At Transworld this year, several new products caught my eye. One such product was Signfire. Signfire is a specialty digital signage provider. They create custom menu boards for haunts and other industries which require that up to date information to be relayed to their customers. Menu boards can be personalized with a haunt logo and theme for a truly branded experience. All pricing and wait times are formatted in real-time and can be changed instantly through the web-based application. They also offer que line entertainment boards. These boards give the attraction an opportunity to sell advertising to local business while entertaining the patrons in line with music videos or trivia questions. Anyone who has been to Six Flags or any major theme park has seen similar systems. One of the things that made this product stand out for me is the real-time applications. As a reviewer, my goal is to get to as many haunts as possible in any given day. If I walked up to a haunt’s box office and saw that the general admission wait was a certain time; I could decide there if a front of line upgrade was needed. Patrons can also use the queue line information to better plan their visit by deciding what attractions to visit or in which order to experience them. Congratulations Signfire on creating a product that I believe can only help the haunt industry.
Ever wanted to participate in your favorite video game or wonder what it would be like to be a part of the latest zombie movie? NYZ Apocalypse opened in Deer Park, New York on June 20th giving visitors to Long Island a chance to do just that. Apocalypse: Zombie Experience started at SlaughterHouse in Tuscon, Arizona as a way to boost off-season revenue to the haunt. After operating a successful run there, the company took its show on the road with special engagements at haunts across the country such as House of Torment. NYZ is the first year around Apocalypse experience built from the ground up. The owners, Strikeforce Sports, saw it as something new to bring to their air soft players as well as an attraction for tourists to the area.
Players are encouraged to reserve tickets online and are placed into groups of no more than 5 players. Once through the entrance queue, players get an I-Combat game card and create their user profiles and team name. The user profiles allow players to save and view their score breakdown from not only that game but past games and other locations as well. Next, you sit through a short and entertaining video that sets up the story and gives rules and instructions. Each player then receives their weapon and is “scanned” into the game area.
The storyline at NYZ revolves around Apollo Prison systems where a zombie outbreak has infected the inmates and outside “recruits” are brought in to help contain it. Once through the pre-show area attendees board an “elevator” to get to the prison area. Immediately out of the doors zombies come at you. Each player has a laser gun that is a close replica of military style automatic rifles complete with lasers and optics as well as a shoulder belt with laser sensors. The “zombies” have halos and belts with laser targets. When you shoot a zombie the sensors light up and they “die” for a set time period. If zombie come within a certain proximity of a player they are “bitten” and weapons are disabled for a few seconds. There are several areas throughout the show where players are able to reload with additional ammo.
I love this experience because it is totally immersive. The cast is in character from start to finish, even while getting through the front cashier, maintaining the queue line or reloading weapons. While the show can be run with only a few casts members it is designed so you still feel like zombies are everywhere. The layout has a logical progression through the prison taking you from cells and prisoner areas to offices and guard facilities including a break room. There are several areas where haunt scenes are combined with more of a laser tag or paintball type layout giving players prime spots to “take cover” and shoot zombies. The theming, design, makeup and costumes are detailed and the show does a great job of using fog, lighting, sounds and smells to create a total interactive experience.
The walk-through is expansive and sometimes seems like it won’t end. As players make their way toward the end the hordes of zombies getting progressively thicker till you are bombarded from all directions. At the end of the show there is a stop for photos, then players get their scores before exiting through a gift shop area. Shirts, hats and bags were designed to be gear typically used by airsoft and paintball players and includes areas that can be customized by adding collectible patches. While the traveling event was fun and something worth attending, this permanent Apocalypse location went above and beyond that experience. It made a big difference to have cast and crew trained in using the equipment. Also management can step back and see how gameplay can be tailored to their attendees. They can customize settings such as the number of kills shots, the reset time and the proximity that zombies can get to players before they are “bitten”. While there were some technical and facility issues that had to do with the attraction being brand new and weapons arriving hours earlier,the staff handled them well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. All the players we talked to said they would definitely come back and bring friends.
This year’s Midwest Haunters Convention had several notable changes. There was not any swag in the swag bag like normal. The check in line was out of order and super long. Froggy’s Fog Lanyards weren’t handed out until SUNDAY. Only speakers and officials got name-tags. There were less vendors even though the show floor was bigger. Scaryokee was on Thursday and was less attended this year because of the scheduling. The after party on Friday night was no longer free, nor at the Hyatt. They were carding at the after party, and even though some people under 21 had bought tickets, they were not able to get in. The show seemed to be less actor oriented with fewer classes and little on the show floor. So is this what MHC is becoming? Yes, it was Transworld’s first year taking over, but seriously, it was VERY disorganized. Allot of people walked away feeling disappointed this year about the turn of events.
However, there were some good things. The ball had great music! The Scareatourim rocked some peoples socks off. The vendors that were there, were pretty good. There was a lot of banning together of the haunt community, and making new friends. Some people took away good things from the classes that they attended, however I didn’t take any. Overall, MHC was still fun, although a little disappointing. I hope to see everyone back next year! A.R.
We are proud to announce the 2014 Haunted Attraction Review team and locations that they will be covering. Covering Northern California and other West Coast spots are Natasha Bartholomew and Mike Knuist. Both Natasha and Mike have an extensive background in the haunt industry and are key members in the west coast haunt community. Covering the North East will be Amanda Reevenge. Amanda is well-known as an extreme haunt actress and has acted in several major attractions all over the United States. Covering Texas will be David and Jennifer Goolsby. Both have been involved with haunts for a couple of years, but have been patrons of them for a while. And covering all points in between will be Karl and Jennifer Berger. We will also have a few guest reviewers covering attractions in their areas. We are excited with the team we have assembled and look forward to the upcoming season.
We would like to bring everyone up to date with all that is going on here at H.A.R. First we have added several new and guest writers for this season. Some of the areas we will be covering will include Northern California, Eastern and Midwest US, and of course Texas. We will announce the team in the next coming weeks. While most of the season is still being planned we can share that we will be kicking off our season at Cedar Point on Sept 12 and Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando on Sept 20. Second We will be in New York City in a couple of weeks to take on the spooky Big Apple. We have planed a few spooky and not so spooky spots we will be visiting so stay tuned to read about it in the coming weeks.
This October a new haunt will open that should change your idea of what a haunt should be. Phatman Haunts is planning to open its doors in Wixom, Michigan and is the brain child of Austin Denney. Although this is the first year of the attraction, Denney is no rookie in the industry. Before he made Michigan his home, he was involved with a haunt in Dallas, Texas and he also helped with several different attractions in the metro Detroit area. He got involved with the industry as a way to spend time with his daughter and it exploded from there. The name, Phatman Haunt, came from a nickname he received when assisting his sons football team. As a videographer for the team, he became the unofficial enforcer and the players quickly referred to him as “The Phatman” and the nickname stuck.
Phatman Haunts storyline will be based on conspiracy theories. It will revolve around an old military base and its different projects and programs. Denney, who follows conspiracy theories, is using the real stories. He stated that the government has done some pretty scary things and plans to bring them all to life. The broad theme will allow for a variety of future story-lines . Besides the main haunt, he has developed a kids haunt that will be located at a corn maze nearby. The kids haunt is for ages 10 and under and is based on a friendly scarecrow. Denney believes this demographic is overlooked and is a way to build future haunt fans. He has also helped to design a 3D clown haunt that will be at the corn maze site.
Austin has spent a good part of the past seven years researching his haunt. Part of the reasearch was going to several haunts around the country. While on his travels he said that two of his favorites were House of Torment and Hangman’s House of Horrors. While he liked the extreme detail and how space was maximized in H.O.T, he also appreciated what Hangman’s did with very little money they had for a budget. He also said that he has learned just as much from visiting bad haunts as he does from the good ones and feels that it is important to create a full experience from the moment you step in to the parking lot to the time you leave in your car. We look forward to visit this unique haunt this season and wish Austin the best of luck.
There are few times that we can say that we have visited a truly one of a kind haunted attraction but Apocalypse: Zombie Experience is definitely something we had not seen before. The attraction that is part laser tag and part haunt can best be described as a ”live action” video game. Therefore, Apocalypse attracts avid gamers as much as zombie and horror fans.
Apocalypse started as an added attraction at The Slaughterhouse in Tucson, Az. The haunt’s owners were looking for something that could boost attendance in the off-season as well as improve tickets sales at the seasonal haunt.attraction. It was so successful that they have now begun to market the concept to other haunt owners around the country. Existing haunts can either choose to have Apocalypse as a special event or to add it to their current shows as an additional attraction. Currently 13th Floor Entertainment has been the first major haunt owners to offer Apocalypse testing it out at two of its locations. Other Apocalypse attraction locations are also in the works.
The weapons used incorporate new technology to create a uniquely realistic experience. The weapons are actual size replicas and are complete with recoil and comparable weight. The “zombies” wear targets that record your kills and render them “dead” for a short time period. If a zombie gets within a certain distance of you the sensors that react, telling you your were “attacked”. There are no cumbersome vests like you have in old school laser tag. The weapons even have safeties and magazines like the real counterparts. The equipment that is used is similar to the MILES gear that military and police train with.
The engagement in San Antonio was nearly sold out. Players can choose from a regular ticket or upgrade to Black Ops which includes more ammo and an extended game area. Players are divided into groups of 4 and set loose into zombie infested scenes. I recognized some of the rooms from our last visit to 13th Floor but scenes and props are kept fairly basic, You are given a general apocalyptic feel but areas have to be clear enough that players and actors can manipulate the environment. Some areas were just a little to dark or foggy and made it hard to try to look for zombies and navigate through safely and sometimes “dying” zombies blocked you path causing players to have to climb over them. I appreciated the moans and the battle type sound effects but also think the “video game” experience may be heightened with more of a soundtrack. The only other issue we had was we wanted to see more of the available weapons. ICombat also produces pistols but only automatic rifles were available at this event. These rifles got very heavy and hard to hold or carry.
Apocalypse was worth the drive to San Antonio and I got to enjoy a totally difference experience at one of my favorite haunts. I can see why several groups bought multiple tickets to go back in and play again. Apocalypse is the closest you would ever want to get to being in your favorite zombie movie.
The Dungeons are a chain of haunt themed family “midway” attractions operated across Europe by Merlin Entertainments who also owns Ripley’s, Legoland and SeaLife Aquariums. At long last the Dungeons are crossing the pond and opening their first U.S. location in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf on June 26th. The San Francisco Dungeon is a high-tech, highly themed haunted attraction that combines true history , fear and black humor to scare and entertain guests. The attraction breaks guests into small groups and pulses them through the nine different shows and attractions guided by actors. The Dungeons researched local history and based the experiences on colorful characters from the past like Miss Piggott, Shanghai Kelly and a rat catcher.
At TransWorld we had the chance to sit down with Nick Farmer who has developed several of the shows and attractions for various Dungeon locations. Nick gave us a preview of some of the upcoming attractions and his favorite stories in San Francisco. All the experiences are based on local stories and cover a number of events and time periods and local settings. One of the main shows Miss Piggott’s Saloon is based on a local bar owner who was known to get tourist drunk only to have them disappear through trap doors in her floor. Once you tricked by Miss Piggott, guests are sold to her friend Shanghai Kelly which brings them to San Francisco’s main attraction. The Shanghai Kelly Boat ride takes guests on a dark ride describing the black trade of shanghaiing, where revelers are sold as laborers to work on ships. Riders will find out if they are worthy to join the captain’s crew or if they will meet another fate. Other shows will take audiences through the Black Death that plagued the streets of San Fran, the ghosts of Alcatraz, the Gold Rush and the courtroom of an unmerciful judge. When asked, Farmer said he has noticed a difference between european and american haunted attractions. European haunts tend to focus more on ghostly stories while American only go for shock value with much more blood and gore.
The San Francisco Dungeon will use state of the art effects and theming to make audiences laugh as well as scream. The Dungeon is meant to be scary fun for the entire family and is recommended for ages 10 and up. Online tickets will be available soon and will save guests $7 off the normal $26 ticket price at the door. You may also register for updates and to win tickets to the launch party on the attractions website at www.sanfrancisco.thedungeons.com/en/san-francisco/
We sat down with Michael Faust of Global Fear Enterprises to chat about what is new with our favorite Austin brothers. Global Fear debuted their Four Horseman line including: War, Famine, Plague and Death. For the TransWorld show they went beyond a typical booth creating a secret society type set that attracted attention for convention goers. Mike said that instead of creating the one or two items that haunts called for they wanted to come up with a fully themed line that was based on what they really wanted to design. They plan on expanding the product line similar to toy lines by adding new characters to the original four and in the future. The newest line will contain more whimsical brightly colored animated type characters including one called Phantasmagoria and the Ancient of Hallows which puts a spin on a traditional Halloween icon with candy-corn teeth, a tree-like body and a pumpkin head.
Matt Valentine taught a free seminar called “Designing the Dead” where he proved to audiences that his skills and expertise go beyond killer make-up. He talked about being intentional in your design by using sharp, unsettling shapes, silhouettes and other elements to trigger our fear responses. As haunt builders and designers we need to go beyond just throwing blood on props. Michael helps his brother Matt run their company Global Fear Enterprises which does costumes, masks, props and sets for haunts as well as video and film production.
In addition to Global Fear Michael Faust is the Creative Director for Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group. Thirteenth Floor runs top haunted attractions across the country including House of Torment in Austin and the all new 13th Floor in Chicago. Mike tries to teach his actors to use their bodies to create controlled chaos observing that it’s possible for a small actor to seem twice their size by the way he moves and acts. He approaches managing his haunts and actors similarly to running retail stores. They now have 8 locations and there are managers at each haunt that Mike trains and checks in on to make sure that things are running smoothly. In the new Chicago location 13th Floor partnered with Eleventh Hour Haunted House. Faust observed a noticeable difference in the haunt acting styles between Texas and the Midwest. The Midwest is more theatrical and performance focused but not always aimed at being scary while Texas haunters try to be more intense and in your face. As 13th floor continues to branch out across the country they find new ways to combine these different approaches.
TransWorld showed haunters and fans that Global fear is just getting started. At the same time Faust, through Thirteenth Floor Entertainment continues to help actors become more horrifying. As the company name suggest, the brothers will continue to find new ways to continue to bring nightmares to life and create a world-wide empire out of our nightmares.
Beki Ingram and David “House” GreatHouse from Greathouse Productions and Syfy’s FaceOff took time out of a busy TransWorld to discuss several exciting projects they are working on now and have coming up this haunt season. They were primarily there as representatives of Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps. The legendary Kurtzman, one of the founding members of what is now known K.N.B. EFX Group, has his own fully functioning production house in Ohio. Besides creating special effects make-up, creatures and visual effects for films, Creature Corps also provides training and has a full product line. Transworld is normally the launch for new items in their haunted house product line which includes masks and props and costume kits. The props range from cinematic quality severed heads and limbs to fully detailed life-sized bodies. Seasonally Kurtzman’s Creature Corps also produces the Mad FX Lab haunted attraction in Crestline Ohio. This haunt features original twisted monsters created by effects masters that worked on Army of Darkness, From Dusk till Dawn and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Besides the MadFX Lab, the team is also deeply involved with Bloodview Haunted House. The haunt presented by the Broadview Lions Club is staffed by the Legion of Terror, one of the oldest improvisational horror acting, make-up and special FX production companies. The legion of terror is completely volunteer staffed and all the haunt’s proceeds go to charity. House has been with the Legion of Terror since 1995 and the pair continues to train volunteers and design with the haunt.
After FaceOff, House and Beki continue to share their knowledge and experience in the EFX and haunt industries by teaching throughout the year. They are both instructors with Kurtzman’s Creature Corps and speak at various industry events. At Transworld they taught a seminar on creating extreme characters. They taught attendees how to combine make-up, acting, costuming and extras such as props, contacts and teeth to create over the top intense characters. They stress the importance of creating a total package. When asked about how FaceOff changed their careers, Beki said that she appreciated that the show was a way to get her résumé to thousands instantly. House added, ”Win or Lose, I got to make monsters so it can’t get better than that”.
Finally, it was also announce the week before TransWorld that the team will also be collaborating with Midnight Syndicate on their upcoming live stage show at Sandusky Ohio’s Cedar Point for the park’s HalloWeekends event starting in September. Midnight Syndicate has been creating soundtracks to horror movies and haunted houses since 1997. This will be their first ever live stage show combining a multi-media horror-themed concert with theatre, special effects and film. House, Beki and Kurtzman will work with Director Gary Jones and Screamline Studios to design the project which will run weekends from September 12th to November 1st. At the time of this interview the project was so new that the parties involved didn’t have any details of the show yet. Rest assured that Haunted Attraction Review will be there opening weekend. There is no doubt that both David and Beki will continue to be fixtures in the haunt industry and special effects for years to come and I can’t wait to see what other twisted creations this talented pair will come up with.