Attraction Review: Screamland

Last night the lovely team down at the ever-Instagrammable invited us down to the press event for their Halloween event Screamland. I've visited the event twice before, once in 2015 and again last year and given how wildly different those two events were I was excited to return for a third time to see what further changes had been made. So that's exactly what we did!

I'll be honest, while last year's event definitely had its stand out moments (which is what I chose to focus on in the blog post), I was a little disappointed with it overall given how incredible it had been in 2015. I felt like there was something missing in terms of finesse and it felt a little like the park had bitten off more than they could chew in terms of what was realistically deliverable. And I think from the comms we've seen from Screamland this year that the park are aware of that themselves as the resounding message this year surrounding the event is that this is NEW and DIFFERENT which in my opinion can only be a good thing.

And they're not wrong - the event feels like 2018 didn't happen and the vibe and layout was much more reminiscent of the 2015 event, but with a 2019 twist. NEW locations. NEW characters. NEW IPS! Very exciting stuff, and I'll come straight out and say we had an absolute blast at Screamland this time around. It was fantastic to see Dreamland really maximising their assets in terms of the clever use of space - using the lower level of the car park was a stroke of genius as anybody who's seen It Follows knows that this setting delivers all the horror movies vibes before the theming team even lay a hand on it. Everything felt more compact and didn't seem to be trying to spread itself too thinly as per 2018. And in that confined and dingy space the screams resonate louder and the atmosphere feels more intense as opposed to being lost to the night in that wide open field. In the words of UK drag legend Baga Chipz - MUCH BETTER!

 But what of the mazes I hear you cry? Well I guess I've blithered on long enough about the wider event, let's get into the good, bad and ugly of the mazes at Screamland 2019.

The best way to describe The Brotherhood is imagine if the London Dungeon were a horror maze. This maze actually showcased a theme I don't think I've ever seen properly explored in a scare attraction myself and focussed around a city ravaged by fire and plague. And it was really bloody vile - the use of fog machine combined with the low lighting and the most intense smell pods I ever did smell meant we were retching from the minute we set foot in the attraction. It was great to experience a different kind of horror - one of disgust and revulsion as opposed to your typical jump-scares and it was refreshing to see (in a gruesome kind of way).

The first half of this maze is a bag-on-head jobby which honestly I'm never a huge fan of, but at least this one wasn't just people shouting boo in your face in the dark. Instead we wandered blindly through the space as plague-infected being coughed and spluttered in our faces. I was grimacing and cringing the entire way through, very effect in delivering a horrific experience in a new way and kudos to the team to putting an interesting spin on the bag-on-head-trope!

But of course, the best parts of this attraction came when the bag was removed! I adore that Screamland did a bit of both here as it would have been very easy for them to just have the hooded section and nothing more. The use of facades and lighting to create the 1600 period sets is truly impressive. Gorgeous hand-painted signs and large historical wooden beamed buildings really set the scene and immerse you into the timeline the maze is portraying. The pus-spewing boils adorning the characters' faces within the attraction are truly repulsive meaning you find yourself actively recoiling when they come anywhere near you. And to top it all off the vile plague doctor stalks you throughout the entire experience, you know, just in case you weren't already curling your toes as the thought of horrific disease in the air already. Vile!

This maze is easily the most intense that Screamland have to offer this year and it does an excellent job of setting your nerves on edge from the offset. You're lured into some kind of military base wher a drill sergeant proceeds to scream instructions into your face to get you all riled up before sending you off into the madness. What I love about this attraction is the surreal twist Dreamland have chosen to take on what could easily have been a run-of-the-mill escaped inmates/military lockdown-gone-wrong situation. But no, The Sleep Experiment completely subverts this genre of scare maze and changes it up to deliver unexpected and otherworldly scares instead, which works perfectly in balance with the very much real world military/terrorism vibes from the initial scenes.

The creatures the military are attempting to recover from inside the maze are truly vile. I'm not sure why they give me the creeps so much, but the long spirally fingers and fleshy faces/bodies remind me of the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth crossed with Salad Fingers crossed with Slenderman. I guess what I'm trying to say is that they're like something out of a nightmare which is I guess exactly what they were going for so job well done there!

The maze also contains some really nerve-shredding scares throughout - including an unnervingly claustrophobic strobe maze section that really feels like you've slipped through to some other nightmarish dimension as well as an amazing electrified fence set-piece that gave off real sparks when the actors dragged their equipment across it. Absolutely horrendous, I screamed my head off the whole time we were walking through that section (plus it's great to see the return of a gag I loved so much from the 2015 iteration of the event, yay!)

I absolutely adored the RMS Mary Decomposed from last year's event so I was delighted to see the return of those beautiful sets in some iteration. This maze is absolutely the best themed of the event and despite it being set on a sunken ghost ship it was giving me quite clear Haunted Mansion vibes the entire way through. There's an air of gothic glamour and beauty to that classic style of haunted house and this was very much emulated here. The use of the lighting to make everything feel like it's underwater is just so effective and the airy and melancholy way the lost souls saunter around of board is particularly haunting.

I adore the first scene of this maze - the effect they pull off of the captain steering helplessly into a storm that will surely sink the ship is incredibly impressive. It's one of those moments in a horror maze you wish you didn't have to keep moving forwards as I'd have loved to have hung out there a little longer to marvel at this effect. It's so elegant and dramatic and perfectly sets the scene for the attraction to follow.

What's great in this maze too is that you truly feel lost. Long, dark and dank corridors strewn with rigging and seaweed weaving in and out of each room - its labyrinthine design is disorientating to the point where I swear at some points it felt like the 'ship' was rocking and swaying back and forth (although that was probably just due to the lighting effects!) Not the most intense of scariest but absolutely maxes out the scale for atmosphere and set design.

Being the horror movie fan I am I was particularly excited for this attraction. The classic Hammer Horror movies are so iconic with their almost neon red gore and penchant for a bit of light nudity - very camp and silly and outrageous for their time but that's what made them so memorable! And again, fantastic use of space here from Dreamland in the ballroom - touch of elegance fit only for a classic British institution like Hammer! We luckily got to experience this attraction as a very small group of three which was super fun as it meant all of the scares were 100% focussed on us and us alone. I loved the way each scene represented a different Hammer title and the use of the curtains printed with the film's relevant movie poster to keep that point of differentiation clear.

Frustratingly despite it feeling pretty dead in this area when we went over, a lot of the time we did catch up with the group in front which meant some of the scares were not as effective as they could have been. The actors in each of their spaces were absolutely fantastic in making us jump (special shout out to the Woman in Black and the Phantom of the Opera!) but I did feel like there could have been a bit more innovation in terms of how the scares were delivered. As described above, each of the other mazes felt like they truly knew their genre and provided a unique scare style that fit in with this, but with HHoH whilst each set was clearly differentiated unfortunately the designs didn't give much for the actors to work with meaning that the scares mostly consisted of each character suddenly appearing out of nowhere to make us jump - which whilst absolutely effective did get a bit samey after a while and ended up feeling like a missed opportunity.

That said the sets were really cool and some quite detailed - the Woman in Black's room was particularly creepy and even just being in that space without her presence was vile enough.Something else I appreciated as a Hammer fan was the inclusion of some of the not so well known titles in amongst the classics - I did not expect to see The House That Bled To Death or The Abominable Snowman showcased inside this maze so I did do a little squeal of delight when we walked around the corner into each of those sets!

Our final maze of the evening and actually my favourite of the night at Screamland, which feels strange to say because usually I'm not that into clown/circus mazes as that kind of thing doesn't really scare me. What I loved about Condemned Carnival is that it was just so much fun. The scares come from every angle and there are so many different gags used throughout. It doesn't just rely on the standard 'killer clown' angle and instead looks to amplify the scares from the carnivals-are-twisted vibe instead. It's over the top sickly-sweet - from the pink popcorn and candyfloss photo opportunity at the front of the maze to the saccharine bubblegum smell within the maze itself, I guess that aim of Condemned Carnival is to make you feel dizzy and sick from simply being inside the attraction.

The set design here is pretty crazy given the small space they had to work with - multiple levels and ramps are used to disorientate, giving the actors multiple levels to perform scares from. There's a whole sideshow stall section that, with the lighting and fog effects, truly feels like you're outside which was super confusing! Carnies blast you with air cannons, clowns pop out from every angle and gypsy women beckon you menacingly to keep delving deeper into the unknown. The tone of the entire attraction is upbeat but sinister and slightly melancholy - not totally wacky like other clown mazes meaning it has a distinct personality that sets it apart from the crowd.

One of the standout moments for me in this attraction was actually the 'Zoltar' style fortune teller 'machine' in the pre-show. The acting here was really top notch and the style of delivery was extremely creepy and perfectly set the tone for the attraction to follow.

One thing I did feel was missing from this year's event was that seaside flair from years previous that added a personal Margate touch. In 2015 and 2018 we had Dead & Breakfast, a Halloween homage to the classic seaside B&B and in 2018 the Punch & Judy Horror Show put a horrific twist on the classic children's seaside puppet show. Whilst Submerged brought the nautical vibe to the event with its sunken ship theme, I did feel that that seaside kitsch that has been present during my previous visits was missing, which was a shame as it was a personal local touch that I really appreciated!

That said, I do think it's fair to say that Screamland has its mojo back! The five scares mazes are a strong line-up, each with a distinct theme and style that compliments the other and offers a balanced portfolio of scare offerings meaning you'll more than likely find something along the way to give you a good spook!

Talk later xoxo,