Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Wicked Walkthrough and Review of MECC's Haunted Forest {Countdown to Halloween Day 18}


Once again we were invited into the deep dark woods around Mountain Empire’s Community College to experience and review The Haunted Forest.  Cindy Ringley  and her Ghoul Crew gave us full access to the entire haunt…just me and my wife,  running around in the dark with cameras, a goat, and a chainsaw….I am just kidding, they made me leave the goat at the front gate!

I have been attending this haunt for years and years and to actually be able to see the growth is astounding. There is very little of the original haunt stuff left, but it is there and it always sparks off nostalgia. I think the whole scope of how LARGE the haunt actually is, would be missed by most.  Once you start at the gates of Raven Manor, you are usually inside for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on how fast you run!). The fact the haunt is in this old forest FULL of structures just adds an air of grandeur most haunts are not able to capitalize on. What this group is able to pull off in the summer months makes you believe there is a little black magic involved! The dedication of the master minds (Cindy and Shuler Ringley) is truly astounding in what they are able to inspire and accomplish with their talented Crew of Ghouls. Special recognition goes out to Robert Stidham, Josh Reynolds, Matt Spears, Shuler Ringley and George Merriam were instrumental in slaving away the hot summer months to get it going this year.  Cindy also wanted to recognize my wicked wife M who assists with the makeup and comic relief.

As always, I want to take a moment to remember the underlying reason for what all this insanity is for. The Haunted Forest helps to provide tuition for the students that work the haunt. Cindy Ringley often says how she wants to leave a legacy of having the BEST haunt around all the while instilling modern day work ethic and values to her students which is hard to do in our modernized world. My hat is off to them all for such dedication to a wonderful cause!

Now, for the walkthrough!

When we arrived, there was a HUGE line which is both BANE and BOON to a haunt. Let me tell you upfront, any wait is worth it for what you experience once inside.  The ticket booth is well lit and welcoming with decorations befitting a haunted forest. There are several props for great photo ops as well as a HUGE STILTED creature with glowing eyes to entertain the waiting crowds.
  There is an actual photo scene you can take part of which is great for advertising! 

Once in line, the wait begins….not only are you contending with a very dark forest with only the moon and the occasional torch for light but you must also deal with the forest. Crickets and critters are all around making nervous guests jump at every sound. Not to mention some of the more unnatural things lurking in the woods. I saw a short grim reaper creep out of the forest and scare a grown man into screaming like a woman.
The crowd was both entertained, as well as being kept on their toes for what was to come! There are rest rooms (port a potties)  so you are covered there as well.

The sounds coming from the woods are totally unnerving. M and I both found ourselves asking,” is that a customer screaming”, or wondering what a particularly creepy noise was. The sound carries all over in the woods and it really is a great effect!

A helpful director (flight attendant as she liked to be called) stops all groups before getting in line to let them know the rules of the forest so once you are in, it is 100% haunt! After that, a helpful Guide will let you know when it is your group's turn.
I only wish that some of the college clubs would capitalize on this captive audience and sell refreshments! A bag of popcorn would cost roughly 15 cents to make and could sell for a buck. A cup of hot chocolate goes for 20 cents and sells for a buck…. They could make a killing on the crowd, but sadly there was none of that!
Once you enter, you arrive at the heavy iron gates of Raven Manor, be on guard. You need to be careful as Mama Lebow has minions all over her woods and they show up at the most inopportune times. Knocking on the door to Raven Manor will grant you access but  The Voodoo Queen will want words with you before she lets you enter “her” woods.
It is quite obvious she is unhinged but intelligent and powerful. Her husband has scorned her for another, which is the reason she has set up shop in these woods. She knows she has him trapped in these dark trees but they have not been able to ferret him out just yet. She is still looking for the “hussy” he has ran off with as well. This is where you see her true paranoid delusions kick in as she accuses almost every woman she sees of being "the other woman". The only problem with this is she will “mark” that woman. She throws a voodoo curse on that person which makes them glow like a spotlight in the dark that only her creatures can see, or as she says “ makes you smell like fresh baked apple pie and the creatures of this woods be hungry!”.
I have to say this year's Mama Lebow was particularly animated and the line of questions she gave me left me with a real dread of things to come.

If the queen sees fit to allow you to continue on past Raven Manor (some are not!) consider yourself lucky….or unlucky because you are going to have to deal with her freakshow that is set up for eternity in her backyard! Good luck navigating through her Manor house…the dark and twisting corridors have trapped many a poor soul that took a wrong turn.
The Freak Show is trapped in time. A carnival that is doomed to perform in one spot for all eternity. A very tall and evil looking clown offered me a ride on his “Scary Go Round” but I declined as most of the other passengers looked like they had not enjoyed it.
He also went on to let me know they were recruiting. In particular he was looking to add to his doll collection and assured me it would be lots of fun.  As he chased me into the brightly lit tent, it was apparent this was no circus. There walls were covered with “dolls” and I use the term dolls here very loosely. They were twisted, burnt, mis matched dolls all over like a mad scientist had poorly stitched them together.  Some talked to us in weird mechanical voices while others just stared blankly with mismatched eyes.  It was then we became aware of the life sized porcelain dolls walking up to us. 
They had been badly abused and were broken and cracked. They were obviously human at one time, but that was a long time ago. They wanted us to play with them…forever and ever… We got the heck out of there as fast as we could before we joined the clown’s collection!
Running from the demented dolls and creepy clowns, we barely noticed the landscape had changed. We found ourselves in a corn field! That’s right, we were on a farm, but like no farm I had ever seen. The sounds of banjo music and shotguns could be heard in the distance. There were  scarecrows everywhere and they were just horrific! I am sure some of them used to be living creatures.
Before we could even catch our breath we hear a chainsaw blaring through the corn! That was not the welcoming I was looking for! Needless to say the farmers here do not take kindly to trespassing and the threats of bodily harm were both excessive and detailed as we took off through the dreaded barn to attempt to get away! Just a word of advice…stay away from the scarecrows…they have long stopped trying to keep crows away from corn!
Somehow we made it through the barn full of chainsaw and shotgun wielding hillbillies and hurried down the path. We came upon a huge stone structure surrounded by tall fences that filled us both with relief and dread.  Relief that we were no longer having to deal with the fallen farmers but dread at what was inside. The heavy metal gates flew open only to have a well armed and armored man scream for us to stand at attention and prepare to enter the queen's dungeon single file. 
He gave us one word of warning, all the “hussies” that the queen and her minions had rounded up over the years were inside where they would be tortured for eternity. He warned us that they were all quite mad and starving! He unbarred the large door and let us enter into the almost completely dark halls of the Dungeon.  The door slammed behind us and you could hear him locking it so there was no turning back!
The first cage had a particularly decrepit fellow begging for us to free him. He promised that he was innocent and he needed to go free. Was this Remey Lebow that the voodoo queen has been searching for or just some poor sot who had the misfortune of looking like him? I assume he is one of many misfortunates that are wrongly imprisoned because of Beatrice Lebow’s paranoid delusions. Either way, he was a soulless ginger so we left him to rot!
The other cages were full to the brim with screaming women begging for release from there tortured existence. One was hanging from her feet as we walked by. 
We moved quickly past the hanging woman and the other cages. When it became apparent that were not going to release any of them, they became quite violent and many of them started bursting out of the cells. I saw a smallish woman bend steel bars and squeeze through so she could come and scratch out my eyes! 
We found ourselves surrounded by bloody and tortured souls all screaming for release or our blood, I could not tell. Claustrophobia set in and we made all haste to escape the dungeon.

We barely made it to the exterior of the dungeon only to find more cells outside. Something had broken out or broken into many of them.
Bloody bones were all that was left of the previous occupants. As we wondered what could have done such a thing, a howl from inside the largest cage revealed a huge werewolf trying to tear through the cage. 
We made hurried down the path only to find the werewolf had managed to get free and block our path.  

Just when we thought all was lost, a shrill scream in the distance seemed to catch the beast attention and he loped off into the night in search of other prey.
Shaken and battered, we arrived at what was obviously a cemetery with a HUGE mausoleum in its center.  The graves had been either dug up or dug out all around. I was about to tell my wife, “Nothing could make me go inside there”, when we heard the scratching and moaning of the undead. Zombies were lumbering through the dark gravestones towards us. 
We hurried to the gates of the mausoleum where the gate keeper made us wait and listen to his demands of how to conduct ourselves if he let us in. What seemed an eternity passed as the zombies crept closer. Finally he allowed us access into the structure but only before he turned his head and shouted “feeding time” into the darkness behind him. 
He slammed and locked the gates behind us as he laughed. The smell of death and earth was apparent in the air. The tombs inside were all disturbed and in disarray. A very unhealthy looking fog hung in the air and crawled about the ground.

We were reluctant to move on till the gatekeeper called out to us. “If you want out, there is a door in the back! Better hurry!” We bolted off into the crypts only to find them literally overrun with the undead.


Some of the shambling corpses were fresh and fleshy with the scent of rot while others were almost skeletal and dusty with an unnatural glow in their eyes.
Thankfully we hit the back of the door before we could be trapped inside.

Once we put the undead behind us we came upon a little cabin with what appeared to be b a cheery fire burning outside. 
As we approached we noticed a man….well more like a creature just staring at us…like we were food. 
His intentions to have us for dinner (quite literally) became all too apparent as he approached us with ax in hand. Into the cabin we went to avoid the crazy cannibal Hellbilly!

The interior was covered in webbing and from the web covered corpse hang around, it would appear they have a severe pest problem. We did not have long to look as a insanely tall fellow wearing a hockey mask ad wielding a machete burst in with full intent to do us harm.
We bolted deeper into the cabin and I almost tripped on a small growling creature. Not sure what it was, as I can only describe it as part crab, part screech owl and part gargoyle. 
It skittered across the ground faster than it should as we made all haste to put the freaky cabin way behind us.
We ran straight into the brightly lit façade of a café. This was no ordinary café as was apparent from the bones and torn clothing that littered the ground. Not to mention the crude sign written in red paint (I hope that was paint) claiming this to be  “CORPSE CAFÉ”.  With the utmost trepidation, we entered into the establishment.

To call the occupants inside “insane” is an insult to insanity. 
They offered us all kinds of half grilled mystery meats (some that still had tattoos and piercings on them) as well as other vile smelling things that are just indescribable (such as a chicken pot pit with fresh chicken feet and feathers sticking out).  I saw one of their battered signs hanging above the counter proclaimed “Today’s Special” spelled out in big plastic stick on letters. Below that ,in the same letters, it said the special was “Chick legs buy one get one free”.  I pointed out to one of the “servers” that the E and N had fallen off the sign. She looked at it and said “Nope…that’s right!”. When it was apparent we were not going to order any “food” They became rather agitated and asked why. I told them I questioned the origin of their meats to which they replied, “FINE get out and go see the butcher yourself!”. As we left through the back door she handed me a receipt which she had scrawled, “RUN PIGGY”.  As the door closed behind us, we could hear them laughing their heads off at us!
Up and up we followed the path till we came upon a sign that read “Stockyards” . The sound and smells of animals was strong here. We soon found the path ahead lined with split rail fences and the ground was damp with blood and offal. Entering the stockyards, we could see that there was a thriving butcher business here, but from the looks of it the stock was from both 4 legged and 2 legged creatures.
A rather rude fellow in butchers smock came up behind us. He was covered in blood and other nastiness. He referred to us as “piggies” and commanded we enter into the Slaughter House! He was well armed with rather foul looking blades so we did as he said. Weaving between the carcasses of sheep, cows, pigs and….humans, he took us to a huge freezer door that lead into the slaughter house.
As he shoved us in, he took the time to tell us “Here you die piggy!” and promptly slammed and locked the door behind us.
Inside was a scene I will never forget. The air was cold…almost freezing. The floor was slick with all manner of vileness from blood to guts and worse! Hunks of meat both human and animal lay in piles around the room. Terrible items meant to cut, saw, and hack meat lay strewn about the room all covered in gore. The smell was almost enough to cause me to pass out, but I dare not because of the butchers inside. They screamed at us, calling us piggy and asking us what we wanted!  One of the butchers wore the head of a pig over his face (at least I tell myself that was what he did). 

It was apparent they meant to add us to the piles of meat and we would, no doubt, end up on the menu at the café below. At one point, an argument broke out between two of them about who had the chainsaw.
The third butcher whispered in my ear “Better run!” . We turned and fled as fast as we could, not daring to look back. After a few seconds, they apparently found the chainsaw they were arguing over and we soon could hear it coming through the woods after us.

We ran for what seemed a mile before the chainsaw stopped. In the distance I could hear the awful squeals of the pig headed butcher. Needless to say we needed no further warning to keep running till we hit the car and left the whole college in our rear view mirror…..


This year I had 4 non biased people enter the haunt again and asked them to fill out a quick survey on what they thought of it afterwards. We shall refer to them as “Secret Scarers”  going forward for this part of the review. Below you will read direct quotes they answered.


QUESTION #1- What is your overall opinion of The Haunted Forest this year?


SS1 : “It was good. I liked it. The wait in line sucked, but it was good”
SS2: “I loved every second of it! There is just too much going on to see it all and I hid my eyes a lot but it was so much fun!”
SS3: “I mostly wanted to take my kids but I was actually surprised how good it all was. I usually don’t do this kind of thing, but I am glad my kids kept bugging me to go.”
SS4: “It’s no Frightmare Manor but I guess it was ok for this area. It really freaked my wife out though.”

QUESTION #2: What was your favorite thing about this year’s Haunted Forest?


SS1: “The ending was good(Stockyard and Slaughter House). Somebody put a lot of work into those buildings and the guys in there are really into it!”
SS2: “So much! The Dolls totally creeped me out! I hate clowns too so that big one really made me want to leave. There was a scary werewolf out there too, I can’t remember where but that was really good on his part. The Butcher guys were so scary. Especially the one with the pig head. Oh and there was a skeleton horse that I thought was cool!”
SS3: “My kids loved the zombies and the crypt. They really liked the restaurant with all the nasty stuff. I thought the ending was very well done. The lighting and the all the attention to detail was nice”
SS4: “I liked the dolls. My wife flipped out at the ending but I know there are no chains on the saws. The rednecks with guns were pretty good too”

QUESTION #3: What was your least favorite thing this year?


SS1: “The wait was really long. I was thirsty and there was nothing to drink. As far as the actually scary stuff, I could have done without the big speech in the scary house at the beginning.”
SS2: “They had a different clown guy this year but I still liked it. I guess if I had to choose my least favorite thing it would be the farmers. Not that they were bad, I just grew up with people like that and I was not really scared of it. ”
SS3: “The Dungeon. The guy outside gets you all hyped up about going in to see the “hussies” and then the first prisoner you come to is like super tired and mellow saying “I am innocent…I want out”. He really acted like he was bored. It was kind of a let down. “
SS4: “There seemed to be a lot of talking going on. I just want to get in, get scared, and get home. Talk is cheap scare me! If I had to pick a thing about the place. The Cabin. Jason was cool but I did not understand the spiders in there or the crab walking bat thing. Seems like they just threw leftovers at it. Not sure the connection to all that was going on there.

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

SS1: “Faster wait time, Food or at least a pop machine, a place to sit if it is a long line. I would not mind seeing more interaction. Making us part of the scene or having to interact with things and people”
SS2: “I want to see ghosts up in this haunted forest. Like old Victorian ghosts haunting the big house or in the tomb thing.”
SS3: “Something for kids to snack on in line and a drink would be nice. My kids were wanting to see Big Foot and Slender man. I just want Michael Myers.”
SS4: “Something extreme like a room you are trapped in or maybe a waiver you can sign so people could touch you and restrain you.”

QUESTION #5: Will you be going back and will you suggest it to your friends?


SS1: “I will most likely come back if I can find some other friends to go with. It was pretty good so I would let everybody know”
SS2: “This was my 2nd time through and I plan on coming back. There is so much to see you have to go through more than once! I tell everybody about it!”
SS3: “I think that is it for me unless my coworkers decide to go back. I would tell people about it, it was a good time.”
SS4: “I think that is it for us this year. Sure I would tell my friends to go.”


Now for the review!

THE GOOD



  • Ample parking! Well lit location.
  • Ambiance is amazing! Forest is just plain scary on its own.
  • Actors “harassing “ those in line to keep them energized. In fact, the atmosphere at the ticket booth was almost a full blown Halloween party with the stilt creature and the photo booth.
  • Lighting this year was really great. Looks like some LED upgrades.
  • Sound effects are just off the chain! Many of them fit the scene and it really makes the haunt that much better!
  • The structures inside are awe inspiring. Hard to believe all that is fit inside that forest.
  • Attention to detail! So much stuff in the houses and building. Really a lot of thought has went into making it creepy.
  • Costumes and masks were on point! I have heard multiple compliments on the Clown makeup’s (somebody thought they were masks they were so detailed) Doll Makeup’s and Zombies. The bloody cloths and spatters on the butcher was also very believable!
  •  I personally loved the interaction with the customers and the actors. Very impressed with the continuity of story line. The Gatekeepers  at the Mausoleum,  The Entire Dungeon crew, The Farmers, The Café workers, and the Stockyard/Slaughter House offered great interaction with the customers that I observed! Great job!
  • Superior acting! So many characters were on point this year. Most notably, Dolls, Farmers, Zombies, Café workers, and the Butchers! Mama Lebow was awesome!
  • Animatronics in use even though they did not need them with man power. The Mausoleum really benefited from having a room come to life with the undead!
  • Lines were moving through fast. That sucked for me taking pictures (I only got half what I normally do as well as video footage) but it was great for customer experience! I feel there were literally 3 independent groups moving through at one time.
  • The Fog was great. Heavy and thick…The graveyard was enhanced so much due to just that little adjustment.
  • Man power! I have never seen so many Ghoul Crew in my life! The place was packed with creepy characters! That made for a great experience! Not to mention what a pleasure it was to work with them behind the scenes. Everybody was so accommodating and helpful in my less than graceful attempts at hiding and jumping over fences.

OPPORTUNITIES

  • Group size was on the large size and I saw some people being ignored because the actors hit the first 5 up front and forgot the 4 others behind. 
  • No concessions being sold which was a sore spot with some of my contacts as they waited in line. If another club or group would set up shop, they would CLEAN house out there! Especially if they walked up and down the line selling! (after talking to another haunted house group that sells concessions, they take in almost as much from food and drink as they do admission)
  • Consistency in acting from start to finish and day over day. I have heard from my contacts that the end of the night it was less than a spectacular performance. Trust me, I know you get tired and worn out, but the first guy in spent the same 10 bucks as the last. Pride in performance would require this constancy. There is also some difference in day to day performance as in , “What? I did not see that, they did not do that at all when we went through Friday”.
  • Some sort of Logistic triggers to let them know when groups need to go. I saw groups of people run into each other twice while I was there and it turned into one mega herd of humans! Some signal for one area with a gate or door to hold them up and control the flow so you can have 3 or 4 groups going through with no worries.
  • While not really The Cabin is a great location and would benefit from a strong story line and character selection.
  • The other room in Raven Manor has such potential for a fortune teller or Tarot card reading, or even a digital holollusion...

Now lets see how MECC HAUNTED FOREST measures up for 2016!

        


ATMOSPHERE
5 out of 5

It is hard to beat a haunt in a big old forest. Not to mention when it is chocked full of man made structures to haunt. If they had no lights and no sound effects this would still be a solid 4 due to location. The Ghoul Crew and the special effects put this WAY over the top for creepy atmosphere on a haunt. They also take special care with each unique area to make sure it is it's own little world separate from the rest.

COSTUME
5 out of 5

I noticed no street clothes. Anytime I saw a mask there was careful consideration for blacking out the area around the eyes. Characters had costume befitting the scene and it worked very well. You could tell that makeup and costume was a high area of focus this year and it really paid off! The Farmers looked like a group of farmers! The dolls were spectacular as was the Clowns. Mama Lebow looked fantastic. The Dungeon was on point both with the Gatekeeper and the prisoners. Butchers, Zombies, all was just great this year! 

SOUND EFFECTS
5 out of 5

You can hear the fear from the parking lot. The sound system is far superior to any I have encountered at other haunts. The effects are unique to the areas you are in as well as that heartbeat thumping sound you can hear from all over. M and I stopped to listen to things we had never heard before like creepy music or a strange sound effect. Shuler on the PA system scared me twice. Other haunts could learn a thing or two about sound from these guys.

SET DESIGN
5 out of 5

What can I say other than you have to see it to believe it. Most people I talk to, who go through the first time, are in awe of what is actually hiding in the woods. Creepy Manor house, Clown tent, Creepy Cabin, Farm land with a barn. Full on Mausoleum  and working Dungeon. Not to mention the added Cafe, Full Stockyard that could totaly house pigs and cows, and the Slaughterhouse.... again... you have to see it in real life to believe it. Hats off to Shuler and crew for pulling off the impossible this summer!

ORIGINALITY
5 out of 5

This year they pushed it over the top and came up with some original ideas. The storyline is great and has expanded and changed with the haunt so it is a cohesive living tale. The Living dolls,  Scary Go Round, Cafe, and Stockyards have a very original feel to it. I hope they can continue with these great ideas for years to come!

SHOWMANSHIP/ACTING
4.5 out of 5

I personally have never seen the crew so on point! They really threw themselves into their parts and, for the most part, really had fun with their characters! Coupled with amazing costume and make up, this made for a amazing "Film Ready" show that really impressed me. Simple inconsistencies in performance over the course of the night and day by day keep this from a perfect 5. Notable acting shout outs go to Mama Lebow(take a bow), Creepy Clown, Broken Dolls, Mausoleum Gatekeeper, The Farmer, Dungeon Keeper, The hanging prisoner, Werewolf (seriously an amazing performance), Cafe Workers and the Butcher group! BRAVO!

FEAR FACTOR
4.5 out of 5

Just a  few unmanned posts. a missing chainsaw que or two and some inconsistent performance here and there is the only thing from making this a perfect 5. There were times both my wife and I were fully startled, unsettled or creeped out. From my personal experience, The dolls creeped me out! A zombie at the Mausoleum full on scared me! Shuler on the PA put a jolt in my step a time or two. The werewolf guy stomping around is really unnerving! Jason in the cabin just walking slowly by will give you the cold shivers. The Crab Walking Creature is nightmare fuel! Getting caught in the dungeon when all hell breaks loose is a claustrophobic nightmare.  I thought I was being shot at in the barn. The Slaughter house guys....they are just over the top insane and it works out so well! Not to mention the Fog was great this year for added effect.

REVISIT RATING
4.5 out of 5

You really need to go more than once just so you can take in all the attention to detail (such as in Raven Manor, Clown Tent, Mausoleum, Cafe, Slaughter House) Not to mention most people I saw go through it were hiding their eyes and running full tilt on missing most of it. The haunt contents itself would guarantee a revisit, but long wait times and consistency in performance may turn somebody against round two or three which is a shame because it only gets better on the second round! 




THAT GIVE MOUNTAIN EMPIRE HAUNTED FOREST OF 2016 A RATING OF

4.8

Here is the Official Wicked Walkthrough video of 2016



As I have said time and time again! This is a haunt that needs to be seen to be believed! Get out and visit them in 2016 before it is too late!




1 comment:

  1. Mountain Empire Haunted ForestOctober 18, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks guys! We had a great time! Come back next time in costume and jump in the action!!!!

    ReplyDelete

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