Hellstead Manor (and the “Wretched Woods”) is frightening; it is genuinely creepy and filled with a dark sense of torment augmented by the custom made set design and interactive mazes that transverse a two-attraction experience. The attraction has improved exponentially over the past several seasons; Hellstead Manor embraces “realism,” utilizing custom-built scenes, sets, and passageways of horror to bring to life a classical Victorian-style haunted house filled with horrific secrets.
A story-driven experience, the legend of “Dr. Hellstead,” who committed horrific acts of vial experimentation, is set upon the abandoned ruins of a once beautiful manor that is now gripped by the souls of those tormented and plunged into the depths of grim fear. Hellstead Manor is hauntingly beautiful, charming yet twisted/sinister; it has some of the most freakish custom-designed scenes one could ever conjure and a design that builds nonstop anticipation, moments of paranoia, and a constant sense you are being stalked around every corner. Hellstead Manor features numerous detailed rooms in line with a traditional haunted mansion, such as a library, dining room, and others juxtaposed with the more disturbing rooms of gruesome experimentation and gore.
Hellstead Manor, at first glance, may seem like a fantasy-like, theatrical experience, but do not be fooled; this is a grim, disturbing nightmare that does not rely on the typical conventions one may expect in a haunted house. A mature, custom-designed take on a “haunted mansion” concept, Hellstead Manor continues to grow each season and embrace its unique take on theatrical horror art. This season, the indoor “half” of the attraction has been dramatically expanded, featuring shockingly realistic and genuinely creepy scenes, such as a morgue, a young girl’s demented bedroom, and a room of human entrails designed to disturb. The creative design and level of detail placed into each cannot be understated, as inside the “manor,” the fear is generally set to a high point. Even witnessing the remains of the now long-dead “Dr. Hellstead” itself is a frightening experience in such a unique haunted attraction that is designed to tell a chilling story from start to finish.
Hellstead Manor is two connected “attractions,” the first being a trip through a hauntingly charming “haunted house” (the actual house features a few impressive scenes then transitions into an outdoor enclosure), and one of the most genuinely disturbing “outdoor” trails we have ever visited called “The Wretched Woods.” With more actors and continued expansion of the outdoor attraction, Hellstead Manor can continue to carve out a unique niche in the industry while focusing on “fear” as its primary design goal.
The first segment of the actual “Hellstead Manor” attraction again takes place inside the beautiful Victorian-style, chilling “haunted house” filled with horrors and unique interactive scenes that tell the tale of the cursed Hellstead family and Dr. Hellstead’s vile acts. Between numerous pathways behind the walls and in dark corridors, each room of the “manor” is disturbing, custom-designed, and filled with unique horrors that you will NOT see anywhere else. The strongest performers are featured in this twisted classical haunted mansion, and rooms such as libraries and children’s bedrooms take on a winding, evil twist. The morgue is alive with evil, bodies hang and dangle from above, and the gruesome nature leading up to the fate of Dr. Hellstead himself is an exercise in fear that builds throughout the attraction.
A maze-like enclosure, wooden planks, and rotting hallways are decorated with overgrowth of foliage, adorned with a design that embraces “abandonment” and is the perfect setting for a creepy “haunted house” style attraction. Tight corners, darkness, blinding strobe, and period lighting allow the actors to stalk and hide, creating a constant sense of fear and tension. Tattered clothing, rags, and nets strung from above add a sensory layer to the lengthy “maze” like structure and augments anticipation between each room, as one must navigate cautiously to avoid encountering the few but demented inhabitants of the manor. Each room tells the “story” of this twisted family, an evil doctor, and its now forever deformed inhabitants without being narrated. The custom-designed/created sets/animatronics and monstrosities are unlike any you will see in any haunted attraction. Twisted realism permeates the entire attraction, infused with an ever-building, almost forbearing sense of sinister evil, creating an atmosphere of fear. With more performers and those beyond short vocabulary, this can become a living, breathing house of terror unlike any other. It’s the house…..
The Wretched Woods
“The Wretched Woods” is an outdoor walking trail in the property’s dense forest. From a design standpoint, outdoor walking trails are challenging to master because you cannot control the elements and always need to be aware of “space.” Instead of purchasing giant animatronics and producing the attraction, “The Wretched Woods” is realistic, relying heavily on the unknown, disturbing moments and the environment to generate scares. Being lost in the dense, ominous forest and taunted by clearly evil, possessed beings often unseen creates a constant unsettling sense of paranoia. The demonic creatures, freakish monstrosities, or hillbillies that live along the trail are almost impossible to see and do a fantastic job of using paranoia to their advantage. Creatively, realism again dominates the presence, as everything is custom-built, from costume design to each prop and set. Disturbing, simple imagery and lighting tricks augment the already eerie atmosphere of the dark forest; at times, you will question what you see, and an emphasis on atmospheric scares over in-your-face terror builds a constant sense of paranoia.
Innovation is one of the strong points of this still-developing attraction. We cannot understate the uniqueness of the custom-designed, built from the ground up scenes featured throughout this attraction. Some scenes are shockingly gruesome; for example, we were placed in a “barn” at one point and watched mechanical horses. This encounter may sound strange, yes, and IT GETS EVEN stranger, as a monstrosity/creature of freakish origin feeds off the flesh of these victimized animals. The horrific creature not only feeds off them but as we are “let free” from this barn, the heads of impaired horses line the trail. Disturbing, gruesome, and unique, this is just one example of how dark and grim this attraction can get. Hellstead Manor continues to move away from its theatrical semi-family friendly roots to a place that, at times, will cause genuine pause and eerie creepiness that is very real.
Hellstead Manor (and “The Wretched Woods”) has once again vastly improved its entire show from previous seasons, focusing on theatrical realism, creating a dark, sometimes downright grim experience custom designed to build anticipation and fear.
What could have enhanced the experience and story is more performers. Most of the featured performers didn’t stray much from the typical haunted house screaming or yelling get out. However, one inside the attraction did a fantastic job of being disturbing. This actor warned us about what was next; he was problematic, not afraid to engage in adult-themed banter, and creepily seemed to move within the walls and was one of the best at their craft.
“Wretched Woods” could benefit from additional scenes, some more sound effects, and infrastructure upgrades to the outdoor trail itself. While spooky and eerie, walking in mud and almost sliding down a hill somewhat takes away from being lost in the horrifying atmosphere. Furthermore, some more significant scenes and “sound” could augment the already demonic nature of this practical forest walk-through. Despite these minor areas of critique, the featured performers and sets are haunting; they are disturbing, torment the mind and rob the senses of what is real and not real. Flashes of light give way to the demonic, and the outdoor “atmosphere” itself is near perfect for outdoor horror escapism.
– Mature storyline and theme
– Scene and Set Design (first class and uniquely creative and artistic design)
– Unique Props and Animatronics
– Character Design
– Interactive mazes and a sense of immersion
Room for Improvement
– Soundtrack- outdoor attraction
– More scenes; larger sets-outdoor attraction
– More actors and actors that interact with guests beyond traditional yell or jump scares
– Improved outdoor trail infrastructure
Photo Credit: Hellstead Manor and Nox Images
Location: 630 Harmony Rd, Susquehanna, PA 18847