Category: Halloween

2015, 2016, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

OniHaunts 2015 Awards = Oni’s Most Loved Haunted Attraction Recommendations for 2016

Most people do their awards at the end of the season. I think that’s pointless in my case because:

1. At the end of the season I’m tired of doing this and tired of everything except sleep.

2. Awards are essentially my list of your best bets for the following year.

3. If I still like a haunt a year later, that means my recommendation was solid.

I announce my awards at the beginning of the next season. The 2016 haunt season has begun, so here we go.

How I Choose Haunts:

It’s unfair to compare a large haunt to a small haunt or to compare a theatrical haunt to a startle scare haunt. They are apples and oranges. I simply look at everyone I visited that year and highlight who is doing some Next Level Shit that deserve attention on a national stage. After the season ends, who am I still thinking about that blew the doors off of Halloween?

This means that there’s a lot of great haunts that I am not honoring in this post. This doesn’t mean they weren’t stellar – it just means that my awards are supposed to be guides to who is really shaking the scene up for the better. And my awards aren’t easy to get.

In the past I’ve given awards named for what the haunt is doing. For example, if a haunt was innovating beyond the norm, I may design an “Innovation Award” for them. If I feel they are legendary, I may design a “Legendary Award”. The “Brutality Award” is always reserved for the haunt that can get Harknell and myself so riled up that tears might come out of our eyes. Again – not easy to do. We’ve seen it all. Or so we thought.

2 haunts obliterated us last year and 1 redefined the genre. For the first time ever I’m giving out 2 WELL-EARNED Brutality Awards in 1 year. Sorry, rest of the country – Pennsylvania is criminally insane and apparently the nation’s capitol of kick ass haunts. No other state (so far) comes close to the intensity and quality that I see so much of in Pennsylvania.

OniHaunts 2015 Awards:

oni-haunts-innovation-vault-of-souls

Vault of Souls – Tampa, Florida: Read my review here.

Vault of Souls has no startle scares so those who do not like haunted attractions will also like this one. You partake in an elegant evening out where you somehow end up socializing with several ghosts. You get to put together the puzzle of what happened. This is not an escape room – more like a living interactive theatre experience. It’s spooky, innovative, and proving to the world that you don’t need to be “X-TREEEME” to be good. The most memorable attractions ever created are theatrical in my opinion. Anyone can chase someone with a chainsaw. Not everyoen can create a world that you can walk into and explore.

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Halls of Horror – Palmerton, PA: Read my review here.

One Brutality Award goes to Hall of Horror and that should be no surprise. They are now the only haunt to have won 2 Brutality Awards from me. SERIOUSLY. They are always just THAT MUCH CRAZIER and THAT MUCH more …well..brutal than the rest. Read my review to see why. These guys are a definite jewel in the haunted attraction industry’s Holy Shit crown. What the HELL is wrong with you guys?!?!! OMG.

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Reaper’s Revenge – Scranton, PA: Read my review here.

I’m genuinely shocked that Reaper’s Revenge is not as popular as Bates and Pennhurst.

More people NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS ONE HOLY SHIT. If you haven’t gone here I feel sorry for you. Genuinely sorry that you are so incredibly deprived. RR almost got an Innovation Award because THEY ARE INNOVATING THEIR ASSES OFF in there, but that does not encapsulate the sheer scope and precision with which this haunt is executed. The staging is beyond anything I have seen anywhere else. They build upward and around you in all directions – even in the hayride. A year later I still remember that and the eerie eyes throughout the forest. I still remember the usage of vintage recycled carnival rides. Its just insane. Perfection.

These guys have the best hayride I have ever been on in my life. Period.

Do not be fooled by the modest front end of this one. You will get SMASHED in here if you aren’t prepared. All of the other haunts in the country should come here and pay attention. RR can teach the entire industry a thing or 2 about innovation, staging, and just plain terror. The had a house that was lights out. Darkness. Those always suck.

NOT HERE. That one almost had me past the hyperventilation point – and it’s because they used darkness as a tool, and not as an excuse to be cheap.

NEXT. LEVEL. SHIT. And they aren’t just pretty and well-staged – they are god damn fn TERRIFYING. They got both James and myself to the hyperventilate point where I was almost glad to be through with the attraction. THAT INTENSE. Enjoy your Brutality Award, you crazy, insane people.

Read my haunted attraction and immersive theatre reviews for more info about haunts in the eastern, southeast, and midwest USA.

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Preview: “No Escape” Escape Rooms

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This is a guest article written by Kara Dennison.

Escape rooms escape rooms escape rooms. I’m not sure what cause the surge of popularity in escape rooms over the last handful of years, but I can’t say I mind it. I’ve sadly never actually been to one, although not for lack of trying — my closest experiences are either attending Then She Fell or playing those Flash games online. So Busch Gardens getting two as part of Howl-O-Scream excited me.

Our group attended Media Night recently, where we were promised a “modified experience.” No one was entirely sure what that meant, but we went along with it.

Now, the things you need to know first off. The escape rooms are across from Land of the Dragons in Germany. Each room holds a group of six, who have half an hour to track down clues in order to solve a mystery and escape from the room. You have two to choose from: one Jack the Ripper themed, one themed to Mr. Karver and his creepy dolls from this year’s overarching ‘Evil Encore’ branding. Oh, and yes — they do cost extra ($30 before 4 PM, $40 after), but the price includes a group photo at the end.

Now, for the modified experience.

There were approximately 30 people in attendance for media night, and they wanted us to be able to see both rooms. So, rather than sending us in in groups of six and locking us in until we found our way out, we were split in half and invited to look around each room with the doors still open, and after a time we’d swap rooms.

My group saw the Jack the Ripper room first.

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Without giving too much away, the idea is that anyone who comes through Jack the Ripper’s apartments is helping the London constabulary find out his true identity. As the constable put it, ‘Clues will lead to other clues, which will lead you to his identity.’ The room was full of drawers, cabinets, hidden items, and even some hidden areas that went largely unsearched until the end of our time. I was pretty sold on this one right away, as even with the quick-and-dirty walkthrough we were able to start piecing apart bits of the mystery and how one would go about putting the clues together. It was well constructed, with plenty of things to delve into, and rewards of clues (or occasional silliness) for people like me who pick up literally everything.

Then came Mr. Karver’s room, and I was super excited about this. The Evil Encore branding has been so prevalent, and creepy dolls are kind of my jam, so I was really ready for this.

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And… well. While the look of the room, the props, and especially the gentleman playing Mr. Karver were all especially creepy and unsettling and wonderful… I had absolutely no idea what we were meant to be doing. I had to go to the website just now to find out that the point of the room is finding out where Mr. Karver’s workshop is. Does that mean you’re locked in there and don’t know how you got there? Or is there a second, freakier workshop that you’re trying to find your way into? Even a poke around the room with about the same diligence as the Jack the Ripper room didn’t turn up much by way of what we’d be doing if we were actually meant to be in there.

The Mr. Karver room honestly felt more like a theatrical experience/display of the branding than a preview for an escape room. I know who the character is, I know why we’re meant to be afraid of him, but I have genuinely no idea — to put it bluntly — why I’d want to spend $30 to be locked in there with five of my friends. Again, as an experience, it was very cool. And the actor was amazing. But for what it was, the preview was fairly unsuccessful.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced that an unsuccessful preview means a bad attraction. If the two rooms are designed by the same people, then there are good odds they’re of equal quality. And admittedly, Jack the Ripper needs no introduction, where Mr. Karver and his dolls are a new IP.

The size of the venues, while not great for our preview group, would be ideal — snug but with enough room to explore — for the advertised group of six. Things were easily accessible from their various drawers and shelves, though there were a lot of dark areas that I wouldn’t have had a chance in without the flashlight on my phone (a thing to bear in mind especially for the Jack the Ripper room). And it goes without saying that the attention to detail was fantastic — not only because it has to be in an escape room, but also because the atmosphere of Busch Gardens’ various haunted attractions usually does have intricate details to it.

Final thoughts? I love the idea. It’s smart of them to jump on the escape room train, especially as a way to give park attendees a jumpscare-free alternative that’s still immersive. The ticket price is surprising, but not horrendous. I do, though, feel that they could have done the left-hand room a bit better service on their preview night.

For more information on No Escape and to book a time, visit the official website.

2016, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks

The Dark Ride Project captures vintage Dark Rides in VR

The Dark Ride Project is a Virtual Reality archive of historic indoor amusements from across the globe. It is the first repository of the Dark Ride experience, using cutting edge technology to capture both the physical construction and the unique immersive experience. They need your help via IndieGogo to make this a reality.

https://www.facebook.com/darkrideproject

http://darkrideproject.com

2016, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Pennsylvania

HAUNTED ATTRACTION BULLSHIT: Pennhurst Asylum has been sold; we do not know if the haunted house will return

EDIT: The haunt will actually open this year and some of the original actors are returning. I don’t know anything else beyond this. Look here for details.

I just heard from Pennhurst Asylum Operations Manager Michael E Majewski Jr that Pennhurst will be sold to new management for 2016. The current management will no longer be involved. We are not sure if there will be a haunted attraction this year.

“It is with great sadness that I must inform you all that my time at Pennhurst Asylum has come to an abrupt end.

As of yesterday it was official that the property is under contract to be sold to a new owner. And the haunted house will be under new management.”

Full source:

Pennhurst was one of the best haunted attractions in the country so this is upsetting. Michael E Majewski Jr, Bates Motel Productions, and the cast are irreplaceable. I watched while they took an old building, made it safe, and put a world-class haunted attraction inside that just got better and better every year. The haunted attraction was good enough to completely get past our dislike for asylum-themed haunts, revolutionize how haunted attractions are implemented, and earn our highest recommendation every single year.

I am well aware of what goes into that and I am completely sure that not just anyone could have pulled it off. So you’ll have to excuse me if I say that if it does return it probably won’t be as good. Double that sentiment because this was a surprise today to even the cast and management. It’s super late to plan a haunt for Fall. Even if the new mangement jumped in and did it now they’d still be so behind schedule that I can only see a clusterfuck.

So that sucks.

Everyone involved with this attraction has a lot to be proud of. I hope they get work at another attraction because the world needs this.

Pennhurst WAS Bates Motel Productions (Randy Bates and Todd Beringer) partnered with Pennhurst Acquisitions (Tim Smith Sr. and Executive Assistant Deb Bosher) as Pennhurst Haunt LLC. Michael Majewski Jr (Juice) was Operations Manager along with Haunt Manager Chris Riddle, and John Brady on Tech and Sound.

Click here to read my haunted attraction reviews.

2016, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

HAUNTED ATTRACTION REVIEW: Rye, New York: Rye Playland’s Gallery of Horrors and Rye Playland 2016

I received a tip that a new haunted attraction had opened in Rye Playland in New York so Harknell and I drove out there a couple of weeks ago to check it out. I went to write the review about Gallery of Horrors but realized partway through that I can’t review it fairly without reviewing the entire park, so first I am going to talk about the park and then the attraction.

Rye Playland already had several dark rides that you can view here. They have 2 ride-through haunted houses called Zombie Castle and The Flying Witch. They aren’t really themed (Correction! Zombie Castle is – thank you George LaCross for pointing this out), so don’t expect a witch story in The Flying Witch. I enjoy them both and ride them every time I come.

Zombie Castle:

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Flying Witch:

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Flying Witch car:

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Ye Old Mill is the best ride that they have. It was designed by Sally Corporation and Rye Playland gave them a good budget so that they could actually do a very good ride. Normally Sally’s best rides are in Europe and elsewhere because US parks do not generally want to pay for anything besides coasters. Ye Old Mill is a gem. It’s a shame I didn’t get to ride it this time. More on THAT later.

Ye Old Mill:

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They also have a House of Horrors which is an old-fashioned mirror-based fun house. I respect these old classics but mirror houses bore me so I don’t go on that one.

I would not have ever gone to Rye Playland if it were not for the high number of dark rides they have. Their customer service just plain stinks. I’ve had bad experience after bad experience here and this visit was no different.

On this visit the Old Mill ride was down. It was not listed on the sign that posts ride closures before you paid $30 each under the pretense of being able to ride everything in the park. When we asked when the Mill would be up, the response we got from the folks working on the ride was similar to this asshole in the Pop Copy skit from Chapelle’s Show. They were less inflammatory, but of the same IDGAF style. Imagine this guy, but a really sleepy version of him who shrugs a lot at you:

I digress slightly away from a single attraction review, but this is important for my conclusion later in this post.

So how is the new Gallery of Horrors?

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Rye Playland’s Gallery of Horrors is a short walkthrough with no actors. They say this up front so none of this was a surprise to us. What was a surprise was how short it was and that we got charged an extra $3 per person to enter. Walking slowly through this attraction may not have lasted more than 3 minutes, tops.

At this point you can’t help but feel ripped off.

If this were a tech demo at the Transworld haunted attraction show of someone’s design and staging capabilities it would be great, but it’s not. It’s being sold as a standalone attraction worthy of an upcharge from your $30 admission that purports to include all of the rides in the park but doesn’t. The park doesn’t even list it on it’s website.

From a customer’s perspective, I paid $30 to ride 2 5 minute haunted house rides and had to shell out $3 more to go through a 3 minute walk through haunted house and the biggest ride I wanted to ride was down and not listed that it was down and never came back up.

This is a fucking joke.

I am aware of how park / attraction relationships work and I realize that the attraction owner probably has no control over this and that the park may be operating in a way that forces them to upcharge and excludes them from the wristband program. I see this happen frequently in parks that rent out their space to haunted attractions and it’s pretty terrible for small business.

The park is also not communicating to the customers properly on what is and is not included in the wristbands as well as which rides are down for that day before you pay to enter. The typical experience with Rye Playland is that you just get rude surprises and treated like shit once you enter the park in a way that makes Six Flags look like Disney World. You will not get what you pay for at this park. I never have and I have been here at least 3 times.

The last time I was here I was kicked off of a carousel because I had a mini backpack and not given a refund. I double checked and no signs were posted that bags were not permitted on that ride. That time I had paid per ride and didn’t buy the “all rides” wristband. It wouldn’t take that much to hand my tickets back to me. (NOTE: They don’t even list the tickets on the website but still offer them – another example of poor communication to the customer by this park.)

Conclusion:

As you can see, Rye Playland is a fiasco. If you are a haunted house dark ride fan the Old Mill is worth the trip. It’s designed by Sally Corporation and is one of the few rides that gave them the budget to make some very awesome magic. Ye Old Mill is a gem and one of the examples of the great work that Sally does that most parks won’t pay for – but Playland actually did. (I guess a broken watch is right twice a day…) The catch is will that ride actually be running? No one knows. Pay first and find out.

I can only recommend Rye Playland to the die hard haunted house and dark ride enthusiast because of how the park is being managed. Gallery of Horrors was well-designed but it was the shortest haunt I have ever been through in my life and quite sterile. The rooms were staged well but it was very basic. There was no payoff, no story, no real interaction between the customer’s brain and the attraction and it left us with the “dafuq did I just pay for?” feeling. The biggest shock was exiting because it felt so short.

How it’s being positioned in this park is poor. I cannot recommend it to anyone. If it were free I wouldn’t go back through because nothing in there calls for a second viewing. If it were a room staging class it would be a great teaching tool, but the sterility of it all – you’ve seen everything the first time just like how once you’ve seen the inside of a Chipotle you know what the restaurant looks like and won’t forget.

It is not worth an additional $3. It is not worth $3 on it’s own without being at least double the length it is and adding at least 1 room that has some sort of “big” concept happen in front of you, like a chain reaction or any sort of psychology being used in any of the rooms.

Gallery of Horrors was just your basic scares laid out from the best LCD screens and other items purchased probably from Transworld or some other haunted attraction show that I have seen in every haunted attraction in the eastern seaboard. Even in larger attractions I find these types of pre-purchased props to be never something that should be a main focus to the overall design unless you are a company trying to sell these props to other haunters and you are at a trade show. If that’s the case – don’t charge for it.

It seems that whoever built this may be working on a haunted house for this Halloween. Across the park they had a display of props set up advertising their website and the full haunted house with actors which is supposed to open in October. It seems it may have already happened for a year or so – so if anyone actually went to this please let me know how it was.

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Again – this display has a reliance on purchased technology. The focus of this display was this monitor which put a zombie face on you. Cool stuff, and completely appropriate for a marketing display – but that plus the house we paid for both had a reliance on tech over story. Purchased tech shouldn’t be the main focus inside an attraction in my personal opinion so this makes me concerned that it will be the focus in their full haunted house this Fall.

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I am sad to say that Gallery of Horrors does not advertise their next project positively to potential customers unless the marketing message is that you will feel ripped off afterward. I feel bad for whoever put this together because they clearly are talented and know what they are doing. I feel like the park may have handicapped them and created a situation in which the product they have now was forced to be priced in such a way that it set custumers up for disappointment.

I hope that Playland gets it’s management act in gear and fixes how it handles it’s vendors and how they handle customers – otherwise I won’t be back. I actually can’t see myself returning to this park unless this haunt gets in touch and tells me that they rock and to please come out. Every time I go to this park I feel like I paid for a bad experience where I didn’t even get to ride what the ticket promised due to the park management’s poor communication and customer service.

Read the rest of my haunted attraction reviews and get hyped for Haunt Season 2016!