Category: Haunted Attractions

2016, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

Pennsylvania – Plymouth Meeting Haunted Attractons: Lulu’s House of Horrors final year of operation, 2016

For an in depth review of Lulu’s House of Horrors in Plymouth Meeting, PA click here and read this. The heart and execution of this haunt has not changed much from that year to this year. You’ll still get a mix of high and low tech scares in a real house that has been altered for your haunting pleasure in Eastern Pennsylvania.

What has changed is that this is their last year of operation. I highly recommend that you go to this haunt and see what is a classic, small scale, charity haunted attraction. It is one of the delights of the world and I am sad to see it go.

Click here for more information and to buy tickets – before it is gone for good.

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Thank you for an amazing run to everyone involved with this haunt!

DO THIS ONE.

2016, Attractions, General, Georgia, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

Atlanta, Georgia Haunted Attractions: Netherworld 20th Anniversary 2016 Review

My opinion on Netherworld has changed a little from last year when I sang their praises from here to hell and back. (Read that review here.)

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Last year they were very good such that I did not think it could get any better. This year they took what I thought was the best anyone could achieve and blasted that expectation through the ceiling. JUST LOOK AT THIS:

They have created an entirely new definition of visual fear that succeeds on every level. BELIEVE IT. This is only my second time going to Netherworld. If this is any indication of what I can expect year to year I am going to have to start taking up drinking or something. OMG.

I enjoyed looking at and walking through all of the creepy custom designed sets and seeing the amazing makeup on their actors. The craftsmanship, lighting, staging, and positioning of each actor in each room is over the top. Forget what you know. These guys don’t just have the game on lock – these guys have THEIR OWN GAME. Very few of their animatronics inside the haunt appear to be off the rack. It’s all altered/custom. The only noticeable off the rack animatronics are the ones outside for photo ops but the actors out front still all have amazing custom costumes.

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“NEW horrors and scares abound at NETHERWORLD Haunted House in 2016! The massive Soul Eater swoops over your heads in MONSTERS our upstairs haunt at NETHERWORLD! Get Your Tickets Now at http://bit.ly/NWHH2016 and join us as we celebrate our 20th Season of Screams!.”

They made that, you guys. This will not be anywhere else. Here’s some more:

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Most haunts have similar props and animatronics throughout. If you don’t go to as many haunts as I do you will not notice this. But I do. This place is the only place that I have seen so far that seems to be operating on another level far higher than everyone else I have ever encountered. This is why I don’t compare all haunts to each other for my awards. It’s just not fair to compare various scales of haunted attraction together. If I did, these guys would always win every single year.

I know of 3 places worthy of a plane trip for haunt fans. Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights / Howl O Scream / Disney, Eastern PA for Hotel of Horror, Halls of Horror, Reaper’s Revenge, and the Freak and Funhouse, and Atlanta for Netherworld. (Read my reviews to get reviews of all of these places. If there’s no review for this year, use last year’s. Use CTRL or CMD+F to search the page. If i have skipped a haunt this year it usually means that it has not changed enough to warrant a re-visit.)

Notice how all of my other recommendations are clusters? You don’t even need any other haunts to make this one worth the plane trip. BOOM.

The sheer scale, organization, and custom nature of Netherworld’s rooms are off the charts. They have rooms in here staged and positioned such that you get a peek of a later room. It’s like a jenga accordion puzzle from hell that never falls over. They do work to make the walls and floor do things while you go through and you can tell the amount of love put into this haunt – they dig deep into the Lovecraft universe and other places and have handcrafted several monsters from his works.

FINALLY!!!! Someone got Lovecraft right in a haunted house! If you are a fan of ORIGINAL CREATIVE WORK go here. This is the place.

This year they ABSOLUTELY BLEW US AWAY. Last year we enjoyed it but they didn’t scare us that hard. That’s normal – we are very hard to scare. This year they scared us several times. This year they went from very good to VERY GREAT. (Is that even a phrase? It is now because I say so.)

So what is happening for Netherworld’s 20th Anniversary year?

Monsters

“Horrors released from the unknown threaten our world and only the return of ancient MONSTERS can defeat them! Celebrate 20 years of NETHERWORLD Haunted House with a nightmarish adventure you will never forget!

This Year Featuring: The Flying Angel! The Lair of The Sea Witch! The Feasting Vampires! The Goloth Invasion! The Attacking Harpy! The Transformation Chamber! The Cavern of The Werewolves! The Blood Beast of the Arena! The Boogeyman’s Return! The Chapel Of The Gargoyles! The Cyclopean Soul Eater and The Doom Stone Unearthed! Experience an incredible avalanche of never ending horrors sure to shock during NETHERWORLD’S 20th year celebration! “

Vault 13: Meltdown:

Can You Escape a Nuclear Meltdown?

The crazed artificial intelligence PROTEUS demands that the Mangler create him a “bride” or he will destroy the world with the massive arsenal of VAULT 13! Can the chaos be stopped or will mutations, aliens, robots and nuclear destruction be unleashed on an unsuspecting planet?

This year featuring: The Xenomorphic Terror! The Collapsing Missile! The Blast Off Inferno! The Bride of Proteus! The Melting Core! The Radioactive Roach Infestation! The Mega Slammer! The One Million Volt Tesla Coil! The Spinning Kill Floor! Machine Gun Zombies! Crazed Automatons and the return of the Toxic Foam Room! Total Terror and SCI-FI Thrills Reign during NETHERWORLD Haunted House’s 20 Year Celebration!

They also had a fun escape room–that was actually designed for you to do things within the room, not just solve some random number or word puzzles. They had a great set up that prompted you through it if you got lost–or you could just go crazy and jump in and mess with everything (you’ll need some purell afterward though….you do touch some squicky stuff).

Conclusion:

Netherworld made significant changes this year which took their always great haunt to a level way above that. They achieved beyond what Harknell and I could have ever expected. We particularly liked how deeply they delved into the Lovecraft world and the Sea Witch with her pet hell fish. They took great care to construct and manipulate the world around us which created a sense of dread that no one else has ever achieved in this unique way. The walls move. The floors move. They use fog and lasers STRATEGICALLY and PRECISELY which greatly add to the narrative flow of the scares in each room.

Guys, they have me so hyped up I am making words in all caps in this post. That rarely happens anymore.

These things I am listing are not gimmicks as they so often can be in the haunt industry if not used well – these are tools used in the right place at the right time. The concepts executed with such precision in each room are nothing short of revolutionary, astounding, and totally immersive.

That’s what these guys excel in – doing LEGIT horror with a true creative vision. You never feel like you are being pandered to by a stupid boogity boogity chainsaw chase that someone bought 2 for a dollar at the trade show because starting a Quik-E-Mart was too inconvenient for them.

Netherworld. Is. Art.

Netherworld is where you go when you want to see TRUE ART. They don’t just create a haunted attraction – they redefine and lead the entire industry every year that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. They will be one of my first primary targets next year. I don’t care how brutal the drive is for us.

DO THIS ONE. OH MY GOD. Call out of work or something. Get in the car now.

Click here for details and ticket info.

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions

Haunted Attraction Preview: Orlando, Florida: Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 26

Harknell and I attended Universal studios Halloween Horror Nights on Saturday, October 8 2016 in Orlando, Florida.

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Disclosure: This is not a review. Harknell and I toured the event with Creative Director Michael Aiello for free and skipped all lines. My experience does not reflect the experience of an average customer so I will be talking honestly and transparently about the event’s features instead of reviewing it. My aim here is to help you guys can understand what’s here and empower you to make a decision on if the event is right for you. I always have and always will keep it legit with you.

I do genuinely think that they made some great improvements this year. But first, some background is needed!

My biggest complaint from last year is how I was made to feel at the event by their 2 checkpoints of aggressive security. If you have never been to this park you need to understand that there is a garage where you park to enter the park. The walkways before you get to Universal Studios is called CityWalk and it features shops and restaurants. There’s no knife or gun shop in CityWalk so I found it peculiar that they needed a security checkpoint just to get to this area. Previously you would have to enter the park through Universal Studios CityWalk, go through security there, then walk past the shops, and then go through security again at the park turnstiles.

This second security checkpoint’s implementation was problematic in the past. You’d need to funnel yourself into a horde of impatient (and possibly drunk) park guests. There was no queue or line management as such. It’s likely you may have gotten shoved, kicked, or hit by other park guests intentionally or unintentionally trying to make it to the front of the line to go through the security scanners. If you are claustrophobic, worried about being groped/touched/hit this would probably be of concern to you. The only other place I’ve encountered a line handled like this was at Six Flags Great Adventure Fright Fest in 2007 – right before I never went back to that event because of how badly managed the crowds were. I enjoy Universal Studios and was irritated because I think highly of the park in general. Any comparison with Six Flags is just…it shouldn’t be possible by me or anyone else. Universal Studios is a top tier park and should be run like one.

They completely fixed this this year. You now just go through 1 thorough security checkpoint at the beginning of Citywalk and wait for the event to start in the Guest Services area at the Universal Studios gate. Harknell and I both thought this was great right from the start and a major re-think on the part of Universal.

The Houses:
This year they have 9 Haunted Houses, so let’s go through it:

American Horror Story:

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This house was made up of Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel. The staging, lighting, and execution was phenomenal. I’m a fan of this show but even if you are not this house delivers. I was told that this is the most popular haunted house in the event’s history and I have to agree that I can see why. On the night we went it had a much higher queue line all night long–go to this first if you can, the rest will be much easier to get through.

I did notice where the line in their depiction of the show probably was though – you won’t see any aborted babies in Dr. Charles Montgomery’s area, but you will see the Infantata, and I noticed that there were multiple scares for each character so that if you miss a scare you’ll be hit by their alternate scare. I am not sure I noticed this implemented this well before, but this year every house had great alternate scares.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: I am completely unfamiliar with this film so I can’t comment on how accurate it is to the film. (I seriously doubt they didn’t nail it because that’s never been something that’s been an issue with this event.) I can tell you that we enjoyed going through, the rooms were laid out well and there were various types of scares in here. I like when rooms tell a story and sure enough there were scenes with 2 actors menacing each other. Coolness!

The Walking Dead: Guys, I don’t dislike TWD, but I personally sure am sick of it. It’s very popular so I get why it’s here again. That said, I felt that this year’s TWD house was so much better than last year’s. Every year they have done TWD the houses flowed pretty well and told a story such that even those who don’t watch the show could figure out what was going on – except last year. A good gauge of this is Harknell. He doesn’t watch the show and I had to explain to him what the different rooms were last year. (“What the hell is that van doing playing random club music?”)

If you are a TWD fan you will enjoy this one. It goes over the greatest hits of the previous seasons and they got most of the memorable scenes from the show in here. This year the narrative per room was stronger and it didn’t require cliff notes for those not familiar with the show.

The Exorcist: These classic films HHN never has trouble executing and this house is no exception. What I remember from my walkthrough is it being more visual than being scary, but do note that I am really hard to scare. :D

Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield: Every time HHN does Mike Myers – just like what I said above about their execution of the classic movies – they do a good job at it. This house was no exception. There were a lot of distraction scares and they nailed all of the iconic scenes from the film that I still remember. They also told a story as you go through. I appreciate cohesive narrative. This was their version of the second movie.

Krampus
This was one of my favorite houses. I haven’t seen this film yet, but holy crap. They built upward and created a true 3 dimensional sense of the world this lives in. I enjoyed the design of the characters, the little gingerbread men, and the dark comedic nature of the house. I’m going to see the movie now because of this.

Lunatics Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance

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I LOVE LOVE LOVE their original IPs. My issue with HHN has never been the creative aspect of it. My issue has always been that I feel the folks working on this event do such great original work that I prefer to see what happens when they run wild over the IPs. That’s my bias spelled right out for you. I don’t have hatorade for IPs, but I’d jump at any opportunity to see what original works these folks can do. Their icon this year is Chance, a Harlequin style character. The story of this house is that Jack left her behind to take the fall and she’s in custody having all kinds of weird fantasies and freak outs. Using her was a smart choice given that Suicide Squad / Harley Quinn is popular right now. I’ve seen people cosplay her at cons, so it appears she’s been well-received. I definitely appreciate and enjoyed this one.

Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch: This is about a town that only appears when lightning strikes during a storm. If you are here when it strikes you are stuck there forever. There’s a lot of ghostly gold diggers in this one. If we are talking movies, westerns are a big foundational genre in America so I thought it was cool to play with western lore.

Tomb of the Ancients
This is another one of my favorite ones. I can tell you why. The key to my heart is building upward / downward and deviating from linear lunge n scream. I dig storytelling and world building because it’s something that nationwide quickly gets cut. There’s also a GAT in here (Guest Activated Trigger). So if you see a rope hanging down that looks like it should be pulled – PULL IT!

Interactivity. Win.

Scarezone Overview:

This post is getting really long, so I’ll link all the scarezones here and talk a bit about the 2 that I felt were my favorites: Vamp ’55 and A Chance in Hell. The former was a 50’s themed vampire homecoming with a lot of detail put into the story. It reminded me a little bit of the original Buffy: The Vampire Slayer movie. A Chance in Hell was Chance, their icon’s Scarezone where park guests can interact with her.

I have always felt that a unique, original icon is a simple way to put a unique point of view on the event each year and was glad to see that they truly supported the idea front and center!

Conclusion:

My issue with HHN was never the creative work or execution. It was always that I loved what they were doing but had issue with how it was presented from a crowd flow / park experience point of view. Their changing how security is handled this year I feel will go a long way to addressing that for everyone. Would I like to see less IP based houses and more original works? Yes. I feel that if left completely unfettered we would see the most insane, cool, off the wall shit coming out of Universal A&D. But I do know that the general public may disagree with me, and that’s OK. In the same way that I am one of a smaller demographic that truly enjoys Prog Rock and can spend an hour discussing poly rhythms most people are probably thinking I’m an idiot for needing anything more complicated than a power chord. I accept that I am not the only demographic that they have to be concerned about, think that they are doing a great job with the IPs, and while I’d like to see more original works, the original works they do have this year were enjoyable.

I highly recommend using ExpressPass or utilizing multiple days if you go to this event, though. The week that I went it was actually not super crowded, but it was right after the hurricane, so I think that this may have affected the crowd levels to my benefit.

If you attended this event I’d really love to hear your perspective! Thanks to Mike Aiello for his kind hospitality! He’s a good example of someone who loves what he does and truly elevates the NBC/Universal brand.

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theater

Tampa, Florida: Interactive Theater Review: The Vault of Souls

Thankfully Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit where I was in Orlando directly, so general pre-hurricane chaos, losing a couple of haunt days, and having to drive 20+ hours out of my way (OMG) to get home because 95 North was flooded was the maximum impact we experienced.

Yeah – my back still hurts days later. :( This is why the reviews are coming out slower. The hurricane really impacted us.

Orange County lifted the curfew just in time for me to get to Tampa on Friday, October 7th, 2016 to see The Vault of Souls for their second year of operation. Time to go haunting!

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I reviewed them last year and was very impressed at that time. I felt like it was an amazing start to an innovative show. I was extremely pleased that they did it again. Did I mention that they they won an Innovation award from us? Yep.

What was it like this year?

This year they took the concept up to the next level with some great alterations and additions. First, let’s talk about what The Vault of Souls is if you haven’t read my previous review. It’s Interactive / Immersive Theatre; a haunted experience located in a Tampa landmark that also draws upon the local history.

“The Exchange National Bank opened in 1923 to protect the worldly possessions of Tampa’s High Society. The founders of the bank soon discovered that there was also a desire to protect their clients’ “other-worldly” possessions as well. After consulting with the most prestigious psychics and local native Shaman, they were able to invoke “The Vault of Souls”. This paranormal purgatory was constructed in the basement of the bank and became the safe haven for carefully selected souls. To this day, Tampa’s elite gather in October, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, to enter this mysterious vault. For some it is a brief visit. For others, it is an eternity.”

This is not a startle scare chainsaw fest. There are no startle scares in here whatsoever. If you enjoy theatrical haunts OR don’t care for scary things but enjoy theatre, this is for you. Yes, even your friend who hates haunts will like this as long as they enjoy fun.

Harknell and I love it.

You start off in “The Arrival”, which is a bar area with live music, dancers, and people serving small bites of food. The food is included with your admission, the alcohol is not.

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Shepherd’s Pie and Shrimp and Grits:

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The Vault Ventilator, their specialty drink:

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You wait here until your name is called. Characters will interact with you up here, which is new this year and a great addition. I encountered a clown, fortune teller, researcher, and at least 1 other from the time period. They have added enhanced effects and animated ghost projections on the wall.

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When your name is called you enter “The Ritual”. Before you enter you get to watch 2 ghosts do a waltz, and then you enter in small groups. You have the ability to wander around for as long as you want, exploring, solving puzzles, and piecing together the story. Remember adventure video games in the 90s? This is that in real life. I freaking loved those type of games.

You get to go deeper into the story of Lucy, whose soul was kept in the Vault by her parents. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee to join her there so you run into their ghosts looking for Lucy. A particularly unsettling scene added this year was Lucy’s Mom done with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. Mad props to that.

They don’t cram people inside. We were in there for over an hour and didn’t get to everything that we could have done – this year there is so much more that you can do inside. You”ll notice some similarities with last year’s show but they have expanded almost everything. There are now several quests you can complete in order to find out pieces of the story. I didn’t complete all of them but I did ask Creative Director Scott Swenson if they could all be completed if we had stayed longer. He told me that yes, every quest has an ending and something that happens. Cool!

After you choose to leave you go upstairs to the Gin Joint, just like last year. I’m told that they may make the Gin Joint a year-round thing. This makes me happy because it’s a gorgeous space. This year they had a couple of (amazing!!!) live singers and several more folks in costume. I didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ work, but here are some shots of the Gin Joint decor, which I loved:

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Upstairs they also had the gelato, coffee, and fortune tellers like last year in “The Readers’ Clearing”. They upgraded that space with …well…look:

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When you leave you get to keep your mask and you get a book of poetry written by Scott Swenson. The book is the second volume, so it is new for this year. Women get roses:

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I particularly liked that they alter your mask depending on what quests you do and how you interact with the actors. I interacted with the dentist and the seductress. I hope they add more to the mask alteration and really go nuts with it next year. That would be cool – and majorly appeal to my love of wearable, fluid, performance art.

If you require glasses to see I highly recommend that you wear contacts when you go here because of the mask. I thought I could get away with having my glasses under the mask, but I wouldn’t do that again. Because after surgery I now require progressive lenses which can’t be done in contact lenses easily I’ll just wear my single vision contacts and bring a magnifying glass to be able to read with next year. :D (I am still learning how to interact with the world after my eye surgery.)

Tickets are $100 plus a $5 service fee. Our tickets were complimentary, but even if I weren’t a writer I would have paid to go see this show. Arrive about an hour early so that you can properly eat, drink, and interact with the actors in The Arrival. The cost includes the food – and the food is extremely good. If you show up just before your arrival time I feel that you will probably not get all that you should be getting out of the experience. This is a high end elegant night out and every year they keep setting the bar higher and higher. This is where I am seeing true innovation and creativity thrive.

Since Tampa may be my future home I am very happy that the arts are thriving in Tampa and elevating the city’s history and capabilities. I feel that too many people just go to the theme parks in Orlando and fail to look just an hour southwest at the city of Tampa. Tampa has so much to offer, is always the place I have my most memorable vacation days at, and The Vault of Souls is solid proof of that.

You really should…DO THIS ONE!