Harknell, myself, and a small group of friends headed down to Nightmare Screamplex in Boyd, MD this past Saturday after visiting the amazing Hallowinc. (That’s right – 2 haunts in 1 night.) Nightmare Screamplex says it has 3 attractions, but they are really just 3 sections that are fed by one line (in other words, you can’t just go to the 2nd attraction, you have to go through all of them). Our general take on this is that really means it’s 1 attraction–this is a common thing many haunts do to seem bigger than they are.
Nightmare Screamplex was an unanimous thumbs down from everyone in our party. Out of the hundreds of haunts we have done, the only haunt we have been through that was worse than Nightmare Screamplex was Frightland in Delaware.
At first, the atmosphere of Nightmare Screamplex seems nice. They have a movie screen set up playing Dracula, a small bonfire, and some food stands. They had (for an extra fee) some kind of bungee cord game, paintball targets, an adult sized bouncy house, and a giant chess game. When you pay for your tickets you get a wristband with a group number.
After about 5 minutes, the shiny facade began to fade for us. It was extremely cold, and even though it did not appear to be that crowded, the wait was long. I lost track of how long we were there, but it was a LONG time and (I believe) the entire time we were there they only called 7 or 8 groups. We had hoped to hit 3 haunts in 1 night on this night. To do this we normally buy an Express or VIP pass at the haunts we do. Nightmare Screamplex didn’t offer this option. I knew before even entering the attractions that Nightmare Screamplex had blown our schedule up and was glad that I had done our must do haunt of the night earlier. It’s clearly obvious that their business model is about stranding you in their midway long enough that they can get more money from you. There is no earthly reason the wait should have been that long with this few people. None.
Eventually our group was called. It was only then that I noticed that my group number wasn’t for “our” group (i.e. the group we arrived with). It was for “the” group. After all of that waiting we were paired with about 20 other people. Every haunt fan knows that when this happens you get some people who are cool and the inevitable douchebag who takes nothing seriously because “[he] ain’t skeered.”.
To add insult to injury, when our group was called we had to walk down a very long path to the front of a haunted house facade in the woods. There was almost no lighting there so it was pitch black. They had some entirely ineffective fake LED candles on the ground. Even worse – we no longer had any heat from the fire. We were then made to stand here in the freezing cold for at least 15 minutes with the previous group who had STILL not been let into the attraction. (so what did the group pulsing do if we had to wait in this line?)
Nightmare Screamplex has 3 listed attractions: Field of Terror, Nightmare Forest, and The Asylum. All 3 of these names are the names of other standalone attractions not owned by this company, and not very original. This should have been a red flag to us. It actually was, but my mission as a blogger is to go to and review every haunted attraction I can find.
All of Nightmare Screamplex takes place on a very long stretch of extremely treacherous and dark forest. The first attraction is Nightmare Forest. By “treacherous” I don’t mean that they did a good job theming the attractions. I mean we almost fell and busted our ass at least 5 times each. It was too dark to see and there were large gnarled roots and rocks in the pathway. NS’s boasting that their attraction is long is true – and a huge negative. Picture walking for almost an hour on treacherous ground with people lunging and screaming at you every so often. We ignored the actors because we were all more concerned about not falling. A forest is a forest, but at least make some attempt to clear the common walking area of major obstacles! Every so often you’ll reach a place that is themed and it’s done with what appears to be cheap plywood. A few lights are in some of them, but for the most part the illumination is by the light pollution from the far off midway and the terribly ineffective LED candles they put on the floor.
The first attraction looks like some sort of castle. At some point there was an evil mad hatter who apparently was using A REAL GODDAMN HATCHET to hit into the wood and did so FAR too closely to my face. At any other haunt where it’s fake and well-done I would not be concerned but it was obvious this was just some asshat with a FREAKING REAL HATCHET HITTING INTO THE WOOD NEAR MY FREAKING FACE.
Beyond that there were a few underwhelming themes. All of it looked like it was just falling apart. To make matters worse, there is no way to exit. Yes, we did consider exiting a few times, but were stuck in the middle of nowhere in the forest. You won’t find anything special here, and all of the actors are doing the basic and tired “lunge and scream” which signals poor training to me. There is no narrative, no improv, and it was all so unremarkable that I can’t remember most of it other than how relieved I was when it was over.
It was obvious many of the scare actors were trying their best, but the set up and direction of this haunt really seemed to prevent them from doing so.
By the time we reached Field of Terror, I wanted to leave for multiple reasons.
1. I was bored.
2. I had eaten some spicy food for dinner and I had begun to have a food sensitivity reaction.
Yes, for the first time in my life, I was close to crapping my pants in a haunt, but not because it was scary or good in any way.
Why is this relevant? Because once you are in this forest there is no way out without going through the entire trail. There are no bathrooms or any other facilities available. There are long lines for no reason. There is no reason they pulsed the groups through. It’s just a clusterfuck.
So I must tell you at my own expense that I considered popping a squat next to their lame castle facade thingy.
No this does not make me happy. But there it is.
Luckily I held it together and got through their weird castle facade that led into an unremarkable corn maze. In one instance of positivity, there were a couple of really good actors in here.
The Asylum is the attraction that was much better than everything else. It looks like they actually thought about the design a bit. I was hopeful that it was an upward trend, but 2/3 of the way through it leveled out again and finished on a low note – again with more poor flooring that almost made us fall and bust our ass.
The chainsaw guy at the end got no reaction from anyone in the group because the whole thing was just tiring at this point. I could hear the next group come out complaining about how awful it was.
We retired to where our car was parked in the parking lot to discuss what we just saw and where we were going for dinner. We all agreed that this haunt needed work and was likely to have many issues with people falling and getting hurt.
We weren’t talking loud at all, but for some reason an employee felt the need to eavesdrop and offer his 2 cents, which I found to be incredibly tacky.
I mean come on – be honest with yourself. This haunt needs work. He tried to ask us our opinion, but when we offered it by telling him what we liked and what we felt needed some work he gave us a snotty “Well we can’t appeal to everyone.” line before jumping in his car and leaving.
Customer Service 101: Don’t engage with unhappy customers unless you can fix their problem. Don’t try and convince them what they just experienced was wrong and don’t ask for their opinion if you don’t really want it.
Really? Who does this haunt appeal to? I can only think of 3 groups:
1. Local kids who have no other option.
2. People who have never been to a haunted house before.
3. Employees of this haunt.
Our opinion: Avoid.
(side note: We’ve been told by some people that this event is a clone of another, longer running event called Bennett’s Curse (which we’ve never visited)–if so they need to do a much better job of understanding what makes that one good, and not just make a crappy copy.)
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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