One of the premier fall amusements and haunted attractions in the nation, Field of Screams (F.O.S.), Mountville, PA is a “scream park” embracing diversity and quality in attraction design and horror inspired entertainment. Featuring four core attractions and an almost endless array of ancillary entertainment, food, and game options, F.O.S. has mastered the “amusement” aspect, creating a festival-like atmosphere jam-packed with terror and fun. Focusing primarily on the “haunted attraction” side of the spectacle, we have always found F.O.S. to be one of the most innovative, “big budget” style events that are genuinely larger-than-life, creating diverse scares and providing horror-infused entertainment.
2020 has been a year defined by the worldwide pandemic caused by Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19). Having impacted society on almost every level, COVID-19 has left lasting stain and plague upon the psyche and perhaps the spirit of so many. It has been a year maybe that many wish to forget while spurring a desire and yearning for some form of “normalcy.” The entertainment industry has always been an outlet and source for those looking for “escapism,” but even that industry has been negatively impacted by this unrelenting pandemic. However, many in the haunted attraction industry decided to face the challenges associated with operations during this pandemic, as a way to give the public something to look forward to, a way to escape the stressors of today, and for a moment in time, enjoy the “normalcy” of the Halloween season. While theoretically noble, operating during a pandemic is a daunting challenge and a monumental task, and Field of Screams, among other leaders, has helped lead the charge to “save Halloween” in admirable fashion.
Despite the challenges associated with operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, F.O.S. presented a show that made guests feel comfortable, safe, and perhaps for a moment in time to forget the “stress” of the outside world. Implementing sanitation procedures and minor show alterations did not take away from the overall experience and show quality. We found that many of the changes implemented to enhance safety/sanitation improved each attraction. For example, we noticed the improved sound in each attraction, and high-tech animatronics/special effects complimented the actors seamlessly performing in each attraction. The attractions featured Field of Screams thrive on a “sensory-driven” experience, utilizing smells, atmospheric sound effects, gruesome imagery, and lighting effects to generate scenes of horror that bring each scene, hallway, and set-piece to “life.” Careful attention is put into each scene in each attraction, sound corresponds with visuals, and an engrossing experience is generated targeting one’s senses. From hearing “whispers” amongst the darkness to the rancid smell of rotting flesh in the mortuary, F.O.S. master’s the art of immersive, hellacious design.
COVID-19 safety precautions ensured that “social distancing” was implemented in each attraction, keeping groups together. F.O.S. utilized time ticketing to limit the number of visitors per attraction, allowing a more intense, intimate experience. Despite a few instances in which groups bumped into each other, we felt completely isolated and immersed in each attraction.
Field of Screams features a massive midway with numerous games, food options, merchandise, Escape Rooms, and photo opportunities. Four core attractions, “Den of Darkness,” “Frightmare Asylum,” “Nocturnal Wasteland,” and “Haunted Hayride” are the core attractions of Field of Screams, each offering diverse scares and fears targeting every guest’s innermost phobias and creating new nightmares.
The Den of Darkness
“The Den of Darkness is one of the original barns built on this property back in the early 1800s. This 3 1/2 story building has a dark and mysterious history. Over the past 200 + years, it has served as a barn, a farmhouse, a hotel, and the mansion estate of Francis Worth. It sat vacant for many years due to the horrific and unexplained events that occurred numerous times within the confines of its walls….”
The “Den of Darkness” is by far the most “terrifying” attraction featured at Field of Screams, a barrage of never-ending images and panic-inducing experiences that create legitimate horror. Each room, stairwell, and hallway in the “Den of Darkness” is designed to target a different fear and utilizes a wide range of sensory triggers and immersive techniques to create surreal imagery the builds apprehension and genuine fear. Sound and lighting effects augment the fear generated by the diverse themes featured along this journey. The actors (while not as many as previous seasons) compliment animatronics and numerous special effects to create scares. Upon entry, guests encounter a twisted family relaxing ominously in a parlor scene, and from that point forward, the situation takes a turn for the worst (in a GOOD way!).
Extreme attention to detail creates an immersive experience designed to disturb, from a slow-strobe light lit room full of “corpses” to an outright violent scene of human-slaughter in the “morgue” no scene is left untouched in its creative, horrific design. Psychological terror amplified by sound is masterfully utilized to build apprehension, a haunting lullaby chills the air as one encounters a sadistic “human” doll maker. When plunged into darkness, guests must escape by “listening” to the whispers of the undead.
“Emotion” and an ever-present feeling of dread is the perfect distraction tool for the actors to set up jump scares. A chaotic “finale” to the attraction featuring bloodthirsty, chainsaw yielding butchers that crave human flesh caps off a genuinely horrifying experience!
“The Applegate Mental Hospital and Asylum once housed countless unwanted, neglected, and criminally insane patients. After operating for more than one hundred years, this 4 story Asylum was condemned and abandoned in the mid-1900s. The deranged doctors, nightmarish nurses, and disturbed inmates have remained to haunt the only place they’ve known. They show no mercy to visitors who enter through its massive wrought iron gates and creak open its decrepit doors…”
“Frightmare Asylum” is designed to represent the horrors of medical experimentation “gone wrong,” guiding guests in an intense journey into madness and psychological deprivation. One of the more sadistic attractions featured at Field of Screams, the insanity begins with numerous scenes of horrific mutilation, doctors performing unnecessary experimentation, and grotesque monstrosities attached to the limbs and bodies of helpless victims. A lack of “scare-actors” in this attraction did not take away from the sensory overload aimed at driving guests to their breaking point. An intense, action-packed experience, heavy metal soundtracks inspire scenes of violence and the macabre.
Guests explore the halls of the asylum’s wards stricken with victims suffering from offensive operations and ascend to a second level that aims to put the “guest” in the center of the madness. Grotesque smells populate the tight corridors and rooms and change depending on the scene. For example, the sweet smell of “cotton candy” enriches a fluorescent “clown/circus” room, and putrid vomit-like stenches fill the “bathrooms” and confinement areas in which doctors reanimate their helpless patients. A trip, the “dentist” rounds out one’s twisted stay at the “Frightmare Asylum!”
“The Nocturnal Wasteland Haunted Forest is unlike any of the other attractions at Field of Screams. The Nocturnal Wasteland is an outdoor event where you are required to walk through a forest that is full of large-scale scenes, demented actors, impressive special effects, and HUGE scares. Nocturnal Wasteland is a fortress in the forest that is home to the most vicious and demented humanlike creatures that have ever lived.”
An architectural terror, unlike any other, “Nocturnal Wasteland,” is a post-apocalyptic nightmare plagued with desolation and despair. A jungle-gym of twisted steel, rusted metal, and nightmarish horrors of “fallout” inspired fear, “Nocturnal Wasteland” excels environmentally, an extensive, challenging outdoor trail custom-built and suspended amongst a dark forest. An eerie sense of abandonment and isolation permeates the atmosphere as there is an ever-present feeling of being watched or perhaps stalked throughout the journey.
A primarily outdoor trail, “Nocturnal Wasteland” is a custom-built outdoor dungeon, constructed out of catwalks scaffolding, abandoned vehicles (Ice Cream Trucks and school buses included), tree’s that are “alive,” a monster-infested swamp, and a variety of broken-down shacks, abandoned sewer pipes and monstrous scenes of ultimate destruction in the transformative experience of industrial horror. New sets such as a cemetery and swamp add new entertainment to the occasion, and it is always exciting to walk “above” the “Haunted Hayride” along the trail. While heavily detailed, and by far one of the most unique “outdoor” attractions we have ever visited, this is one attraction that suffered from a lack of actors. In previous seasons, we encountered countless mutants, cannibalistic hillbillies, and militant ghouls along the trail.
However, during our visit, it was rare to see any actors, and the ones who did appear only did so to create jump scares. Despite the lack of actors, the overall impressive nature of the massive outdoor structures and special effects implemented in the “wasteland” still create an unbelievable immersive experience, representing “survival” during the end of times. While still impressive, a noticeable lack of actors and “action” seemed to make the experience feel almost too “desolate” or empty. An understandable sacrifice due to COVID-19 mitigation, but with enough open space, more actors would have enhanced the attraction’s shock factor.
“Prepare yourself for the most disturbing, the most heart-pounding, and the most intense ride of your life! There is no turning back as the tractor-pulled wagons take you on a horrifying hayride into the depths of our dark and sinister cornfield. Feel the cold night air send shivers down your spine as you are attacked from all angles by the maniacal creatures who call this cornfield home.”
“The Haunted Hayride” is still one of the most impressive and enjoyable attractions featured at Field of Screams. Having undergone major technical and scene upgrades over the past two seasons, “Haunted Hayride” has become one of the most anticipated interests of the season each year. Haunted Hayride is designed as a fast-paced “scene to scene” experience with massive set designs based on various horrific themes. We noticed a significant cutback in actors this season due to operational safety efforts. Still, F.O.S. excels in the “design” aspect of each attraction, emphasizing special effects, large-scale animatronics, pyrotechnics, and quality sound to create scares.
Opening with a gruesome pig “slaughter” scene in which the carcasses of dead pigs descended upon the wagon, as “Willie the Farmer” feasted upon their entrails, developed an intense tone for the entire journey. Followed by last season’s significant addition, “S.H.A.D.E. Cryogenic Mutant Testing Facility,” which had far fewer actors, but featured hulking mutant animatronics and sci-fi inspired visual effects that far exceed industry standards. Iconic scenes from previous seasons all received upgrades this season, the “conservatory” dropped reptiles and insects on the wagon, mutants roamed the wasteland, a public guillotine “execution” scene thrilled the crowd, a nightmare circus tormented the group, and “Dirty Dan” once again protected his “moonshine” with his band of fellow hillbillies.
New for 2020 was a scene called “CHOP SHOP,” which essentially is a junkyard with massive “human” claws aimed at unsuspecting guests. “CHOP SHOP” is similar to the “Scrapyard” attraction of previous seasons and services its best purpose as a unique viewpoint for the “Nocturnal Wasteland” attraction/trail. Once again capped off by a “chainsaw” barn finale, the “Haunted Hayride” genuinely is designed with a “something for everyone” approaches to fear. While a noticeable lack of actors did hurt the intensity of the attraction at some points, and some scenes (such as a human “vortex” tunnel) could use a revamp, the “Haunted Hayride” maintains its status as one of the best in the country.
For better or worse, several of the significant scenes in the “haunted hayride” have become almost iconic, encouraging guests to participate and, in some cases, hurts the “surprise” factor associated with performances. Modifications related to attraction safety and reduced actors were noticeable in scenes such as “toxic waste dump” and “carnival.” Still, overall, Field of Screams did a fantastic job at amplifying the stage (animatronics, pyrotechnics, intricate details, and larger than life special effects) to continually push the envelope and immerse each guest in the “show.”
The Final Word
Field of Screams is one of the finest haunted attractions in the country, and despite the challenges associate with this unique season, presented a show that in some ways exceeded previous season shows. What is impressive is how each attraction featured at Field of Screams, did not suffer from significant modifications associated with safety management. Unlike haunts that rely heavily on actors, F.O.S. is heavily automated, which already gives the attraction an advantage in managing guidelines associated with COVID-19 mitigation.
Facing the challenges associated with COVID-19 head-on, the show itself was only minimally compromised, and at times we found each attraction more enjoyable due to effective line management/separation of groups. What needs to be seen to be appreciated is the level of detail, the immersive nature of each attraction, and the emphasis on sensory fear as a powerful tool to build emotional connections with each scene. Seeing massive, impressive animatronics or encountering, a visual of gruesome slaughter is amplified by smell and sound, which creates a surreal sense of reality. A destination “scream park” guests can spend an entire night enjoying the core haunted attractions, escape rooms and a variety of games/food options available, and we cannot wait to visit again this season! Field of Screams deserves the highest recommendation and recognition for its movie-quality attraction designs and diversity of scares.