Monday, October 16, 2017

The Haunted Forest is Crawling Alive....with the UNDEAD! {Countdown to Halloween Day 16}

It’s that time of year again when we are turned loose with unfettered access to Mountain Empire Community College’s Haunted Forest. Just me and my wife running around in the dark woods with about 50 pound of camera equipment strapped to us. As always, I wanted to thank Cindy Ringley and her Ghoul Crew for allowing us the opportunity to come in and document the haunt and do this yearly review.
For the last few years, The Haunted Forest has been producing something bigger and better each year until it has truly evolved into a large scale haunt. This year the build was on a truly massive scale as they kicked all the clowns out! Then they rebuilt the entire clown camp with a big top circus tent and invited the clowns back! The circus tent has a freak show with oddities collected from around the world, a vast haunted doll collection and of course….clowns of every type and mannerism.

All of this is not possible without long hours of back breaking work and that is where Shuler Ringley comes in. Cindy’s husband, Shuler, is truly a master in every construction skill there is from carpentry and architecture, to electrical and lighting. If Shuler can’t do it…it most likely can’t be done. I am beginning to think he may also have some skills in voodoo magic if you could see how much work gets done up there in such a short time!
Speaking of black magic, I am pretty sure Cindy uses this on a daily basis. She amazes me at the speed and quality of props, costume, set design, and makeup she produces with what appears to be little to no effort!
They are also lucky enough to have the Jack of all Trades and tireless worker George Merriam. George does it all from scavenging thrift shops for needed items to large scale construction and prop making. George is everywhere doing everything all the time in The Haunted Forest….even jumping out and being mistaken for a Woodbooger from time to time!

Cindy wanted to give a very special shout out to her husband Shuler, George Merriam and his wife Sharmin who really went above and beyond this summer to make sure everything is perfect come October. She also wanted to recognize the Ghoul Crew Summer Workers who slaved in the heat to give us a Autumn treat!
There is also a new ticket booth which is in a Victorian era horse drawn hearse (the horse and driver are also apparently from the Victorian era and have seen better days) as well as a traveling gypsy in her vardo (traveling wagon) who has set up shop to tell your fortunes!

You will also find a  new photo op prop so you and your friends can document your trip into the Haunted Forest and brag to your friends that you survived…if you do that is.

My wife and I had the honor of helping out with a few of the oddities props this summer and a little painting on the new hearse. It was really great to be a small part in such a huge endeavor!

As a reminder what all this madness and hard work goes to, The Haunted Forest funds go to provide tuition  for the students who work in it.  Just like the real world, these young adults earn money depending on the hours they put it in. This is also the reason Cindy Ringley (the mastermind behind all the madness) does this every year. She wants to leave a legacy to the college which is twofold. First, to have one of the best haunts within 100 miles, and secondly to give these young adults their first taste of real world values and work ethic to better prepare them for life after college.

Now, onto the walkthrough!

We arrived to a huge crowd as always. The line snaked out of the long path up into the woods and coiled back and forth all the way to the ticket booth! The sound of chainsaws, drum beats, screams and other unidentifiable noises echoes from out of the dark woods. A thick and heavy fog completely covered the parking area. I honestly thought that it may be a natural fog drift until later on, one of the haunters showed me the HUGE industrial fog machine that was working overtime to keep the forest nice and creepy!
I was glad to see one of the college departments out selling concessions near the ticket booth. Snacks and drinks are a must if you expect people to wait long times. People were also getting into the photo op area and having a great time with it.
I was thrilled to see haunters sneaking about the long lines keeping the paying customers on their toes. Their screams were often and it just helped to build the excitement.

We headed on through to the main entrance were they had set up a Gypsy fortuneteller vardo (wagon) . People were eagerly getting their fortunes told through tarot card while vile creatures snuck up on them from behind. It was a great experience to observe and a great touch to set the mood for the actual haunt!

Through the gates of Raven Manor we went. I am still a bit awe struck when I see the huge, creepy old New Orleans style house lit up at night. We entered into the dwelling of Mama Lebow herself! 
The attention to detail in the first stop of the haunt always stuns me. Some people go back in a second of third time just to take it all in.  As always, she was in a foul mood, hurling curses and threats our way. My wife had powdered bones flung in her face as she cursed her to be the marked one….good luck honey!

After being ungraciously thrown out of Mama Lebow’s house we found ourselves wandering down a pitch black tunnel until we heard the unmistakable sounds of pipe organs and sinister snickering…we were entering the realm of the FREAK SHOW!

The old clown encampment was all wiped away and a brand new big top tent now stands in it’s place. There was a huge iron gate decorated up properly for a freak show. It was after we talked to the ring master that we found out the gates are not to keep you from entering, but rather to keep you from leaving once you did! The heavy gates were chained and locked behind us. We entered into the world of the traveling freak show…trapped in time for all eternity!

The first room in the tent has a collection of other oddities from around the globe. Dried mermaids, misshapen and horned skulls, skeletons of exotic beasts and even a snake lady!  

There were shrunken heads on the wall that whispered and laughed at you as you walked past. There was also a very twofaced guy who really like my wife’s face!

The next section of tent is made up of an exotic doll collection. Dolls of every shape, size, and condition littered the walls of the room.

  Some of the dolls were life size and even moved and talked. All of them were broken. Cracked porcelain faces, burned dresses, one of the life size dolls had its back broken badly by some rough play.

As we turned down the offer to “stay and play forever and ever” with the dolls, we entered into the true rulers of this realm…the clowns!

I have never seen so many clowns crammed into one area. Tall, short, funny and mean, they were all over the place. Laughing, screaming, dancing, clilmbing….it was overwhelming to say the least. A word of advice, don’t listen to the clowns! They will trick you and die laughing! We were lucky to find our way out and continued on.

We came upon row after row of corn stalks and the sounds of banjo music drifted through down the path. We found ourselves on the Haunted Farm of the forest. 

The wretched and twisted family that runs the farm were all in attendance including their scarecrow, Chompy, who likes to run around and chase humans rather than crows.

 We also had the misfortune of meeting their new “dog”. A 7 foot were wolf who easily stepped over the fences that surrounded the farm to chase us down. We had to go through the barn “which I am pretty sure was on fire” as the hellbillies whooped and hollered at us while we tried to navigate the old barn and to freedom.

After being chased by a 7 foot werewolf and a chainsaw wielding scarecrow, we found ourselves at the entrance to the infamous Queens Dungeon! 

This heavily fortified entrance leads down into the twisting underground corridors where Mama Lebow locks up hapless women whom she imagines has been lovers of her husband. Once the Guard Captain lets you in, you are at the mercy of “The Sisters”.

 A few minutes in and it is easy to see the torture and abuse these women have endured for untold decades. Some of them even being hung from their feet as punishment.

 It does not take long for the sisters to figure out you are “new blood” and they try everything in their power to get you to stay…even showing you a nice new cell that you can call your own.

 We luckily slipped past the sisters and their offer of eternal kinship and headed onwards…to the realm of the dead!

The Mausoleum stands as one of the most foreboding structures in the forest. The graveyard surround it have obviously been disturbed by things digging up and digging out! The Caretaker of the Mausoleum warns you that the undead are trying to crawl out of the ground and some of them have already gained their freedom.  

The large gate is there mostly to keep the zombies in and away from the other inhabitants of the forest. Moving quickly through the crypts and vaults is not easy as all manner of undead moan and snarl at you from every corner.

 There is no eternal rest here for these poor creatures. There is even a pitiful zombie bride, forever looking for her groom.

 We dodged past the gnashing teeth and clawing hands to the exit and continued on to a small Cabin.

Camp Crystal Lake Cabin rentals. Not the most welcoming sight. There is simply no way to go around and the path leads right to the front door. Inside I was very unhappily surprised to find a machete wielding, hockey mask wearing man who used his impressive size to literally burst through the cabin walls and run right at us! 

Running for our lives we hit the exit to the back where we encountered a horrible site.  A poor soul who has been skinned alive! 

The skinned man had his tendons cut so he was reduced to crawling around on the ground like a crab. The pain of his suffering must have driven him mad as he chased after us with great speed! We wasted no time in putting the cabin and it’s nightmare inhabitants behind us.

The smell of burning hair and rotten meat hits you in the face as you find yourself and the Corpse Café.  We entered only long enough to see the macabre daily specials and move on. One of the “cooks” gave my wife a ticket that simply states “Run Piggy!” We were grateful to leave the café and it’s putrid odors behind us.

We walked a good while before we found the next twisted area of our Haunted Forest Tour. Old blood covered signs pointed us to the slaughter house. 

The stock yards were full of half butchered creatures…some 4 legged…most the 2 legged kind. 

We were set upon by well-hidden workers who called us “piggy” and herded us towards the slaughter house.

Inside the refrigerated slaughter house, we were beset by the most unimaginable sights known to man. 

The floors were slick with blood. Half butchered meat (some of it still moving) were piled on the tables, counters and floors.

 A hapless girl was chained to the wall as they prepared her for “processing”. My wife upset one of the butchers and we were told ,”You better run!” 

We did not wait to be asked twice as the unmistakable sounds of chainsaws being cranked up came from behind.  

What the customers are saying!

This year I had 3 non biased people enter the haunt again and asked them to fill out a quick survey on what they thought of it afterwards. These people are like “Secret Shoppers” for the haunt’. Below you will read direct quotes they answered.

QUESTION #1- What is your overall opinion of The Haunted Forest this year?
SS1 : “It was great as always! I was disappointed it is the same story line as last year but there were so many people in it this year! I am also glad you could buy pop this year while you waited.”
SS2: “I only go for my wife and kids. It was good.  The line was a little crazy but my family enjoyed themselves.
SS3: “Fantastic! They did such a good job! Best year yet. I almost chickened out at the last minute and I am glad I did not!”
QUESTION #2: What was your favorite thing about this year’s Haunted Forest?
SS1: “I really liked the Circus area! Mostly because it was new. The creepy things were really interesting to look at and the clowns were so in your face! The Dungeon was pretty scary this year too!”
SS2: “I liked Barn. Those guys cracked me up. They put a lot into it and it was great watching my wife squirm and hide from them. I also like that skinned dude. My little girl liked the werewolf”
SS3: “Everything. I love the little detail things in the witch house (Raven Manor). My kids love the graveyard and the zombies.  The Freak Show was pretty good. I did not expect all the weird things in there. I really like the butcher shop at the end. That is some intense acting!”

QUESTION #3: What do you think they could do better?
SS1: “The graveyard crypt area did not have anybody out in the graves. That would have been great getting stuck by the gate trying to get in while zombies come after you.”
SS2: “Been going for a few years now. Would like to see something other than voodoo stuff. Clowns don’t do it for me either or the café.
SS3: “The Café was kind of low key for me. The witch house (raven manor) should have more people in it other than the queen. Change up from voodoo theme or have the queen do some different things,”
QUESTION #4: what would you like to see in the future?

SS1: “Bring back old school Halloween things. Ghosts, Vampires, and witches!”
SS2: “I wouldn’t mind some kind of escape room type puzzle or like a series of doors to choose from. Something different that makes you have to think. I personally like movie monsters like Frankenstein, Jason and Michael Myers”
SS3: “More Ghosts! The Ghost Bride in the Graveyard was a good start! More zombies!”
QUESTION #5: Will you be going back and will you suggest it to your friends?
SS1: “I will be going back this weekend with more friends. You can’t just go once!”
SS2: “I think we are done for the year. I did not think my wife was going to go back this year because she was so scared last time!”
SS3: “I will be going back every weekend. You never see the same thing twice and I want to get a better look at the freak show stuff.”

Now for the review!

·         Great parking! Well lit and monitored location.

·         The location is creepy! Great ambiance and the creepy fog was coming through the forest to the parking lot.

·         Entertaining the line. Refreshments, porta potty, photo ops, fortune teller, Scary movie projectors and actors keeping the scare going for those waiting. Well done!

·        It takes between 15 to 20 minutes to make it through the haunt depending on what you run into.

·         Great acting this year! Notably from the Clowns, Ringmaster, Dolls, Zombies, Sisters in the Dungeon, Farm, Werewolf, Jason,  and the Slaughter House!  I witnessed so many great interactions with the customers!

·         Not a single instance of street clothing, cell phones, or mask/makeup mistakes! Really Great costumes! Everybody looked amazing this year, notably clowns, Dolls, Zombies, Gatekeeper, Zombie Bride, and skinned man!

·         Manpower! This is usually an opportunity for the haunt but they were staffed to the gills. It really showed in the group experience!

·         Sound effects were on point and fit the area. Most of the dread is in the sounds before you actually enter an area.

·         Lighting was near perfect. Lots of completely dark areas and others lit exactly where it needed to be!

·         Love the hearse ticket booth. It just adds to the whole experience.

·         The groups loved interacting with the fortune teller.

·         Photo op was great and I saw man people using it.

·         Set design was superb! The decoration were really well done as were the props.

·         The haunters really put there all into it. I saw so many of them pulling double even triple job duties to really scare the customers.

·         The behind the scenes logistics is like a well-oiled machine. The Forest knows where you are at all times and can pinpoint issues and trouble in an instant. Just know this…you are being watched at all times… joke!

·         Groups were kept within optimal parameters and haunters were on que and timely with their appearances. I have never experienced crowds who were constantly scared like I did this year.

·         Fog machines were really doing their jobs! Must be some premium fog juice to produce the quality of fog like I saw.

·         Teamwork – Haunters really worked together to make the best of it for the groups and it paid off!

  • There were mixed reactions to the Mausoleum. Some people complained that there was nothing in the graveyard and some totally freaked out because there was a zombie/ghost bride there.
  • The first scene at Raven Manor felt rushed to me. If it’s a time constraint they are trying to meet, it is better to say less and say it well than to speed through everything.
  • Overheard several people in the line and at the booth asking “do they have a t-shirt?” Novelty items to remember the haunt would be a good seller in my opinion.
  • Café scene seemed a bit rushed with not much interaction from what I observed.
  • Consistency from start to finish. Some of the customers have told me they noticed some scenes missing haunters or they went through twice and people were not where they should be.

Now lets see how MECC The Haunted Forest ranks up on a 1 to 5 scale for the 2017 season! 

5 out of 5
From the moment you drive up and see the fog, the skeletal horse drawn hearse, and hear the sounds of the are prepared for an experience. One of the best haunted atmospheres I have experienced at a local level. This group really goes out of their way to set the mood!
5 out of 5
Cindy Ringley and her Ghoul Crew have outdone themselves on costume and makeup this year. Some of their makeup and costumes are movie ready in my out FACEOFF!
Really great really believable characters this year! No issues with cellphones, street clothes, or mask issues! A few of the ones that really stood out were the clowns, the zombies, dolls skinned man and werewolf.
5 out of 5
Part of the fun is being able to hear things while standing in the dark line waiting to be the next victim. Sound systems were terrific. The selection of sound effects were paired perfectly with the environment they were chosen for. Even the haunters screaming and moaning as well as the well times banging , scratching and thumping make sore a great experience audibly. I did miss hearing names being called out over the PA in a creepy voice but that in no way diminishes a great system.
5 out of 5
All the hard summertime work really paid off this year. The ticket booth is nearly a movie ready prop in and of itself.  The Freak Show begs for people to linger and take it all in. The lighting and the designs of the structures are really awe inspiring. Not only the actual scene areas but I noticed vast improvements to he pathways and logistics as well. The craftsmanship and time that goes into things like the various heavy metal gates is mind boggling. Not to mention the various hidden hideaways and secret passages the haunters can use to get ahead of groups or run between scenes for added scare!
4.5 out of 5
While a lot of things The Haunted Forest uses is main stream and "standard" for a haunted attraction, the Forest puts it's own unique spin on it. From the story line and continuity throughout to the new and sometimes shocking scenes and costumes. The Freak Show was really great in it's execution and the skinned man crawling on all fours really got to me! They never cease to amaze me how they keep things original and new season after season.
4.5 out of 5
I really want to applaud this years crew. They did an outstanding job. People were REALLY into their characters. I witnessed actors helping out with other scenes, scratching on shutters, banking on the walls, screaming...they really went all out to make this a memorable event for customers! This is probably on of the best years for this crew! Tiny inconsistencies in just a few areas kept this from being a 5! Some of the better performances were The entire Freak Show area, Farm, Dungeon, Skinned man, Jason, Werewolf, and the Slaughter House!
4.5 out of 5
Never have I witnessed group after group being consistently scared. Bravo to the Ghoul Crew! There were grown men running for their lives. I heard people begging for it to stop. Most groups RAN from scene to scene just to get a break from the horrible things they were experiencing. If I had a dollar for every shriek of terror I heard that one night...well I could go on a nice vacation! Manpower and superior acting really played into this! The Slaughter house and the Freak Show and Cabin area really delivered! Only a few minor issues with staffing and some disappointing comment from customers keep this from being a solid 5.
4.5 out of 5
There is nothing out of the ordinary for people to go back every weekend in October. There is so much to see, there is no way to take everything in on just a couple of visits. Customers also brag about how things subtly change from night to night. People change out. Characters are in a little bit different section or change up what they do in a scene. I have even received feedback that sometimes the haunters recognize that the customers are returning and purposely change it up for them. You can't beat that! The only thing keeping this from a perfect 5 is the wait time. Wait times tend to set people up for one visit sometimes for the season. Truly, it is a good problem to have!


Click below to view the Wicked Walkthrough Experience!

The best 13 minutes you will spend this October!

So grab your family and friends and head on over.

Make it a Halloween Tradition.

You will not regret it!

1 comment:

  1. Mountain Empire Haunted ForestOctober 17, 2017 at 10:12 AM

    Thanks for the review! I know this takes a lot of time and effort to produce and the MECC Ghoul Crew is always appreciative!! WicKed Review!!!!


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