Welcome witches and warlocks,
A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending Haunted Overload in Lee, New Hampshire. For those who have never heard of it before, it is a haunted trail that has won ABC's The Great Halloween Fright Fight and also consistently ranks high on Hauntworld's list of scariest haunts. Given the fact that it was getting such high praise, I figured it was time I finally gave it a look to see what all the fuss was about.
The line for Haunted Overload snakes past candlelit scarecrows, a giant wooden lizard, a birds nest covered in human bones, a crematorium that resembles an angry volcano, a pumpkin patch, and a swirling green vortex before finally terminating in a carnival tent. Along the way we are put face to face with actors who are just as willing to scare as they are to pose for a picture. Given that one of the best costumes I saw all night was in this section of the event (the bird man), I was thrilled to have this in line entertainment as it only further whetted the appetite for the full experience.
Once past the multi-stage prelude, our party was held back a few minutes (to put some distance between us and the party in front of us) before being released upon the haunted trail proper. The players that we came upon were gifted with some incredible costuming and makeup that at times made it difficult to tell what was a mask versus what was achieved with cosmetics. These actors not only looked great, they were also interactive as they followed us, taunted us, or told us stories of the various locales amongst which we were walking which only helped to further sell the roles they were inhabiting.
Apart from the character focused actors we also had those who were hidden throughout the maze, willing to jump out at us from the shadows. I was greatly impressed with some of the hiding places as we not only had actors coming from in front of us, but also behind, beside, and below. That final category is where one of the players got me real good as, because of the darkness, all I saw was a white hand reach out from beneath a piece of the set in my direction. It was moments like this or the time where an actor from a few scenes before was able to use a shortcut to sneak up on us a second time that showed just how well the cast knew how to get the most scares out of their surroundings.
The trail itself was winding and maze-like with some fantastic sets for us to pass by or through along the way. The sets we walked within each had some different tricks to them that allowed the actor contained within to seemingly fade into the background immediately after achieving their scare. The unique scares were not the only thing that set these indoor sections apart; they also benefited from the fact that they created a claustrophobic feeling that the trail itself was unable to duplicate.
The various sets or tableaus were pretty well lit, but there were some major areas where we could barely see more than a few steps in front of ourselves. The sense of disorientation this created made it so that on more than one occasion we had to stop walking so that we could try to figure out the actual path we needed to take. I have to admit that feeling lost like this is something I enjoy because it makes it easier for the actors to catch me off guard, but there were moments here where it served as an actual hindrance to my experience.
The main reason the sense of being lost occasionally turned me off was that certain sections of the trail felt devoid of actors. This became especially clear during our more disoriented moments as we could physically stop walking while we tried to see where we needed to go next and not be attacked by one of the players. Having more people populating the trail would have not only increased the scares, but it could have also stopped us feeling directionless as most scare actors try to scare you towards the next scene. That is not to say that those who showed up were bad, in fact they were quite good, but I would have loved to have had more actors hiding in the shadows.
One other problem I had with the event was the way the line worked to get into the haunt. While I appreciated that we were entertained by in-line actors and treated to a taste of what the set design was going to be like, we waited over an hour and fifteen minutes after our reservation time to actually get into the haunt proper. To my knowledge, no one checked the times on the tickets until we reached the area where the tickets were scanned (which was about one hour after we entered the queue) which means there may have been people with later reservations in front of us in line. Since it was a sold out evening, I would have expected it to be a little more organized on this front to help reduce the headaches for all involved.
All in all, this was an incredibly designed haunted trail experience that has the potential to be absolutely terrifying. Given the level of commitment the actors provide combined with the perfect hiding spaces, it is hard not to feel the passion put into the event, it just needs more players populating its premises. I would recommend this to any haunt goer as the trail experience and actor interactions are quite memorable.
The Creeping Craig