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Go Memphis
Posted: October 19, 2009

HauntedMidsouth.com was recently featured in the Go Memphis section as part of an artical on area haunts.  (http://www.gomemphis.com/news/2009/oct/16/cover-story-these-haunts-weave-a-web-of-fright/?partner=RSS) I feel this is great for the local haunt industry, and if the number of emails I've gotten in the few days since the artical is any indication, it has gotten noticed. 

I've been asked about what haunts certain groups would likely enjoy most (given ages and tastes of the groups).  I've been asked if there really is a 13 floor haunt in a hospital in Memphis.  (It's an urban legend and doesn't exist.)  And I've been asked to review another area haunt.  I plan to do my best to make it out to the Dungeon Haunted House in Wall Doxey State Park, MS.  Although its a little over an hour drive to get there for me (since I'm northeast of Memphis in the suburbs), I'm really hoping to make it out that way this weekend, making it two reviews instead of one for the weekend.  The fact that it's a scout troop running the haunt makes me want to get out there even more, since I'm an Eagle Scout myself, and part of a very active scouting family. 

I still don't have all the information about the haunt, but I do know they are open from 7pm-10pm on Friday, Oct 23, and Saturday, Oct 24.  It's an indoor event in a basement of a lodge located at Wall Doxey State Park, MS, which is just South of Holly Springs.  I'm planning to make it out there Friday night if at all possible.  Might even convince my wife to head out for that one.

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Terror at 2596 - 2009
Posted: October 19, 2009

Terror at 2596 was one of the first haunts I visited in 2008, and one of the last in 2009.  It took me by surprise in many ways last year, so I was really looking forward to seeing what new things the haunt would offer up this year.

Do #1: Get multiple scares out of actors

One advantage to the style of this haunt is that the same actors rotate through the haunt, so each actor gets several shots at the same group.  This allows them to learn from audience responses to tailor future scares.  Even with a larger scale haunt with more throughput, this is something that can be designed in.

Don't #1: Don't overprice yourself

This haunt is currently only slightly less expensive than a number of haunts that offer 2-3 times the run time, more professional effects, more actors, and more detailed scenes.  In the long term, giving good value goes a long way towards having happy customers and returning customers.  Make sure you know what alternatves are available and set your price point accordingly.

Do #2: Do Know your demographic

This haunt caters mostly to junior high and high school girls, and seems to give them enough scares to keep them happy.  Marketing of the haunt is mainly done through facebook, and it seems to do a good job reaching the desired demographic.

Don't #2: Don't let your haunt get stagnant

One of the big things I look at from year to year is what has changed in a haunt, and what improvements have been made.  The bar gets higher year after year as expectations are based on the previous year.  Unfortunately, this year with this haunt, things went backwards instead of forwards.  I didn't see new props and effects, and some previous effects were no longer functioning.  There was no real new theming, costuming was pretty much the same, and even the path of the haunt seemed to be about the same as last year.  Something needs to get changed up to get people coming back.

Do #3: Do make sure you are visible

I had a hard time identifying the location of the haunt last year.  This has been rectified with a sign out front that is well lit and readable identifying the haunt.

Don't #3: Don't only focus on one patron in a group

With a group of 5, though the entire haunt every actor went after the same female who was the easy target.  Although it's good to get some scares on the easy targets, I know that some patrons in the group left feeling ignored and unsatisfied at the end of the attraction.  At least some focus on the harder targets would have been desirable at some point in the haunt.

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Cedar Hill Farm
Posted: October 19, 2009

This was my first year going to Cedar Hill Farm, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  They have 4 events going on Friday and Saturday nights, with three of those being geared towards a haunt audience.  The corn maze is the non-haunt event, with haunters being more interested in the black hole (a vortex tunnel), the trail of terror, and the hayride.  I'm going to group all of these events together in my do and don't list.

Do #1: Do offer multiple forms of entertainment

I consider the trail of terror and the hay ride to be the core events (with the hay ride being the primary reason to drive to the farm), but you also have the corn maze, the black hole, a hay fort and hay maze for kids, pumpkins for sale, and even a full restaurant.  If that isn't enough, you can rent a campfire spot to tell ghost stories or just enjoy the night.  The great number of activities available make this a great family event with things to do for those wanting to head to haunts and those who want something else to do while the rest of their group is getting scared.

Don't #1: Don't give guests too much time to collect themselves

The trail of terror and the hay ride both have a lot of time between scenes, which gives guests downtime between scares.  Both have a couple of "between scene scares", but more often than not, guests don't experience much between the scenes.  On the trail, this could be resolved in a couple of ways.  The first is to increase the number of scenes to reduce the downtime.  A more inexpensive solution would be to play on the senses to build anticipation.  The wind through the trees is nice, but adding spooky music or sound effects playing through the woods would create anticipation if not outright scares.  (Wolf howls anyone?)  Use of smells to set up scenes could also be used along with the sound enhancements.  With the hayride, the same solutions as the trail could be used, but I think the best enhancement might be an actor/storyteller added to the wagon.  They could tell stories, set up scenes, and foreshadow what is to come to fill the gaps and increase anticipation.  Without that filler, a number of guests got fairly rude about things, which detracted from the ride.

Do #2: Do go big on hayride scenes

Some of the scenes in the hayride were very impressive sets.  A pirate ship, and a hillbilly house stand out for the amount of work to build, but even simpler scenes such as a cage and a crashed hearse were memorable.   I look forward to seeing what new scenes and improvements happen on this hayride in future years, as it has quickly become one of my favorite events in the area.

Don't #2: Don't forget themes and storylines

I believe both the hayride and the trail of terror could be greatly enhanced by the addition of storylines or at least some theming.  Right now, both events are a collection of random scenes connected by some downtime in between.  Just as an example, I would have found the trail much more appealing if things tied together with a story like a werewolf that roamed the forest.  Scenes could all support that.  The asylum they already have could have had an inmate committed for believing in werewolves in the first place.  Instead of a witch and vampire scene, the trail could include a scene of a terrifed farmer holed up hiding from the werewolf, or perhaps victims of the most recent attack.  Wolf howls would support the feel that the wolf is out there.  The obvious climax would be an encounter with the werewolf itself, whether its a prop or a costumed actor.

Do #3: Do make a good first impression

One of the coolest parts of Cedar Hill Farm's haunted events is looking out accross a field to a forested hill and seeing the orange lit pathways of the Trail of Terror.  Your eyes are drawn that way automatically, and I'm sure it sells tickets even for people who didn't originally come to see that particular event.  Even without the trail, the setting feels like a fall festival, which is a nice halloween mood for the other events.  They make good use of the area.

Don't #3: Don't Forget special effects

I think the hayride event (and the trail for that matter) could be enhanced with some more effects.  There are some in use now, but there are many opportunities to do more, from animatronics to fog machines, to special lighting.  A ton of time has obviously been spent on set design on the hayride, so I would love to see what is done in the future to take things to the next level. Some larger sized costumes and bigger scale effects could go a long way to make the hayride even more of a must see event.


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HauntedWeb's Torment 2009
Posted: October 19, 2009

Actualy the first event I visited on October 8, Torment opened one of the best haunt nights I've had, as I got three very good attractions, and a chance to talk with the people behind the events.  Torment is the 2009 version of what was once called the Asylum.

Do #1: Do Take Risks with your theme

When I went to the haunt trade show last spring, there was a prop that was extremely memorable and striking, but I said, "who would ever buy that for their haunt and find a way to fit it in."  Well, I have my answer.  This haunt not only incorporated the prop, but it made sense, and fit in somewhere I hadn't thought about it.  It makes for a very memorable scene.  And no, I'm not going to give away what the prop/effect is.  When you see it, you'll know it.  You are unlikely to forget it.

Don't #1: Don't forget Icon Characters

This haunt is just screaming for Dr. Hacker to be developed further.  We know he experiments on patients, but I think developing this character further would be great for advertising, word of mouth, and the scares in the event.  Last year one of the best moments was a nurse warning that we had to get out of a room before the doctor got back, and then opening a secret door for us to escape.  I thought that built up the doctor well, but I think that using the doctor as a menacing threat that you want to escape can be taken much further.

Do #2: Do make year to year improvements

Two of my three don't items from last season were (1) Don't change themes in the middle of the haunt (and 2) Don't have actors all use the same technique.  (The third was about locations that were difficult to find, which was addressed with a sign, but that is still a bit of an issue.)  On the first issue, it didn't take a big overhaul of the haunt.  There was even a story already in place as to why the theme shifts.  The problem was, the story is something long gone from the website, so there was no way for the customer to know the flow of the theme.  The story point was added back to the website, so anyone reading there can understand the transition.  On the second point, actors seemed to use a far wider variety of tactics.  Some went for startle scares, some tried to be flat out spooky, others were threatening.  Some had no dialogue, some had simple dialogue, and quite a few used more dialogue to establish their character.  These improvements made for a much more enjoyable show in my opinion.

Don't #2: Don't scare from the front

One repeated mistake I noticed was actors scaring from in front of our group.  Actors popped in front of the lead person for startle scares.  People threatened from the front.  Even chain saws were fired up in front of us, driving people backwards instead of forwards.  Since this was opening night and the first group through the haunt, people weren't backed up behind us, but on busier nights, this really would have been a problem as groups would begin to bunch up.  (One note I can make about this since I'm so late posting, I know that the haunt owner addressed this in a preshow meeting with actors the following weekend, so I hope it won't be a problem on busy weekends.)

Do #3: Do use ambient sound to set your scenes

This haunt includes ambient sounds that vary throughout the haunt, and a number of those sounds can almost be scares on their own.  Simple sounds like mice scratching within the walls of a hallway make that hallway much more threatening. 

Don't #3: Don't forget to set the stage

Outside the haunts, there really isn't much setting people up for what they will be experiencing.  On busier nights, I believe there is queue line entertainment (there wasn't on early Thursdays), but even beyond that, having something that tells some story of the haunt, or builds up the haunt would be helpful.  Pictures, credentials, advertisements, or other things about Doctor Hacker would be very helpful outside, as would some mood music or background sound.  (A circus add for dark matter outside of it would serve the same purpose.)  This can help establish the setting and characters before you ever get into the haunt itself.  Another way to go about things would be to have the ticket takers/line workers dress in white coats and have the guests "committed" to Dr. Hacker's Asylum to start things out.

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HauntedWeb's Dark Matter 2009
Posted: October 19, 2009

This was the second of three haunts I went through on October 8, although I'm gong backwards since Nightshade Manor was actually the third I visited.  Dark Matter is 2009 version of the haunt formerly known as the Darkness. 

 Reading through the do and don't list from 2008, I believe they all still apply with the current version of the haunt.  From last year, the don't list included (1) Not going half way with a 3D attraction, (2) not going light on scares in the 3D portion of the attraction, and (3) not forgettng to use the classic effects when doing a visual effect heavy haunt.  The do's were (1) having multiple attractions, (2) using visual effects to your advantage, and (3) daring to be different.  With all six of these items still applying, I'll try to go new directions for 2009.

Do #1: Do let your actors take over a scene

One scene in a chainlink maze, where lighting, fog, and reflective surfaces cause confusion, and get people lost.  An actor in the maze adds to the confusion sending people into dead ends, flipping groups in the process putting people from the back to the front, and from the front to the back.  This made things more uncomfortable for people hiding in the back who suddenly found themselves leading the group.  The actor was totally in charge of the scene, controlling groups well.  His use of dialogue and voice was one of the best acting jobs I saw this season.

Don't #1: Don't forget dialogue

In the 3D portion of the haunt, the major scares come from a trio of actors playing clowns.  They are all good about reaching out at patrons which makes good use of the 3D glasses everyone is wearing at that point in the haunt, but the only real sound was a honking horn one of the clowns used.  Some creepy dialogue could really add to their impact, possibly even scaring those who are not afraid of clowns in the first place.  (Those already afraid of clowns don't need much scaring to go running.)

 Do #2: Do Think about Safety First

I was very disappointed to see my favorite effect/room in this haunt had been taken out.  However, as soon as I learned why, I got 100% behind it.  The room had been pitch black, with a number of glow in the dark masks on the walls and suspended from the ceiling.  The actor in the room wore a black suit and a glow in the dark mask as well, making them indistinguishable from the static props.  I loved the effect, as it let the actor get right up to the guests without revealing themselves.  However, this room had a downside I never considered.  People tended to to punch the hanging masks making them swing.  Then as they reached the actor, they punched that mask too.  This obviously isn't good for the actors, so taking this room out was an excellent move for the safety of those actors.

Don't #2: Don't Forget to Get Noticed from the Outside

The biggest disadvantage of this haunt is it's location.  It's in a shopping center on a major street, which sounds great.  However, it's impossible to see until you are almost right on top of it, even when you are looking for it.  I already knew where it was, but used someone who hadn't been there before as a test to confirm how difficult it was to find it.  I was basically parking in front of the haunt when someone finally notced a sign.  Having a sign is a big plus over last year, as they weren't given permission to post a sign before, but more visibility is greatly needed.  My suggestion is a vehicle with signage parked out by the street to attract passing traffic, and easier to read signage at the current sign location.

Do #3: Do involve your charity

I know this isn't directly related to the haunt, but I wanted to get it in (and I have two haunted web haunts giving me twice as many chances.)  One pleasure I got since I was early for the haunt opening was talking to representatives from Youth Villages, the charity supported by the haunt.  It was great to see that representatives of the charity were not only there, but they showed great enthusiasm for the haunt.

Don't #3: Don't forget to include other senses

With the carnival/circus theme of the second half, I think there is good opportunity to use smells like popcorn or cotton candy to enhance the feel of the area.  I'd even go as far as putting it before the 3D clown section, setting up the anticipation.  I don't recall who said it, but I remember reading someone saying every time they smell cotton candy in a haunt, their first reaction is that it smells good, and then a split second later it hits them, "oh no!  Clowns!"  Get the anticipation built up to enhance the inevitable clown scare.

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