Troy Crivellone and Nathan Fultz of the Northwest Haunters Association have really stumbled on a great community building effort with their Northwest Terror Tour. The genesis of the idea was Crivellone and Fultz searching for a way to expose the Northwest haunt family to a variety of haunts in one night in a new and unique way. From that inspiration came a fun party bus adventure to three local haunts in the Seattle/Tacoma greater area, with a similar tour of Portland area haunts happening just the night before. With great enthusiasm and blown vocal chords, Crivellone and crew ushered us all on our chariot through a windswept Seattle evening.
With many of the passengers on this bus either being pro or home haunters, the first weekend in October was chosen as a bit of a catch 22 to hear Crivellone tell it. Many of the haunters are working on their attractions and getting ready to open while simultaneously taking a Saturday out to support other haunts and generate revenue on what can be a less attended first weekend in October. There was truly a sense of participation in the haunt community running through the night.
HAUNTED NIGHTMARE ON THE NILE
Our first stop on the tour was The Haunted Nightmare at the Nile Country Club in Mountlake Terrace, just north of Seattle. This converted 11 hold golf course is an effort to put on by the Shriner's club and had a nice carnival feel, complete with beer garden, a couple of food vendors and merchandise aplenty. This is an established attraction in the Seattle area.
This haunt had five installations. The sense of continuity was tough to find, but each space captured the essence of its intention fairly well through good production value and some experienced actors in each space.
CURSE OF THE NILE - An Egyptian themed room with an impressive projection-mapping install on the facade. There was a good deal of buildup at the entry, but overall the narrative was lost in the shuffle of running too many guests through the space simultaneously.
ASYLUM - A tried and true, or should that be "tired" and true motif at haunts everywhere, this asylum was probably the least produced moment of the Nile's haunt. The child actors in the space did nothing but scream and lacked any sense of dynamic.
FUNHOUSE - Again, a bit of a serpent trope for a haunt, but the Nile really knocked this room out of the park in a production sensibility, mid-way through the space you are given 3D glasses and there is a great deal of quality 3D art in the rooms, which creates a fun disorienting stroll through an old timely freak show, complete with the requisite bearded lady, strong man and assorted other differently abled characters.
HELL HOUSE - A Satanic themed walkthrough with interesting costume design, this room was heavy on the red and fog, creating a brooding environment that was well acted by Satan's minions. The Dark Lord approves.
MUTATION - There was a bit of confusion in the air around this final entry int the Nile's terror journal, at first you are treated to images plastered on the wall directly from "The Human Centipede" but as you progress, a bit of a hodgepodge "mad scientist" theme emerges that just didn't really scream...well...anything.
An outdoor-walking path separates each of the rooms. These paths were basically empty, giving the guests too much time to get back to the real world and forget their immersion in the haunt, though candidly great for taking notes. A few actors and props being utilized for scares in the transition areas would have went a long way.
Ultimately, the Haunted Nightmare is a great ticket for families and those not interested in intense jump scares, simply looking for a well-produced and thoughtful ode to Halloween's most celebrated tropes on a rainy Seattle night.
During the ride from Seattle to Buckley, WA to visit our second stop, Fright Factor, the Northwest showed it's dreary nature on the beads of water sliding down my window. Inside the bus, however, a lively and entertaining party was ensuing with passengers being treated to awesome swag bags with gifts from the NW Haunters Association, various haunts, AtmosFX and was even complete with fun prizes and Halloween/Horror trivia from our hosts over the onboard P.A.
The facade of the Fright Factory suggests nothing but a warehouse, with a small vendor area and largely covered queue, which is a real bonus on a rainy Seattle night. While the spaces in between at the Nile gave you time to document and reflect on your experiences about each individual component of the haunt, Fright Factory is a fully immersive experience that afforded you no such luxury.
Almost immediately upon entering, and through the duration of the experience, you are treated to a masterfully crafted series of set designs ranging from being on the deck of a pirate ship (worth the cost alone), multi door rooms, New Orleans graveyard, an asylum with great acting and several more environments, each fully immersive.
There was a great deal going on here, but never once did the transition time take away from the overall experience. Each jump scare was perfectly timed. The traffic was incredibly well controlled, Troy Crivellone and I walked through this together and as haunt/production nerds found so many superb details being paid attention to that we were both almost immediately returned to that sense of childlike wonder and fear that well produced haunts create.
In a rare moment of full blackout, you are completely disorientated and forced to walk down a 45 degree incline, hoping for the best, only moments later to be launched through a spinning vortex and forced into a full on manically strobe lit black and white room with actors that got very close. This series of transitions led you to a butcher's shop and if the butcher really likes you, I hope you enjoy the smell of gasoline on the way out.
Fright Factory was the star of the evening and did an amazing job on almost all of the criteria that establish a wonderful haunted attraction. Sound design was seamless, the visuals were well produced, the actors (even the kids) nailed it and you should definitely find your way to Buckley, WA to take this in.
As we boarded the bus to make our last voyage to Tacoma, WA and the Frighthouse Square, formerly the Pierce County Asylum, friendship was in the air and the passengers of this creep wagon were ready for their last shock treatment.
Frighthouse Station is a brand new attraction in the new tech boomtown and bedroom community of Tacoma, WA. It is situated in the downtown area and comprises of a 12,000+ sq ft. basement underneath a large shopping pavilion. It is a historical building, which was rumored to have been used for the cold storage of corpses in its early days, as a railway station functioned above.
The new owner Erik Tavares is an ambitious producer, with a background in the film industry. With the enormous task of purchasing and flipping an existing haunt (formerly Pierce County Asylum) in 90 days, Tavares and his team set out to recreate their vision of Pandora Labs, a corrupt corporation specializing in genetic manipulation and experimentation. Social media videos prior to the opening of the haunt teased a great Kubrickian dystopian narrative circling around government cover ups and hidden agendas.
I mention the intensity of the 90 day turnaround for a haunt this size, because I do believe that the time crunch in pre production cause this haunt's debut to leave much desired for the future, though conversing with Tavares, and seeing what was accomplished in the short space of time he was afforded, I am confident we will see this become the South Sound's premiere attraction in time.
As you enter you are treated to a view of the Pandora Labs holding room, with silent actors in stretch costumes silently ushering you into the large maze of rooms. Most notably absent is a shred of sound design, which contributed to a late night, silent and spooky aura where the air was deathlystill. The traffic was controlled wonderfully, and I was able to proceed without interruption through the sprawling landscape.
This haunt had a fantastic live action dinosaur model that begged to be fed, and in the well developed spaces, there was a great deal of detail applied to the construction of the sets, others lacked and felt sparse, which may have been intentional. Overall there is a minimalist approach to the haunt that works on several level, with so many haunts being crammed to the gills with details, Frighthouse Station is definitely playing the less is more card effectively.
From a critical perspective, the acting left a bit to be desired, as the haunt largely utilized children, and despite best efforts, they just didn't drive home the theme in a convincing way..
There were some really great jump scares by actors in elaborate costumes that did represent the theme of corporate technology run amok and a blackout maze, with laser starbursts that stretched on, creating a great sense of disorientation.
As you exit into the cold, unforgiving streets of downtown Tacoma, you are reminded how great it is to be alive and thankful you survived Pandora Labs and Frighthouse Station!
To any of you out there who may stumble across the opportunity to take part in the NW Haunters Associations activities, they are an amazing group doing awesome things for the spooky community in the Portland and Seattle areas. I highly recommend buying your pass for next year's 2nd annual tour, as Troy promises it will be another night to remember.
The NW Haunters Association also is heavily involved in the West Coast Haunters Convention held in Portland, Oregon May 12-14 at the Doubletree Lloyd Center. A great experience and one Nightmarish Conjurings will be covering, while waiting with great anticipation!