Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Taking a Wicked Walk Through The Haunted Forest (Countdown to Halloween Day 20)

  The nights are chilly, the days grow short, and the trees are all aflame with the colors of Autumn. That means MECC’s Haunted Forest is up and running. That also means that M and I had our all access pass to enter into the dark forest and run amuck as we document, video, and get freaked out for a walkthrough and review. As always, I want to thank Cindy Ringley and her Too Cool for School Ghoul Crew for allowing us into their realm.


  I don’t think you are truly prepared for the grandeur of the construction that is going on in these haunted woods. Cindy Ringley is blessed to have a mastermind in all things construction, namely her husband Shuler (aka Doctor Cadaver). I know what a blessing it is to have a significant other that not only tolerates your love of Halloween but encourages it! Cindy envisions a macabre scene and Shuler and his minions go about to bringing it to life…in a BIG WAY! They never cease to amaze me in what they can not only think up but bring into being! It truly reminds me of The Haunted Overload in so many ways!

  What many people do not know is what obstacles they had to overcome this year. As many locals know, we had a particularly harsh winter with some blizzards dumping upwards of 3 foot of snow on our town. The Haunted forest did not make it unscathed and the vast majority of the structures were crushed under the weight of the snow. Shuler and his team (George, Titus, and Robert ) started repairs back in March and worked all summer to get it back into running order. They even managed to add a HUGE feature amid all the renovations. I am not sure how they pulled it off, but I can say that The Haunted Forest is bigger and better than it ever was before thanks to the efforts of the primary crew and all those that have lent hands over the year.

  The Haunted Forest proceeds help to fund students that work in it to further their education so not only is it a GREAT haunt it also is for a good cause. Cindy was telling me that her dream was to not only have the best haunt around, but also to teach work related skills to the college students involved in building and ultimately running the haunt. This give them knowledge and work ethic before they graduate, skills that we are woefully short of in the world. I would say that, based on what I have witnessed this year, Cindy’s hopes have all come true!

WALKTHROUGH

  To me, ambiance and location are two of the biggest factors of a haunt. A haunt at a school gymnasium, local 4h club house, or empty Rite Aid building is just hard to swallow as a haunted location. The Haunted Forest is just that…a big old forest chocked full of goodies. The background ambiance of crickets chirping, leaves rustling, small animals scurrying in the brush, and a crazed madman sneaking up on you with an ax is all real and freely done!



The wait in line is unnerving as you deal with the darkness of the forest and the natural flora/fauna of the woods. What makes it even more unnerving is the AMAZING sound system that is present throughout the woods. The big bass sound of beating of drums like a heartbeat is most notable but the constant symphony of screams, bangs, growls, and chainsaws are audible the second you shut your engine off in their ample parking lot. To compound things, they have a groundskeeper, “George” who is one creepy character. He keeps everybody on their toes in line as he stalks…er umm… visits customers.





  The first part of your journey through this treacherous woods is the grand gates of Raven Manor. These massive iron bound gates are as beautiful as they are imposing.



This year I was startled and excited to see them open all by themselves and slam shut behind me with a resounding metal crunch. Raven Manor is the home to Madam Beatrice Lebeau. You can call her Mama Lebeau if you are feeling particulary brave or foolish. She is the direct descendant of the Late Great Maria Lebeau.


She is a Voodoo Queen with a very hateful and dark disposition.


You see, her man, Remy, has run off with another woman and she chased them here to these woods. She is not quite sure where they are hiding  in The Haunted Forest, but she is using her considerable dark talents, and the darker residents of the forest to find her man and his “hussy”.




 I really hope you or your loved ones do not resemble either of them as you will quickly gain the ire of the Queen and find yourself “marked” with a curse! She is so worked up this year she has summoned the spirit of Papa Legba himself to help her with her foul deeds.



 He can be found roaming the halls and grounds of Raven manor.



  If you make it past Raven Manor, you will have to deal with the Freak Show that has set up shop behind it. The clowns that once entertained children of all ages, now serve as nightmarish tricksters that are looking to add to their numbers or to add to their pantry. The main ring master clown is a particularly twisted individual who is known for his dark humor and even darker disposition.




 He can go through a series of emotions in just seconds…hopefully you will not be witness to his angry moods, I hear it is most unpleasant. The Freak Show is full of clowns….or at least I think they are clowns. Some of them are near demonic in their mannerisms and others seem to be trapped as unwitting victims forced to a hellish clown life ….for as long as that life lingers. There is just a lot of clowns in there…everywhere…so many clowns….





  If the Clown Master sees fit to let you pass, you will have to deal with the Farm of Fear.




 Yes, there used to be a little farm in those woods, back before the darkness of the forest and the power of Voodoo twisted into something dark and horrific. Now, the corn fields are just full of fodder, twisted leering pumpkins and scarecrows that look a little too lifelike…if you catch my meaning.




The farmers are something else...something not quite of the living but not dead either. I would not linger very long to try and figure it out if I were you.


All the livestock is long gone so pray you are not taken to fill the smoke house! Try to avoid the barn if you can, those that go in seldom come out!

  Should you slip by the residents of the dark farm, you will find yourself in a terrible place indeed. It would seem the Voodoo Queen grew tired of people running through her woods and has had a Dungeon built  to hold those that are “marked” so she can interrogate them at her leisure.



 The place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox and loaded with machines made to bring pain and despair to all unlucky enough to be strapped in.



 The Dungeon Guard is not one to trifle with and he will loudly tell you what is expected. He wants the “marked” one locked up, or you all die!  He only opens those gates when the “marked” one is offered up as and then he allows you to enter through the dungeon where they can be properly detained.




 There are rumors that some of those that were locked up last year have found ways to get out. Of course they have been driven mad by now and are in no mood for rescue. They are looking for revenge. I hope you do not run into these poor tortured souls.






 Some of those housed in the dungeon are so far gone mentally, or so twisted and mutated physically they have them in cages  beyond the cells…I am no expert but those cages look like they have seen better days…better move by them quickly if you can!




  At this point you will walk upon the Graveyard and Mausoleum. If you find yourself here, you are among those lucky few that have made it this far!



   This is where those that don’t make it, or are not eaten, are placed into the ground. The problem is, they never stay. They say the soil is sour and anything put in, comes out soon after…just darker and nowhere near living!




If you stand outside the great Mausoleum Gates, you can hear the scratching and scraping of those poor souls that are trying to escape their coffins and crypts. Don’t feel bad for them just yet. They are hell bent on finding the living, and ending them! You have been warned!





The Voodoo Queen has worked her magic here as well. All those groaning and wailing dead things are on the lookout for her husband and his woman….if they can’t find them, they will settle for any “marked” by the Queen!

  Beyond the graves is a cabin. It was once a warm inviting vacation spot and used by locals for vacation and in summer as a camp for children….now it is falling in, decrepit and serves only to house spiders  and other things that crawl around on multiple legs.



 I would not go in if I were you…but if the tales are to be believed, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures have been known to stalk the woods around the cabin. Not to mention a rather large man with a machete who used to visit the cabin as a child.



You may have to seek shelter should you encounter these beings…not sure which is the better choice to be honest!

  Beyond the cabin you will see that the forest starts thinning and the promise of civilization with streetlights and freedom are close at hand. If you have been lucky, or blessed, or skilled enough to get to this point, you are a rare creature indeed. Don’t celebrate just yet, because the worst is yet to come. You now have to make your way through the Meat Plant….Home of the Butcher!



This used to be a thriving community and they worked close at hand with the farmers down the road. Fresh produce and meats were delivered all over the mountains from here. Now the meats they offer are have a questionable origin at best and reports say that many of the roasts and steaks have been found to have tattoos on them! While the meat is indeed fresh…it was most likely begging for its life just minutes ago. From the amount of bloody clothes scattered about, business must be good!




 If you can, head straight to the freezer. There is a door to an access road that will lead you out of the forest and to freedom….you just have to get past the Butcher and his crew who like to work late at night.




Be warned that all that blood attracts predators...sometimes big ones...like the Woodbooger? Who can tell?




Now for the review :

THE GOOD


The location is just perfect. Creepy, Dark, you will get freaked out just from having to walk in.
The Ambiance created by nature and from the haunters inside
Porta Potties were available.  A must have if you have a huge haunt! Which they do!
A working concession stand for those that are waiting.
Ample Parking. All paved. All well lit.
Photo opportunity in parking lot. Give you the chance to take home a memory and get some free publicity for the haunt.
Haunters “Entertaining” the waiting line.
The sheer scope of the build. Huge structures. Wood and nail building no sloppy fly by night pop up tents and black plastic hanging on wire.
Lighting is incredible! Perfect array of creepy lighting and dark shadows where it needs to be.
Sound effects and system are excellent. Most areas have their own themes too!
Attention to detail! Every area is so intricate. You need to go through 3 or 4 times just to take it all in and appreciate all the subtle nuances and props!
Haunters performance and staying in character. I was thrilled/amazed at what an excellent job everybody did this year! Truly believable characters at every turn! Not one person was out of character and all were on top performance all night! Highlights for me are Mama Labeau and her use of props while she works her creepy story lines. The never ending and seemingly random dialog of the Head Clown at the Freak Show! The Zombies who were just super damn creepy and totally believable! The Werewolf and his shambling walk! The “in your face” butchers!
Haunters doing multiple jobs. I saw several people running around to get the second scare at a different place. Using hidden entrances and paths to maximum effectiveness and not compromising their scene! Bravo!
Restructured paths that are clearly defined and much more narrow than the past so people HAVE to get close to things they normally would not.
Costumes and make up were so spot on. I did not notice any street clothing or cell phones etc that would ruin the illusion for me. Saw some great masks (some with good animation and lights too..nothing cheesy) and even better makeups. Highlights for me were: The clowns, Zombies, werewolf, ghost on graveyard and Papa Legba!
Props! There are no Walmart or stick figure props here. Everything built from scratch or heavily modified. The scarecrows are actually scary. I had to ask about some of the executioners at the dungeon….excellent prop work!
Length of the haunt. Be prepared to be in The Haunted forest for awhile. 20 minutes on average and it is chocked full of horrible goodness every minute of the way.
The Dungeon…what was once their weakest section of the haunt is now one of their strongest. Has to be experienced to truly believe.
Continuity of theme. You are delivered expectations at the beginning , and each scene beyond keeps the promise and the theme of “the cursed marked ones”
So many startling quick scares. Drop panels, hidden pathways and passages, and props that move.
Teamwork and communication network in the haunt. WHAT A TEAM! Working like a well oiled machine. I saw people communicating with walkie talkies, through signals and even through thumps or knocks. Everybody was aware of issues or incoming group or particularly difficult or scared customers.

OPPORTUNITIES


I saw a few large groups go through. I am not sure if this was by request or by need to clear the lines but it did have an impact on the overall quality that the haunters were able to provide.
Timing was off on a few of the haunters. It could have been a result of the group sizes. Haunters would try to jump out and in some cases follow the group going through, only to find they were in the middle of the group and paying attention to only those in front not the other behind.
I saw a few dreaded items I always put on the DO NOT list. Rope lighting in a couple of scenes. Saw some yellow police style tape in a scene that did not fit…
The Cabin is a great scene and the haunters made EXCELLENT use of the outside of it but the cabin itself was underutilized.
• Saw a few makeup flubs...but just a few. Face did not match hands or makeup was not applied to a  section under a mask.

SUGGESTIONS


Make the most out of your marketing. The photo op is great but encourage people to post on the Haunts's Facebook. Run a contest around the photos and offer free tickets for random drawing for most shares and likes.
At the end of the haunt there is a considerable walk down a winding gravel road….about 3 minutes long. Perfect place for something to come out after you already have that warm and fuzzy feeling of freedom only to learn that it has been cut short and your sense of relief was all a lie! Maybe a haunter could double duty this task? Just adds to the overall experience.
T shirts….I escaped the haunted forest…earn more money….get more advertising.
• Add a suggestion box at the end of the haunt. Ask what they liked and what they did not like and ask for suggestion for next year.

SECRET SHOPPERS


  Something new I am trying this year is utilizing some unbiased people to go through at various times and then getting their opinions on the haunt. While I did not ask for them to do any formal rating I did get some direct quotes to what they thought of the haunt. Keep in mind these are 3 separate individuals that went through on different occasions to get a broader spectrum. Here are some direct quotes:

Question #1: What was your overall opinion of the Haunt?

SS1 : “WOW! The Props were fantastic! Amazing things in there.”
SS2: “I really was not expecting so much in there. I guess you don’t realize how big it is till you are in it. Impressed at how much they have got up in there.”
SS3: “I am going to bring my sister back! She would be a basket case half way through. Good job!”

Question #2: What is your favorite thing about The Haunted Forest this year?

SS1:  “Just one? The clowns were just awful. I mean awful meaning they were great. Does that make sense? At the end (Butcher Shop)….I honestly thought I was going to die! “
SS2: That is going to be hard to nail down. I really liked all the details in the first area (Raven Manor). The Clowns were fun but creepy. They were a lot of fun. The hillbillies (Farm area) really freaked my girlfriend out. I liked the Dungeon because it was new and because they were pretty aggressive. I would have to go with Butcher guys at the end. They were just so angry and believable. I have to say the props and the building were outstanding!”
SS3 : “Zombies! They were bad ass! The noises they were making can’t be made by humans”

Question #3: What was the thing you liked the least? 

SS1: “The wait in line was a bit excessive. It was cold out too. I had to stop by a few of the fires once we got in to warm up. The first area took a bit longer than I cared for. I think the voodoo woman could compress it down a bit.”
SS2: “As much as I liked the first room (Raven Manor) I wish there was more action. I had time to really look around and enjoy it, but I expected something to come out of the wall or something to move. We were there awhile and I just knew it was for something to get us. The Jason Cabin was a letdown. I was hoping to see a hockey mask maniac come through a wall but there was nothing there.”
SS3: “ Clowns are not my thing. I could have done without them.”

Question #4: What would you like to see in the future?

SS1: “Werewolves would be cool. You kind of expect it in the woods.”
SS2: “I would like to see a bit more action. I want my blood pumping for half an hour.”
SS3: “Ghosts and more zombies.”

Question #5: Will you be going back and would you suggest it to friends?

SS1: “Heck yes! I have went 3 times this year!”
SS2:  “Most likely will not go back again this year. I feel like I saw it all and there was a lot of stuff from last year. I highly recommend everybody go and see it, it is pretty awesome.”
SS3: “YES! Heading back again this weekend! Everybody needs to go see this!”

Now to the ranking to see where they score for this year:


ATMOSPHERE
Nothing beats a haunted forest...in a forest that is most likely haunted if not home to bears, snakes, wolves, and the occasional ax maniac.  What nature lacks, the haunters provide and then some!

SOUND EFFECTS 
Sound system is awesome. The actual effects are on point. Each area has unique sounds. 

SET DESIGN 
Amazing props and sets. Hands down some of the best around. They are giving the Haunted Overload a run for their money!

COSTUME
Some extremely minor flubs where hands and necks did not match the mask/makeup. All in all the costumes were so great this year and the makeup was totally believable. 

ORIGINALITY
It is hard to be original in a haunt, but these guys do it. It is a unique spin on the old traditional haunted house. Just need to see it continue to grow and not become stale.

SHOWMANSHIP/ACTING
I truly do not know how this team of haunters could have put more heart and soul into these characters. Truly amazing to see them in action. They honestly were freaking me out a little and I have eaten pizza with most of them in the day light!

FEAR FACTOR
So many great things here that just jump out and get you! Not to mention the back ground creepy feeling no matter where you are. The only thing holding this category back from a full 5 is one small area that failed to deliver.

REVISIT RATING
Nothing at all to do with the Haunt itself. Just comments about the wait times, lengthy waits and dialog may turn some off. I just want to go back to gawk at the props and details.

This gives Mountain Empire Community College a Solid rating of
4.69 out of 5!

Here is the wicKED Walkthrough video:




What are you waiting for? Go out and see the best Halloween entertainment money can buy in Wise County! Don't forget to tell them wicKED sent you....they might take it easy on you!

2 comments:

  1. Mountain Empire Haunted ForestOctober 20, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    Thanks for the excellent photos and video walkthrough! I hope everyone gets a chance to get out and enjoy the Forest this weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Holy moly, what a lot of work to put that event on!

    ReplyDelete

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