Haunt Review: SCREAMPARK (2018)

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Bingemans is a true institution within the community of Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada. Hosting a huge footprint within the city of Kitchener, it features everything from paintball, to beach volleyball, to bowling, to arcades. It’s one of the hosts of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany. And, for the last 12 Octobers, the home of the Screampark.

Back for its 13th year, Bingemans Screampark: The Experiment is more ambitious than ever. Guests travel through 9 zones across a large footprint of buildings and woodland, with just a brief stop for some refreshments in the middle. There’s no picking and choosing, this is one long haunt, with my group taking nearly an hour to complete it at a leisurely pace (and a drink or two at “The Dietary”).

Let me walk you through my experience as a Test Subject on the opening night of Screampark: The Experiment.

THE WAITING ROOM

Description: Before our Examiners can see you, you will have to be patient. Don’t expect to sit and relax as you quietly wait your turn. You’ll need to stay on high alert for what’s to come. You won’t want to bury your head in a magazine, newspaper or your phone. You may think you’re waiting to be seen, but our examiners have already started observing you...

Thoughts: This was a very effective way to corral the guests before the haunt begins. Made up like a demented version of a hospital waiting room (complete with a well-designed mannequin of a dead nurse and lots of bloody graffiti) the sights and sounds set the stage for what’s to come. Rules are written on the wall that I recommend you heed (though I really wouldn’t hit the “emergency button” if I were you…)

PREPARATION PENITENTIARY

Description: Think you can handle what’s to come without any long-term side effects? So did these past subjects. Travel through Preparation Penitentiary as you gaze upon what the results are if you can’t handle it. The inmates of this reformatory will help you prepare yourself for just how important it is to overcome the techniques used within The Experiment. These prisoners were not prepared for The Experiment and failed. Subjects who fail the testing are forced into permanent residence at Preparation Penitentiary as they are deemed too dangerous and unpredictable to be released back into civilization. Take a close look around and take in the consequences of failure. If you think you have what it takes to survive The Experiment and be able to function normally in civilization, proceed to the Quarantine Zone.

Thoughts: This seemed like the slow-burn start to the haunt. There were only a handful of actors present, and the emphasis was much more getting guests into the setting than on any big scares. Of course there were some classics, including a sliding floor and some jump-scare mannequins, but it was pretty tame overall.

QUARANTINE ZONE

Description:  Congratulations, you’ve made the irresponsible and careless decision to proceed. Our corrupt examiners are delighted to exploit you at every turn. Before officially entering the experimental grounds you must first be quarantined. It’s paramount that the Examiners put every subject through a quarantine process before official testing can begin. What does the Quarantine entail? Our examiners cannot disclose that information due to its graphic nature.

Thoughts: Now, because I was the very first person through on the very first night of the haunt, I have a feeling all the actors may not have been in position yet, because this section was completely empty. However, that may have been how it was intended all along, because this was a very eerie setting. A long walk through dark woods lit only with torches, then through a section of buildings and cars (used for paintball during the warmer months) that looked truly post-apocalyptic. It brought on thoughts of Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later (I know, I know, I’m not nearly that handsome). Whether intended on not, this really took advantage of the available real estate to create a mood of loneliness and abandonment.

EXPERIMENTAL GROUNDS

Description: Access to this area is restricted to authorized personnel only… and of course our subjects. Here you will be exposed to the unthinkable. Sights so gruesome that you’ll question if they are even real. Our Examiners are corrupt experts in human experimentation, some of them are even products of their own twisted experiments. They wait patiently in the darkness, monitoring your progress until they feel you are ready to be subject to their twisted techniques. Each of them has their own agenda that is unknown to even the highest of Screampark authorities. They believe quality research is most effective when they are free to interrogate, petrify and taunt as they please. Authorities do not have the guts to question them, so don’t think help is coming any time soon.

Thoughts: Now, we’re getting somewhere! This is where I feel the traditional haunt aspects really began, after a lot of establishing mood and build-up. The sound effects were disorienting, there were some effective jump scares, and even a few surprises (teddy bears???)

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THE DIETARY

Description: Good work, up until now you’ve been exposed to and passed the first half of the testing. However, the worst is yet to come. The Dietary is strategically located here in the Screampark Experiment as you’ll need to be nourished and hydrated for the next part of the testing. Everything on The Dietary’s menu is locally sourced…right on site actually. Every evening our cafeteria staff creatively source new and delicious flavours. Screampark authorities have been baffled for years as where they are sourcing their ingredients. Fuel up on some former subjects delicacies and quench your thirst with a beer, cocktail, or non-alcoholic beverage, or just take a break and rest until the next part of testing is ready for you. We highly recommend it.

Thoughts: I actually thought this rest area came a bit too early in the haunt. I thought things were just starting to heat up with the last section, and so to break the mood right afterwards seemed like a waste of all the build-up. Nevertheless, this little rest area was awesome! Decorated with mannequins of all the classic slasher hero… er, villains, it felt like a very festive and fun place to have a drink and a snack. I highly recommend the Witches Brew, for anyone who feels they might need an adult beverage to face the rest of the trial.

Note: There is an optional Claustrophobia Test that can be done here in the Dietary, but it unfortunately wasn’t working when I went through (drawback to being the first person on hand, perhaps).

OCULAR OBSERVATORY

Description: Our examiners are particularly interested in your optic health. They’ve set up a series of intense vision screamings and eye exams with questionable methods and techniques. They’ll be testing how easily your own vision can turn against you, and seeing how easily they can create and exploit visual impairment. Is it really pitch black? Or has your vision failed you? Are the blood-stained patterns creating corrupt images that your brain cannot process? Only our examiners will ever know.

Thoughts: There were some really cool elements here. Mostly things I’d seen before, but that I absolutely enjoyed and was hoping to see again. Tons of optical illusions like the spinning room, tunnel of mirrors, etc. that are always a hit. Plus, they really took the term “smoke and mirrors” to another level… with LASERS!!!

PITCH PATH

Description: Be prepared for what may seem like a routine walk through the desolate forest, but is really a more comprehensive experiment. Now our examiners want to test your audio. They’re ready to pierce your ears with sickening tones and blood curding pitches. Were those the screams of subjects deemed unfit to continue? Was that twig snapping an examiner coming in for a private exam? Audio illusions are everywhere and ready to sabotage your phonic confidence.

Thoughts:  Not much to say here except… Those damn chainsaws….

THE MAZE TRIALS

Description: Think your special sense has gone unaltered throughout all our testing? Think your memory can help you avoid hitting another dead end? Can you handle the impending fear of never finding your way out? Our psychotic examiners will be analysing you at every wrong turn you take...

Thoughts: They are not joking when they call this a trial. Mazes are challenging enough when you can see where you’re going. With thick smoke and strobe lights disorienting you, you really have to do this one by feel. I had a bit of a headache after this one, but I definitely have to call it a unique experience.

THE FINAL EXPERIMENT

Description:  In conclusion, the way that our examiners find is the most effective method to determine if a subject has passed or failed their testing is to expose them to those who succumbed to The Experiment. Can you act like a normal civilized citizen again? Or are you so corrupted from the experiment that you are destined to become a permanent resident. Travel through the final testing area where former failed test subjects reside. They’ll do anything to trade places with you… so watch your back, or it may cause you your freedom.

Thoughts:  This is what it’s all been building up to, and they really pulled out all the stops! I won’t spoil too much, but the actors in this section were really on top of their game. The costumes and make-up were on point, the sounds and machines were over the top, and I really felt my heart racing by the time I made it through. A really excellent way to end the experience.

I definitely recommend giving Screampark: The Experiment a try. A lot of effort was put into transforming a huge area of Bingemans park into a cohesive and terrifying experience. It builds slowly, but by the end you’ll be happy you stuck with it.

Jeff Schmidt