Halloween can’t arrive early enough – an opinion I obviously share with the team behind Horror Nights in Hilversum, Holland. Starting mid September, they get the honour of kicking off the season. Of course we couldn’t say no to something like that.
After visiting in 2015, we thought the event was somewhat inconsistent, both in quality and in coherence of storylines. That coherence was an issue they addressed head-on, with a central scare zone, three mazes and an additional sideshow all themed around a gypsy encampment. Pretty specific and unique as a main theme, bold move! I wouldn’t have expected anything less though. Last year, they brought us a 3D underwater-Captain-Nemo-neon-sea-creature-styled maze, which still easily holds the title for the weirdest walkthrough I ever did in a scare park. Clearly, thinking a little bit outside the box comes natural to these guys. I still can’t get over the fact I got told off by an oysterlady.
The sun setting as we arrived at the site, the vibe is pretty spot on. Clearly, the gypsies were in town – a shabby encampment, clotheslines haphazardly strung around the place, barrels with roaring fires. As Horror Nights is located at an industrial site, they have to be commended for transforming the place into something feeling this rural. A good variety of scare actors roamed around, always eager to sneak in closer. We especially enjoyed the camp’s cook, enthusiastically spooning a sticky, unidentifiable food mashup into her mouth. I actually got offered a taste, which I didn’t dare to decline, but I really wasn’t hungry enough for seconds.
We started the night off with Séance, a very theatrical show which comes extra for a very small fee, where you get to meet Babette Groaznic – the mater familia. Suffering heavily from cataracts, she seemed to look right through us as we entered her tent and sat down around a low table. Her third eye had still got a pristine 20/20 vision however, and soon enough we were beckoning spirits from the afterlife to talk to us. As you might expect – a dangerous thing to mess with.
The Rite was up next as our first maze, and hell, a maze it was. A confusing jumble of double-backing and looping corridors, dead ends and loads of curtains, with thick fog and intense strobing to throw us off even more. It’s a small maze, but I really felt like we spent the longest time in here, as actors never got sick of misdirecting and chasing us. Things got really frantic as these gypsies picked up the pace, and for a while I actually considered there really was no way out of there. In the end, we only escaped because an actor finally felt generous enough to allow us to leave – on the completely opposite side of where we thought the exit was! Big smiles as we erupted from here, we really enjoyed this one.
A cool thing Horror Nights does is that it doesn’t make the entrances to their mazes overly obvious, and as they are all located around the central encampment, you are braving the roaming scare actors again and again. Being chased and ridiculed, we reached Borka Groaznic’s House of Magic next. Borka is one of the sons of Babette, the medium we met in Séance. A passionate illusionist, he got his mother to revive the victims from his botched practice sessions. After you pass the ticket booth, the maze takes you through a series of rooms filled with all the stuff straight from a magician’s handbook. Card tricks, knife throwing, mirror effects, and loads of willing volunteers who once met their fate at the hands of Borka. Eye candy! Less intense than The Rite, but we enjoyed the variety and some clever effects in the different rooms. The make-up was spot on too!
Finally, we were ready to get lost once again in The Mist. This was our favourite in 2015, so we were glad to see it return, with a new twist. At the start, you get offered a lantern to find your way through the foggy darkness, and to brave the ‘Witte Wieven’, who were summoned by two gypsy kids, kids who haven’t been seen since. The addition of the lantern was pretty great, it really brings an extra level of immersion to the maze. Also, it had been raining before, and as it’s an outdoor maze, the curtains we passed through felt really cold and clammy, only adding to the vibe. Unfortunately, and ironically, The Mist just wasn’t foggy enough. Made solely out of Heras fencing and white tarp, there isn’t much theming to the maze, and as we were able to see basically everything, the hiding spots of the actors lacked surprise. Last year, some areas were incredibly foggy, which made the lack of theming less of an issue, as you couldn’t see two feet in front of you and everything was white anyway. Adding more fog machines, or perhaps using white blankets or dense branches as roofs to keep in the fog and to darken everything up might improve this maze a whole lot. A finale of some kind would have been nice as well. In two short sections, we did encounter some thicker mist – this immediately upped the tension, and did wonders for the effect of the lantern. In general though, there was way too much light for way too little fog, and a severely reduced line of vision is the only way a simple maze like this can work. Still, groups in front of us were screaming their heads off, so maybe we’re just hard to please?
Overall, Horror Nights NL did improve a lot over last year. The general quality of the mazes has gone up noticeably, and a lot of great ideas were incorporated. The atmosphere of the entire event was really consistent this year, and you feel a lot of thought has gone into this. Sitting by the fire, sipping from a drink, watching the gypsy family members chase the other guests around the place, it all really bound the evening together. It might not be the scariest Halloween event you’ll ever attend, with a strong focus on theatrical storytelling, but as the start of the season, we wouldn’t give it a miss!