Spoiler level: One or two specific details of what happens in an attraction, and lots of general description about all of them.
Hosted at the National Forest Adventure Farm in Burton-on-Trent, Screamfest is a multi-attraction Halloween scare event, which in all the years I’ve visited has never failed to deliver a fun night out. It’s exciting, scary, and showcases original concepts, which is probably the thing I love most about Screamfest. It’s refreshing, especially considering how a modest farm-based event could easily play it safe.
On arrival, the central area was bustling with activity. Music and roaming characters added to the atmosphere, and people were snapping spooky selfies on the entertainment stage. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental – Halloween was in the air…or the smell of burgers and the sound of petrified screams.
The mazes can be experienced in any order you wish at Screamfest. We wanted to save the new attractions for later in the evening, so we kicked off the night with some clown-based shenanigans.
The psychotic clowns are back, with a dash of pop culture relevancy! As with last year, Freakout delivered plenty of jump scares amidst the sickeningly bright colours, disorienting light effects and loud circus music. The scareactors toyed mercilessly with their victims, whilst trying their best to regain control over what unfortunately became a very large group; corridors were backed up on more than one occasion, but they attempted to break up the crowds by stalling certain individuals. The maze got off to a slow start, with several rooms bereft of clowns, but it soon picked up pace, and developed a darker tone as we progressed. As before, the labelled doors added plenty of chaos to the mix, as guests attempted to navigate a safe path for themselves, only to discover it made very little difference! A fun, spooky, headache-inducing experience from start to finish.
Dia de los Muertos
The much anticipated (by me) removal of Children of the Corn has finally happened, and a new attraction has been installed amongst the winding passageways of the corn field. That attraction is Dia de los Muertos, an interesting theme for a scare maze, and one which I had a few reservations about. As it turned out, the portrayal of the Mexican festival was the most appropriate aspect of an ill-judged theme.
The maze got off to a fantastic start, as the trailer ride to the entrance was cleverly themed-up to serve as an introduction. A radio station was playing, warning us of an escaped serial killer who may make an appearance at the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Sadly, the killer never seemed to materialise; instead, we were taken on a journey though a series of setpieces portraying negative stereotypes, including a what appeared to be a chop-shop, and a gang shooting at us with guns. The layout of the attraction was brilliant (multiple chainsaws for the win), and the actors were energetic and engaging, but sadly the theming soured the experience a little.
I was itching to throw myself back into this beautiful, elaborately themed attraction; the creepy corridors of the crumbling Helton Grand are a dark delight to behold. The decaying rooms were filled with lively scareactors who portrayed their torment with intensity and emotion. The opening scene was a big improvement on last year, with the scareactors making their way around the entire group, ensuring everyone could catch a glimpse whilst still retaining the mystery of what awaited us in the haunted hotel. The lighting in this attraction is absolute perfection – we saw just enough at key moments to build a sense of dread, whilst ensuring the delivery of the scare had the right impact. The finale was far better than last year – we weren’t running for our lives, but there was a decent payoff to the scenes that preceded it.
As with Soul Seekers, I could not wait to dive back into the pure cinematic horror that is Love Hurts. Another maze with stunning sets, great attention to detail, and lots of dramatic mini-performance setpieces. The grungy Diced Heart Pub, built on an old sewage works, once again welcomed us to a night of speed dating. But as we passed through the repugnant toilets, we were enveloped in the dark, grimy underworld, were hellish creatures were all too eager to ‘meat’ us. There was great energy from the scareactors, who worked the sets from multiple levels, and amazing practical gore & makeup effects really elevated the experience. The finale played out perfectly this year as we were treated to a meeting with Professor Heart, including a dramatic reveal. I absolutely adored his costume, and I think he exerted a terrifying presence, and would have even without a chainsaw.
The stunning facade of this maze caught my eye immediately – flame effects, water effects, coffin shaped doors, red lighting – all very impressive, and the combined effect set my expectations quite high. This carried through into the pre-show, which for me, was one of the most exciting since Slasher. We were lead through one of the numbered doors into a wooden room, which had a door at the other side, adorned with a mysterious symbol which glowed under UV light. Additional lighting effects under the floorboards really got my pulse racing. The whole pre-show was sublime in its simplicity; just enough time elapsed to significantly heighten my sense of dread. The door slowly opened to reveal the entrance to the maze, and unfortunately, this is where excitement levels dropped off (I would have loved to see a hooded figure in the doorway, or maybe some more smoke effects). The maze itself was a strobe/cage configuration, which has its place, but it lacked energy and variation. A steady stream of actors came at me as I ambled through, who never deviated in their tactics, in terms of space and interaction. A change in environment, such as a sudden low ceiling or tight space, would also have held my interest for a little longer.
The crowds at Screamfest are some of the most diverse I’ve seen at such events, with young children braving the horrors alongside older groups of friends, families and couples. This is a testament to the organisation of the event. There’s something for everyone to enjoy, including street theatre and a DJ, and the staff running the event are all extremely friendly. Screamfest even offer a ‘ScaredyCat Ticket’, which gives access to the park, but not the mazes. This is a great way to enjoy the atmosphere & entertainment. However, I would strongly recommend giving the mazes a go. What is Halloween without a good scare?
- Screamfest will be open on selected nights until Halloween
- The event is located at the National Forest Adventure Farm, Burton upon Trent
- Doors open at 7pm
- Tickets available here