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Review: I-4’s Premier Fear Park

A bold claim to “premier” status does little to place this pairing of independent haunts on the map between two Central Florida powerhouses lurking at either end of the same street.


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I-4’s Premier Fear Park is an interesting scenario in the world of haunted attractions. This event is actually comprised of two different companies – Sir Henry’ Haunted Trail and Ominous Descent Haunted Attraction – each of which feature a wildly varying degree of quality between them. Originally planned to be a stand-alone haunt debuting in its own dedicated location for the 2017 season, Ominous Descent was destroyed by Hurricane Irma shortly before opening day. Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail came to the rescue, with the ultimate neighborly showing of industry peer hospitality, offering them a space on the field of their existing venue to cut their teeth.

In its second year as a joint venture, the self-proclaimed “I-4’s Premier Fear Park” is a seasonal event that runs ten select nights between October 5, 2018 and October 28, 2018, including every Friday and Saturday, as well as the last two Sundays of October. This joint venture features two different haunted trails and an upcharge laser tag attraction by Sir Henry’s as well as a third unrelated trail and upcharge five minute escape game by Ominous Descent. ear-haunts-1031

The Carving

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In 1791 a small village, Boggy Meadow, was making preparations for All Hallows Eve. Children whispered about the village legend: any Jack O Lantern left unlit by midnight would transform into a terrifying creature. This creature would bring a curse upon the village and wreak havoc. At the end of night, with the clock about to strike midnight, one little boy had a startling thought…had he remembered to light his Jack O Lantern? He ran home but when he got there, the pumpkin was gone! He searched high and low but there was no sign of it. That is until out from the edge of the forest emerged a 6 foot tall pumpkin creature, covered in vines, carrying the decapitated head of his mother carved like a pumpkin. The carving had begun…

The story of The Carving is both unique and compelling. It creates an instant sense of excitement steeped in palpable urgency. And perhaps most importantly, it’s different from many of the overdone haunt tropes we’ve encountered in the past.

Unfortunately as strong as this story is on paper, it barely – if at all – translates in practical execution. The story of lighting the Jack-O-Lanterns is all but lost on guests passing through its wooded scenes – but in a sense it doesn’t matter; for most, just wandering between the trees in darkness will be enough to establish the Halloween mood.

A primarily outdoor trail, The Carving does, at times, have a distinctly unique flavor to its experience. Beginning at the entrance to Bill’s Food and Drug Shack, explorers venture inside and quickly outside again, deeper and deeper into the woods. Well, as deep into the woods as one can get while skirting the property line of Sir Henrey’s Haunted Trail, laced with a thin berm that at times blocked the view of neighboring homes.

The Carving carries an unmistakable backwoods feel, from cornfields to barn-like shacks – evoking the classic sense of Fall. A laser swamp isn’t quite as effective as it could be due to a limited amount of fog at the time of our visit.

Scenically, it’s highlight may be an entire log cabin village scene, as well as a full scale church facade hidden further in the woods. The journey ends at a large make-shift pumpkin – although it wasn’t quite believable enough to sell the storyworld climax.

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The aforementioned log cabin village offered realistic hiding places for monsters – popping in and out of doors and windows with plenty to hide behind. Beyond it, The Carving is almost entirely carried by how little light is placed around the wooded trail. The dark of night deserves at least one of this haunt’s 3 Keys.

Unfortunately, the actors throughout did little to enhance the story (or even acknowledge that one existed in the first place.) During our visit, essentially none were in any sort of “character.” Instead, they just jump out and scream in your face. And scream, and scream, and scream, and scream. Sigh.

Silent Walls

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Following 2 years after the death of Sir Henry in 1929, no one paid much attention to the Castlemoore Orphanage. That is until a high rate of children started coming into the orphanage from a series of mysterious events. The orphanage was almost packed to capacity, but something was off. The head mistress seemed absent minded. Children seemed quiet and scared. Whispers could be heard amongst the children about a boogeyman who lived in the basement of the orphanage and snuck between the walls, taking children to be tortured and tormented if they misbehaved. The walls became eerily silent as the children began to disappear one by one. The infamous boogeyman killer was striking again.

Much like The Carving, Sir Henry’s Haunted Trails offers a legitimately compelling storyworld narrative for Silent Walls. And much like The Carving, once guests step foot inside the attraction, that narrative instantly disappears faster than kids getting taken by the boogeyman – who, to be clear, doesn’t actually seem to have anything to do with Silent Walls in execution.

Instead, guests enter a half-house and hospital for “Generic Outdoor Haunt #2.”

Silent Walls begins with an impactful entry statement: a two floor facade of an entire house, which serves as home to the Castlemore Orphanage. We quickly find ourselves in a confused state of “are we inside or outside?” Clearly, the scenes around us are meant to be rooms within the Orphanage; There’s a sparse collection of furniture, toys and other “lived in” objects. Except there’s no roof. Now, I don’t mean the space lacks a themed ceiling – but rather it’s quite literally completely open air up to the stars in the sky above. It’s bizarre, and frankly it destroys any slight hope of immersion Silent Walls may have otherwise hoped to achieve – especially when it could easily be avoided by simply dragging a tarp across the top to at least simulate a ceiling.

From inside/outside, we find ourselves outside/outside, with a swing set and more rusted away, abandoned toys. Our brief respite back into the storyworld is quickly jarred by entering the next “indoor” section – which, inexplicably is a hospital-like medical ward, which, apparently is conveniently located here on the grounds of the orphanage.

To be clear, at no point do we find either the basement or the boogeyman teased in the attraction’s story. Silent Walls is just a mess.

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Again, much like the first attraction presented by Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail, the actors within Silent Walls are in desperate need of direction. Screaming, screaming, screaming – and not a single ounce of evident story-driven character to be found anywhere. Frankly this became so mundane that not even halfway through the haunt, as we wound back closer to the entry facade, I found myself excited for the first time because we might just be nearing the end. Unfortunately, our path doubled back, and this would prove to only be near half-way.

The biggest problem with the two Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail attractions is that they begin (on paper, anyway) with truly unique and compelling stories. Unfortunately those stories at no point carry over into either haunt, leaving us feeling far less like we’re exploring the world of the boogeyman and far more like we’re getting screamed at by a bunch of high school kids in masks and bad make-up, because we are.

Twisted Souls

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Wade Harris continues to grow his sadistic crop of depraved maniacs and psychopaths; he leads them deeper into the woods, torturing any unlucky soul who stumbles upon the decrepit farming compound.

After Wade’s son Jack was tortured and murdered in cold blood, his darkened and tortured soul was used by Ominous Grim to infect Jack’s friend William. The fighting between their souls caused William to spiral out of control. He became schizophrenic, demented, and, due to sharing his body with Jack, he showed signs of multiple personality disorder. William’s burned and disfigured face is that of trying to brand a single identity. 

Controlling both souls, Ominous Grim created a crazed, complex killer like no other and each soul has its own killing characteristics. 

Which Twisted Soul will you face? 

Will you be tortured or slaughtered in your attempt to make it out of the terrifying farm complex or will you avoid Ominous Grim infecting your soul?

Unlike the first two trails, Twisted Souls suffers almost the reverse storyworld problem. Where the others spin a compelling yarn that makes for an instantly exciting story, Twisted Souls, on paper, is a bit too wordy – offering far more details than guests need to – or want to – know from the backstory of the world we’re about to venture into.

But in execution, Twisted Souls is better in every way. Once through the barn door, this is simply a “psycho hillbilly farmer slaughterhouse” flavor, and it works soundly. It’s easy to become immersed as the consequences of getting caught are clear all around us.

It’s clear from the moment you approach the queue that Ominous Descent is operating on a very different level than Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail. The difference in scenic attention to detail is night and day. Where everything at Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail feels home made, Ominous Descent feels polished and professional.

Twisted Souls feels both longer and more fulfilling. From the large barn facade to the greenhouse, through backwoods trails weaving between the trees – this haunt feels far more like stepping into a horror movie than any of its neighboring attractions sharing the same field.

Ominous Descent goes the extra mile to create a more immersive feeling in their attractions – using tricks found at the big budget theme parks like background music, triggered sound effects and even smells to bring this hellacious hog heaven to life.

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In a sense, Twisted Souls’ scenic plays a large part in the success of its scares. Chopped meat collected from both pigs and, you know, people, gives a clear sense of consequences faced from our choice to trespass within.

Unlike the neighboring haunts produced by Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail, Ominous Descent’s scareactors feel far more engaged – clearly directed with a better understanding of their individual characters. And although there’s not a ton of dialogue-based interactions (it’s mostly grunts and hisses) we’ll take this more realistic approach any day over the aforementioned scream, scream, scream.

What results is genuine sense of disconnect from the real world, where it’s easy to get lost in this freakish fantasy world because in effect, Twisted Souls becomes real.

Hyde and Seek

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RATING: 2 Keys          RESULT: Loss          REMAINING: X:XX

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Keeping the killer out may be your only way of survival. Ready or not… he’s coming. 

The story for this five minute mini-game is light — serial killer will kill you to death until you die. It’s pretty straight forward, but hey, it most certainly delivers the sense of urgency one would want to find at a haunt.

Unlike Twisted Souls, where guests are constantly flowing from space to space, Hyde and Seek exists solely in one single cabin-like room. A mix of ambiance driven by sound effects and lighting is accentuated by the occasional, unexpected appearance of a live actor hiding outside of the room.
Continuing the barn flavor established by Ominous Descent’s haunt proper, this mini game is a suitable scenic compliment offering the opportunity for guests to experience a boutique, even more personalized visit into its world.

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With just a single small room and a mere five minute time limit, it should come as no surprise that the opportunity for scares is minimal. That does not make them any less effective, however. Lurking outside the cabin we’ve made our momentary sanctuary, Hyde himself appears in open windows, grabbing at players while they attempt to solve puzzles.

The occasional banging on the walls around you or knocking pots and pans off the sink below an open window offers an added sense of danger.

Puzzles and puzzles alone are where Hyde and Seek’s score got buried alive. The ambiance of the overall (brief) experience is top notch – and if we were rating it as a haunt, it would receive much more admirable marks.

Unfortunately, Hyde and Seek is an escape game, and as such we hold it to the standards of any other game we’ve seen.

Upon entering the cabin, we’re told, in no uncertain terms to find four shotgun shells, as they will guide us to the right direction in our hope of a safe escape. So naturally, that’s exactly what we did. We located the shells, which gave us a code to open our first lock. From that, we continued along the very linear chain until we reached what appeared to be a roadblock.

Except, as we would learn after exiting, this roadblock was caused by us already “just finding” the object it otherwise would have directed us to, all on our own, without the guidance of a prior puzzle. It was in this moment that we realized that the entire first three quarters of the game was useless – and that thanks to poorly laid out puzzle flow, it only directed us to something we had already found with simple, basic discovery.

I-4’s Premier Fear Park is an interesting case where two otherwise unrelated venues mutually benefit from each other in a somewhat weird way. The truth is, based on the production quality we experienced, we would never recommend our readers to visit Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail – but Ominous Decent produced a top notch haunt that can only be purposed with a package price.  Ominous Decent, in turn, benefits from the use of land and ample parking to show off their product. (Although we hope they stick to haunts instead of escape games in the future.)

Should you chose to visit I-4 Premier Fear Park, we highly recommend you do exactly what we did on the night of our visit. Make your way through the two Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail attractions first; build up to Ominous Descent, because simply put, reversing the order is likely to make you leave feeling a bit underwhelmed.

You can find an extended photo gallery from our night at I-4’s Premier Fear Park in this exclusive album on the Escape Authority Facebook page! While there, why not give us a “LIKE” if you haven’t already? We’ll give you candy!

Venue: I-4’s Premier Fear Park

Location: Plant City, FL

Dates: Select Nights October 5 – October 28, 2018

Hours: 7:30 pm – 9 pm, 10 pm or 11 pm depending on the night.

Cost: $30 General Admission / $45 VIP Admission.  $5 extra for either Laser Tag or Escape Game.

 

We thank I-4’s Premier Fear Park for inviting us to experience this haunt. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.

 

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