Nightmares are brought to life as Screamfest returns with a brand new maze and a range of great Halloween attractions and entertainment for 2018. Based at the National Forest Adventure Farm in Burton-on-Trent and located 20 miles from Alton Towers Resort. TowersTimes were invited to the preview night to be some of the first to see what this independent Halloween attraction has to offer.

The theming begins with guests greeted in the car park and drop-off point with two Halloween scenes featuring a hearse and carriage and a range of Halloween statues and decorations. It can take a little time to enter during peak periods, so it is good to arrive early as well as booking online to save money and guarantee entry, as some dates will sell out in advance.

At the heart of the scream-park is a stage with lots of seating, a range of foods outlets, a bar, and Pennywise as the DJ. Games stalls, including Hill Billy Joe’s Zombie Paintball Smash, are also available for an additional charge. During the evening the stage hosts a variety of entertainment, whilst an array of roaming characters provide scares and smiles around the park.

Screamfest features five scare mazes, with the lineup for 2018 consisting of return appearances of Dia de los Muertos, Demonica, Love Hurts, Freakout, as well as a brand new attraction for this year; Insomnia.

Demonica, features enthusiast favorite Gerry Cannell, who developed a large following playing Doctor Kelman in The Sanctuary at Alton Towers, as an attraction host. With an impressive facade featuring a fire effect as well as the creative use of water in front of the attraction, the maze takes place in almost complete darkness. After stepping through the portal, the darkness can create some excellent anticipation and some good scare opportunities, however, sections can feel clunky as guests fumble in the dark, groups can also end up catching up with others forming long chains that can lessen the impact of scares and reduce the ability to reset for the next. Whilst the end section improves the experience a little, it’s not the strongest attraction at the park, so the maze is worth completing earlier in the evening.

Dia de los Muertos is corn maze based around the Mexican Day of the Dead and starts with a tractor ride out to the entrance to the maze. The orange hues that light the corn as well as many considered theming decorations help set the scene as guests walk through an entrance lined with papel picado, the colorful paper bunting associated with the festival. Throughout there are some wonderful scenes and fantastic guest interactions. A lot of the initial scenes feel authentic, with golden flowers adorning graves and a burning fire creating a fitting atmosphere supported with the costumes and painted skull faces of the actors. The attraction descends ever darker as guests venture through the corn, however, some sections of the corn maze were noticeably missing scares. Our run also unfortunately struggled due to batching required mid-maze that undid a lot of the buildup to that point, this coincided with the point where the story became less clear. Hopefully, the guest flow will improve during the coming weeks, which could be remedied by actors controlling group movements earlier in the run. Overall the maze offers some rich theming and attention to detail and when the scares land, is a strong part of the lineup.

Freakout unleashes a circus of freaks in their twisted funhouse for Screamfest’s version of the classic clown theme. With a cast of vibrant characters, the free flow maze has guests finding their way through a range of curtains and doors, although not all are as they seem. The diversity in the actors made for a good experience, however, although there was a range of different rooms and elements, there were additional elements and techniques that could have been included, with certain areas feeling slightly sparse. The actors in our run provided some really great performances ranging from eye-popping bouncy and loud to some really dark and sinister moments, that not all might see. These sinister moments contrasted with the vibrancy and pace of the rest of the maze and helped add a texture that can be missing from other clown-themed mazes.

Set in the Diced Heart Pub, Love Hurts sees guests risking a broken heart on Professor Heart’s speed dating night. Starting with a preshow in the pub’s disgusting toilets, participants soon find themselves deep in the smell of the sewers and taking part in the professor’s tests that are sure to raise the heartbeat. The maze features energetic performances by actors who work well together to achieve some well-combined scares as well as displaying some detailed prosthetics and makeup. The maze also stands out for some of its rich, theatrical sets and theming elements as the attraction builds to its finale, where guests ready to give their heart might find their true love.

This year’s stand out attraction, is also it’s newest, as 2018 introduces Insomnia, based around a young girl called Tabitha and the white house with the red door and the red roof. Starting in the queue line guests meet Tabitha and her mother, which thanks to a range of possible routines ensure guests will have different experiences as the story is introduced, however, it’s not long before the appearance of Cracker Jack as guests quickly descend into Tabitha’s nightmare.
The maze makes effective use of practical lighting and a conservative approach to effects creates more impact through restraint, the maze plays on the mind and creates a strong emotional attachment to the vulnerability and torment of Tabitha, something that would play on parental fear and diversifies the age-range the maze targets. There is a lot of subtle details and theory woven into the attraction and performances that guests will benefit from without necessarily noticing. The maze makes use of some good effects and techniques and features some punchy scares, the story also has great symmetry and continuity with the focus around the girl and the pristine bed, as well as the persistence of the white house with the red door and the red roof.
The maze is the result of the lessons learned over 7 years of Screamfest and designed by Andy Porter (AJP Designs), who has had success in the scare and theme park design industry over the last 15 years.

Two ticket options are available; ScaredyCat, which covers entrance into the park; and the Screamfest All-in Ticket, which also includes a single admission into each of the five mazes. By having two tiers guests can enjoy the food, entertainment, and atmosphere, even if they don’t want to complete the mazes, which is ideal for families or groups of friends.

Tickets start from £9 for the ScaredyCat Ticket, whilst the Screamfest All-in Ticket begins at £19.50, which includes a discount for buying online. Prices for peak nights can reach £25 in advance, and £30 on the door, a FastTrack ticket is also available for £10 to shorten queue times, whilst parking is free of charge.

Overall Screamfest packs a good range of maze experiences with some solid and smart elements that will impress guests, a feat all the more remarkable with the park not benefiting from the larger budgets available to the more well-known attractions. The additions of the food and bar, as well as the entertainment throughout the evening, ensure a good atmosphere and Halloween experience and is well worth a visit this year, particularly to try out Insomnia.

Are you planning a visit to Screamfest this Halloween season? Make sure you share your thoughts and join in the discussion over on the TowersTimes and SouthParks Forum. Alton Towers Resort from another point of view!

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