Ahead of us, the lift hill of Walibi Holland’s wooden rollercoaster disappeared in the mist. I was in the last carriage, and as I looked back strobe lighting lit up the fog. I could just make out a group of girls sprinting away, with a zombie in pursuit, while pyro effects were setting the sky ablaze in the distance. Sirens and screams, just faintly above the rattling of the coaster. Without a doubt it was the most apocalyptic view I’ve ever seen. And then we plunged into the darkness.
The last time I had visited Walibi Holland was over ten years ago, coincidentally in the Halloween period as well. I was fourteen and just wanted to ride the rollercoasters, but that day marked my first encounter with a live action maze. Nothing special back then, Fright Nights consisted of just a bunch of pumpkin decorations and one small maze with mediocre acting – oh, how things have changed. We had chosen a dreary Friday for our visit, with fog and light rain than wouldn’t let up for the entire day. The rides were decent entertainment on their own, but it was only at six that the park would show its darker side.
Our first maze was The Villa, with its tagline “Find yourself in a Hollywood hell”. It’s basically a string of iconic horror movie scenes, and the recognisability is its strongest point. We stumbled from Nightmare on Elm Street into Saw, got frightened by Michael Myers and nearly sliced to pieces by Chucky. And you know whose chainsaw it is you hear rumbling in the distance… Although there’s no consistent storyline at all, we had a great time in this maze. The theming and attention to detail were amazing, with even a little puddle of water in front of the television set playing the video from The Ring, just to name one thing. I also loved how some scare actors used the lighting to conceal their hiding spots – sometimes you just knew someone would jump out from a pitch black alcove, but when you tried to look inside you would be blinded júst enough to doubt it. And often, another actor would be hidden nearby, effectively piling on the scares and keeping us on our toes.
Off to Jefferson Manor then, a large and abandoned country estate whose residents mysteriously came to pass. Built in an old storage hangar, it doesn’t look much like a manor from the outside, but that all changes the second you walk through the door. The entrance hall looked so realistic we tried to take the stairs – only there for decorative reasons – to the next scene and had to be ushered in the right direction. What followed was equally impressive, the dust appeared to had settled for years, while fine streaks of sunlight peered through cracks in wooden paneling. A fake outdoor section actually felt like we were walking through the woods at night. I’m making this sound like you actually have the time to take in your surroundings, but scare actors constantly attack you from dark nooks and through dropdown panels. I actually took off and ran away at some point, a first for me, so kudos to these actors. The finale is amazing as well, with attacks coming from above, below and the sides all at the same time. Best maze of the night.
By this time the scare entertainment outside was in full swing. Fog machines everywhere were adding to the already dense mist, and the atmosphere in the seven different scare zones was frantic. Hellfire was lit up completely by pyro effects, while a barrage of demon minions did everything they could to make our passing as hard as possible. The Things scare zone was densely populated with disfigured clown-like beings, and the ever present sounds of squeaky shoes and air horns made all visitors real uneasy. In Quarantine, a huge number of zombies was stalking around an area littered with car wrecks, while emergency broadcast messages and sirens provided an eerie soundtrack. The Campsite of Carnage was a more humorous place, filled with wrecked trailers and Confederate flag waving rednecks. Perfect place to get a drink and interact with the local population, better to be on their good side! My personal favourite however was Scarecrows. The intensity of this scare zone was something I had never encountered before, everyone was being attacked left and right, and you could never be sure which of the dozens of scarecrows lying around or hanging from wooden crosses were puppets, and which were actors. People were constantly being chased full speed by actors dragging along shovels or pitchforks, resulting in utter chaos. The fact that you could only see a couple of meters ahead through the fog did not help either.
Our third maze of the night was Psychoshock – which we were told was a lab researching different fears. As the maze was located on a little island, we first had to traverse a bridge, bathing in eerily lighted fog. Upon entering the administration office a doctor got up close and personal, asking us what our biggest fears were, after which we were admitted to a series of scenes, each depicting a certain phobia. The dentist’s office reeked sickly of antiseptics, and more bloody doctor’s offices followed. We walked through a derelict alley, where people who had fallen through the cracks of society tried to grab hold of us. A scene with a badly burned man, trying to escape from his collapsing house left us with a pungent smoky smell. Again, the scenery and the technical aspect were really impressive – but this time the maze felt a bit too much like a random string of events. Actors were mostly hidden in plain sight, turning the experience into a startle-filled walkthrough without that little extra “something”. A proper finale scene would have been nice too, as the maze ended somewhat abruptly.
Our final maze would be Haunted Holidays – the name covers the theme fairly well. We walked through twisted festive scenes, demented Santas would attack us through windows, we passed by bloated and swollen guests at a Thanksgiving dinner, the Mardi Gras party got a little bit too crazy, and some funhouse mirrors appeared less fun than you’d expect them to be. This was a pretty lengthy maze with a small outdoors section, which made for a good change of pace. While less scary than the others, it offered some fun surprises – the Thanksgiving turkey in particular was a riot, and colourful presents underneath a Christmas tree will never look innocent again. Again, there was a lack of story and continuity, but for sake of holiday cheer, I’ll forgive ‘em this time. I did get the impression that this maze used to run with 3D glasses during previous years, as some transitions felt a little bit rough round the edges and meant for a different purpose. Oh, and that final scare would have worked a LOT better if it hadn’t been blatantly advertised by it happening right next to the cue line.
All in all, Walibi Holland really came through with this year’s Fright Nights. The overall atmosphere in the park is amazing and there isn’t a dull place to be found. The attention to detail in the mazes is on par with the best I’ve seen, and we loved how we were allowed to go through in little groups, especially in the first two mazes where it was just the two of us. The flowthrough through Psychoshock went somewhat more quickly, and the maze did suffer a bit from the larger groups inside. I’ve read tons of complaints about previous years being too crowded inside the mazes and in the park in general, and to me it seems like they have addressed these issues quite well. We didn’t have to cue for longer than a good twenty minutes, and the houses didn’t turn into conga lines due to an effective time slot system. Admittedly, we probably went on the least crowded day of the event, so hopefully they can pull it off as well on busier days. Still, if this is an upwards trend, they can expect me over there the following years as well – to see where they have come since fourteen-year-old me went through his first haunted house is simply mindboggling. Maybe one more story-driven house though, pretty please?