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Location: 778 Broadway, Route 9W Ulster Park, NY 12487

Website: https://headlesshorseman.com

Introduction

Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses is quite possibly one of the finest destination attractions we have ever visited in the over ten years of conducting reviews. Perhaps no other haunted attraction in recent memory perfectly captured the essence of the season in such a rich, detailed, and authentic manner. We have mistakenly skipped this attraction for the past several years due to reviews online that made it seem like a lackluster event. However, after visiting this attraction (even on a jam-packed weekend), we cannot fathom how anyone who lives and breathes “Halloween,” who enjoys horror and understands what a “quality” attraction is could have a negative experience at this haunt.

Headless Horseman is celebrating 27 years of scaring and overall goes above and beyond any “scream-park” attraction perhaps in the country, creating a fall-inspired village that embraces the variety, depth, and creativity of the season in an experience that never fails to impress. Headless Horseman invests heavily in its design of each attraction with extensive custom-designed scenes and sets that are the perfect representation of one’s nightmares. With augmented and improved scare-acting and perhaps some slight creative changes this attraction will continue to be the leader in the “scare or scream park” style haunted attraction industry and truly is a special place that is one of the few must-see haunts each season.

From a design perspective, there is meticulous attention paid to the “customer experience” as Headless Horseman offers non-stop entertainment, food, and gift options throughout the evening. The ominous, dark forest of Ulster Park, NY is the perfect backdrop for this iconic event that we cannot express enough is of the most exceptional quality. Embracing diversity in attraction design while maintaining an almost mystical spirit, this is one attraction that has earned its right to be heralded as one of the very best in the country.  Not to sound cliché or corny, but Headless Horseman is a magical place (not to sound cliché) an exceptional masterpiece of horror art that is built on a foundation of history and commitment to quality. Embracing the season and celebrating Halloween, Headless Horseman has perfected the art of a massive scare-park, providing “something for everyone” with numerous detailed attractions and entertainment options.

The Attractions

Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses features a total of ten total attractions starting off with the “Haunted Hayride.” Each season a new “story” is interwoven into the attractions, and this season generally features a pirate-themed story featured on the hayride called “A Deal with the Devil.”  Despite hosting ten attractions, some are shorter than others, but the diversity in themes and styles again allows for the overall attraction to cover a vast array of interests and target specific fears of a large number of guests that attend the show each season.

Haunted Hayride: A Deal with the Devil

Headless Horseman’s “Haunted Hayride” is a journey into a series of impressive sets that are set to a specific theme each season. What is unique about this hayride is the use of “magic tricks” in several scenes, which adds a sense of mystique to the attraction. The hayride is “narrated,” and guests are placed on a traditional wagon allowing their legs to “dangle” off the sides. While this is a unique effect, it prevents guests from totally seeing the show, and some guests are forced into the center of the attraction which hurts the immersive experience. Furthermore, the sets, while highly detailed are not as large and as immersive as some of the attraction’s competitors, but this also allows for the atmosphere of the forest to play a more significant role in the “creepy” factor of the hayride. Each season Headless Horseman embraces a new theme, and the” Haunted Hayride” tries to tell the story of “Captain Kidd” who made a “Deal with the Devil” for treasure and bounty.

Due to the seating arrangements, the storyline itself is somewhat hard to follow, as guests need to contort themselves to look at maps and follow the narration. Furthermore, the appearance of the undead “Headless Horseman” himself doesn’t exactly fit with a “pirate theme,” but overall the “Haunted Hayride” is an enjoyable experience that just does not hit the same level of quality or immersion as the subsequent walk-through attractions. The few scare-actors featured on the attraction do a great job at playing their roles, and we especially enjoyed how the “chainsaw” maniacs are effectively hidden in the deep dark woods going unseen. “Haunted Hayride” separated from the haunted houses is far easier to judge as one of the better in the industry. Despite our minor issues with the seating setup, and a need for perhaps more scenes the overall atmosphere is creepy and the sets themselves have dimension and are filled with life. Perhaps it is a matter of preference, but the hayride does lay a solid foundation for the entire experience at Headless Horseman which again is perhaps the perfect package of Halloween inspired entertainment.

Lunar Motel

“Lunar Motel” is twisted-time warp, taking guests back to a grungy, gritty 1970’s style abandoned hotel that is ravaged with death and twisted images of serial killers and violence. Authenticity drips from each room as the period-specific decorations and props create a motel atmosphere that is unlike any other attraction we have ever visited. Numerous “haunted hotel” attraction themes exist, but “Lunar Motel” truly captures a feel and time place unlike any other. Relying heavily on its set and gruesome prop design to create fear, this would be the perfect display for more interactive scare-actors are each room of the motel is genuinely disturbing and filled with vile, violent imagery. “Lunar Motel” is a genuinely demented experience, a lengthy first walk-through attraction, and truly takes guests back in time with no little detail unaccounted for. Violent murder scenes in bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways are around each corner, odd smells emanate from each room, and a sense of tension builds from scene to scene. From “Richard Nixon For President Posters” to vintage tube televisions, the “atmosphere” of “Lunar Motel” comes to a horrific life and is one of the best “hotel” themed attractions in the industry. Broken down cars, vintage 70s era signage adorn this wonderfully designed and disturbing attraction, the perfect start to the walk-through Haunted Houses featured at Headless Horseman.

Nightshade Greenhouse

“Nightshade Greenhouse” is a brief visit through a plant-horror attraction, featuring the theme that mutated plants are now hungry for human flesh. Featuring a scare-actress who tries to “spray” guests with plant growth spray, the attraction is rather brief yet highly detailed featuring life-like animals, bubbling, boiling “chemicals” and creepy sounds that do create a sense of tension and make guests feel uncomfortable.

Glutton’s Diner

“Glutton’s Diner” is an authentic, 1950’s era diner bathed in blood and gore, which is another strong walk-through attraction featured at Headless Horseman. The first cries of help from the “undead” patrons give way to a twisted, hilarious off-color scare-actor “chef” in the “kitchen” and creepy, brutal butcher scenes filled with squealing pig noises; jump scares and an overall set design that is very serious in tone and genuinely scary. The gruesome nature of the scenes and the sensory triggers such as feeling the “cold” air of a “meat locker” create a sense of immersion, and “Glutton’s Diner” is a unique attraction that combines reality with horror. One feels as those they are in a classic diner, yet the surrounding violence and grotesque nature of the scare-actors featured create such a creepy feeling everything blends rather horrifically in an entertaining experience.

Mama Rose’s Swamp Shack

“Mama’ Rose’s Swamp Shack” appeals to those who are afraid of “voodoo” style themes and is a short yet detailed trip through a simulated “bayou.” The entire attraction is rather short in nature and does have some small scenes with a few scare-actors and a voodoo-priestess are featured, but the experience was quickly over. There is a sense of dark humor used in the “bayou” themed attraction and again level of set detail is second to none. Perhaps a lengthier version of this attraction would be more effective as we found the experience rushed.

Evil Reaping

“Evil Reaping” is a unique take on the classic “corn maze” concept where scare-actors do a great job of hiding in the stalks and actually “moving” props to create jump scares mixed with real interactions. A brief trip leads into one of the more intense scenes at Headless Horseman, the site of a violent ax- murder, in which a psychotic “wife” has put an end to her “husband.” Set in a barn-like chapel, the brief scene is unique, theatrical, and one of the more intense scenes along this lengthy trail. “Evil Reaping” masters the “jump” or startle scare and really presents a secure theatrical experience encountering the slightly creepy ax-wielding wife. “Evil Reaping” features STRONG and intense acting, and the cornstalks are the perfect way to hide “scare-crows” for jump scares.

Dr. Dark’s Side Show

“Dr. Dark’s Side Show” is a general carnival-themed attraction that last year did a great job at representing a “Freak Show.” While “clowns” are a staple of haunted attractions this season, there seemed to be less emphasis on the “freaks” and more on the clowns which took away from the unique style of this attraction. Still, some unique scenes make the experience engaging (such as the invisible man), but we would like to see some of the “freaks” return to their midway and less emphasis on “clowns.”

Horseman’s Tomb

“The abandoned graveyard behind the Crow Hollow Orphanage doesn’t have a name.  It has earned the nickname “Witch Cemetery” by the stories the nuns told the orphans to keep them from running away.” Following this introductory sequence is the demonic, and genuinely terrifying descent into the “Horseman’s Tomb.” Surrounded by candlelight and “hooded” guards, the sense of fear created by the entire tomb atmosphere, the genuine demonic imagery, and special effects associated with the “Horseman’s coffin” itself is practically perfect. While not a lengthy attraction, it is designed to really create an unsettling feeling, and many of those who walked through with us could not wait to leave. The catacomb-like structure itself is just unnerving and conveys a sense of dread, which is again generated slowly by set and scene design. “Horseman’s Tomb” is a frightening mini attraction that really highlights the level of scenic intensity in set design. Walking towards the “coffin” is an ominous experience and we witnessed other guests run to get away from the psychological terror built up by this attraction’s design.

The Feeding

“The Feeding” is one of the final two walk-through attractions and is an intense biological facility where surgeries have gone drastically wrong, and many of the “patients” are now treated in what is best described as a sci-fi infused mental asylum. Some of the most impressive and intense scenes are featured in “The Feeding” from gruesome surgical rooms to rows of genetically enhanced “mutants” trapped in incubation; this is an intense, detailed attraction.  With such rich detail and massive set designs, “The Feeding” could benefit from more scare actors that interact with guests and add to the already chaotic nature of the attraction. Generally, the only real interaction we came across with scare actor wise was in a “maze” like sequence, but for the most part, the attraction is heavily influenced by prop, theme, and animatronic usage. While augmented “scare acting “could really turn this attraction into a particular place, it still is one of the most realistic representations of a sci-fi/evil “medical facility” that has been a typical staple of many haunted attractions. Careful thought is obviously placed into the design and structure of each scene and allows for a balance of “gore” and “science fiction” to intertwine.  Each scene is highly detailed, with freakish displays of medical horror and scientific exploitation and “The Feeding” is designed to be an intense, lengthy experience that once again displays the overall “excellence” in presenting diverse themes that fall under the “horror” genre.

Two Raven’s Manor

“As an English colony, the banks along the Hudson River were a friendly haven for pirates in the 1700’s.  Many found their uncharted creeks and streams ideal places to hide, setting up homes in wooded areas.  Access to the Hudson River was important for those running from the law, and establishing a homestead allowed pirates to conceal their ill-gotten treasures.” “Two Raven’s Manor” is a classical style haunted house that takes guests back in time to the era of “Jack the Ripper.” “Two Raven’s Manor” feels authentic, taking guests back in time, and successfully building a “city” within the darkness of the larger attraction’s property. Guests will visit a “classical” haunted mansion leading into a lively midtown area, a cursed “village” from colonial times. Embracing the theme started with the hayride, “Treasure Hunters,” trapped mansion staff and evil doctors roam the manor and variety of scenes entice guests featured in this richly detailed attraction. A transformative experience is a great way to describe how this attraction “builds” a world lost in time, from a ravenous tavern to an authentic shipyard/dock scene, every set is designed to tell a story and with a few more interactive actors could really thrive due to its unique style. “Two Raven’s Manor” effectively uses mirror tricks to simulate a cityscape experience and diversity in set design, taking guests out of the house into the world itself created by this period piece. “Two Raven’s Manor” immerses each guest in a world of classical, European-era violence and focuses on its authenticity and realism in keeping with its time period and style which again is a strong point of all the attractions of Headless Horseman, a commitment to detail and first-class quality in attraction design.

The Final Word

While we genuinely enjoyed our stay at Headless Horseman, and believe it is one of the finest haunted attractions one could EVER visit. While we would love to see more “scare-actors” especially in such incredibly detailed walk-through attractions and some upgrades to the hayride, the sheer scope, and level of detail featured overall is almost unfathomable. Perhaps no other attraction captures the “feel” and “spirit of the season” quite like Headless Horseman and it truly is a special haunted attraction, a must-visit destination.

From a design and creative standpoint, each attraction is custom designed and “authentic” based on specific themes and scene structure. While some “attractions” are longer than others, the diversity in the experience itself creates a sense of non-stop action, and the flow from each attraction to the other for the most part prevents any line back-up or stalling. Lasting over an hour-long, the entire experience is a perfect representation of the Halloween season, which could be enhanced even with some creative and perhaps structural changes. For example, despite the authenticity and quality of set design and Hollywood quality props, there is minimal “scare acting” in each attraction. Most of the actors (some are exceptions) generally would have limited lines and limited interactions with guests. The quality of acting seemed to vary depending on the role and the theme of each attraction. For example, in a chilling graveyard scene, the actors did a great job at generating “misdirection” scares, and we loved the characters featured in the “diner” and the “ax murderer” but others would simply just stare at guests, and some seemed afraid to interact. Additional scare actors or styles of acting can be utilized to develop a stronger timing system between each attraction, keeping groups small and focused which allows each customer to experience a truly incredibly designed show.

As mentioned previously, Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses features ten connected attractions starting off with the famous “Haunted Hayride” and finishing off with its newest attraction, “Two Raven Manor.” While the interconnected line system, for the most part, works, at times, depending on group pacing and crowds, guests do “run into” each other, but despite a sold-out show on an opening evening, this rarely occurred. We were lucky enough as a small group to pace ourselves in a manner that prevented the dreaded “conga line” effect which we feel always takes away from the immersion of a quality haunted attraction. As a combined package, the entire presentation is the “almost” perfect experience, and with a few structural and creative changes this attraction can reign as one of the top-rated and most visited in the country. We will discuss our suggestions for change and growth as we provide an overview of each attraction, but overall, there are few if any attractions that can match Headless Horseman’s size, scope, and entertainment value. Each season the attractions adopt a “theme” which is generally featured in the “Haunted Hayride” but also permeates throughout each of the various walk-through haunts as well.

“Haunted Hayride,” which we found to be a conflicting attraction as portions were richly detailed and others seemed to need an upgrade,  is designed for guests to sit on the outside with feet dangling. Now, this style of hayride is used elsewhere, but each wagon was packed to the maximum, forcing guests into the center aisle, which hurts the overall show and prevents guests from seeing the storylines develop and take place. We also found the structures of the hayride to be a bit lacking in terms of size and scope and upgrades structurally to the hayride and perhaps a change in the style of how guests can sit and enjoy the show can breathe a brand new sense of energy into this attraction which is beginning to become secondary to the newer, more detailed walk-through attractions featured on the property. Now, this does not mean every scene needs an upgrade as by and large most were detailed, but in comparison to the walk-through attractions, the hayride can use an upgrade. Again, with some investment in terms of more significant scenes, and perhaps an increase in a number of overall actors Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses can be positioned to be the industry leader for generations to come.

The intricate thought process underlying the production of the numerous attractions featured at Headless Horseman is one of the key strengths as each separate attraction is not only entirely different but features rich, authentic details. Authenticity in the haunted attraction industry is a dying concept as many mainstream, and even smaller haunted attractions are simply buying massive props and scenes without thought. Headless Horseman strives to create “realistic” horror experiences, using vintage artifacts, and custom-built props to create a living, breathing world within the context of each attraction. Structurally and scenic wise, it is by far one of the most detailed haunted attractions one can visit, and if they only included a few more interactive scare-actors or unique characters it would be the perfect platform for theatrical scares. Managing such a beast of a property with numerous, and diverse themes is not an easy task, and Headless Horseman’s commitment to excellence and detail is one that allows it to thrive in an ever-growing competitive market. As other attractions begin to expand, and up their game with enhanced actor-driven shows, this legendary attraction would benefit by embracing a few design and creative changes so that it can be prepared to stand out amongst any haunted attraction in the country. Despite some minor suggestions for improvement, this is a must-visit attraction that has withstood the test of time. Not all the multiple attractions are for everyone, but the diversity and detail of each allow for a robust entertainment experience.

 

 

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