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The Haunting of Hillcrest 2015

Louisville’s favorite trick-or-treat destination for over 20 years, Hillcrest Avenue is ready to paint the town orange-and-black again on Oct. 31st!

Happy Halloween, kids! It’s The Phantom of the Ville checking in at the Louisville Halloween headquarters to file one of my last stories for Halloween 2015, and there’s no better place to finish out the season than Louisville’s own favorite trick-or-treat hot-spot on Hillcrest Avenue!

Right off Frankfort Avenue and just over the train tracks, you’ll find three solid blocks of homes all decked out with skeletons, spiders, jack-o-lanterns and spooks. At dusk on October 31st, those three neighborhood blocks will be invaded by an army of miniature ghosts, goblins and superheroes carrying candy bags and plastic pumpkins, the look of excess, avarice and joy on their little faces.

For this is the single greatest night of the year. It’s the night when the veil between this world and the world beyond is the thinnest, and spirits from centuries past may pierce the veil and mingle with the living. It’s a night of wild imagination and unrestrained revelry as we say our final goodbyes to the summer and welcome in the winter for better or for worse.

It is the night of Samhain! It’s Halloween!

Trick-or-treating on Hillcrest this year will take place between 5 PM and 9 PM, rain or shine. The neighborhood averages between 2,500 and 3,000 treat-or-treaters plus another 2,500 or so parents, so be prepared for a crowd. Parking is available on the street, but it seems likely most of that will be filled before the sun goes down. The neighbors that live in the area generally don’t mind folks parking along the roadside of the adjacent streets as long as you’re courteous, drive carefully and watch out for little ghosts and ghouls crossing the street.

On behalf of our entire Louisville Halloween family, I’d like to wish you all a very safe, fun and frightening Halloween!

The Phantom of the Ville

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The Dent Schoolhouse Review 2015

The Phantom of the Ville checks out one of the Top Haunted Attractions in the country, The Dent Schoolhouse, in Cincinnati, Ohio!

If you count separately ticketed attractions, Louisville’s regional haunted house scene includes nearly 30 different haunted attractions! Those are just the ones within our coverage area and doesn’t include amateur backyard haunts, theatrical productions, parades, parties and Halloween film screenings. We’ve delivered previews and reviews of as many of those local spook houses as possible this season.

Last week, the Louisville Halloween crew took one night off from covering the local Halloween scene and made the two hour pilgrimage to The Dent Schoolhouse at 5963 Harrison Ave in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Dent Schoolhouse is somewhat of a legend within the haunt community, and it is almost always included in every Top Ten or Top Twenty list of the Best Haunted Attractions in America.

This was my first day of school in the infamous Dent Schoolhouse and I certainly left with quite an education in the haunted house business. I had heard from many of our own city’s haunt owners over the last few years about what an amazing attraction that they themselves thought Dent was, and how they felt the level of detailing and quality of acting set the bar for many other haunts in the region.

It might be worth noting that the photos included with this review are all from the queue line staging area, which is built up to simulate a school fall festival, and not from inside the haunt itself. The queue line at the Dent School House is nearly as elaborate as some entire haunts! Here’s an interesting bit of trivia that might push the nostalgia buttons for some of you old enough to remember the early years of Kings Island amusement park: The photo depicting three trick-or-treaters spinning around on a ride called the Witches Brew, actually contains a legendary piece of Kings Island history! The cauldron they’re sitting inside is an actual ride vehicle from Winnie Witch’s Cauldrons (a spinning tea cup style ride) that operated from 1972 until 1991! This was confirmed by a staff member working the line.

It was a Thursday night when we drove up to Cincinnati and we arrived early enough in the evening to avoid the major lines, but this is an extremely popular attraction and the wait was approximately an hour. As soon as we entered the multi-level building, which is an actual abandoned schoolhouse, the level of detail built into the sets became readily apparent.

Dent sticks completely to its theme from the first scene where you pass a glass case full of historical school trophies to the final chase out. The back story involves a character named Charlie the Janitor, who apparently murdered a number of children years ago in the school’s basement where he has a secret lair and torture dungeon. Charlie, whose signature weapon is a giant pipe wrench, is “as close to Freddy Krueger as possible without actually being Freddy Kruger” correctly observed one of our Louisville Halloween crew.

You’ll pass dreary, endless, locker filled hallways and through abandoned classrooms as you make your way through the school. One classroom in particular delivered a couple of good actor based scares and then an unexpected effects based one. The chalkboard was filling up with creepy spirit writing. I recognized that effect as a projected image and I assumed that this would be the only effect used in that area when suddenly the entire blackboard dropped and a giant monster popped out behind it!

The lunchroom is serving up some of the most disgusting slop I’ve seen since High School, and the lunch lady, who isn’t particularly sanitary, has a bad cold and has never heard of a sneeze guard. Be prepared.

Next you’ll descend one of the steepest staircases I’ve ever seen in a haunted attraction to visit Charlie’s Boiler Room—er, Basement Work Station. The sets in the basement are amazing! It’s a Gothic house of horrors filled with curved archways and prison bars. There’s a scene full of animated life sized dolls that may look familiar to you if you’ve visited The Experiment at The 7th Street Haunt here in town.

After confronting Charlie in his lair, you’ll get a chance to escape through the school gymnasium. Of course this means you’ll have to pass through the gym’s locker room where you never know what’s hiding inside those combination locked doors and the showers, where I was certain we were about to get soaked.

Perhaps my favorite scene in the haunt takes place inside the gymnasium where the Junior Prom is being held. It’s an incredible set. There’s a giant ghost hovering above the stage like a specter of doom while dozens of couples are swaying back and forth on the dance floor. All of the dancers looked so real that at first I didn’t realize ANY of them weren’t live actors. The path through the room requires you work your way through the middle of the dance floor amid the cadre of dead teenagers. It’s a scene that recalls the horrors of both “Carrie” and “Carnival of Lost Souls.” It’s very creepy.

Your final escape will take place through the school bus compound where you’ll make your way between school buses that are still waiting to take students home who will never come. Don’t bet on Charlie letting you off easy, though!

The Dent School House is open Thursday, Oct. 29th from 7:30 PM until 10 PM and Friday and Saturday night for Halloween from 7:30 PM until midnight. As a bonus for those who like to extend their Halloween haunt season, it’s also open Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7 for a special Lights Out Tour and the following Saturday, November 13, from 7PM until midnight for one last night of terror.  General Admission is $20. A Fast Pass that will take you past the standard queue line and into the fall festival section is $30. A Front of Line ticket will take you straight into the haunt for $40.

The Phantom of The Ville
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Nightmare Forest Review 2015

It’s time again to leave the Louisville city lights behind and enter the inky black wilderness of Nightmare Forest in Otter Creek Park!

“I need to take a shower as soon as we get home to wash off all the fear!”

Overheard by a customer headed back to the parking lot at Nightmare Forest last night.

I knew that Nightmare Forest must be doing something right this year even before I reached the trail head last night. The huddled masses already leaving the forest for their cars were universally confessing their otherwise embarrassing stories of cringing in fear and soiling their undergarments. I had just gotten out of my car and my eyes were still adjusting to the pitch blackness of Otter Creek Park, but my ears, even sharper than usual due to lack of visual acuity, picked up screams, pyro, chainsaws and machine gun fire echoing from deep in those dark woods.

I had visited Nightmare Forest back in September for a preview and a Louisville Halloween video shoot, but the sets were only 85% complete and they didn’t have a live cast of actors bringing them to life. It quickly became apparent, however, that Nightmare Forest’s large collection prop zombies, skeletons and monsters along the trail took on a completely different, and terrifying menace in the dark. It’s hard to tell the difference from a prop dummy and a live actor under cover of darkness, and the actors use that to their advantage to spring to life when you least expect it.

One of the best new additions to Nightmare Forest over the last several years has been the introduction of Hawthorne’s Circus Bizarre, which sets up a carnival atmosphere as soon you pass through the carny posters and into the mini cornfield to reach the queue line. The line stretches back and forth right in front of Hawthorne’s main stage, so while you’re waiting to embark on the trail you can enjoy a free magic/carny freak show that includes fire eating, sword swallowing and other astonishing feats.

Just as it has for the last couple of years, the journey begins with a mini indoor haunt called the Dead End Hotel which takes about ten minutes to walk through and is themed as an abandoned hotel full of ghostly inhabitants who were murdered there many years ago. Their ghastly spirits will try to get you to remain there with them forever.

If you escape, you’ll head directly into the Trail of Terror for a dark expedition into Otter Creek Park. You’ll first encounter a fogbound cemetery crawling with the living dead. On down the trail you’ll be forced to pray for your lives in the brand new Gothic church scene. There’s also an extraterrestrial containment zone. a Western Town full of undead gunslingers and an abandoned kiddie theme park haunted by its former psychotic staff.

Some of my favorite new scenes take place within the amusement park, especially inside the wacky and disorienting Fun House. Bowling pins hang from the ceiling and your head is the bowling ball! Uneven surfaces and mentally unstable clowns await in new twists that eventually lead to a completely upside down room.

After you complete the Trail of Terror there will likely be a short line waiting to pass the movie ticket booth and into this attraction’s signature Nightmare Forest Trail, which twists and turns through the forest to 11 different horror movie scenes that range from 1980’s classics to last year’s scariest box-office hits.

This is where you’ll come face to face with screen accurate versions of Michael Myers, Leatherface and Jason Voorhees hiding in appropriate movie like sets. Nightmare Forest has one of the best Freddy Kreuger actors I’ve seen in a haunt for some time. The new “Hostel” and “Ouija” scenes are standouts, but my favorite scare of the night came from some young actress playing the doll from “Annabelle.” I don’t want to give away the simple but effective technique she uses to appear to be a walking, living doll, but the results I can only describe as “freaky.”

Nightmare Forest is open tonight from dusk until 2 AM and on Halloween weekend on Thursday night, October 29th from dusk until 10:30 PM, and on Friday and Saturday, October 30th and 31st from dusk until 2 AM. General Admission is $20 or $30 for a VIP Head of the Line ticket.

The Phantom of The Ville
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The Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular Glows Again!

Over 5,000 grim, grinning gourds await you and your family along this one quarter mile walking trail in Iroquois Park!

I don’t think any other Halloween event in the Louisville area has grown as quickly to become an annual Halloween tradition for thousands of families and Halloween aficionados as The Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular in Iroquois Park. In only its third consecutive year, the illuminated trail attracts thousands of awe struck patrons from as far as Georgia and Texas like a siren’s song from ancient mythology. The artisans who carve these majestic pumpkins have even caught the attention of Good Morning America, which will air a segment on the phenomenon and its creators next week.

Last night I made the journey into the misty wooded trail to see what subjects and themes were being carved into these magnificent orange gourds this year, first stopping to chat with one of Passion for Pumpkins owners and operators, Paul Cadieux, who was scrambling to keep his prized pieces on display in the unseasonably warm weather.

“Our pumpkins don’t last nearly as long in this weather,” admits Cadieux. “We’ve lost three big ones already tonight. They prefer it much cooler, 50 degrees or less. When it gets up into the 70’s, they rot and collapse much quicker.”

On any given night, there are around 5,000 jack o’ lanterns on display and the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular will use at least 15,000 for the whole season, taking older ones out and rotating newer ones in almost every day.

Last year’s semi-educational, almost museum-like theme of “A Walk in Time” has given way this year to a more pop culture based theme centering mostly on entertainment from Hollywood genres like Action, Comedy and Science Fiction to Broadway Musicals. The first big scene is an elaborate “Wizard of Oz” area filled with pumpkins sculpted to represent the movie’s characters in front of an illuminated Emerald City.

My favorite section this year has to be the “Lord of the Rings” scene, complete with a full sized Shire comprised of Hobbit Holes as a backdrop for pumpkins representing Gandalf, Frodo, Gollum and the entire Fellowship of the Ring. I also really enjoyed the “Funhouse” area with its carnival themed pumpkins, gypsy caravan carts and a full sized Ferris wheel complete with riding jack o’ lanterns.

The centerpiece of the Music and Rock and Roll area is a Beatles tribute with jack o’ lanterns representing different Beatles’ songs in an “Octopus’s Garden” complete with sunken galleon and a giant octopus wrapping its tentacles around the pumpkins. Good luck getting Ringo Starr’s popular song out of your head after spending a couple of minutes taking in the serene majesty of this underwater tableau.

As has been the case since the Jack O Lantern Spectacular’s first year, the real show stopper is known as “The Laughing Tree,” a place where the grinning faces climb as high into the trees as the eyes can see, surrounding guests in 360 degrees of giggling, guffawing pumpkins. Ray Bradbury would have wept.

The Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular is open every night through November 1st, Sundays through Thursdays from dusk until 11 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from dusk until midnight. During weekdays Adults are $12, Seniors 62+ are $10, Children 3-12 are $9 and under 3 are free. On Friday and Saturday, Adults are $15, Seniors 62+ are $13, Children 3-12 are $12. The trail is handicap accessible. Be warned, THIS IS VERY POPULAR ATTRACTION. Traffic just getting into Iroquois Park can be maddening, taking as much as three hours on weekend nights when the weather is nice. It took me an hour to get into the parking lot on Thursday evening. Plan accordingly. We recommend you plan on arriving pre dusk on the weekends.

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Bloodshed Mini Haunt Review (Franklin, KY) 2015

One of our Nashville emissaries, the beautiful and infamous, Countess Bathory, takes a look at a gritty little haunt in Franklin, KY called Bloodshed!

Greetings, haunt fans from all over the region (and regions beyond!), it’s The Phantom of the Ville here to introduce you to one of our ghastly emissaries from the Nashville area, Countess Bathory! When not practicing her favorite method of anti-aging skin care by partaking in bloody bubble baths, Bathory enjoys hitting all the best haunted attractions in and near the country music capital of the world. Without further ado, here is Bathory’s mini haunt review of Bloodshed at 608 S Main Street in Franklin, KY 42134.

Set against the small town and hidden woods of Franklin, Ky, is a shredding newcomer to the haunt industry. Brought to you by a haunt and effects company called Horror Industries, who started as a small Michael Myers/”Halloween” inspired haunt in Bowling Green, KY in 2001, Horror Industries eventually created the acclaimed haunted house, The Massacre, in 2010. Springing from the bloody well that birthed The Massacre, now arises Bloodshed from the murky depths of the crimson abyss.

The name says it all. Bloodshed takes a decidedly aggressive stance on haunt acting, as the highly aggressive all male cast shows off its talents for “power tool table diving” and giving “chainsaw pedicures.”   It’s a creative, interactive experience sure to shake your soul and possibly cause you to soil your drawers.

I traveled down a lonely gravel road to what looked like a deserted parking lot in front of some abandoned farmland outbuildings and empty semi-trailers. As I got out of my car, I noticed a musty smell of sawdust, staleness and machinery. The ticket booth was in a construction trailer at the front of the parking lot. Once you purchase your tickets, you are taken to an old shed where a single church pew awaits. There you will be shown a short film that tells you the history of the Bloodshed and explains the rules of the haunt.

It was indeed scary. Their shtick is mostly about killing; killing women in particular, but I assume that they are equal opportunity murderers! It took about 15 minutes to go through Bloodshed, including the watching of the short film. This haunt has a plausible back story, a custom musical score and unflinching actors who will not break character. Their website (www.horrorindustriesonline.com)  promises scares unlike that of other attractions and with that they definitely deliver.

Bloodshed will be open for murder business Friday and Saturday nights through Halloween from 7 PM until the last guest gets put through the meat grinder. Tickets are $15.

Review by Bathory

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