Attraction Review - Burton Screamfest

And sadly we come to the final new-for-me Halloween event of 2017. I know I say this about every attraction, but I'd been gagging to get to Burton Screamfest for aaaaages. From reviews it always looked to me like this could be one to rival Tulley's Shocktoberfest in terms of scale and quality, and every year I always see tons of rave reviews from the place, so yay, finally time to check it out for myself!

For the last Friday before Halloween the crowds were surprisingly manageable. We pre-booked our tickets online and waited about 5 minutes in the queue outside where we were met by a smoking hearse and a doctor and her 'creature' wandering around on stilts. Not in-your-face terrifying but just a bit of lighthearted spooky fun to set off the atmosphere before we were even inside the place. I LOVE when parks do this, it really adds to the anticipation and good vibes about the place and provides a nice distraction from the wait.

Took little to no time at all to get inside and we went straight in and just had a bit of a wander to take it all in. The actual location of the event itself isn't that big at all - the entrances to the five attractions are all set around one main courtyard area which is packed with loads of food options and a stage where I'm sure some sort of performances were meant to happen (although we never caught any, sadly). Immediately it hit me what a pleasant atmosphere Screamfest has - an air of excitable anticipation and enjoyment. With places like scream parks you always run the risk of attracting undesirables, but I think with the slightly higher than average gate price alongside its Northern location Screamfest have done well to ensure they appeal to the right kind of target.

I was a little disappointed at lack of decoration around the main area of the park if I'm honest. I'm not saying every park needs to g full on Shocktoberfest giant scarecrows and fire but it is nice to carry on the quality of theming outside the attractions too (but that really is a nitpick!)

First up we wanted to get the spooky clowns out of the way, so piled straight into the queue for FreakOut. The Facade to this maze would be really creepy I imagine if you're scared of clowns. It reminds me of the bed that Homer builds for Bart to help him sleep (can't sleep, clown'll eat me). Eerily all you can see when you're waiting outside is a strobe light coming from somewhere within which really helps build the anticipation.

Honestly I was expected just another spooky red-and-white flaps and clowns honking horns at me from this one. And whilst I wasn't entirely wrong. FreakOut wasn't without its touches of genius too. For example, the doors. Throughout the maze you come across pairs of doors with different things written upon them to help you decide your direction and therefore your fate: boys/girl, scary clown/happy clown, the right way/the wrong way. You get the idea. Such a simple idea but it really did add an extra layer of fun and guest participation to this attraction. A lot of the time horror mazes are in danger of creating an entirely passive experience to adding choice to the mix really does put the guests fate into their own hands - which is almost worse because ultimately it's you who decides what kind of horror you're about to endure!

So again, whilst I'm not scared of clowns so didn't find this one particularly frightening, I did have loads of fun carving out my own path of horror through this attraction and delighted in discovering what lay behind each and every door we came across.

Admittedly, I'd done little to no research about the haunts at Burton Screamfest so had absolutely no idea what this was when we entered the queue. Luckily the queue is really great in letting you know exactly what's about to happen in the simplest of ways. A giant decaying facade of an old haunted hotel (absolutely beautiful, one of the best set pieces I've ever seen from a horror maze. I literally yelled OH MY GOD THAT'S FAB when I saw it and the whole queue stared at me lol) in conjunction wth two TV screens showing different camera angles from the dilapidated rooms inside make this very clear - this is a Most Haunted style TV show and we're about to be the stars. Fabulous.

And ohhhhh god this is so damn good. I could tell from the minute I lay eyes upon the facade that the detail in here was going to be something special and happily this attention to detail carries on to the inside of the maze. German Expressionist style long and winding hallways crookedly weave their way out in front of you beckoning you sinisterly to venture forwards. The use of theatrics in this attraction is incredible - the 'Great Hall' scene at the start of the attraction is a particular highlight - it gave me Phantom of the Opera/Tower of Terror vibes so I was pretty much living for Soul Seekers from the offset.

And then, happily, you're sectioned off into smaller groups to clamour your way through the winding spooky hallways. What follows is a succession of your typical hotel-themed horror attraction scares as you wander from kitchen, to freezer, to bedroom but it's the setup that gives Soul Seekers the edge. It's startling and spooky in every right way but the theatrical setup is what sets this apart as one of the best horror mazes I've ever done. Fantastic stuff.

This was the maze I was most looking forward to. As I've said time and time again on this blog - I love me an attraction with an original concept, so you can bet your ass I was 100% here for a horror maze themed to speed dating. Hell fucking yes. And again with the facades - this was chain theme park level stuff and I loved it. We enter the queue outside an old sewage plant and down fly-postered streets into the club entrance. The soundtrack, slightly dulled out like the noise you'd hear from outside of a nightclub, plays and it's this I think that really pulls everything together - it's just all so convincing!

And we begin in the dingiest club toilets that are oh so sadly recognisable if you grew up like I did visiting the grimy club venues of local towns. I mean it was enough to give Trainspotting a run for its money. I won't spoil what happens next but it involves being locked in a gross toilet stall and it was faaaab! The rest of the maze takes you into the grim underbelly of the city and some of its more...undesirable dark secrets. Crawling through sewers that smelt so bad I had to cover my face, shamefully walking away from a girl sadly stuck in a meat-grinder and one of the best finales and interesting uses of a chainsaw I've ever had the pleasure to run away screaming from.

Everything about Love Hurts kept me guessing and nothing was cliched or predictable. There's something particularly macabre about mixing the idea of love with blood and gore, it reminded me of loads of heavy metal music videos I've seen - and that just made me love it even more!

Having just come out of two really excellent horror attractions I was absolutely gagging to head inside Demonica - the first of two new-for-2017 mazes for Screamfest. And again the facade was fantastic, all fire and mist over water and a series of numbered doors leading to god-only-knows-what. And I looove demon themed storylines so couldn't wait to see what Screamfest had done with this theme.

So we made our way into our chamber where some blacklit symbols and wind machines really set the scene for some fucked up shit to go down. And...sadly that's where the fabness ended. The rest of the maze was just wandering through painted black walls with the occasional strobe and actors in masks. I was so disappointed, after two truly excellent attractions in Love Hurts and Soul Seekers and a pretty impressive set up at the start of Demonica it seemed a little unfair that this is what the rest of the maze had to offer. Such a shame - clearly the creatives behind Screamfest know what they're doing, their other attractions are a testament to that, so what happened with Demonica?

Honestly, the whole Day of the Dead/sugar skull stuff makes me a little uncomfortable of late. It's always toeing that fine line between offensive and acceptable so was interested to see how Screamfest would tackle this. To my surprise this attraction started with a hayride through the back of the farm - such a fab touch! And then a white girl in day of the dead facepaint danced in front of everyone to was odd if anything but also yh, creeping into offensive territory. What's fab about the hayride though is the way the attraction uses it for a touch of exposition - we drive past a crashed vehicle with some dead bodies accompanied with the news on the radio explaining that a notorious gang is on the loose in the local area. Wink, wink, wonder what's going to happen? Cheesy yes, but I loved it and it helped create an edge of anticipation for when the madness would kick in!

And so we were dropped off on the edge of the corn maze and invited in to celebrate the Day of the Dead festival. The initial area is beautiful and tasteful. Shrines little the area and sugar skulls and bunting decorate the first square. And then a white guy doing a terrible Mexican accent invited us to start making our way through the corn maze. Yay, creepy corn maze - boo offensive stereotyping.

The use of the corn maze was fantastic - little sugar skulls lit sinisterly within the corn decorate your path and intermittently actors ran towards you from out of the corny blackness. It really was startling and I was starting to get into it properly now! Then sadly we noticed a trend with this attraction - it's very stop/start. I'm not sure why, I'm guessing the park have issues with throughput, but every time it felt like we were getting to the meat of the narrative we found ourselves stacking in another queue as an attendant held us back for a bit. I get that attractions need to do what they need to do to keep everyone safe but this really disrupted our enjoyment of the attraction and I can't help but feel if this had been slightly better designed there'd have been no need to have this?

And then the best part of the maze - wandering through the corn whilst various chainsaw wielding gang members in Mexican wrestling masks ran wildly towards us out of nowhere. Yes! This was the good stuff - I try my best to not let chainsaws get to me but there really is something about them that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up - especially when you're in a slightly more claustrophobic environment and there's not really much room to escape.

So I'm torn about Dia De Los Muertos. It looks beautiful, it has an interest and unique use of space, it's bloody terrifying in places and it has a clear and well-thought-out storyline. But on the other hand it's got bordering on offensive accents and costumes and stereotypes being culturally appropriated. I feel like in 2017 we need to be more sensitive to these things and in all honesty the attraction could easily have pulled off all of the good stuff here without the offensive stuff - it was actually really frustrating for me in that aspect!

And like that my final horror attraction of 2017 was over. I'm so glad we finally got to Burton Screamfest, it really is home to some of the best horror attractions I've ever experienced in Soul Seekers and Love Hurts. A tad disappointed in the newest attractions but hopefully the issues we encountered on our visit are addressed and improved upon for the 2018 season as I'd love to have an excuse to return!

Talk later xoxo,