. Dark Abyss – 3.5 (Darksyde Acres – Jonesville, MI.)

8. Dimensions of Darkness – 3.5 (Maumee, OH.)

9. Krazy Hilda’s Camp of no Return – 3.5 (Chelsea, MI.)

10. Haunted Laboratory – 3.5 (Akron, OH.)

11. Barn of Horrors – 3.5 (Erwin Orchards – South Lyon, MI.)

12. Hayride of Doom – 3.5 (Scarefest Scream Park – New Haven, MI.)

13. Haunted Schoolhouse – 3.25 (Akron, OH.)

14. Big Top Terror – 3 (Terror Town – Maumee, OH.)

15. House of the Dead – 3 (Terror Town – Maumee, OH.)

16. Haunt for Hunger – 3 (Allen Park, MI.)

17. Deadly Intentions – 3 (Warren, MI.)

18. Corn Stalkers Maze – 3 (Erwin Orchards – South Lyon, MI.)

19. Castle of the Dead – 2.75 (Scarefest Scream Park – New Haven, MI.)

20. Scream Machine – 2.25 (Taylor, MI.)

21. Nightmare Sanctum – 2.25 (Wyandotte, MI.)

22. A Nightmare on Elm Road – 2 (Webberville, MI.)

Average Rating – 3.36 Stars

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

2011 Horrorlust Haunt Awards

Posted in Awards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2012 by bluefall8

As we get ready to set off on the first big haunted house outing of the season, we take a few moments to reflect on the best that last season had to offer. The Haunt Trinity recognizes nine dreadful categories, two of which are new this year. Our traditional seven categories include: Monster, Killer Automatons, Eerie Vibrations, Pulse Pounder, Dark Horse, Rotten Pumpkin, and of course, Haunt of the Year. Our newest awards are Prop Master and Samhain, descriptions precede each award.

Rotten Pumpkin – The Rotten Pumpkin award is given to the haunt considered to be the most disappointing of the season. Disappointment may be the result of an over hyped marketing campaign or the failure of the haunt to live up to expectations set forth in previous seasons. Whatever the case may be let there be no doubt that the haunt receiving this unwanted distinction truly dropped the ball, failing to provide a worthwhile show.

2011 Rotten Pumpkin: Anxiety Alley

Dishonorable Mention: Big Top Terror (Terror Town)

It was sad to see the modular haunt of my childhood fall to such an abysmal low but that was the show we were presented. The scares were non existent and the few scenes that were featured were entirely uninspiring. The whole operation was poorly managed, very poorly managed.

Eerie Vibrations – The Eerie Vibrations award is given to the haunt considered to exude the best overall atmosphere. Atmosphere is defined by the mood of the haunt itself but can also be fostered by immediate grounds or even the surrounding area.

2011 Eerie Vibrations: Darksyde Acres

Honorable Mention: The Funeral Home

Strangely void of any other guests when we arrived, the silence permeating the grounds of this former pig farm spoke volumes. Stranger still was the surreal cyberpunk-thrash metal-hardcore haunting vibe that oozed throughout the main attraction. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d stepped into some kind of 70’s snuff film…and that was a good thing.

Dark Horse – The Dark Horse award is given to the haunt considered to have the most potential for growth. Criteria for this award include the ability to deliver an entertaining show at a relatively small venue and at a reduced rate. Think of the Dark Horse award as the Haunt Trinity’s way of recognizing the little haunt that could.

2011 Dark Horse: Krazy Hilda’s Barn of Doom

Honorable Mention: Realm of Haunted Minds

An all volunteer effort steeped in the fundamentals of haunting, Krazy Hilda’s featured a cast of lovable ghouls (but not too lovable) who enjoyed scaring us and making us laugh. This, coupled with some unique room design and a good length made Krazy Hilda’s the obvious pick for this award.

Killer Automatons – The Killer Automatons award is given to the haunt that best integrates animatronics into its attraction. When determining this award several factors are considered including timing, prop placement, realism, and sheer wow effect.

2011 Killer Automatons: House of the Dead (Terror Town)

Honorable Mention: Chelsea Feargrounds

Although several of Terror Town’s demonic denizens weren’t functioning properly those that were secured this award for a second consecutive year. Admittedly, some of the animatronics are accompanied by few set pieces and are simply meant to wow guests with sheer size. However, those that are truly impressive are the electronic entities that have been integrated seamlessly into a larger theme — such as the giant hand in the twisted nursery. It’s those moments that allow House of the Dead to claim this award once more.

Monster – The Monster award is given to the haunt considered to have the best live actors of the season. In order to claim this award workers must display a certain level of intensity as well as a refusal to break character. Also crucial is the ability to improvise lines or actions when adapting to an individual guest or group.

2011 Monster: Darksyde Acres

Honorable Mention: The Haunting

The odd, perverted, and sultry band of ghouls at Darksyde Acres was truly what set this attraction apart from all others in 2011. They were completely committed to scaring guests or grossing them out or even kissing them if such would be required. Some may say the actors at Darksyde are less thespians than they are deranged masochists playing out their sick and twisted fantasies — and that’s alright by me.

Prop Master – The Prop Master award is given to the haunt considered to have best implemented props into the attraction. A prop may be considered a piece of furniture, a weapon, or a dummy. The haunt that claims this award will have paid special attention to placement, function, and realism.

2011 Prop Master: Tent of Terror (The Boneyard)

Honorable Mention: The Deadland

The main attraction at the Boneyard burst at the seams with props, but it wasn’t just the sheer quantity that helped Tent of Terror snag this award. Rather it was the placement of said props in appropriately themed settings, underscored by the workers who interacted with the props in various creative and entertaining ways.

Pulse Pounder – The Pulse Pounder award is given to the haunt considered to be the most intense attraction of the season. Intensity can be gauged by a number of factors including commitment of actors, gory or realistic scenes, and harsh or loud music and sound effects. However, the most important element when considering this award is genuine fear factor.

2011 Pulse Pounder: Darksyde Acres

Honorable Mention: Tent of Terror (The Boneyard)

Our journey through Darksyde Acres sparked within me that primal fear that can only be stirred by the threat of the dark unknown. It seems to happen less and less as we visit more haunted attractions and therefore this award was well deserved.

Samhain – This award recognizes the most enjoyable night of haunting in a given season. A plethora of factors are considered when deciding this award but at the end of the season it comes down to the night of haunting that provided us with the most scares, laughs, and memories.

2011 Samhain: October 14, 2011 (Krazy Hilda’s, Chelsea Feargrounds, The Boneyard)

Honorable Mention: October 31, 2011 (St. Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum, 13 Feet Under, The Crypt)

On this date we made haunting an all night affair and oh what a fling it was! We began the night at Krazy Hilda’s where we witnessed the best overall volunteer effort in our haunting history. Next, we had all our senses assailed at the high-energy, mad house known as Chelsea Feargrounds. Finally, we burned the midnight oil with three substantial attractions at The Boneyard.

Haunt of the Year – The Haunt of Year award is given to the haunt considered to be the best overall attraction of the season. When deciding on this award several factors are taken into consideration including the timing and intensity of actors, the pace and length of the haunt, attention to detail, use of special effects, realism of props, and most importantly the lasting imprint left on guests.

2011 Haunt of the Year: Darksyde Acres

Honorable Mention: Chelsea Feargrounds

It was early in the haunting season when we paid a visit to Darksyde Acres but it certainly left a lasting impression. If the cast wasn’t firing on all cylinders that night I can’t wait to return during the prime of this season of screams. The usual haunt etiquette was discarded with wanton recklessness and the result was a stroke of awe inspiring giddiness.