Circle of Screams, located on the grounds of the famous “Circle Drive-In” in Dickson City, PA, has one of the most complicated and perplexing histories of any haunted attraction in recent memory. Perhaps no other haunted attraction has undergone so many “creative” changes in direction as this haunt, which is now in its seventh season instead of thriving, the attraction is limping along and, in some ways, has hit its lowest point. Now not all is bad or negative at Circle of Screams, as the scare-actors and actresses work harder than perhaps any other in the industry to get the most out of an attraction that is in desperate need of investment, structural repair, and a brand-new long-term direction. A few seasons ago the haunt management invested heavily in quality “acting” and character design/make-up fx, and these aspects once again shine at Circle of Screams. However, it is now even more apparent that there seems to be a lack of focus on the attraction from a structural and growth standpoint and with hardly any social media reviews, and an attraction that looks at times it is falling apart it is a sad display and pales in comparison to local and regional competitors. The actors and management that put together the deserve a grander stage to perform on, and while conceptually one can see a better direction without the tools or resources available it is an almost impossible task to execute. For $25.00 (entire haunt package) the price is way out of line for the guest experience, and we can only hope this attraction finally finds a direction that allows it to grow and prosper.
Featuring three attractions, Circle of Screams has abandoned the “Hayride of Torture,” turning most of the trail into an outdoor walk-through known as “Twizted Tales.” Other attractions featured include the return of the “Carnival of Fear 3D” tent and “Delfino Manor” which for some reason is an “add-on” attraction for an additional cost. Again, in each attraction there are some moments of genuine entertainment and fantastic acting but the overall scope, size, and presentation of each attraction really cannot compete with its closest competitor Reaper’s Revenge, and the last thing the attraction should do is remind guests of the competitor yet in some cases tries to emulate the haunt coming off as second-rate. Acting should be augmented and complemented by set design, yet at Circle of Screams, we found many cases where acting was used to try to extend the length of each attraction artificially.
Carnival of Fear 3D
“Carnival of Fear 3D” is structurally a rather short but visually impressive “clown” tent that was one of the first attractions ever featured at Circle of Screams. While a few small additions and slightly extended ending have been added, nothing really has changed, and the experience is rather short. However, the psychotic clowns work tirelessly to keep guests “trapped” in the maze, have great interactive lines, robust character design and an evident passion for their performances. Excellent acting can only make-up for so much, however, and these clowns do their best to keep people trapped but for those who have seen this attraction before only a minor change has been made.
“Twizted Tales” is an outdoor trail that was once a part of the haunted hayride attraction. The theme of the attraction is an “evil take” on famous fairy tales, and the attraction does feature some solid scenes and acting, but overall the package fall flat on its face, primarily when its closest competitor features an incredibly detailed and immersive “Alice in Wonderland” themed scene. Regardless of the competition, not much is going on during the trail, and there appear to be scenes left abandoned from the old hayride with no actor’s present. Some of the guests were confused looking into abandoned shacks or an area where a “circus” theme once stood, and nothing occurred. In addition, some of the “fairy tale” like characters did not make much sense within the context of the theme of the attraction. Before the formal “trail” itself, guests encounter a rather cheap-looking “Reaper” and then head down a bridge where swamp/werewolf type monster yells random threats. We expected far more emphasis on dark fairy tale characters instead of random actors and abandoned sets. The star and one of the highlights of this attraction is the evil Pinocchio and Geppetto scene. The quality of make-up design on Pinocchio himself is disturbing as if he indeed was “stitched” to life. Both characters are STELLAR in their roles, hilarious yet creepy, and truly embrace the overall theme and intended direction of this show. In addition, although not indeed a fairy tale, the off-color hillbilly family at the end of the trail put on quite a funny performance, leading into the “Vortex Tunnel” and conclusion of the attraction.
“Delfino Manor” continues to be the more “Intense” attraction featured at Circle of Screams with a hulking monster named “Tiny” and other scare actors that work their asses off to use physical acting and mature themes to generate scares. “Delfino Manor” has several disturbing scenes and feels gritty, almost rundown, and a place where nightmares can come to life. By FAR the most potent attraction at Circle of Screams, the experience, if longer, would be far more worthwhile and likely boost the perception of the attractions. Using a former chain-maze (once called “Maze of Torment”) as a part of its structure hinders the overall quality of the custom-built indoor portions as really the maze itself is quite easy to escape and the actors must force themselves to get guests to play “confused.” Despite this challenge, “Delfino Manor” still feels terrifying at times, with excellent use of blood and gore and really an intense experience mainly due to the quality and physicality of acting. If one thing can be driven home is that the actors here are prepared and try, unlike a few seasons ago when Circle of Screams had actors on cell phones, yelling “boo.” A broader, more immersive vision can be felt after visiting this attraction, and with the proper resources and growth, this could be an intense, old-school mature haunt for fans looking for mature horror.
The Final Word
While it is almost unfathomable as to why Circle of Screams continues to get “smaller” in some regards each season, there still are quite a few strengths at Circle of Screams. Strong actor performances, character designs and themes are opposed to the structural and operational mishaps that hold back this attractions growth. After this long in business, the attraction should be flourishing yet each season seems to lose relevancy. Circle of Screams does feature a great deal of “talent” for a small show, with super talented actors(overall), excellent make-up, and costume design that really makes the experience at times even more perplexing. With such talented “human capital” the attraction can be a solid competitor in the region and perhaps finally carve out its niche if management/ownership would invest more in its infrastructure, marketing/operations (some advertisements even mentioned a “hayride” still, their website has an Instagram link to a haunted attraction in Florida, online ticketing takes customers back to 2017 with NO DATES listed for this season, hayride is mentioned in the FAQ ) and long-term development. Years ago, when Circle of Screams first launched, it clearly had a spirit and a mission to be a significant player in the haunt industry and grow bigger each season. However, much of the first-year scenes/sets still are in place, and it is a miracle that the team can pull off the generally fun show it does each year without more significant investment. We hope each new season brings a renewed emphasis on trying to develop and launch a first-class show, and so much potential is already available, maybe in 2020 Circle of Screams will begin to move in a growth direction.