Shocktoberfest, located in Sinking Springs, PA is a unique zombie-centric “scream-park” that features numerous attractions, midway games, food options and photograph opportunities in an urban setting. Open since 1991, this longstanding attraction features a multitude of entertainment options and one of the most intense indoor walk-through attractions we have ever visited, “Prison of the Dead.” If you are a fan of zombies, then Shocktoberfest is a dream (or nightmare) come true as most of their attractions feature the walking dead. Despite a lackluster hayride and issues related to staffing/operations which we will delve into further, Shocktoberfest is an enjoyable haunt, featuring quality attractions that are worth your time. While not for everyone, Shocktoberfests’ “Zombie Safari Hayride” is well developed from a theme standpoint and one that will certainly be appreciated for fans of such series as “The Walking Dead.”
As one arrives at Shocktoberfest the layout of the attractions themselves is quite confusing and at times staff members are less than helpful in guiding unfamiliar guests. As we have not visited Shocktoberfest in several years, we found the layout of the attractions slightly confusing but after a brief walk-through had a better feel for the property and how we were going to approach each attraction. Shocktoberfest features three “traditional” haunted attractions; “Zombie Safari Hayride”, “Prison of the Dead”, “Unknown 2.0”, and several miscellaneous activities including “Ground Assault (zombie-themed laser tag), a zombie paintball addition to the hayride, a become a “zombie” actor experience and zombie mud run.” “Club Shock” hosts a variety of bands and numerous events that allow for guests to relax and enjoy their time in between the variety of attractions hosted at Shocktoberfest.
Zombie Safari Haunted Hayride
“Zombie Safari Hayride” a zombie-inspired haunted hayride featured at Shocktoberfest that ended up being our least favorite attraction of the evening. As a disclaimer, it is possible that this attraction is far more enjoyable if you are a diehard fan of the “zombie” theme, and television shows that are still are popular. Initially, the attraction starts off a with an impressive representation/tribute to “Jurassic Park” coupled with a zombie theme and the early design rivals scene designs featured at Universal Studios. A brief storyline (which is supposed to be funny and campy but falls far short of its goal) gives way to an impressive opening scene a “zombie containment” unit that actually gave us hope on the concept. However, what occurs after is a series of similar sets, most which are designed to be abandoned areas, toxics waste zones etc. lacking the details of other hayrides visited so far, and endless “zombies” which are far from terrifying. Don’t get us wrong, the make-up quality of rotting flesh and scare-acting of each character is excellent, as they work tirelessly to garner reactions, but it falls completely flat. “Zombie Safari Hayride “is a lengthy ride, has some moments of entertainment but feels very bland and even the additional “paintball” experience does not seem to add much life to the journey. Again, perhaps if you enjoy endless hordes of zombies essentially making the same noises, or some without t-shirts jumping on wagon you will enjoy this hayride, however, unfortunately, it just does not stack up to its competitors.
Shocktoberfest’s design decision to go “all-in” with the zombie theme and “Zombie Safari Hayride” appeal is limited by the scope the theme’s popularity and “zombies” still hold a certain appeal in mainstream media. The acting was not an issue in terms of style as the zombies uttered inhuman sounds and some were lumbering while others were aggressive, but it limited their roles in how they could interact within the context of each scene. According to the “storyline” several zombies were “enhanced”, but it was hard to differentiate between the classifications of zombies throughout the show.
What hindered our enjoyment of the attraction is related to issues associated with staffing and management. While on the hayride multiple people were on their cell phones, some taking bright pictures and others were using electronic cigarettes. Others decided to insult the actors (who worked extremely hard in their performances) and this type of behavior hurt the overall show. A stronger emphasis on rules will allow guests to experience the show at its highest level. Most people do not spend their money to watch adults and teenagers insult actors, smoke and use their cellphones. Stricter enforcement is needed to respect the guests as well as the hard-working actors and staff.
Prison of the Dead
While we are critical of “Zombie World Park”, we cannot say enough positives about “Prison of the Dead”. After a short ride on a dilapidated prison bus, we entered into a massive, custom-built prison facility that feels almost authentic as other real-life abandoned institutions such as “Eastern State Penitentiary”. Every single hallway and room is gritty, is designed to create fear and torment the senses. “Prison of the Dead” combines the best aspects of indoor haunted attractions with maze-like features that force guests to escape infected prisoners, demented guards and officers and numerous “prisoners” used as medical experiments, strung upon gurneys moaning for help. Authenticity is key here, as one feels as though they truly are in a semi-abandoned prison, having to escape through holes, in sewage pipes and through tight corridors all while being stalked by insane scare actors. “Prison of the Dead” is not only terrifying as one feels at the mercy of the structure itself that has an eerie presence, an indescribable feeling that itself is “alive” and designed to scare each guest. A level of mature intensity is absolutely shocking as some of the scenes are not only gore intensive but feature some of the finest actors at “Shocktoberfest” each portraying gruesome victims who seem enjoy the confines of the abandoned penitentiary.
“Prison of the Dead” utilizes an extremely effective technique, of what we call “lights on, lights off.” A variety of horrific characters appeared out of thin air as lighting goes from black to bright, and some scare actors use this technique so effectively it is impossible to know where they are. For example, in the prison’s boiler room, one character appeared in front of our face, behind us, and behind a boiler within a matter of seconds, creating a unique effect that is unsettling and masterful at building fear. An outdoor prison “yard” is equally as detailed and authentic as the prison itself, and those inmates that roam the yard are aggressive in their pursuit of each guest. Not many attractions are designed as effectively as “Prison of the Dead” and we feel this is worth the trip alone to Shocktoberfest.
“Unknown 2.0” is a classic haunted house attraction that targets a variety of “phobias” of each guest. such as clowns, fear of spiders, bees, snakes etc. Unknown 2.0 has vastly improved over its prior incarnation and is not only fun but at times terrifying. Moments of complete darkness are utilized effectively to maximize the effect of each “phobia,” and use of other sensory triggers such as “smell” create legitimate feelings and reactions (the smell of rotting flesh, for example, permeated one particular scene). Several rooms are absolutely chaotic, such as an intense encounter with circus clowns, and a creepy dollhouse where marionettes seem to come to life. Unknown 2.0 is a joy for those who enjoy sensory based attractions and can quickly turn into a complete nightmare as one becomes immersed in the set designs each targeted at augmenting fear. As the 3D-intro show was not operating we found the scene specific storylines and soundtracks to be almost an “Easter egg” or tribute to the “Unknown’s” first incarnation. As one would be plunged into darkness the sounds of a professor talking to his understudy bellowed throughout the darkness almost taunting guests to face their fear. Intricate details in each room, again focused on targeting specific fears from the “buzzing” of bees, to the slithering feeling of invisible “snakes” added to the experience which certainly was an impressive upgrade from the original “Unknown” attraction and one of the scariest at Shocktoberfest.
Ground Assault: Zombie Laser Tag
“Ground Assault” is a shockingly entertaining mini-attraction pitting two teams against each other as well as a slew of zombies who are “bonus” targets. A fairly basic game, numerous places to hide and an emphasis on teamwork made the experience entertaining and a great way to pass time in between formal attractions.
The Final Word
Shocktoberfest’s hayride may be lacking compared to its competitors but overall the entire “scream-park” package presented is a solid night of Halloween entertainment. Quite frankly, the “Prison of the Dead” is that terrifying, that authentic and that “immersive” we recommend a visit on this one attraction alone. Not many attractions on such a large, professional scale can make one feel so alone, yet constantly paranoid like “Prison of the Dead” and at times we sincerely questioned if we could go any further. Not only does “Prison of the Dead” feature some of the finest scare-actors at Shocktoberfest, but the design, scale and special effects utilized to create genuine reactions and fear are top-notch. Clocking in at over thirty minutes in length, “Prison of the Dead” is an overload of fear and truly an experience that left us with or jaws dropped. We hope to see a revamped hayride next season as well as stronger staff support and management oversight of those who purposely ruin shows. With that addressed Shocktoberfest can truly offer the “total package” of Halloween entertainment and we look forward to visiting again next season.