Review by Mitch
Oh the wonders, tribulations and quandaries of press preview events…you’re often there experiencing attractions for the first time they’ve run that season- and occasionally, ever. And while that can often be exhilarating, the probationary nature of these nights can sometimes yield less than optimal results. Which brings us to our night at FearFest Evil- fantastic overall; effervescent and bursting with potential, but maybe only cashing in on that SCARE potential 60% of the time.
FearFest-Evil, here in this iteration for the first time, and a massive expansion on the attraction it offered in its 2015 opening year, has the geographical benefit of being located in one of the most incredible locations any haunt in the UK can offer. Buried and stretched across the sprawling expanse of the National Diving Centre in Chepstow, a cavernous flooded quarry surrounded by dense woodland and undulating terrain, FearFest-Evil’s location is almost worth the price of admission alone. I mean, just look at that setting!
Of similar ticket-worthy-in-itself nature is the fact that FearFest-Evil also comes with a truncated but nonetheless electric version of The Circus Of Horrors- here under the name CarnEVIL of the Bizarre. For a scream park to feature a full theatrical show of this quality and length is really something. On offer in this 45 minute display are acts including – but not limited to – sword swallowing, contortionism, fire play, burlesque and some decidedly raunchy self-electrification, all delivered with the most tongue in cheek humour and Jim Steinman style rock opera theatrics. Show-stealer definitely goes to the campest Nosferatu you’ll see this side of a Transylvanian YMCA, his stand up patter and audience heckling had the crowd in fits of laughter. Considering tickets for the Circus Of Horrors tour are often well above the total park entry here, it really is a stunning offering to have such a high quality show, as both an addition to the attractions and an alternative for those not wanting to brave them. Also on offer are two optional add-on rides: a zip-line that plunges you hundreds of feet into the depths of the quarry itself, and Hangman’s Swing, a giant playground pendulum that swings riders out over the ledge of the cliff.
Of course, the main draw here is the Trilogy of Horrors, which comprises three attractions: Tales of the Dark, House of Horrors, and Platform 13. These are billed as ‘scare zones’, but are more a combination of indoor and outdoor freeflow mazes. Despite there being only 3 attractions here, they more than make up for this in size. Each took around 15 minutes to complete, and therein lay the issue apparent for at least the night we visited: every maze had a great deal of potential and fathomless opportunities for scares, they just did not have the volume of actors required to populate these spaces.
One thing we found slightly confusing was the layout of the park. Despite all being clearly labelled and 2/3 of the entrances easily found, many of their endings seemed to blend together, leaving 1 poor scare actor the job of shepherding people through different tunnels with the question “which one have you done before?”. The correct route of the entirely dark Platform 13 was decidedly hard to decipher, being that on the map it had no specific entrance. Were it not for insider knowledge of the event and speaking with other enthusiasts on the night, we may have actually missed some very good – and meticulously themed – elements of this maze. For future events we’d highly recommend both more signage at maze entrances and possibly moving to a specified linear route through all three attractions, in much the same way Yorkshire Scaregrounds works.
Those nit-picks aside, now we can focus on the shining gem of FearFest-Evil: the immaculately realised scare zones/mazes themselves. The first attraction you come across both on the map, and logically from the entertainment hub, is THE HOUSE OF HORRORS.
The House of Horrors
Inconspicuous from the outside, THE HOUSE OF HORRORS features some of the most detailed and well themed set designs I’ve seen in the UK, rivalling anything the big theme parks create on likely far higher budgets. Behind a tall garden fence lies a smoke filled graveyard and an impressive decrepit church façade. Once invited in by a fantastically grumpy grave digger, the sheer level of authenticity that’s gone into building this becomes apparent. From there things get increasingly creepier: claustrophobic uneven corridors spattered with black-light blood, a room featuring a towering steampunk surgeon that sprays you with his patient’s fluids, and some clever hallways shaped and lined with velvet as if you were walking into a coffin. The performances in this maze were of a much more theatrical nature; avoiding impact scares for longer script-based scenes that encouraged crowd interaction. One actor though had us repeatedly running from him, as he transformed from passive and concerned victim to a thundering behemoth that chased us out of the attraction. This all culminates in a very tight and lengthy crawl tunnel, that – being a literal drainage pipe – certainly isn’t easy on the hands and knees. Sadly these tunnels would be a perfect opportunity for a scare, but like much of the maze’s boo-holes and hiding points, a severe lack of actors meant these opportunities were missed. Luckily the set design is of such high quality, variation, length and total immersion, it’s easy enough to be creeped out by surroundings alone! A veritable scareactors dream, HOUSE OF HORRORS has the potential to be one of the best mazes in the UK. Even as it stands, it’s a creepy and fun experience.
Tales of the Dark
TALES OF THE DARK switches things up into an almost entirely outdoor scare maze that truly takes advantage of the unique scenery. I couldn’t tell you what tales exactly are being told here, but the scarezone – a pitch black trip through the forest – almost works like a horror anthology; disparate set pieces and mini-mazes act like short stories, with the inherently terrifying woods around you as the wraparound. As much as we lauded the incredible detail in HOUSE, there’s something truly scary about stumbling through the woods without a single light source to guide your way; especially so when at any moment you know there will be something waiting in the dark. That being said, TALES OF THE DARK still has its fair share of clever tricks and sets. Starting with a supremely claustrophobic strobe maze, this serves to make the following vast expanse of dark woodland even more disconcerting. One particular scene takes said forest and makes it the brightest you’ve ever seen: like something from a Bowie video, every surface of the forest has been covered in tin foil and is glimmeringly illuminated by fairy lights; it may not sound much, but this simple effect was truly stunning after being surrounded by darkness, and proved to be a great hiding place for a certain beast that lurked within. Similarly scare enticing, a pathway only just illuminated enough to reveal the faint outline of several floating wedding dresses proved to have the best and most inventive scare of the night. A double attack- jilted bride and murdered husband, that came out of nowhere. The actors in this scare zone really must be applauded; the way they managed to traverse silently across the pitch black forest floor and relentlessly startle us shows just how talented a team FearFest-Evil has.
Lastly, PLATFORM 13 proved to be something of an anomaly for us and is quite hard to review as such. Initially we thought it was just an extension of TALES OF THE DARK, or that we’d accidentally gotten into a backstage area. It was only after around 10 minutes of walking down a pitch black trail that we encountered a single actor- seemingly in some kind of stilt walking creature outfit, that if lit better could have been incredible. Several more moments of confusion later and we ended at the gated exit of the park. Only later on advice from the attraction manager did we complete the route how it was meant to be experienced, but even then, for a 10+ minute attraction, having only 3 jump scares throughout from 4 actors isn’t sufficient when compared to the detailed and scary options the other 2 mazes offer. However, the end of PLATFORM 13- a squeeze through the catacombs and caves of the quarry (artificial, but nonetheless convincing), with the right actors, could make a truly terrifying end to the night.
In retrospect I would recommend starting with Platform 13 (starting at the gate by the car park) -> House of Horrors -> Tales of the Dark; even though that route involves leaving the central hub and counter-intuitively returning to the spot nearest the car park, and the fact the finale of Tales of the Dark then would require a repeat of the ending of the other 2 mazes.
All in all, FearFest-Evil is a truly unique scare attraction and a fantastically fearsome evening out. Beyond this though, we feel it truly has the potential, with more actors and maybe a season to tailor their scare techniques, to become one of the best scare events in the UK.