Attraction Review: Screamfest Burrton

The scare season is an intense but short one here in the UK - there are only so many weekends in October and it's always a fine balancing act to try and cram in as many events as humanly possible. It becomes especially tricky for the likes of me who lives down south when many of these events are north of Watford Gap, therefore officially categorising them as 'up north' if you ask me! That said, unfortunately I'm not able to visit every event and year which becomes particularly difficult when you visit an event you really enjoy and want to visit as much as possible. Which is the predicament I've had in the past with Xtreme Scream Park and Screamfest Burton. Last year was an Xtreme Scream year meaning this year is was back to Burton for me and finally time to experience Insomnia which everybody was raving about last year as well as their new for 2019 attraction Hillbilly Joe's Zombee Zoo!

Overall the event clearly very much appeals to teens/young adults in the area. Stepping in I definitely immediately felt like I was way too old to be there and not the usual clientele, which is cool but probably something to note if you're expecting something like Tulley's Shocktoberfest which feels like it skews slightly older in my opinion. As such the atmosphere was a bit more...full on than I personally enjoy, but I'm sure it's exactly what the local kids from the area are after so perfect in that aspect.

As with all my reviews,  despite this being a gifted experience I will absolutely keep things blunt and honest as always but what I will ask you to bear in mind is that just because this was my particular experience on my run through does not mean the attraction is bad, more that we didn't have a great run through on our particular turn. Here's my thoughts and feelings on our experience of Screamfest Burton 2019!

Because it felt like it had been way, way too long since I'd experienced the joy that is Love Hurts we headed there first. I still can't get over how well done the whole facade and build up is to this maze - you truly do feel like you're queuing outside a real dingy night club - the vibe is spot on and incredibly effective at setting the scene for what is about to follow. The cringeworthy feeling one gets in a grim nightclub toilet is amplified here as were forced to congregate inside a particularly nasty, graffiti covered toilet cubicle that has some kind of horrific blockage as a voice-over explains that Professor Heart wants to help us find our soul mate...before the back of the toiler block flings open to reveal a secret opening into a sewer.

The whole feeling of this maze is one of pure grot and slime - you truly feel dirty and disgusting as you make your way deeper and deeper inside, trying your damnedest not to touch any of the walls save catching hepatitis or something. So, so vile! I actually also forgot quite how intense and gory this one is - really incredible and gory set pieces of poor souls being chewed up by sewer mechanisms. Also the sewer scene with the 'poo monsters' and water dripping down from the ceilings is strangely beautiful in a grotesque kind of way!

And that ending, the build up is absolutely perfect - kind of gives me Rob Zombie vibes which I can absolutely appreciate 100% and nothing brings me joy quite like a glorious chainsaw run out! What I adore most about the finale (and indeed the entire attraction in general) is that just when you think you've seen every iteration of how a chainsaw could possibly be used in a horror maze they subvert that and do something new. It's wonderful stuff.

Speaking of doing things differently, our next maze of the night was Insomnia. Everybody who visited this event last year absolutely raved about this attraction, so I've spent an entire year avoiding spoilers and being intrigued as to what could possibly be so good as to justify the removal of the awesomeness that was Soul Seekers! Suffice to say I needn't have worried. Set inside a child's nightmare, Insomnia takes us through several scenes of narrative set up in the queueline itself before immersing us in darkness as the child's nightmare takes over. And it's just brilliant. It feel incredibly intimate stepping into scenes that take place in a family home, and really effective as the actors interact with each other and completely ignore our presence in the initial scenes - it truly feels like you've stepped inside a horror movie and the shift to active audience participation and fourth wall breaks once we're inside the nightmare itself feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us and is incredible uncomfortable as a result.

For some reason the entire maze gave me Inside No. 9 vibes throughout, which I'm absolutely not mad at. The detail and creativity put into delivering the narrative and fully immersing us into the storyline is admirable, and I thoroughly enjoyed going from scene to scene and watching the story unfold before my eyes. The horror once inside was fantastic too - Babadook style children's nightmare creatures really give me the creeps any so going through any maze that contains something like this is always going to get me. The mirror maze was a great addition too, really nailing the dreamlike feeling. My favourite scare of the maze was probably the long corridor with all the air cannons blasting the curtains at me, really got me!

My one beef with Insomnia is that whilst I can absolutely appreciate a different style of horror I did feel that it could have been a tad scarier. The maze is very focussed on delivering the storyline which is absolutely commendable but I did feel there were some moments that this was at the detriment to the scare, which given this is a scream park was a little frustrating, but admittedly it's only something I noticed upon reflection after leaving the maze as I was too immersed when doing the attraction to notice I wasn't really jumping.

Given this replaced Demonica, I was all for this new for 2019 attraction for Screamfest Burton. Hillbilly Joe's Zombee Zoo has an entirely original and downright mad premise surrounding a family of deranged hillbillies living in a post-apocalyptic world where they've rounded up a bunch of zombies, shoved them in cages and made a tourist attraction out of them. Only in local haunts like this would you find a theme so mad and ridiculous and I 100% appreciate the originality that goes into concocting something like this. The facade of the maze is really detailed and definitely delivers on the redneck Americana sideshow theme. The start of the maze also made use of the isolation chambers to separate our group out a little, but unfortunately it felt like the gag here was pretty anti-climactic as after a bit of audio and visual build up we were kind of just...let out into the maze.

And here's where the fun begins. Zombie cheerleaders! Zombie santa! Zombie...hotdog?! OK then! I was having a blast bouncing around from scene to scene wondering what bonkers zombie enclosure we would stumble upon next. Thing was after a while it did get slightly repetitive if I'm honest and again I found myself not really being all the scared. I absolutely adored the humour and tongue-in-cheek aspect of this maze but I do wish it was more balanced out with the scares. The whole experience was incredibly loud and didn't really give any breathing space to allow the actors to reset properly in order to deliver their scares, and half the time the actors didn't particularly seem like they knew what they were meant to be doing and just kind of hung around intermittently yelling.

I did really enjoy the gun-toting grandma with a secret escape tunnel finale though - I think this maze's tone is absolutely spot on and something completely unique and not seen before here in the UK. I think if the scares and finesse could be dialled up ever so slightly this could be really excellent.

I mentioned in my last review of Screamfest Burton that the Day of the Dead stuff makes me uncomfortable given the fine line it treads in the cultural appropriation arena, but I do try to not let that affect my enjoyment of the attraction. As with the 2017 iteration of this maze that we experienced at our last visit, the first portion of the attraction takes place on a hayride around the outskirts of the farm as our...tour guide (?) explains the premise of what's going on to set up the next section. Trouble is that compared with the last time we experienced this the speakers seemed a lot quieter and a lot of the effects seemed to be missing, therefore it was really hard to understand what the hell was going on and it was only through previously doing the attraction that I understood the narrative. Such a shame as I really appreciated the use of the hayride as a storytelling vehicle (literally) so I do hope it's just something we experienced on the night and not a permanent change.

I'm very sorry to say that the rest of the maze was a shadow of the attraction I enjoyed in 2017. The actors we bumped into along the way seemed bored and disinterested. We had no terrifying characters running at us through the maze as we had done a few years ago and barely any chainsaws. This was most notable in the first 'indoor' section - in 2017 this was one of the most intense parts of the mazes as chainsaws buzzed menacingly just inches away from your head as you were forced to squeeze through the tiny triangular corridor. This time we just walked through and nothing happened.

And unfortunately this remained the theme for the majority of the maze. We met a few lucha libre dudes towards the end chasing us with chainsaws which of course was super fun but even they couldn't shake the feeling that we'd have loved to have had the chance to do the maze again as our particular run through sadly left a lot to be desired.

We finished the night off with Freak Out, the park's obligatory clown maze. Despite (as I've mentioned many times on this blog before) not being bothered by clowns in the slightest, I do love the way Freak Out attempts to delivery something different with the multiple split route options. Boys this way, girls that way. Good door, bad door. Etc etc. It adds a later of differentiation to Freak Out that helps me separate it in my mind from all the other clown mazes I tend to find myself in during the sacred month of October so I appreciate that very much! I also adore the menacing strobe light that flickers through the doorway as you wait for your turn outside, and the giant twisted clown face facade (say it with me now - "can't sleep, clown'll eat me"!)

Last year this maze was super high energy and fun and whilst the sets, music and lighting still absolutely deliver that same energy sadly the clowns within did not. I would be inclined to put that down to it getting towards the end of the night by the time we found ourselves in here but often our interactions with the actors in Freak Out were more awkward than anything and the actors seemed very unsure of themselves, meaning as a result they weren't very scary. As the event wasn't even half way through when we visited on Saturday I hope I can put this down to the team still needing to get used to the space, or maybe they'd just had to deal with a pain in the arse group shortly before us. Either way, something was off which as with Dia De Los Muertos meant that our run through this one wasn't as good as it potentially could have been.

And that was it for our night at Screamfest. The likes of Love Hurts and Insomnia are proof that this attraction can deliver some truly excellent events and it's my understanding that Hillbilly Joe's isn't quite finished yet so I'm looking forward to visiting again in a few years to check out how things have developed. Given the innovative themes of Insomnia, Love Hurts and Zombee Zoo I'd quite like to see Screamfest re-design Freak Out in the next few years as although I'm sure it's still a crowd-pleaser it seems to me that they do their best work when they're working on a theme and narrative that isn't so run of the mill and expected.

Talk later xoxo,