Deep Within the Dark, Dark Woods of Otter Creek Park Exists a Place Where Nightmares are Born and Innocence Comes to Die. They Call it Nightmare Forest!
Greetings again, Haunt Fans, this is The Phantom of the Ville back with a preview of a very unique haunt known as Nightmare Forest in Otter Creek Park. I’ve always believed that when it comes to scaring someone, or when it comes to getting scared myself, atmosphere is half the battle. The proper setting is critical. Old houses, abandoned amusement parks, dark hospitals and graveyards all have a psychological impact on us both because they have a connection to death, decay and the great unknown and because we’ve been exposed to these places in dark fairy tales and horror films all our lives. However, when we get down to primal fears, we all share an ancient, inherited fear of the unknown terror awaiting us in the dark. Primitive humans gathered around campfires in the night trying to keep the unspeakable horrors of the wilderness at bay.
The forest, still to this day, is a place far from our safe and comfortable civilization. Dense with living things, during the day the woods may seem like a tranquil place, but at night it takes on another countenance. If you’re accustomed to living in the city or the suburbs, where all of the artificial lights of civilization keep the darkness at bay, you may be shocked at just how black that the dark can really get as you drive along the winding road into Otter Creek Park. Just off the highway, nature takes back the night and the trees begin to reach out over the road with their spindly branches. When you reach the parking area for Nightmare Forest, it’s so dark that you can hardly see the ground beneath your feet. Strange sounds, maybe even distant screams, echo through the trees as you make your way to the start of the trail, but mostly it’s quiet. Disturbingly, uncomfortably quiet. The scene is set for real fear to emerge.
That’s when the spookmasters of Nightmare Forest take over, using the primal elements they already have at their disposal, and building an elaborate series of incredible haunted structures that guests will encounter and have to explore as they make their way through the dark woods. I met with head spookmaster, Jason Weber, to talk about the history of Nightmare Forest and the challenges of operating an outdoor haunt. Weber and his partner, Jeff Howlett, have been in the haunt business for 11 years. He started with Nightmare Forest as an actor, but his real first experience running an outdoor haunt started much earlier.
“I really loved Halloween as a kid,” Weber says. “I wanted to keep trick-or-treating forever, but when I reached 12 or 13 years old, I knew I was getting too old to go door-to-door with a costume on. I still wanted the candy, though, so a friend and I built our own haunted trail in the neighborhood and charged the other kids pieces of candy as an admission fee to go through.”
Weber’s haunted trail has gotten a lot bigger. This year, Weber had a 10-15 person crew working through the last half of the Summer building all the castles, crypts and cabins that guests will encounter on the trail. One of the most impressive features along the trail is the mood lighting. Colored gel lights and carefully placed LED lights give the scenes just enough light to make the props and sets visible, but not so much light as to chase away the darkness. There are 40-45 paid actors working on any given night plus a varying number of volunteers.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re still facing,” says Weber, “is trying to let people know that we’re actually open! When the city closed Otter Creek Park during the Recession, everybody assumed that would be the end of us as well. But we’re still here.”
It was time to face the darkness, and my adventure began at Nightmare Harvest, a corn maze added to the original trail this year. This part of the trail is anything but straight ahead. You’ll likely be re-tracing your steps more than once as you encounter scarecrows and hillbillies while the strains of Dueling Banjos (the theme from “Deliverance”!) plays in the distance.
Once you finally find the exit to Nightmare Harvest, you’ll find yourself in the parking lot of The Nightmare Forest Drive-In where horror movies are playing all night on a big screen on the side of a barn while creeps roam among the cars. You’ll pass directly under the silver screen into the horror movies themselves on the main Nightmare Forest Trail.
The main trail takes you from one horror movie set to another. You’ll pass through Camp Crystal Lake where Jason Voorhees will be waiting. You’ll make a stop in Haddonfield, so keep an eye out for Michael Myers, but the thing I was most impressed with was the huge structures Weber and his crew built in the woods. Imagine walking down a dark trail and coming upon a huge Hellraiser puzzle-box just sitting there. You don’t have to imagine it because it’s there at Nightmare Forest! You’ll enter a huge Gothic vampire castle filled with spitting demons. You’ll explore the Mummy’s Tomb!
The long journey isn’t over yet. When you’ve reached the end of Nightmare Forest, you’ll go right into The Trail of Terror, which is all zombie themed this year. It’s just as detailed as the main trail with huge graveyards, hospitals and morgues. The make-up and performances of the actors are particularly good here. These brilliant actors know that real zombies don’t run! The finale is quite shocking, but I’m not going to spoil it here. You need to make the drive out to Otter Creek Park to experience it for yourself.
Before you leave, I recommend checking out Hawthorne’s Circus of Oddities, a sideshow of strange and unusual objects found in and around Kentucky. For only $2 (one of the best you’ll spend this Halloween), Hawthorne will take you behind the curtain and into his tent of oddities. He’ll tell you stories about each of the weird objects on display, and you’ll get to see “IT”! IT was found on the bank of the Ohio River and has been examined by medical professionals who have claimed that IT was organic and was once alive. You must see IT to believe it.
Nightmare Forest is open every Friday and Saturday night in October from dusk until 1AM.