And just like that, Halloween had passed. Another year of waiting before the ghouls would come out again. Christmas taking over and all that. But – Halloween had one last trick up its sleeve: The Horror Zone, a scream park in Best, Holland, would again be opening its doors for three cold November weekends, sending off the season in style. But, would this trick also be a treat?
Our approach was atmospheric, to say the least. Burning woodblocks illuminated the dark path, through woodlands towards the entrance. Two huge blinking traffic signs along the way, giving off a very desolate, something-has-gone-wrong-here feel. All alone, following the lights, we were somewhat expecting a zombie attack around every corner – even at the risk of scaring non-visitors to death. A huge fire roaring in a metal barrel led us towards the gate, and inside, the setting is even more perfect. A tank and a huge anti-aircraft gun bathed in eerie light, standing in between industrial hangars and spots of forest. Eerie soundscapes sounded over the scene. A distressed guy, running around frantically, pulling his hair, twitching, as much scared of us as we were intrigued by him. Women in dark robes, inverted crosses on their foreheads, pacing the place, stalking the twitchy actor, ravens on their arms. More burning barrels, littered over the central area. Amazing vibe.
The Horror Zone worked with two main themes this year: a satanic cult and a zombie outbreak in a military confinement zone. Both themes were featured in an outdoor and an indoor maze, plus an additional Zombie Shootout attraction.
In The Occult, we were invited to get acquainted with a Satanic cult, led by Morax Abalam. He welcomed us to this church, after which we got to tour the facilities. It seems to be a standard with these cults, but they did not make a huge effort to conceal their more bizarre habits, as we walked through torture rooms, freezer rooms full of body bags and a little séance with a Ouija board, before meeting their judge, who got to decide whether we had what it takes to join their practices, or whether we’d become an offering… In the end, a very devoted cult member chased us out through the dark corridors with a ritual knife, and a sprint through a claustrophobia tunnel, straight into another cultist, had us tumbling out of the exit. We really liked some of the rooms in this maze, and a lot of the actors were really on point, we got some good jumps in! In other rooms however, the actors were a bit too reliant on the ”stare and wait, then jump at the very last moment” trick, which got a bit silly at times. Especially when we entered the torture room – the torturer just stood there, hands on the wheel that was supposed to be stretching his victim out. Both were completely silent, like living statues, not even moving, as we inched our way through the room, until they let out a scream at the very last instant. Weird. But hey, these cults do attract some strange folks.
Death’s End served as the Cult’s outdoor proving grounds. Upon entering, a robed cult member, with an inverted cross slathered upon her forehead in tar, explained that many had walked these grounds, but just a few had ever lived to see the other end. The cold was making our every breath steam up while we were listening to the introduction, an effect as strong and atmospheric as any fog machine! We were soon sent our way through the forest, with cultists pestering us from their hiding places. Just as I was thinking the walkthrough was perhaps a bit uneventful, a rumbling chainsaw roared into action. I was covering the back, and got separated in the chaos, as the chainsaw wielder drove the entire rest of my group out. Anticipating a tense hide and run moment as soon as the maniac would return, I inched my way forward. A silhouette, I’m out in the open. Nowhere to hide. Preparing myself for a mad dash, the actress approached. And then – “Oh, sorry! Didn’t see you there, sorry, that’s not supposed to happen!” What the actual fuck. Never seen an actor break character like that before. This could have been a great scene, but what a letdown. I hope something like this will be discussed in the actor’s briefing for the coming events. Speaks volumes about how one single actor encounter breaking the immersion can affect an entire experience.
Re-Infected was another outdoor maze – a military outpost, overrun with infected. This actually was the very first maze we did on the night, and it started off the event with a bang! Again set in very dark woodlands, the scene is properly scary, and the very first actor got me to jump, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, in an area where I hadn’t been expecting any actors to be hiding out. The rest of the maze continued with high impact jump scares – I didn’t have to look twice, but three times, to spot an amazingly camouflaged actor in a ghillie suit who had me ducking for cover. A chainsaw chase had us skidding and sliding over the leaf-covered paths into a small indoor section, a hidden actor making use of the confusion to get another jump in. Overall, a really fun maze, making good use of its outdoor setting, with dark and creepy paths, and some cool lighting. While not the most original, everything fell into place during our run, making it my favourite of the night.
On to Base 666 then, the indoor part of the military complex gone awry. We met up with a strict officer, who explained the gravity of the situation, and ordered us to do exactly as we were told, in order to make it through the night alive. A nicely executed opening scene had us stuck in the darkness, questioning the safety of the base, after which we got to continue on our way. Infected soldiers stalked us around the corridors, we made our way through the cell blocks, and reached the safe zone after taking an elevator down. Whether it really was that safe, you can go find that out for yourself… This maze used some clever tricks, moving panels to shift corridors and confuse everyone walking through. The actors were great too, the opening actor set the tone, and some of the infected inside were really jumpy. We really appreciated some short interactive bits as well, where we had to respond to an officer’s questions, works wonders for the immersion. On a sidenote, the influences behind some of the scenes were pretty obvious (you guys have been to ScareCON at Screamland too?), but when executed in front of an unfamiliar audience, they are sure to baffle.
After all that, it was time to take matters in our own hands – laser guns equipped, we joined a mission to retrieve a soldier, lost somewhere on the battlefield. Well, when I say battlefield – imagine being able to see two feet because of all the smoke, strobes and colourful disco lights flashing all around, it was that kind of battlefield. Very cheesy, but all in good fun, as we ran around, blasting away at zombies that inexplicably had gotten their hands on the same weapons we were carrying, and still had the brain capacity to use them! We did find that missing soldier, but he wasn’t in the best shape. Rescue mission failed, we made our retreat, but we didn’t get a happy ending either… Damn laser zombies.
The Horror Zone has gotten a lot of the elements right. They are running two great themes, and the setting around the event is absolutely amazing. We saw some wonderful scenes and scares throughout the attractions, while some parts needed a bit more focus. In this reviewer’s opinion, a good number of the actors were brilliant in their part, but a few needed a bit more direction. The wait and jump method is tried and tested, but needs to be used in moderation, or at the very least in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re walking through a Madame Tussaud’s gone wrong. And that character breaking moment, that should never, ever happen, unless there’s an emergency. Apart from that, to polish of the experience, a little more attention to detail and story might be required. It’s in the tiny things. The central area has a freaking tank! With half of their event themed around a zombie infection at a military base, it seemed like a weird decision to have satanic cultists for roaming characters, breaking out into dance routines every now and then. In the mazes as well, you sometimes get the impression the team wanted a certain scare or a certain effect, but did not really incorporate the setting and the story into that moment. The opening scare in Base 666 for example is very fitting for ghost mazes, but in an infection setting the appearing/disappearing makes little sense. There are so many great scenes you can create with an audience trapped into a dark room with a zombie, so why duplicate that scene with zero alterations? Mind, it was executed to perfection, and is sure to get the entire room screaming. But as soon as you think about it, it somewhat falls apart. Same with the “endless square corridor” – it’s a fun trick, but it was used without regard to the concept of the maze. Oh – and please, lose the rattling cans and the whistles. No horror movie ever has had someone jumping out of a body bag, while blowing a little plastic whistle. Sudden noises are great to startle your audience, but I’m sure there are better means. There were a number of these little niggles, and I only point them out because Horror Zone is so close to getting everything exactly right. We had a really fun night out and would recommend this event any time. We gladly froze our toes off, and had a great time. Just a bit more actor direction, and a little more consideration to detail and seeing the entire picture, and Horror Zone will be able to compete with the best of ‘em. Can’t wait to see what they will pull off next year.