Oni and I visited Shocktoberfest in Sinking Spring, PA, on Nov 4th 2012 as media guests. We first went to this event in 2011, and it was one of our favorite events that year, so how did it hold up this year?
Shocktoberfest had three main attractions for 2012: Zombie Revenge Haunted Hayride, Prison of the Dead, and the 3d house The Unknown. They also have a food vendor / carnival games area, and “Club Shock”, which is a DJ area between the queue lines for the hayride and the Prison of the Dead.
On the day we went, which was their last operating day of 2012, they did not have Club Shock running. In the previous year they had a huge tent in place, with the DJ playing music and many people hanging out at tables and dancing–I can only imagine that the cost for renting the tent and DJ for the last operating day was not considered worth while. A shame since it was pretty cool, but understandable.
Zombie Revenge Haunted Hayride
Shocktoberfest’s hayride in 2011 was our favorite of this type, so we were looking forward to seeing what the new additions would bring for this year. Their hayride is semi-unique, in that in 2011 it consisted of a ton of really great set pieces inside showhouses. So instead of the typical hay ride that has people running out of the woods at you, they had that, but most of the best stuff was when you were driven inside a building, the doors were closed around you, and an event occurred (which consisted of extensive animatronics, actors, and props).
This year they added to the already long and interesting ride by putting in a great deal of zombie attacks between buildings. For the most part this worked well, with their actors being really great. They, like Bates Motel, have their actors able to touch you, so this was a pretty fun and intense addition.
The building experiences were pretty much the same high quality as 2011, so that was also great. They tweaked the house storylines slightly to match the new zombie theme–but our one criticism of the ride was that the previous storyline and the zombie one didn’t quite match together enough. They really sort of added the zombies in since zombie stuff is hot right now. In my mind, the best part of the 2011 experience was that the entire ride told one straight story–which had a phenomenal payoff in their premiere show room that had a gigantic animatronic that appears out of nowhere. In the 2012 case, this is still cool, but is sort of a non sequitur with the zombies. While the overall ride felt longer (as in the zombies were an addition instead of a replacement), we felt things were not as pure, so in our opinion a step back toward one coherent storyline would be a better bet for 2013.
The Unknown 3D house was pretty much the same experience as last year. It’s a fun concept, taking a bit of the steampunk aesthetic and pairing it with a mad doctor exposing you to your fears. It seems they have learned a bit from what we thought was a major issue with it last year (it uses red/blue glasses as opposed to polarized ones for the 3D, which make it impossible to see anything in the dark conditions and leads to a massive slowdown and stumbling in the dark)–the person at the front of the house basically told everyone to remove their glasses when not watching one of the show screens in the event. This sort of hits at the basic idea of the house and points to the idea that they should probably just consider dropping the 3D. Yes, it’s cute, but it really doesn’t hold together with the fact that huge parts of the house are really dark. Taking on and off glasses just doesn’t really work as a workflow, and the screens (in 3D) don’t add a ton. I can see (and we thought in 2011) that they had a great vision for this attraction, but the practice doesn’t hold up and a redo is in order.
That being said, the elements other than the 3D in the house are actually really good. I’d suggest limiting the 3D to the pre-show in the future. (as a side note, the hayride has a pre-show that doesn’t use 3D, so having the screens in the house be non-3D already has a precedent which no one has problems with on that other ride)
The Prison of the Dead
The Prison of the Dead is their main walkthrough attraction, and was again a really solid experience this year. It really ends up feeling like a mini Eastern State Penitentiary, but with it’s own storyline. It’s hard to believe that the prison area was manufactured–they really must have studied Eastern State, or others, to get the ruined look just right.
In a nutshell, the story is you are visiting the former (now no longer running) prison, and then go through the escape route that was used that lead to the shutting of the prison–all the while encountering the ghosts of the former prisoners and guards. You start by getting on a “prison bus” which drives you over to the front of the attraction, then you walk through the prison itself. We liked it last year and again this year–though it didn’t look like it had any real changes. If something works, and is really high quality, it doesn’t need much tweaking (though we do suggest additions at some point to freshen things up).
Our only critique, which is along the lines of the Club Shock thing, is it looks like they cut their scare actor count for the final day, so it was much more empty than when we went last year. Just something to note, going during prime time will get you the super version of this attraction.
Overall we really like Shocktoberfest, and consider it a must do for haunt fans. We’d suggest that they look to add some new elements to the Unknown next year, return a bit to a consistent storyline for the hayride, and maybe add some new stuff to the Prison of the Dead for 2013, but even with those criticisms, they are still one of the best haunts in the northeast and a destination for us every year for the foreseeable future.