Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the great pleasure of attending Field of Screams: The Haunted Stadium’s latest offering which is being put on by the guys at Sinister Valley. To best describe the story, I will use my own plot summary of the event:
Welcome to Sinister Valley, a mining town on the frontier where all is not quite right. Brave a drink at the local tavern, try to discover gold in the haunted mine, and keep an eye out for a murderous werewolf as you journey through the strange locales in this cursed town.
Right up front let me say that last year Sinister Valley put on my favorite independent haunt and it proved to be the only non theme park based haunt that I attended more than once. When I heard that they would be moving to a larger venue with room enough to build more than one house, I was absolutely ecstatic to see what this team would bring to the table this year. Of course the big question was, could they produce the same quality in four haunts what they so effectively achieved in just one?
The answer is: mostly.
The thing is, one of the advertised houses, Hallowed Grounds, is not really a house. What I mean by that is just this, Hallowed Grounds serves as a sort of darkened transition into the town of Sinister Valley. The first half has a marshy feel to it with hanging vines and relatively plain walls, but towards the end we get to see a familiar looking animatronic that carried over from last year and a neat, steamy little special effect. The few actors I saw in here did a great job with the sparse surroundings and one of them provided a great joke just before a scare. That being said, this was definitely the weakest offering of the evening so I am glad it was first up on the roster.
Exiting Hallowed Grounds we found ourselves within the boundaries of the Sinister Valley township as evidenced by the facades. The clever trick was that they designers created a row of false fronts that did not serve as entrances to one of their houses, but instead just made the concourse of Storm Stadium look more like their abandoned village. As someone who had only been to Field of Screams for the first time last year (before the guys at Sinister Valley took over design duties) it was a nice change of pace that made the four houses seem like a collective whole.
Next up on the docket was The Rocking Horse Tavern which immediately felt like the sort of quality I expect from the Sinister Valley team. The facade alone was gorgeous with real saloon doors for us to enter through. On our journey through this house we find ourselves traversing not only the space of the tavern, but also the butcher shop and the mortuary. The impressive part to me was that at one point we enter what serves as the bathrooms for Storm Stadium and yet the set decoration was so top notch that it never once felt as if we were actually in a lavatory. As good as the set design was, I felt like there were less actors in this house than the final two, but the few that were inside did a great job of mixing it up by sometimes providing ambiance while other times going in for a scare.
Those exiting the house at this point should take a moment to look back at the facades from the structure they were just within. There is a nice touch to the design as when one examines the building, they see that the business signs on the false front match up with the businesses we walked through in the house. Better yet, they even go in order from the tavern, to the butcher shop, to the mortuary. Once again, a subtle touch that keeps everything feeling within the world being created.
Now we get onto the first real star of the show: Miner’s Paradise. Those who went to Sinister Valley’s haunt in Vail last year will recognize the general setting and progression of this house, but there was a change to the overall flow and execution that made it feel like a different, though familiar, experience. The use of fog, effects, and actor placement in this house make it an absolute standout of the event as we are left constantly disoriented from one scene to the next. To me this felt like one of the longer mazes of the evening, which might just be my sense of things because of how bewildering the darkened corners of the mine seemed.
I feel I should pause a moment here to commend the team on pulsing or staggering the line. For those who do not know what that means, it basically translates into the idea that every group gets to go through the maze alone, without seeing any other guests in front or behind at any point. It is because of this that we genuinely felt lost in Miner’s Paradise as we were completely on our own wandering through the dark caverns. While this means the lines take a bit longer to get through, it provides a personalized experience on every walk through and allows the actors to remain hidden until they go for their scare.
Once we exited the mine we found ourselves facing the imposing facade of Silver Bullet Outfitter’s Lodge which serves as the final maze of the evening. Looking closer at the lodge, it is hard not to notice through the boarded up windows the corpse reclining on a couch or, depending upon one’s angle, the skeleton lurking behind a desk. Upon entering we are directed by the aforementioned guest skeleton to continue deeper into the lodge towards a chapel, where we are to say a prayer before we begin our hunt. To give much more away would be a shame, but I will say that this was another highlight of the evening. Unlike Miner’s Paradise, this was completely new territory with its own unique spin on the werewolf mythology. The use of lighting and sound in this house were just absolutely incredible with some of the scares coming from the combination of these effects instead of the actors. One issue I did notice with this house was that not all of the cast members were as well hidden as the ones in some of the previous houses. Even with that caveat, the finale was incredibly inventive, providing a memorable close to the evening.
All in all, Sinister Valley has taken over Field of Screams: The Haunted Stadium with such flair that any shortcomings were greatly overshadowed by the positives. The cohesive theme of the event provided a great backdrop for guests to explore while the blend of set design and special effects in the house were just as top notch as what I have come to expect from this team. Fans of the big league haunts like Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights should definitely check out what Sinister Valley has on offer as the top notch theming and effects put this on par with the major players while the line pulsing still keeps it feeling like a personalized experience.