In the scream of things

Graphic By: Linda Nguyen | Copy Desk Chief
Graphic By: Linda Nguyen | Copy Desk Chief
>> Lariat staff members Taylor Griffin, Taylor Rexrode, Reubin Turner, Matt Hellman, Linda Wilkins and Linda Nguyen reviewed some of the haunted houses around Texas. Here are their thoughts and experiences at these houses.

By Reubin Turner, Assistant City Editor

Trails of terror, 3-D clowns and multiple dance-offs between Taylor G., the clowns and me made Thrillvania by far one of the most interesting haunted house I’ve ever been to. By using visual effects, which sometimes included complete lack of vision, the haunted house exhilarated, entertained and engaged thrill-seekers looking for a good, hearty scare.

In the end, although the site was not fully able to maximize the fear factor that many, including myself, sought, the laughs and sheer entertainement gathered from the attraction made the two hour trip well worth it.

Before we started our odyssey down the trail of torment and terror, we were immediately greeted by clowns who chose to either chase passersby with chainsaws or invite them to do-si-do on a gravel-covered dance floor.

After a knee-slappin’ good time with the sharp-toothed party killers, which quickly escalated to a twerk session for Taylor G., we made our way deeper into the attraction.

The first attraction, which I suppose was intended to be a magic show, made little impression on even the youngest members of the audience. In one trick, the magician suspended a champagne glass in midair and one child exclaimed “I can see the string!”

This act, needless to say, did not earn the attraction the reputation as one of the scariest haunted houses in the nation.

After a riveting performance from the magicians, we came to the first haunted house: the World Famous Verdun Manner. The house was full of child-like characters, some dead, some alive, who effectively spooked those they could follow around with creepy and spontaneous outburst of laughter and fits.

One attempted, unsuccessfully, to hold Linda W. hostage. After we were able to escape the manor without being chased by a chainsaw, we made our trek up to Thorn Hall, which sat upon the top of a hill overlooking the haunted theme park. This was perhaps the scariest of all the attractions, as roughly two-thirds of journey was made in a pitch-black tour of the hall.
When we thought the attraction had given attendees all the scares it had to offer, something else would grab, scream or reach out. This site was full of surprises.

After we came out of the smoke filled exit, we walked to what was possibly the most disappointing of the entire tour — Sam Hain’s Trail of Torment.

Many of the one-room houses had characters in them we could see before we even got into the house. Furthermore, they more or less just engaged in dialogue with us, rather than trying to frighten us. I was thoroughly disappointed.

Finally, Cassandra’s Labyrinth of Terror proved to be more entertaining than frightening, as 3-D clowns and goblins popped out at as we walked through the attraction.

Many of the clowns, living up their name, jostled and danced with us as we made our way through the attraction. It added to the creepy effect partially. I’d never experienced a 3-D attraction at a haunted house before, so it definitely made this one stand out.

Overall, if you’re seeking a haunted attraction full of thrills and chills, I’d consider other options. Otherwise, this haunted house is sure to offer visitors an unforgettable time bursting with tear-filled laughs.

Deadzone and Texas Chainsaw Nightmare
By Linda Wilkins, City Editor

I was planning on running for my life. When I went to the Waco Haunted Houses, I thought I was prepared. The location has two attractions — The DeadZone and the Texas Chainsaw Nightmare Haunted Houses.

First of all, it’s only fair to warn you that chainsaws give me the creeps. I haven’t seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies and I have no desire to. As we waited in line for the haunted house, a door busted open and screaming people ran out of the house with a masked man with a revved chainsaw running after them.

As we approached the door of the haunted house, I linked arms with Taylor Griffin. I was the last to enter the house. The moment I stepped across the threshold, it was like I was walking onto a forbidden property, all signs telling me to turn and run. The path through the house was winding and shadowy. I huddled close to my group, but that didn’t stop me from jumping and shrieking when a bloody butcher jumped from the darkness onto the path in front of me. The nooks and crannies of the house were perfect to hide the actors, who made sure to follow us closely after they initially scared us.

The story line of the house was easy to follow. Once we made it past rooms filled with severed hands, ghastly villains and gory, bloody scenes, we entered a room of near complete darkness. I assumed the chainsaw was about to start. I yanked open the door to the outside and rushed out, despite the fact there was no chainsaw-weilding man behind me. (One of the actors told us the chainsaws get clogged with dirt and often do not start after repeated use. I thank the Lord for this because I probably would’ve keeled over and died if it had.)

The best part of the attraction is the actors who wander around outside. They interact with all the haunted house patrons, never breaking character. Taylor made several friends during our visit — a clown whose shriek sounded like barking, a lady clown who sought every opportunity to scare Taylor, a bloody bride and even Michael Myers, who chased a boy around the lot.

There were several other notable figures from classic Halloween movies, but I won’t spoil that here. I even saw the lady clown go through the chainsaw house with a child to lessen the scary factor of the house. That’s customer service.

The second attraction was more like your typical haunted house. The actor at the beginning of the house said there was a rule — those in front get scared first, those in the middle get reached out at and those at the end get chased. I was chased. At one point, Freddy Krueger creeped behind me, whispering eerily. The actors stuck to the rule throughout the house. What I personally thought was hilarious was that the lady clown who followed Taylor around leaped out at her in the house.

I would recommend these haunted houses to anyone — they are creepy and often quite startling, but not excessive when it comes to gore.

The jump-out-and-scream approach is used quite often, but the different characters and props make these houses one of a kind.

House of Torment
By Linda Nguyen, Copy Desk Chief

Located at the corner of Austin’s Highland mall lies the House of Torment.

House of Torment is divided into three houses: Blackthorne District, Slaughterhouse: The Harvest, and Cursed: Ancients Emerge.

The characters walking around outside the houses were pretty hilarious. One guy dressed as an insect in an exterminator’s outfit walked around asking visitors to smell his finger.

After getting pictures and interviews, we braved our way to the first house on our list, Slaughterhouse: The Harvest, the only house outdoors. The house was an outdoor maze complete with actors in scary costumes leaping out from around the corner, plastic and mangled bodies hanging from the top and chainsaws. The chainsaws always get me. Overall, the plastic hanging body parts were just annoying and the actors did little more than startle me. The scariest thing for me are the chainsaws.

The next house we visited was the Blackthorne District. This was the biggest and main house. The actors and rooms all ran together. The rest of the group agreed that the first part of the house, with all the bloody parts and graphic images of slaughtered human beings, was easily memorable, but I didn’t think it was a huge deal. I will say, though, there was one point in the house that made me jump and scream, but I won’t spoil it.

The final house we went to was Cursed: Ancients Emerge. It didn’t really have much to do with the overall theme. It was kind of this island and pirate-y theme. At one point in the house, we had to walk through some sand. That was probably the biggest surprise, but overall, it wasn’t exactly the bang we expected from the end of our first haunted house walkthrough.
Now the logistics. The set design was phenomenal. They made a good use of a variety of spaces from tight, claustrophobia-inducing spaces to wide-open, fog-filled rooms. Especially in the Blackthorne district, there was a lot of detail involved in creating the sets and setting the scene of a mental institution. The acting, however, while just scary enough, was monotonous and after the first five minutes of people jumping in front of you, it was easy to just be done with it.

Overall, it was a cute little haunted house. If you’re a haunted house veteran and looking for a blow-your-mind scare, this definitely isn’t the place to go. However, I’d definitely recommended it for new haunted house enthusiasts. It’s the perfect amount of scare for those that typically shy away from haunted houses but want to experience it at least once.

By Greg Devries, Editor-in-Chief

A truly great haunted house has to have three things: great imagery, darkness and creepy things popping out at you. Phobia used all three of these things well, but rarely at the same time. Actors weren’t allowed to touch any of the customers, and from a legal standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. However, my experience would have been a lot scarier if the actors were given a little more freedom.

The first house we entered was called Mind Control. Visually, the house accomplished its goal of being creepy. The most memorable parts were when the house utilized its strobe lights. Some were flashing quickly as actors moved around you, but the last one was very slow. The slow flashes made reality look different. It was as if time slowed down and my mind started operating differently. It was only after we reached the exit that my mind was at ease.

After Mind Control, we went to The Darke Institute. This was supposed to be some sort of hellish mental institute. This house was weird in the best way possible. The actors did well to play their spine-chilling characters. The Darke Institute wasn’t scary, but it was disturbing, which I believe was the intended goal. The best part was toward the exit when one of the actors, in a very dark, disquieting voice said, “Welcome to The Darke Institute, where the doctors took cover when the patients took over.”

Next came Claustrophobia. I was worried that this one would make me uneasy, but there was really nothing claustrophobic about it. There weren’t really any closed spaces, which would have likely scared me half to death. Instead, the house was treated as a catchall for generic scary things. It did a fair job of presenting some hair-raising imagery, most notably a man with a knife and a mask who stared with a tilted head around one of the corners, but the house wasn’t any more claustrophobic than the rest.

Dawn of the Machines was the next house. If you can put yourself in a Y2K conspirator’s mind, this house created this person’s worst nightmare. Actors dressed up as sentient androids, and the costumes looked stunning. The walls were painted with brilliantly awful images of fetuses inside of artificial wombs attached to a machine. The actors in this house were great at knowing exactly when to pop out of the shadows and frighten people as their eyes and attention were fixated on the scenery.

The final house wasn’t a house at all. It was set in a wooded area, which meant that actors could come at you from almost any angle. At the beginning, a warning was played over speakers that warned of a virus that caused the dead to come back to life. It was as if “The Walking Dead” took a turn for the demonic.

At times, it was hard to tell which bodies were props and which were actors. Just as you were sure it was one, it turned out to be the other. In one instance, I found myself too scared to approach a body. Just as I was sure it was a prop, I approached it only to be startled by an actor that had been behind me the whole time.

In another part of the woods, there was a little girl that was contorted in such a way that made me sure that she was a prop. After all, an actor couldn’t stay still in such an uncomfortable position for this long, right? I then idiotically bent over to examine the girl further, and just as I did, she lunged at me. Luckily I screamed like a man and not a child, but it was certainly a scare I will remember.

Overall, Phobia was worth the experience, but it could have done a better job of causing people to fear the unknown that lies ahead. The incredible imagery and creepiness factor certainly made up for it, though.