Shocktoberfest, Sinking Spring, PA, presented its annual “Blackout and Hooded Hayride” event to close out the 2019 haunt season. Historically, we have had our issues with Shocktoberfest and always felt that the attraction was overhyped. The “theme” of the attractions really did not resonate with our interests in the industry. However, we decided to give the show another chance. We noticed they were advertising a unique “Blackout” event with a “hooded hayride,” which we felt was an unusual departure from the typical show. Immediately we thought that the “Blackout” event was not just a gimmick but a darker turn philosophically for the attraction. As we approached the “midway,” clowns and various carnival freaks stalked us, touched, some playfully tormented us with balloons, etc. and created an eerie, creepy atmosphere in which we felt completely isolated from the “reality” around us.  Previously we thought the midway was simply a place for local teens to be obnoxious and hangout. Still, this event really turned the environment into a “scary” almost bonus starting attraction.

Featuring three core attractions, “Hooded Haunted Hayride,” “Prison of the Dead,” and “Unknown 2.0.” Each of the three attractions encompasses a larger theme embraced by Shocktoberfest “Zombie World.” “Zombie World” itself as an overarching theme inspired by the movie/book “Jurassic Park” with “zombies” being the creatures on display. A twisted version of the iconic “Jurassic Park” movie theme bellows throughout the campus and creates a unique and fun atmosphere between each attraction. Numerous games, vendors, and extra activities such as “Zombie Laser Tag” are available, but we visited only the three core attractions on this cold evening. Each attraction starts with a “storyline” based video that is comical and adds a sense of levity to the attractions. For the most part, the videos themselves are engaging and serve to control lines and keep each attraction from becoming too crowded. While there is no suggested order, we started off with the hayride attraction and continued to the “Prison of the Damned” and “Unknown 2.0.”

Hooded Haunted Hayride

Shocktoberfest has a traditional haunted hayride that mainly focuses on a “safari” like an exploration of “Zombie World” featuring a storyline that features a genetically modified super-zombie and a crooked security guard. However, on this particular evening, we road the entire hayride with an execution-style “hood” placed over our heads. While this may sound like a strange strategy and prevent the larger scenes from being displayed, what it did do was create a constant paranoia sense, as massive sounds, pyrotechnical displays, and insane “zombies” touched and tormented each guest throughout the lengthy ride. Scare-actors did a phenomenal job at using the sensory deprivation to their advantage, and the special effects of the hayride were augmented by the little, which could be viewed. While we would like to see a balance between the scenes and “hood,” the overall experience was quite useful, and the quality of set design from a sound and special effects standpoint allowed for genuine reactions to being generated despite the almost blindness created by this unique spin on the traditional “Zombie World” hayride.

Prison of the Dead

“Prison of the Dead” may be one of the BEST indoor haunted attractions we have ever visited and continues to get longer, more authentic, and more detailed each season. Seasons ago, the attraction served as a “flag tag” type experience, but on our last two visits, this attraction has focused more on a traditional “scare-focused” approach.  “Prison of the Dead” is so authentic that it rivals “real” abandoned prisons and facilities in terms of design, scenery, and environment. From small rusty prison cells that rattle to a creepy 1940’s era soundtrack, the entire experience is awe-inspiring and times too terrifying (the attraction MASTERS the rather unclassified art of “urban decay” to create a period specific-abandoned feel to the structure).  While the attraction itself is highly detailed, the actors themselves do a great job telling mini-stories and going beyond the “zombie” style grunts and moans featured during the hayride. At times we were plunged into complete darkness, and at other times, candlelight flickered and lit each scene, creating an even more intense effect while maintaining the integrity of each detailed scene. 1940-1960’s era design can be felt around every corner, and the scenes themselves feel alive and real. Walking upstairs on rotting, rusted stairs only to be stalked by hulking-prison guard is an intimidating experience, and Shocktoberfest has created truly an unusual, truly immersive attraction that rarely gives away its secrets. From the moment the old “prison bus” drops guests off to the ending sequence, which features a long sewer/outdoor escape experience, the entire environment is transformed and genuinely builds anticipation and fear. Not enough praise can be heaped on this attraction, its aggressive and talented actors, and the overall almost near-perfect recreation of a hellacious prison that is correctly named “Prison of the Dead!”

Unknown 2.0

“Unknown 2.0” is a classical haunted attraction that aims to play on each guest’s fears and phobias. Using immersive sound, smell, and lighting effects, each scene subjects’ guests to the common most fears such as “clowns,” “snakes/reptiles,” “rats,” “bees,” “dolls,” etc.  Each room is richly designed, and the added level of darkness during the Blackout event caused even more tension as we had to carefully explore each room. Shocktoberfest puts a great deal of effort into developing a first-class “sound system,” and the lack of light augmented each little noise and, in some cases, “smell” in each of the “phobia” themed rooms. What is enjoyable about the “Unknown 2.0” is that while it is a traditional haunt, there is an entertaining almost “Disney World” like the storyline is interwoven and truly utilized to its full potential in this attraction. A mad scientist is in “charge” of the experiments to force patrons to “face their fears” and set designs to complement each phobia and add a sense of purpose to the entire attraction. Sensory scares are heightened in the dark, and we still can distinctly smell the “cotton candy” as we recall entering into the evil “carnival/clown” scene and the creepy sound of snakes hissing as we made our way cautiously through the “snake room.” The level of darkness creates a real sense of horror-immersion; scenes such as the “creepy doll” scene lit by the flickering light created a disturbing atmosphere that an otherwise typical setting would likely be ignored. Shocktoberfest’s ability to balance the “dark” with what guests should see added to the entire attraction and really helped augment the fear factor during this special evening. “Unknown 2.0” was perfectly balanced in terms of periods of darkness and visibility, adding a sense of being lost and at the mercy of the doctor and his experiments.

Shocktoberfest is by far the most surprising and one of our favorite attractions this season. We have never had such an enjoyable time at this attraction and found that the actors seemed even more focused on “scares” and on our group the entire time while visiting this longstanding event. While we are still not totally sold on the “Zombie World” theme, the attraction’s quality design, commitment to using technology and special effects to augment the show, and the overall atmosphere created by the entire scream-parks design were impressive. Unlike many attractions that do not put much thought into their end of the season “blackout events,” Shocktoberfest went above and beyond using the darkness to heighten senses and take a risk and host a unique hayride experience that really is unlike any other. Shocktoberfest was an incredible experience that really went above and beyond our expectations this season!

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