Each year it is an absolute pleasure to visit the folks down at Backwoods. It's always a special treat if we can take somebody that has never been before. For those that are not familiar, Backwoods Haunted House is located in the middle of nowhere, on an old farm. The drive alone, down dark, unlit country roads is unnerving enough to those unfamiliar with it.
This year they presented, "Pumpkin Hollow" as the theme for the haunt. I was promised that this year it would be "radically different" and that they "shook up the whole place". I am here to tell you they delivered on those promises. The entire layout of the old haunted barn was COMPLETELY redone. You even go in what used to be the exit...and exit where the entrance used to be. Without giving away too many secrets, the pathing inside is roughly U shaped allowing a single actor to run down the center and play several...SEVERAL parts. This gives the illusion that the barn is OVERRUN with half breed, undead, mutant, hillbillies. To be quite honest, I am not sure that it wasn't!
The overall feel of the haunt is an old barn, run by a crazy, mutant, hillbilly family that are obviously cannibals. Some seem like they have been long overdue a grave for some time, but still manage to chase you down and eat you. The entire barn feels out of time, vintage, turn of the century, and super creepy! The scenario seems to be that you have made a wrong turn down this dead end country road and are seeking help from one of the family members. They will inform you that your vehicle has been stolen/vandalized/wrecked/or set on fire and that you will have to go through the barn to get help and have any chance of returning home. From the start, there is an uncomfortable feel to the situation, as if you the guest are intruding on a family that has business of it's own to tend to. This is not a haunt for the weak of body of heart. You will have to crawl, run, navigate and survive the insane maze of endless corridors inside to ever see the light of day again!
Here is the wicKED breakdown of the 2013 visit to Backwoods Haunted House, PUMPKIN HOLLOW!
- Location is always key to a really great haunt. Haunted Apartment 6 in the Downtown area just doesn't have a good ring to it. We are talking an authentic, ancient, dilapidated, decrepit, possibly haunted barn in the middle of the deep backwoods country! The drive to this place gets you in the mood way before you hear the first scream!
- Crowd Interaction. This place is getting well known (they even have a sponsor for next year!) As such, the potential for lines is becoming HUGE. In fact, the first time we went, they were so busy, we had to reschedule. We just could not sneak around and take any pictures for groups begging to get in! They do an excellent job at keeping the crown revved up. Many creepy fellows sneak outside to hoop, holler, and jeer at the crowds. not to mention the CONSTANT banging, screaming ,and sound of horrible machinery that comes from within AT ALL TIMES! They also have members working the crowd with tall tales of what has happened in the past, warnings of what you might find inside, and a few even have missing body parts they found from hapless victims that did not make it. Not to mention friendly dogs (like Bear who I fear got eaten by one of the family)!
- Parking assistant. Parking is always a problem in an unfamiliar place. Luckily they have CLYDE! He keeps a roaring fire going for those that feel the chill of death, has a flashlight for those that need to see the way, and is so helpful in finding you a parking spot. He is also great at assisting you in backing up, and getting out! Clyde is a fixture here who I always look forward to seeing every year, although he does tell you some rather creepy stories...about him having 6 deep freezers at home....and only 3 are full of "meat"...hmmmm.
- Atmosphere. You could not find a better location for a haunt so atmosphere is 50% taken care of. They go the extra step with the constant screaming, banging, laughing, scratching, and howling. When we arrived the second time, we smelled death! I honestly thought it was expensive scented fogs but it turns out it was the authentic smell of death....from a dead....something nearby. It was strong, but HORRIBLY unsettling.
- Sound effects were top notch. Most made by (humans?). There was an old phonograph playing some creepy music out of the 20's, which was just a great touch to the whole thing. Area specific sound effects were also key!
- Full compliment of actors. It REALLY seemed like the place was just teaming with crazies!
- Consistent costume theme. Everything had a backwoods, wrong turn, farm kind of feel. Scarecrow faces were highly used and well done. Some may complain about the Creepy Clowns inside not fitting in, but I like to think that is how they keep themselves entertained between meals... I mean guests.
- Small groups so the scares are directed at all. They also took requests for group size from people to ensure maximum fun.
- Groups moved QUICKLY! This is a change from years pasts, but they have improved so much since I have been going. Proactive thinking and planning make for MUCH quicker reset times between customers.
- Great compliment of characters. Most notably among the new ones this year were the "Cornfield Bride" and the "Mutant Monkey Midget".
- The place was a MAZE! Wrong turns, dead ends, misdirection. It is stressful just trying to get out! Plenty of places for creatures to run, hide, and grab at you as you stumble around lost!
- Lighting and effects were perfect. From malfunctioning flicker lights, to full on horrid red rooms, it is just dark enough to wonder what is ahead, but just light enough to see a hand coming at you from the crack in the wall!
- I am not a big fan of little kids in a haunt, but if done right, it can be truly eerie. Backwoods pulled this off flawlessly!
- Constantly changing! It's like a different haunt every night. We went twice and had two different but equally great experiences!
- No clear signage on main highway to direct customers. Every year I have dozens ask me how to get to it, only to tell me they gave up and couldn't find it. This year alone I have fielded at least a dozen with only half finding it. As I understand it, they have attempted signs in the past but they end up gone the next day. Not sure if it is vandals or just passing vehicles pulling them down, but I would try my best to get something to mark the way in the future.
- Restroom. They had porta potties last year, but they were missing this year. I understand they may be getting them in for the bigger weekends. There was a group of people that left while we were waiting the first night because the girls of the group had to go....I think they were just scared myself ;)
- Parking....this is always going to be an issue and one that will grow as does the popularity of the haunt. They may have to figure something out in the near future. Till then, car pool with all your buddies! It's so worth it!
- Some street cloths. While overall they did a great job with the whole theme (overhauls, flannel, scarecrows etc) there were still instances of brightly colored modern logos peeking through under masks etc. This was very minimal, but easily avoided.
- No Refreshments sold. Which is not that big a deal to the overall effect of the haunt, it would be a great way for them to cash in on some more revenue, especially if the lines grow longer and longer (as they seem to be). A couple of cans of pop and water will go a long way to satisfy guests and fill the pockets of the haunters for more haunt supplies next year!
- The Theme, 'Pumpkin Hollow" was a very cool name, but it disappoints in the end because there are no pumpkins in the haunt...not a single one that I could spot. Last years theme was expressed well throughout the haunt, this one fell a little flat.
If you noticed, most of the critiques are not about the actual HAUNTING part at all and just logistics. This group has haunting nailed! They get into character, throw the fear at you, and don't let up! I do however want them to think about their every growing popularity and with an actual sponsor for the up coming 2014 season, it will grow by leaps and bounds. With that said, I hope they consider parking obstacles, signage, refreshments and restrooms as a necessity that comes with growing pains. Earlier marketing and advertising techniques will also help them grow even further. These are definitely growing pains as they are so good at working a haunted house! They just have to decide how big they want to be.
I also hope that they get more in line with hard hitting themes and stay with it. I really enjoyed the general idea that they tried to incorporate this year of your vehicle being stolen, or destroyed and you were going to be dinner. A little work on a back story can go a long way on delivering a truly haunting experience! These guys already have a great story to work with, just tweak it to deliver a consistent performance!
My biggest recommendation is for them to just keep doing more of what they do....delivering a truly great Halloween experience. Keep up with the dedicated actors who really get into the part. Keep morphing, changing and improving the haunt. Keep getting weirder lighting, stranger characters, and even more twisted tunnels and paths. Just Haunt On!
Here is how they ranKED!
The masks and costumes really shined this year. Unique and creepy all around. A couple of instances of street clothing popped up. Another thing would be to black out the actors eyes with makeup who have to wear some of the creature masks. Seeing human skin under the horribly cool mask can knock it down a notch. That goes a long way to making a good haunt a GREAT haunt.
That gives Backwoods Haunted House of 2013 a wicKED ranking of 4.5 our of 5!