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The Phantom’s Top Haunts of 2014

The Phantom of the Ville unleashes his list of favorite scares, haunts and Halloween attractions for the 2014 season.

With only two weekends left in the 2014 Halloween season, it’s crunch time for those of you still trying to decide on which haunted attractions and Halloween events you want to attend before the rising sun on November 2nd officially ends our ghoulish hootenanny for another year. Most, but not all, haunted houses will be open on November 1st since it falls on a Saturday this year, but be sure to check www.louisvillehalloween.com for closing times before you head out the door.

The definition of “scary” is different for each and every one of us, and we all have our own unique fears and phobias, and even the best haunts in the Ville have “off nights” due to weather, crowd capacity, actor availability, faulty special effects and a dozen other factors. This list isn’t meant to be the definitive “Best of Louisville” list for the 2014 Halloween season, but just a highlight of some of my favorite experiences out there in the region on dark nights over the last month. I’ll start off by shining a light on some of the best and most creative scenes, actors and effects I’ve seen this season and finish it off by naming my TOP THREE HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS of the year.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

MOST INTENSE HAUNT OF 2014: The Haunted Hotel! Was there ever any doubt? If you’re looking for a haunt that’s going grab you, shake you and send you out the door a sobbing, shell shocked mess, the Haunted Hotel is for you!

LONGEST HAUNT OF 2014: Field of Screams! When it comes to bang for your buck, nobody delivers like the Field of Screams. You’ll spend over an hour in their signature attraction, which includes a corn maze, haunted barn and haunted woods, and at least another 40 minutes on the Hayride to Hell. This is an action packed, high quality and even exhausting attraction.

BEST OPENING SCENE: Literally, a Haunted House! New Albany’s classic Culbertson Mansion haunt delivered my favorite opening scene this year inside a witch’s manor. This scene includes great acting and interaction with the audience, an atmospheric set, a great “Boo!” finale and a fantastic hidden exit into the haunt.

BEST LAST SCENE: TIE! Nightmare Forest and the 7th Street Haunt! In a brilliant move, Nightmare Forest decided to take advantage of the concept behind “The Purge” and the infamous Internet prank that had Louisville residents locking their doors and hunkering down for “Louisville Purge Night” to deliver an effective and shocking ending to their haunted forest trail.

The 7th Street Haunt ends its tour of Fort Harmony with a descent into the fiery pits of Hell! There you’ll pass through an incredibly creative (and scratch made!) volcanic Hellscape complete with lava monsters and demons!

BEST MOVIE SCENES: Fear Fair! Nobody does realistic horror movie scenes like Fear Fair, and this year they’ve added the prison from “The Walking Dead,” an updated “Exorcist” scene and a brand new, extensive “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” finale.

BEST MAKE-UP AND SET DESIGN: The Devil’s Attic! Nobody pays quite as much attention to detail as the Devil’s Attic. The make-up, monster costumes and Gothic set design are two steps above what anybody else is even attempting in the Ville. In fact, even though the lighting, fog and special effects are tremendous, the Devil’s Attic looks almost as good with the lights on.

BEST NEW SCENE: Grim Trails! Nothing in town blew me away as much the new Maleficent’s Castle scene at Grim Trails. It’s a jaw dropping experience when you step out of the woods and are faced with the imposing drawbridge, 25 foot towers and huge wooden door of the castle. The scene is capped off with a spectacular special effects sequence that witnesses Maleficent transform into a gigantic fire breathing dragon and a jaunt through the castle’s catacombs.

BEST “WOW” FACTOR AND HIGH TECH HAUNT: Industrial Nightmare at Industrial Terrorplex. The signature maze at Industrial Terrorplex was pumped up on high tech steroids last year with a $300,000 renovation and nothing in town can touch it in terms of scale, lighting and special effects. It kept the best scenes of the past, the swamp scene and the giant monster, but completely changed everything else and is now almost overwhelming in its spectacle. Giant rats, bridges over water effects and the best animatronic creatures in town combine to create an unforgettable experience.

BEST OVERALL VALUE: Danger Run! Including THREE of the haunts included on this list for only $20, Danger Run also includes its signature road game puzzle for an entire night’s (or maybe two nights!) entertainment.

MOST INTERACTIVE HAUNT: Asylum Haunted Scream Park! If you want to be a part of the show and feel like you’ve been dropped into a horror movie where you are the star, Asylum Haunted Scream Park is the haunt for you. Zombie City is the most interactive attraction in town and Xterminate lets you actually shoot the zombies!

CREEPIEST ORIGINAL CHARACTER: The Spider Creature at Literally, a Haunted House! This thing is still showing up in my nightmares.

MOST SCREEN ACCURATE MOVIE CHARACTER: Jason Voorhees at Fear Fair!

MOST DISTURBING HAUNT CHARACTER: The elevator goon in the Infected maze at Industrial Terrorplex! If you’ve ever met this guy, you’ll never forget him.

BEST UNEXPECTED SCARE OF THE SEASON: The flying vampire in Darkness Falls on Asylum at Asylum Haunted Scream Park.

BEST FAMILY HALLOWEEN EVENT: The Louisville Jack O Lantern Spectacular! The majesty and October beauty on display in Iroquois Park is a MUST SEE for both families and Halloween fanatics alike.

When it comes to total, overall experience, I have chosen my three favorite haunted attractions for the 2014 Halloween season. Each year my list changes and new scenes, new mazes and new cast members can greatly affect the results. It also comes down to personal tastes and what you’re looking for in a haunt. There are a great variety of experiences out there, and there are no bad haunts in the Ville.

Number Three: INDUSTRIAL NIGHTMARE at Industrial Terrorplex! I was blown away by the scale and quality of the new Industrial Nightmare maze, and I think it’s the most impressive big budget attraction in town, comparable in every way to the haunts at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando. 

Number Two: FEAR FAIR in Seymour, Indiana! Fear Fair has actually been my number one favorite haunt in the region for the last five years. It’s a huge haunt that takes 30 to 40 minutes to experience, and as a huge horror movie fan, it just feels like “home.” No one creates realistic horror film scenes like Fear Fair, and no one consistently delivers the number of shocking scares they deliver on an annual basis.

Number One: My favorite haunted attraction this season is GRIM TRAILS HAUNTED ATTRACTION! I don’t expect every haunt fan out there to agree with me because Grim Trails is bringing something completely different to the haunted house scene in Louisville and may not be what some haunt fans expect. There are no chainsaws, clowns or movie scenes. Instead, it’s a dark fantasy haunted woods lit by a tea light trial based on the Brothers Grimm tales and other fantastic childhood stories.

Grim Trails captures the essence of the Halloween season with mood and atmosphere instead of blood and debauchery, and while still certainly delivering on the expected scares, presents an attraction that can be enjoyed by fans of all ages. In only its second season, it was the majesty of the new Maleficent’s Castle scene that pushed Grim Trails to the top of my list this year. When Maleficent disappears into a blast of green smoke and transforms into a fire breathing dragon, I was completely sold on this extremely original and creative attraction. Highly recommended!

The Phantom of The Ville
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Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree” Comes to Glowing Life at the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular!

 

The Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular in Iroquois Park is this Halloween’s best nightly operating attraction for families and Halloween lovers alike!

“It’s beautiful!”

Dr. Rene Belloq, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Anyone who has seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” remembers this exclamation from the films’ primary villain as he stares into the freshly opened Holy relic and at the incorporeal spirits within just before his head promptly explodes. That’s pretty much the same reaction I had on the Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular trail at Iroquois Park because the glowing majesty on display there pretty much blew my mind.

Earlier this week I met with Iroquois Deputy Parks Director, Marty Storch, and Passion for Pumpkins owners and operators, Paul Cadieux and Travis Recknor, to get the scoop on the second season of the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular and its history.

“Travis’ father went to Vermont one October nearly 30 years ago and saw a hillside full of pumpkins,” says Cadieux. “That’s where this whole idea started.”

“We had our first event in Massachusetts 26 years ago,” he continues. “It started as a fundraiser for a local high school with about 50 pumpkins. That event quickly got so popular that we moved it to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island with approximately 5,000 pumpkins per year.”

“Here at the Louisville event we are using around 15,000 pumpkins per year,” says Parks Director Marty Storch. “We just got a batch of Atlantic Giant Pumpkins in, and one of them weighs 1,950 pounds!”

Storch says that a portion of the proceeds this season are going towards building several public playgrounds and “spraygrounds” this year. One will be at the California Park on W St. Catherine Street, another in Russell Lee Park on Southern Avenue and a third in Lannon Park in Portland.

“We had 40,000 visitors last year,” says Storch, “and we’re hoping for around 60,000 this year.”

“Our theme this year is ‘A Walk in Time,’ and it’s a journey through history as depicted on sculpted pumpkin art,” says Cadieux, “but we’ve had all kinds of pumpkins carved already this year, including a couple of wedding proposal pumpkins!”

“One of our centerpieces is the Laughing Tree,” says Cadieux. The Laughing Tree is an enormous tree with branches full of grinning pumpkins and the sounds of laughter echoing through the night. As a lifelong fan of the Halloween stories of legendary author, Ray Bradbury, I couldn’t help but imagine his classic 1972 novel, “The Halloween Tree,” coming to vivid life as I basked beneath the glow of Caudieux and Recknor’s giggling masterpiece.

First on the trail, you’ll discover the magical Clock of Ages before you hear the primordial growls of the Prehistoric Swap and you’ll find yourself in a misty land of dinosaur pumpkins before moving on to the Ice Age. Just around the bend, you’ll encounter a medieval castle set depicting feudal times and some of the fire breathing myths dreamed up in that era.

Soon enough you’ll pass into the Old West, complete with an entire Western town full of gunslinging pumpkins. Then you’ll experience the artistic beauty of the Renaissance and the steam powered glory of the Industrial Revolution. Each section is accompanied by the appropriate classical music and sound effects, and this results in an atmosphere similar to that found in some of our best National History Museums.

As the time gets closer to our own moment in history, the trail gets broken down into decades of American History from the Jazz Age of the 1920’s to the Great Depression of the 1930’s and beyond. Popular culture begins showing up in the form of music and movie pumpkins, such as “Rocky” and “Star Wars” pumpkins in the 1970’s and “Ghostbusters” and “Back to the Future” pumpkins in the 1980’s. I thought the “disco pumpkin” was particularly relevant since 90% of the world’s disco balls are made right here in Louisville.

As crazy as it might sound before October 31st, you’ll get to experience some early Christmas cheer in the holiday area, complete with Christmas music and light snowfall on still nights.

Just before the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular’s finale, there is a tribute to Louisville in glowing orange featuring pumpkins depicting Churchill Downs and local heroes like Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders and even Jennifer Lawrence!

Then just before going home, you’ll be rewarded with a tribute to everything Halloween from the Frankenstein Monster to haunted houses, graveyards and ghosts.

It’s hard for me to imagine a better Halloween event for families and kids in the Ville. There are overwhelming sights and sounds to be experienced at the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular that could very well make for memories that might find themselves etched upon a child’s mind for the rest of his or her life. With that in mind, I can’t recommend this new annual Halloween event any higher to families and lovers of the orange-and-black holiday.

The Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular is open through November 2nd from 7 PM (dusk) until 11 PM Sundays through Thursdays and until Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets for Sunday through Thursday are $12 for Adults, $10 for Seniors (62 and over) and $9 for Children (3-12 years old). Children under 3 are FREE. Tickets for Friday and Saturday are $15 for Adults, $13 for Seniors and $12 for Children.

The Phantom of The Ville
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Literally, a Haunted House 2014 Review

For 30 years, the Culbertson Mansion has hosted this classic spook house in New Albany, and over the years has become as much of a Halloween tradition in the area as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”!

Last night, as I drove down the rain slicked streets of Main Street in the quaint little town of New Albany, past the old Schmitt Furniture building and the row of turn of the century stately homes and manors, I could feel a tangible sense of history. The past, like a ghost that never leaves its earthly home, lives forever in that place.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the gates of the haunted Culbertson Mansion. As you peer up into its third story windows, you may see shadows of the long past looking back at you with curious eyes. Follow the walkway past the 1867 Second Empire-style mansion to the Carriage House in the back and you’ll discover another artifact of Halloweens long past.

Literally, a Haunted House at 914 E Main Street in New Albany, IN is celebrating its 30th year as a non-profit haunt in that creaky abode in the looming shadow of the Culbertson Mansion. While the world in general, and the haunt biz in particular, has changed radically over that time, Culbertson’s haunted house has remained rooted in tradition. I don’t mean to say that Literally, a Haunted House is “old school” in the same way I’ve alluded to the 7th Street Haunt across the bridge in Louisville. No, Culbertson’s haunt isn’t trying to recreate a forgotten feeling from the haunts of yesteryear. It simply is a living, theatrical piece of Halloween history.

In its tight and twisting hallways and up and down its creaking stairwells, there is a kind of magic that conjures the vibe of Midnight Spook Shows of the 1940’s through the 1960’s and tantalizing Spook Houses from long forgotten carnival Midways.

This season, Literally, a Haunted House is celebrating its 30 year haunt history by constructing a maze filled with the best remembered scenes and characters from the past, but it is also dipping its toes into the modern horror business in unexpected ways. For the first time, Culbertson is embracing the idea of “touching” and has amped up the physical intensity level a bit. Last year, the haunt was themed to Classic Monsters and pretty much avoided both touching and gore altogether, so this year they’ve decided to mix things up a bit and get a bit gorier.

It’s still in the spirit of fun, however, and nowhere on the level of grabby intensity and gore soaked depravity of the Haunted Hotel in Louisville. This would still make a great “first haunt” for a curious 8 to 10 year old with proper parental supervision (AKA, a brave human shield!), but there is a slightly darker undertone this season.

You’ll begin your tour with a walk through the Culbertson graveyard where you’ll encounter a coven of robed devil cult creeps conducting a ceremony that will unleash an evil force into the world. Then you’ll climb the steps and enter the Carriage House to meet a cackling hag that promises to end the evil spell if you’ll help her read an arcane text from an ancient book.

This scene ended up being my favorite opening scene of any haunt in the region this year. The great, atmospheric set, complete with all-seeing busts just like the ones in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, a smoldering fireplace and a fantastic “Boo!” finale, really kicks off the whole experience with style. You’ll also see some of the best haunt acting in town in this scene, and throughout the haunt, along with some of the best interactive performances around.

After you pass through the secret entrance into the bowels of the haunt, you’ll see ancient crypts, rooms infested with snakes, spiders & cockroaches, haunted nurseries and forgotten dungeons with moving walls. You’ll meet demented dentists, evil ghost children and chainsaw wielding maniacs. I have to give special props to the fanged, spider-like creature in all black who is truly worthy of nightmares.

On the down side, this is one of the shorter haunts in town, with a total experience time in the 10 or 12 to 15 minute range. The opening jaunt through the graveyard helps extend the experience a bit, but the Carriage House hasn’t gotten any bigger in 30 years. The Culbertson crew makes use of every nook and cranny to the best of their ability.

Also, due to the tight spaces and small rooms inside the Carriage House, the smaller the group you can go through with, the better. A group of three or, ideally, four will likely have a better experience than a group of six or more.

Literally, a Haunted House is open tonight and every Friday and Saturday through November 1st from 7 PM until 11 PM. Tickets are $14. Experience a living piece of local Halloween history this season at the historic—and very haunted—Culbertson Mansion!

The Phantom of The Ville
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Halloween Express is BACK with all the Costumes, Animated Props and Decorations You Need for Halloween 2014!

Now in a new location in the Springhurst Center off Westport Road, Halloween Express is back in orange and black!

With Halloween just three weeks away, it’s time to start haunting your front yards, porches and houses. It’s also time to start thinking about what ghoulish, fantastical or sexy costume you want to wear for all the festivities.

Louisville Halloween has a big Halloween party coming up at Sully’s on 4th Street LIVE that encompasses several days and themes. On Thursday, Oct. 30, Sully’s is hosting a Day of the Dead Kick-Off Party, and on Friday, Oct. 31, they’re throwing the Official Louisville Halloween Pirate Themed Bash.

Where can you go to pick up both Day of the Dead and Pirate themed costumes and accessories? I’m glad you asked!

Halloween Express on 10517 Fischer Park Drive in the Springhurst Center just off Westport Road has sections dedicated to both of those themes and just about everything else you could ask for as well. In addition, they’re the only Halloween shop in town with THREE DIMENSIONAL mirrors that allow you to check out your costume from every possible angle!

I stopped into Halloween Express last week to check out all the new animated props like the Deadwood Tree, the Swamp Hag and the life size howling Werewolf, and I spoke with owners Chasity and Kevin Hill about everything that was hot for Halloween 2014. The Hills have been with Halloween Express for 10 years and opened shop in the Louisville area for the first time in 2012.

“The hottest costumes this year are anything from Disney’sFrozen’,” says Chasity Hill, “so, of course, all the distributors are out of stock and we’re trying really hard to get some in as we speak.”

“Also hot this year are Ninja Turtles, Superheroes and Monster High,” says Hill. “We have a whole endcap of Monster High costumes.”

“For the adults, sexy is also really big this year,” relates Hill. “Sexy cops, sexy cat suits, sexy superheroes; pretty much anything you can make sexy is in high demand.”

I also saw a number of really cool inflatable costumes for all ages. I saw a full grown man in an inflatable baby costume and a small tike in an inflatable monster costume. These costumes are really cool and come with their own wearable fans that keep the costumes inflated.

The best thing about Halloween Express is that it’s clean, neat and organized with everything you’re looking for filed into specialized sections. Marvel heroes, weapons and accessories, latex monster masks, traditional Halloween décor, spiders, bats, ghosts, skulls and even costumes for your pets.

“We sell a lot of winged reapers, tombstones, cemetery gates, spider webs and things like that to decorate your house and front yard,” says Hill, “as well as big yard inflatables.”

Through this Sunday, Oct. 12, you can take advantage of a 15% coupon off your entire purchase just from us at Louisville Halloween! Print the coupon off of our Facebook page, this page or just mention this article this weekend at Halloween Express! Remember that it expires on Oct. 12, so hurry in this weekend and take advantage of the savings while you can! Tell them the Phantom of the Ville sent you!

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Fear Fair 2014 Review

Fear Fair in Seymour, IN, transports its customers into the scenes of some of the scariest movies ever made!

Hello again, Boils & Ghouls, it’s your favorite River City Spook, the Phantom of the Ville, back with another haunted attraction review. “Drive a little, scream a lot,” is the tagline used by owner/operator, Brett Hays, to entice haunt fans from the Louisville and Indianapolis markets to make the hour long drive to the quaint little town of Seymour, IN for the Fear Fair experience.

If you don’t want to listen to Brett, then listen to me: Cancel whatever plans you had this weekend and get your ass to Fear Fair! You keep asking me, “What’s the scariest haunted house around?” I have two words for you: FEAR FAIR.

According to our recent 2014 Haunted Attraction Survey on Survey Monkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/STHXQ5V), 75% of you said you would be willing drive at least an hour if you heard a haunt was really, really good. In the same survey, 45% of you said that haunts should only do movie scenes if they did them right and made you feel like you were actually in the movie. According to that criteria, almost everyone reading this would be perfect victims for Fear Fair.

Nobody does movie scenes like Fear Fair. Nobody. If you’re a huge horror movie fan, and you’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to star in some of your favorite horror films, this is the haunted attraction for you.

My first experience at Fear Fair five years ago absolutely blew my mind and really got me interested in haunted attractions again. I had become a little jaded over the years, and was suffering from the numbing effect of seeing too many average horror films and walking through too many by-the-numbers haunted houses, and it was Fear Fair that re-awoke the passion for haunting in me that probably led directly to this column. That first night I went through Fear Fair twice, back to back. I’ve never done that before or afterwards.

Fear Fair has grown and changed a lot over the last five years, but I find myself missing some of the great scenes that had to go for the sake of progress. Initially there was a Western town and railroad robbery scene that paid homage to the first recorded train robbery in history which took place in Seymour, IN. That scene was updated to the giant monster attack on Hangar 17 which still opens the haunt.

Most of the remainder of the 35-40 minute haunt takes place after you pass through the grindhouse movie theater for the Fear Fair Film Festival. You’ll pass the ticket booth and concession stand and make your way down the theater aisle until you disappear directly into the movie screen.

On the other side you’ll find yourself on the set of “The Exorcist,” in one of Fear Fair’s new, updated scenes. This scene replaces the old “Jeepers Creepers” cornfield and school bus scene. Also gone this season are the “My Bloody Valentine” mine shaft, “The Wolfman” (2010) sanitarium, the “Scream” hallway and the “Hellraiser” scene.

The new “Exorcist” scene fits with Brett Hays’ tribute this year to the brutal and stark horror films of the early 1970’s that changed the horror movie forever. “The Exorcist” is single-handedly credited with kicking off the age of Modern Horror in 1973, and the very next year “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” changed the landscape of the horror genre completely.

“This is the 40th anniversary of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ and I wanted to pay tribute to that film and the films of that era that changed everything we love about horror films today,” says Hays.

Some of the favorites that still remain are Frankenstein’s laboratory, Rob Zombie’sHalloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” a revamped “Friday the 13th” scene with the best and most screen accurate Jason Voorhees I’ve ever seen in a haunt and the elaborate “Saw” scene that splits up the men and the woman and weeds out the men from the boys as well.

In its second season, the massive “Silent Hill” area opens with white ash dropping from the sky as you pass the county line into Silent Hill where all of the creeps from the videogames and movies are lurking, including the gigantic, Pyramid Head, the armless freaks and the demonic nurses.

A couple of years ago, Fear Fair decided to pay tribute to “The Walking Dead,” not by adding a few zombies, but by building the entire city of Atlanta as depicted in the AMC series’ first season in Fear Fair’s back lot. You’ll explore the hospital, discount store, pawn shop, clothing store and city streets and alleyways.

This year, Hays and his team have updated the massive set to include the prison and cell block depicted in season’s three and four. The cellblock is a madhouse of animatronic and live action zombie insanity that will get you pumped for “The Walking Dead” season five’s premiere on Sunday, October 12.

The zombies in “The Walking Dead” scenes are hungry and aggressive, and if they catch you they might even bite you. They will definitely grab, scratch and claw at your clothing. Fear Fair is a full contact haunt that allows its actors to touch you, grab you and maybe even chainsaw you.

Be prepared for a complete physical experience. You’ll be climbing up and down stairs and you’ll have to occasionally navigate some uneven floors. Also, beware low ceilings in several dark areas. I’m 6ft 2in, and even though I’ve been through Fear Fair quite a few times, I still managed to bang my head twice this year, nearly knocking myself silly.

The finale this year is a complete, ground up rebuild of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” area that includes a trip through the slaughterhouse and the Hewitt house. Don’t miss it.

Fear Fair is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through November 1st, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 PM until 1 AM and Sundays from 8 PM until 10 PM. Tickets are $20 and Fast Passes are available for $25.

The Phantom of The Ville
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