Bobbejaanland is a Belgian theme park once dreamed up by Bobbejaan Schoepen, a singer/entertainer who often dressed up as a cowboy. Somehow, I don’t think that what’s going down in the park these weeks around Halloween was part of his original idea.
Pumpkins and stacks of hay bathed in golden light – the day we had chosen to visit the park really had the best kind of autumn weather. Perfect for Bobbejaanland too, as a slightly more family-oriented park they invest somewhat less heavily in scares than other parks do, and the general ambience in the park was really quite cosy. Gentle log flume rides and strolling through the wild west town in the sun, you know. There was no mistaking our main reason of being there though – the area around the river rapids was littered with bloody bodies and freshly dug graves, distorted trees loomed through a curtain of fog and a number of roaming scare actors had started creeping up unto unsuspecting guests from early on in the day.
This rather peaceful atmosphere ended abruptly once the doors of their three haunted houses slammed shut behind us. Our first one was House of Phobia, an experiment on the human psyche that had gone terribly awry. Alarms were going off everywhere and bloody test subjects roamed the dark hallways of this facility. As was made painfully clear from the very beginning, these guys weren’t too concerned about our personal space, and the very first corridor immediately had us stumbling over our feet trying to get away. Attacks were loud, fast and aggressive, with actors being just a hair’s width away from breaking their no touching rule. They didn’t just startle and reset either, but often relentlessly kept chasing us through the next scene. One terrifying actor in particular delivered the most imposing up close scares I had ever experienced, while another popped up from a different spot with impeccable timing on every one of my three walkthroughs – he got me diving away every single time. After a finale with a squeeze-through cushion and a final dash towards the door, we escaped into the sunlight, hearts pounding.
Barely recovered from our first maze, The Doll Factory was up next – a clinic where you can get the perfect set of legs, which of course were to be taken violently from “volunteering visitors”. From the get-go, the same theme emerged as we had seen in House of Phobia, fierce and fast paced attacks came thick, with putrid smells and firecracker effects making sure we wouldn’t get too comfortable at any given time. During one walkthrough, a wrong turn led us through a corridor that looped back to the previous room, allowing the actor to toy with us yet again. Near the end of the maze another theme emerged as well, as the squeeze-through pillow made another weirdly out of place appearance, only this time I was forcibly pushed into its claustrophobic darkness by the surgeon in charge!
Finally, we got a hearty welcome, and some 3D glasses, from an overly enthusiastic clown, after which we were allowed into Bazaar Bizarre. Cheerful neon paintings popped from the walls as we made our way through this maniacal maze filled with clowns and animatronic props. Chaotic circus maze sections were interrupted by smoke-filled mirror labyrinths, where multiple dead ends made sure we’d be cornered by some demented clown at least once – at one time we bumped into another, equally confused group here, and went on to struggle together looking for a way out. Of course, as squishy pillows come in packs of three, one was featured in this maze as well, forcing us to crawl through a pitch black section where an airhorn-wielding jester had us jumping every single time.
As a little added bonus, Bobbejaanland also had a show in store for us. We were told the story of Reinhilde, a girl who allegedly possessed paranormal powers, but was slaughtered by local villagers. The setting really made it easy to get into the story, with atmospheric lighting filtering through the fog in the darkened room, which created a proper séance-y vibe. A number of illusions and mind reading tricks strung the tale together, an unnerving section featuring spring-loaded hunting traps had everyone on edge, and astonished gasps could be heard throughout the audience during the finale setpiece.
So, in conclusion, while it’s maybe a bit unfair to compare this event to big bucks Halloween events in other theme parks, it does stand on its own and is surely worth a visit. The haunts are fast paced and thrilling, as the actors didn’t hold back one bit and delivered high impact scares. Along with the regular attractions – including the mighty Sledgehammer, there is more than enough fun to go around!