Hellstead Manor 2023 Review

Hellstead Manor (and the “Wretched Woods,” “The Cannibilies” and “Swamp of Sorrows”) is at times frightening, genuinely creepy, and filled with a dark sense of torment when it is at its best, however, there is often a sense of “emptiness” and lack action that does hurt the overall “scare” actor of this potentially classic show. Hellstead Manor is at its most terrifying point when it 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. Hellstead Manor has a lot of positive, unique creativity that, for some reason, this season felt as though it regressed by not focusing on its core strength, “the house” themed attraction itself. With some of the most unique sets and creative props and a demented Victorian theme that has so much potential to be diverse and creative in the industry, the extension of the outdoor trail to add an additional attraction perhaps took away focus. For its price, the experience itself is less than what it can be, as the outdoor portions, while creepy are generally empty, a walk in the deep forest, which can play powerful mind tricks WHEN there is at least some hints of action.

The initial core attraction of the “manor” is still a unique mix of a story-driven, creative dark horror set upon a Victorian theme. The manor’s scenes sound disturbingly detailed and richly creative; with some more “interactive” acting and perhaps new rooms, this can be a truly first-class experience. Most of the acting is “screaming” and drop scares, while those, for example, in the plank-filled maze that does “act” are genuinely disturbing and creepy.

A story-driven experience initially, the legend of “Dr. Hellstead,” who committed horrific acts of vial experimentation, is set upon the abandoned ruins of a once beautiful manor 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 does so many great things uniquely, and when it does seem to embrace a desire to “scare” at the mature level, it just needs to focus on perfecting and growing what it does right. There is no reason to add more planks, endless corridors, and no need for more empty space in the muddy woods; focus on the quality and talent, then expand. It is still a unique experience, hard to thoroughly recommend if you’re traveling more than an hour. Still, it has endless potential to be one of the more unique, dark-themed attractions when, from a design and creative standpoint, it embraces that spirit.

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, the strength of the attraction lies within the “house” itself. The first “half” of the show is so well done and creative with quality set design, some of the more disturbing actors, etc.. the lengthy walk in the mud pit of a trail turns the experience somewhat sour. The “new” swamp attraction does end the experience positively. Still, there needs to be some refocusing on what this attraction does well and how it differentiates itself from the traditional haunted house-style attraction. Furthermore, it is tough to differentiate the outdoor attractions as “separate” as they, by and large, make up a longer trail known as the “Wretched Woods.”

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. Furthermore, the interactions/banter with Cannibilies and new “swamp” themed attractions are welcome additions and well executed. However, the extensive period of downtime and somewhat lack of engaging acting hurts the overall experience.

The Attractions

Hellstead Manor is a series of “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 (featuring the “Cannibilies and nmew Swamp attractions)” With more actors, less downtime and less “screaming,” Hellstead Manor can continue to carve out a unique niche in the industry while focusing on “fear” as its primary design goal in unique manner unlike any other haunted attraction. Furthermore, the outdoor trail is always seems to be generally muddy, causing annoyances and some potential slick safety situations, which was the case in previous seasons. It is “creepy,” and there is not much going on between scenes.

When the scenes/performances do appear, they are well executed. The “Cannibilies” theme, for example, is off-color, well done, and embraces dark humor, and the new “swamp” is creative with excellent use of lighting, pacing, and some freakish “swamp” mutated characters. If less time was placed between these experiences and perhaps less emptiness, Hellstead Manor would have a stronger, more focused overall show.

Hellstead Manor

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 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” “- structure and augment 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. The house seemed to be lacking some actors, and added “planks” maze areas didn’t  seem to add much to the already lengthy attraction. The quality set designs, are already strong, and with some more focused acting and less focus on “adding” length, can be a truly a terrifying, one of a kind themed experience. With more performers and those beyond a short vocabulary (most of the performers scream or utilize drop/pop scares), this can become a living, breathing house of terror unlike any other. It’s the house…..

The Wretched Woods (Featuring the Cannibilies and Swamp of Sorrows)

 “The Wretched Woods (featuring two additional trail attractions “Cannibilies and the new Swamp of Sorrows)” 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 must always 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. Disturbing, simple imagery and lighting tricks augment the already eerie atmosphere. While the lengthy trail is still disturbing, there appears to be too much downtime and a lack of action between the creative scenes/set designs which hurts from the impact of the psychological scares. Furthermore, the trail’s condition is hard to navigate, and often, water makes the most straightforward journey unpleasant, and being cautious about sliding down a hill hurts any type of immersive haunt experience.

Innovation is one of the strong points of this still-developing attraction when it is at its best… We cannot understate the uniqueness of the custom-designed, built-from-the-ground-up scenes featured throughout this attraction, and we wish that these scenes were more prevalent along the trail.  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, 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. The “Swamp of Sorrows” and “Cannibilie” attractions are also highly detailed, with some creative typical horror banter with the zombies, and monster-movie/sci-fi style effects/lighting in the “Swamp of Sorrows.” We could only wish their was “more” in between these attractions and less time  focused on preventing a slip down the mountain.

Final Word

In reflecting on the entire experience, it is essential to emphasize that there are plenty of high-level production values, gruesome scenes, and props/set designs that are so immersive and unlike anything else; they just need to be highlighted more, perhaps brought to life with more character-driven acting and less time spent on extending the creepy, yet fairly vacant trail. Furthermore, the new “swamp” ending/attraction is creatively built, adding a layer of freshness to this extensive outdoor walk-through, “The Swamp of Sorrows” is a unique, special effects infused finale, that like the “Cannibilies” scene/theme adds action and activity to the lengthy outdoor trail.

Some of the finest scenes/props and creepiest details one could imagine are at home in this abandoned Victorian nightmare. So, by and large, we enjoy this unique horror experience and can only see so much more potential to truly be industry-defying, creepy, and disturbing when it focuses on “what” it does best. “It’s the House” is the perfect tagline as this core attraction continues to stand out as a professionally executed, creative, diverse thematic, yet sinister at times, experience that needs to be unleashed.