You can immediately tell a scream park has put the time and effort in when their overlying story is an elaborate multi-character page turner. York Hallowscream tells the tale of entrepreneur and innovator Charlie Tornees, leading a circus troupe in the 1870’s along with Joseph Clement, an engineer and inventor. In dire need of a winter campsite, Charlie tricked a farmer into letting them use his land for their circus, full of exotic animals and futuristic contraptions. Once the farmer, a shady character himself, found out he had been deceived, he drove a pitchfork through the stomach of former lead attraction Corny the clown, killed Charlie, and set fire to the entire circus. A raging inferno, and everything went from bad to worse when Old Grey, a huge bull elephant, stampeded around the blazing grounds, demolishing everything in his trail, trapping all the workers inside to burn to their deaths. Not that you need to know this entire backstory to enjoy the park, but every single maze in Hallowscream somehow ties in with the storyline. A cool little detail for those prepared to look a bit further.
When we arrived at Hallowscream, the air was electric. Pumpkins on top of the entrance were lighting the place up. Near the Stumble Inn, a bloody character was dragging a jangling street organ along, while his monkey assistant, dressed as a hotel lobby boy, jumped and screamed excitedly past the audience. A resurrected Corny the clown was chasing visitors full speed with a chainsaw, while a creepy pair of twins tried to sneak up on people enjoying a drink. The mazes, hidden behind awesome facades, are all located around one big event plaza, making the entire event feel very complete and whole. A lot of buzz, and the place was rather busy, with queue lines easily filling up – a RIP pass can be a worthwhile investment here!
We decided to do the mazes in the order they were advertised on our ticket, so 1873 was first. This was the year of the huge circus inferno. After the blaze, neither inventor/engineer Joseph, nor his latest invention were ever seen again. Up until now, as his time altering generator sent us back in time to the streets of olde tyme York. The air smelled of manure and the sound of horses’ hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestones rang through the maze. We passed a butcher’s place, a toymaker’s shop and a local watering hole. A creepy dentist was all too interested in our teeth, and we got an immense scare in the local undertaker’s office. Lots of sudden noises and a combination of great acting and jump scares kept us on our toes, until we entered the present again, with a little Dr. Who reference thrown in just for kicks!
Next, we went into Reincornation. This house was purpose-built to create confusion, disorientation and plain chaos, straight from the original plans of the late Corny the Clown. If only he was still around to see his creation in the flesh… Inside, it really is a manic, never-ending sequence of effects thrown full speed in your face. We absolutely loved the forced perspective hallway, and next, a gravity-defying room really messed my head up, as I had to try and jump over a clown who refused to get out of the way, all while every sense in my body kept saying that up really, really wasn’t up. Infinity rooms, curtain mazes, the most intense vortex tunnel I have ever encountered, a mirror labyrinth, you’re not granted a single moment of rest. All the while, the mischievous clowns inside make sure you don’t have any time to wrap your head around the place, it’s freaky colours, horns, illusions and panic all the way through. Amazing giddy fun!
Heads still spinning, we ventured into Barnageddon. When Old Grey stampeded the entire circus to the ground, Joseph’s workshop collapsed, trapping all his workers inside. All of them, wearing masks in order to protect themselves from the steam and the toxic particles, crushed and burnt. Now, it was our time to brave the industrial corridors of this workshop. Steam pipes were bursting and the plumbing was all busted up as we made our way through, while masked assailants appeared from everywhere. This is a loud and lively maze, sparks fly around, be prepared for some big jumps while you’re traversing the smoke! I got shot at by an airburst rifle, got harassed by a giant wearing a bunny mask, and in the end, we got the mean old chainsaw treatment, leaving us sprinting out the door!
You remember that shady farmer, the one that set fire to the place? He had some secrets to hide as well – rumour has it that his cattle stock could never supply the copious amounts of meat he was selling at the local markets. Something seedy was going on, so we went in to investigate The Flesh Pot. Spoiler alert, all that extra meat, seems like we would be the suppliers! A particularly bloody maze led us through butcher’s workshops, slaughterhouse workers shook their meat cleavers at us, and carcasses were just about everywhere. Again, there were loads of loud noises to make us jump (and man, did they succeed…), with the air smelling of burnt meat. One particular scene had us fearing for our lives as loose barrels came tumbling down from every direction, the sound of squealing pigs echoed through the sinister hallways, steam pipes burst in our faces, all while the actors were pressing their knives up against our throats. Gory pandemonium! At the end, a pie shop, where we got to smell the disgusting fingers of an all-too in your face pie vendor! Again, a great maze.
As our last maze of the night, we journeyed through The Difference Engine. As one of the many projects of Joseph and Charlie, they had been working on a binary computing device, something they believed to be able to change the future. This maze has to be seen to believe, it’s such a unique concept, and it worked incredibly well on our runthrough. Actors, all in black and white, twitch mechanically, while blurting out series of ones and zeroes and electrical noises. If that doesn’t sound too scary to you, wait until you’ve got a couple of these characters closing in on you in a dark, strobey dead end! As guests, you are constantly separated into ones and zeroes, as you pass through amazing geometrical mirror tunnels and rooms. An onslaught of the senses, alternated with fairly dark sections, with scares coming from everywhere. Caution is due, whilst feeling my way through I got a shocking surprise from an electrical pad! A special mention for one of the final rooms as well, the fog here was incredibly thick, and the room is vast. With no idea to go (and that electrical shock still in mind), we were just stumbling around, arms stretched out, a really tense moment! We loved this maze. The characters are something we’ve never experienced anywhere, and as such, their tweaking, jerking, system failure type of robot behaviour was exceptionally eerie.
I don’t know whether something bizarre was going on with us that night, or whether the attractions were just thát good at scaring us – but we jumped and screamed so many times through each and every maze. It’s like every bottled up startle scare over a year’s time suddenly came out. All the loud sound effects, the actors, their hiding places, they got to us so many times. I kneed my girlfriend in the back performing a not-so-elegant galloping jump after an actor had lunged at us. At one particularly loud and long sound effect, I even did a fetal position protect-your-head kind of thing, so, yeah, that was a first. It might have been a case of once they get you a single time, you’re so much more vulnerable for the next ones? Whatever the reason, we thought Hallowscream was amazing. The theming inside the mazes is elaborate and detailed, the actors were great, the onslaught of effects neverending, and it all just fits together so nicely.
We do have to mention group sizes and queue times. Using our RIP passes, we casually strolled into each maze, but the regular lines were fairly long the entire night. To combat this, Hallowscream batches guests through in considerable group sizes. However, once you are in the mazes, the fairly big groups were, in our experience, quickly broken up by actors. We managed to secure the front in four out of five mazes, and a huge lot of the scares were consequently directed at us, just the way we like it. Importantly though, it’s not like we had a conga line behind us, and most often we walked through in groups of five or so, giving actors time to reset. In The Difference Engine, we were the last ones to go into the maze, and never ran into the rest of our group again, nor did the next group catch up to us. So, although we heard some things about group sizes and batching being problematic, we didn’t experience anything like it. The flowthrough was just right for us, every time. We never were in the middle of a group though, so, that can make a lot of difference.
To wrap things up – we had a huge blast at Hallowscream. The mazes were top notch, and with the overlying storyline and the smart event layout, it feels very complete. Great event, absolutely recommended.