Attraction Review: Screamland

Back in 2015 we traipsed down to Margate for our very first taste of their brand spanking new Halloween event Dreamland. The concepts and designs for most of the mazes at this event were created by AtmosFear, the guys behind Scare Kingdom and the infamous Psychomanteum, so you knew it was going to be good. The event was fantastic, and set the park in good stead to continue their own Halloween events in the years following. I tried to visit last year but couldn't make it after some car woe we ended up bailing, meaning I was ten times more determined to get down to the Kent coast this spooky season to see just how Screamland was holding up. With no less than SEVEN scare mazes, we braced ourselves for a night of fear and spooky, kitschy seaside fun.


If y'all don't know, Dreamland is the mega cool and ultra retro remake of the classic Dreamland Margate park in the seaside town of the same name. Back in 2014/15 it received a bunch of money to essentially rebrand and reopen, including bringing tons of their classic old attractions back from the dead. It's super hipster, with tons of Instagram opportunities. Literally pastel and bare brick and upcycling as far as the eye can see. It's just soooo cool. Which jars slightly with the Halloween theme. I don't remember there being a lot of on park Halloween theming back in 2015 either, but here it was non existent, which was a shame because it definitely feels like there would be tons of opportunity for some cute, retro Halloween goodness!

When we visited back then, the attractions were dotted about all over the place, including using the old theatre building next door as a location for a couple of the haunts. Not this year - this year the park have gone for the strangest maze setup I've ever seen which I can't decide if I love or hate. Essentially it's a bunch of marquees all lines up next to each other, a buffet of haunts and spooky goodness ripe for the picking! Whilst it did make the rest of the park feel a little dead (pun totally intended) it was fun to essentially be able to take on back to back haunts and keep the adrenaline pumping from one to the other. It also looked really cool with eerie green lighting and Halloween fog pouring from the seams!

I'll try not to go on and on as seven attractions is a buttload, but here goes nothing!

We started at one end of the marquees and just worked our way down, meaning that first up we found ourselves participants of Festino's Funhouse. Now, back in 2015 when we visited there was also a clowny maze also, as I recall, called Festino's Funhouse, and it was bloody great. As we all know by now (and I feel like a bit of a broken record for saying this AGAIN) I'm not particularly a massive fan of clowns and circus stuff etc but the original iteration of this maze was extremely good, so my hopes were high for this one.


The originality and uniqueness were all still there. A section where you had to wade waist-deep in a ball pit only for a vile clown to pop up, a candy scented candyfloss nightmare room and a whole padded section where you were forced to crawl - Festino's absolutely loses no points for lack of innovation, which is always fun for someone like me who has done a ton of these things. For me what was a shame was the sets. The concepts and actors were all great fun and imaginative, but the sets felt a little too boxy and almost unfinished in places. It was also super light in there which didn't help, it meant you could see every nook and cranny which is the opposite of what you're looking for when you want to be spooky.

Now this I was excited for. Dead and Breakfast 2015 remains one of my all time favourite horror mazes, and I was very excited to see what they'd done with the concept this year. Strangely Dreamland were calling this two mazes, paired with Tunnels of Terror but honestly I felt they flowed quite nicely into one another so for me I'd rather just review it as one big thing. We start off in the reception met by none other than the legendary Fag Ash Lil, effing and blinding and warning us of some renovations to her B&B that have unearthed some...disturbances. And then the chaos ensues. Wandering down creaking corridors full of decomposing wallpaper and open windows with mouldy old blinds blowing through. The atmosphere is really great, spooky ghosty fun. There was one part where we were randomly in an old Victorian market town which I won't pretend I entirely understood but I enjoyed it anyway!


And then the tunnels section basically descends into chaos with guys in hardhats and gasmasks popping out at you from every nook and cranny, firing airguns at you. You really emerge with your nerves slightly frayed - the perfect ending to one of these things.

The Curse at Thorpe Park all those years ago is one of my most beloved scare attractions of all time, and I've often wondered why more parks don't go for the spooky sunken ship theme. At least not here in the UK anyway. RMS Mary Decomposed is the perfect example of this done really well. It's almost elegant in how fabulous it is, the actors all dressed from a time long gone and an eerie watery glow lights up the decayed and water damaged sets. It's really beautiful, one of the best sets I've experienced this season.

The scares aren't intense or high octane, they're a lot more mellow and forlorn, you really feel the sorrow here of the poor souls of The Mary Rose and their melancholy fate. It's just all very creepy but endlessly enjoyable because of how great the sets, costumes and acting all is. Brilliant stuff.

If you don't find vintage puppets terrifying then frankly you're lying - what an incredible idea for a scare maze! I adore any attraction that uses local themes and folklore in their narratives and what more perfect a match than a Punch & Judy themed attraction at a seaside event? The idea behind this one, as far as I could follow, is a creepy puppetmaster dude lures you into his puppet stage and suddenly you're shrunken down and wandering around inside a nightmare.

The key thing to remember here is this maze is ALL about the giant puppet heads. These things were all created in house and they are creepy as shit. I mean, Punch and Judy puppets are pretty horrifying anyway, but blow them up about twenty times and place them on an actor in a dark room and you've got yourself some high octane nightmare fuel. Sadly this maze suffered from a little of the same as Festino's. The space used was just slightly too big, and despite the drapes and attempts to fill it it couldn't help feeling a little bit on the empty side, which was a huge shame. The puppets themselves are terrifying (and for anyone familiar with Punch and Judy, yes there is a crocodile one, and yes it's fucking vile!) so I'd love to see this maze developed just a little bit more where the sets are concerned and I think Screamland will have something truly amazing on their hands!

After doing Insomnia at Howl O Scream I feel like it was never going to be a fair comparison going into this one, so I tried to shove it to the back of my mind as we made our way into our fifth maze of the night. We were met in a clinically white room with a receptionist who couldn't give less of a shit (great acting) before making our way into the facility. I think the idea was that some testing of local criminals to see if they can unlock a sixth sense by never allowing them to sleep which, you guessed it, drives the patients insane.

Cue an Asylum style situation, stark white walls, strobes and terrifying actors running around madly within. For some reason a long corridor with glass windows either side really does fuck me up, so we got some great scares in this one! Sadly for me it did feel slightly one note, and given the theme it did seem like there was a lot more fun stuff that could have been done here. And given the likes of RMS Mary Decomposed and Punch and Judy it's clear that there's no lack of imagination or ideas with the Dreamland team so maybe this is one we'll see more of at future events.

I'm really not adverse to parks using existing attractions to change into some extra spookiness for the Halloween season, and I actually did get a couple of scares in this one! The Upside Down is the parks mirror maze that they've chucked a couple of actors inside for the Screamland event. The guys were dressed as some kind of spooky black demons and honestly, I did find it really creepy and unnerving to see their reflections in the mirrors only to turn the corner to find them gone.



What I would love to see from this attraction and what I think would really amplify it is if there were some way to make it darker in there and maybe add some fog. There were time where it was so bright that it really wasn't too scary and I think that would really add some extra oomph to what I think is a great way of utilising an existing attraction to amplify a Halloween event.

I adore the way Screamland use local themes and motifs as inspiration for their horror attractions. There is a ton of original and fun ideas for both narratives and scare opportunities that we really enjoyed experiencing at our visit last weekend. I think if I hadn't been to the 2015 event previously I would have a different opinion, but for me the event lacked some of the finesse from our last visit. The mazes were all still great fun and we had a blast, and I'd love to see these concepts developed for next season!

Talk later xoxo,

CONVERSATION

2 comments:

  1. I was very disappointed this year, it wasn't scary as it has been in the past. The funhouse was the only one I liked. Also all rides kept breaking down �� Not good for a local who's been going to Dreamland since I was little ☹️

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