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In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: SCarowinds 2017

Since the dawn of the millennium, SCarowinds has been the annual Halloween event at Carowinds park, which is carefully cut right in half by the sharp blade that is the North & South Carolina state line. As the park claims, it’s “Where the SCarolinas Come Together”. While not Cedar Fair’s flagship haunt, SCarowinds still delivers some quality scares and entertainment that tens of thousands of regional fright seekers flock to each fall.

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SCarowinds is a separately-ticketed event that runs eighteen select nights between September 15, 2017 and October 29, 2017, including every Friday, Saturday, Sunday but not including Halloween night. In its 18th year, SCarowinds features six different haunted houses, six scare zones, three shows as well as most of your favorite Carowinds attractions, including Intimidator, Afterburn, and the Golden Ticket-winning Fury 325. This year, SCarowinds is featuring a new maze called Depths of Darkness that replaces Defex which debuted in 2010.

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DEPTHS OF DARKNESS

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Journey deep into the dark mind of the infamous State Line Slasher. Darkness will consume your every step as you uncover the sick secrets that lie in wait.

This is the newest maze at SCarowinds, and I must admit I was pretty excited to see what was going to replace Defex, a favorite of mine from years past. The story set us up as visitors to Blackthorne Research Facility where the State Line Slasher was supposedly taken after he was captured.

It’s an interesting premise that we are “entering his mind” as we traverse through this abandoned warehouse he once used to prey on his victims. A couple performers in the queue helped to sell this even more including a cop and a news reporter who was briefing guests while they waited.

Upon entering the queue, we are greeted by a large warehouse with a very unique industrial facade attached to the front. TVs outside played news reports warning of the State Line Slasher. A nearby police car with flashing lights creates a more believable scenario as it makes you feel like you’re actually there.

However when we go inside the haunt things quickly go downhill. The first couple scenes seemed to start off strong, but shortly thereafter it seemed like scene after scene was just dark, black hallways. In its defense, we are in the Depths of Darkness afterall, so maybe that is what they were going for. There were a couple notable and memorable scenes including an exterior of what appeared to be the slasher’s childhood home that contained a cool projection effect. But despite those shining moments, overall it just felt like they ran out of money and were forced to create large patches of dark areas.

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Some of the performers in here were clearly very into their roles, but for the majority they were very lackluster in their tactics. Throughout the maze there were several actor scares as well as prop scares that we obviously missed so that was a bit of a disappointment.

We had a required green screen photo-op prior to entering the queue line so I had assumed there would be some cool moment in the house where we would see our faces on a wall or TV, but sadly we didn’t, although there was one scene where I think that could have happened, but perhaps it just wasn’t working properly during our experience.

The final few scenes in the maze had some unique effects with some solid scares, so at least I can say it finished with a bang.

 

 

DARK HARVEST

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Is this year’s crop too far gone to save? Either way, it’s going to be a very Dark Harvest.

In its second year, Dark Harvest was definitely a maze I was excited to check out because I am a big fan of the scarecrow/farm haunt genre. This almost seems like a sequel to their long-running “Cornstalkers” maze, but here we are taken further into the story and into an actual barn atmosphere.

I really didn’t feel like there was a plot to this story other than the scarecrows that guard over the area’s cornfields grow darker and more evil as each year local construction puts a strain on the crop. Regardless, scarecrows and barns are enough to get me through the door.

The long entrance to this haunt really builds up your suspense as you pass humorous signs advertising local items for

sale like “Yeller Skwash” and “Farm Fresh Butt Nuggets”. It almost seems out of place but deep down you know that somewhere up ahead, something isn’t quite right.

After turning a corner, up ahead in the distance was a massive barn facade, complete with bales of hay, farm equipment, and stacks of corn left and right. Some of the lighting could have been better as there were areas where I was completely blinded by the lights, but I was able to see past that.

Entering the barn, we weave in and out of various farm vignettes including animal pens, corn storage, and even a scene with a boat and rotting catfish strung up all around. For the majority of the experience however, it seemed like turn after turn of just walls of corn as it was some sort of filler between scenes. At the end of the day, the other scenery was enough to forget about all the lulls in between.

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The scares in Dark Harvest were lacking and unfortunately is the reason it brought the score down. There were moments of non-scarecrow characters that would try to drag on these awkward improv conversations with you. At first I figured it may have been a distraction from a scare but that wasn’t the case.

As stated before there were several areas where you are just walking through walls and walls of dried cornstalks, but never did I encounter a scare that blended into this background. At one point there was a chainlink fence lined with corn and it suddenly tilted towards me because a scareactor either bumped into it or intentionally shook it, but that was probably the most startling event in the whole maze.

 

 

 

URGENT SCARE

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Welcome to Urgent Scare – where we believe FEAR is the best medicine. No matter your ailment or disease, our ethically warped staff is here to provide the scare you need for a healthy tomorrow.

Urgent Scare is a really fun take on the often overdone hospital and asylum haunted attraction genre. Instead of being trapped in an ordinary hospital run by a madman, we are clearly volunteering to be here so they can properly cure us of our ailments through scare tactics.

Throughout the maze this was clear as we started by being admitted by an evil nurse and ended by passing through a crematorium where those that were less fortunate ended up.

Long-time SCarowinds patrons will quickly realize that this maze has been repurposed for a number of years which originally began as an asylum. At the front I was greeted with a massive facade of the Taft Memorial hospital, but instead of entering through the front doors, I was led around the side of the building and into a rear door.

Throughout the maze, I passed through several typical rooms one would find in a hospital such as an admitting room, patient rooms, common areas, and a morgue. The scenery wasn’t the best I’d seen but it still read as a hospital.

Two of the most memorable scenes included a room with many mirrors which was totally disorienting and the final scene in the crematorium which had a cool video effect in one of the ovens.

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I felt like the scareactors in this maze were really on point during my trip through. High-energy and really in-character, they were really firing on all cylinders.

The mirror room, with several mannequins scattered around coupled with strobe lights really made for a very disorienting scene where the performers would seemingly come to life from nowhere.

I must admit that since this maze has been here a while I thought it would be stale, but they really proved me wrong and it turned out to be a hit from start to finish.

 

ZOMBIE HIGH

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Think you can survive this grueling trip through the halls of E. Pat Hall High? Maybe you should just stick with homeschool.

 

Zombie High is such a fresh idea and I was immediately excited to see what was on the syllabus for this maze. The chance to step back in time and walk through the walls of a high school infested by zombie jocks and prom queens? Let’s go! 

Approaching the school I passed by an empty dilapidated school bus graffiti-ed with the words “zombie high school” down the side. The grand facade of the school greeted us with its aging brick facade and boarded windows.

Once inside, I found myself passing through several typical school rooms from the library to the science lab and even into the cafeteria where they were serving up the freshest cuts of freshmen. The most unique thing about this maze is the central locker-lined hallway that you would pass through each time you went through a couple classrooms. It provided a feeling of familiarity but at the same time left me feeling confused as to where I was.

Finally, the last scene dumped us right into the gymnasium during the middle of the school dance. The way this was set up made it seem more grand than it probably actually was. It turned out to be a great finale scene for such an interesting theme.

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The school provided a means for many of the typical characters one would find in an 80’s high school. However most of the scares were just standard boo scares as people would pop out behind something like the nerds behind the library books or the crazed cafeteria lady who tried to force feed you the daily slop, no doubt made from the stoners in study hall.

I was hoping to see some interesting scares with the lockers in the hallway areas but it was just some kids banging on things. There were a few drop panels which provided for some decent startles. Overall, there was nothing really groundbreaking but it didn’t take away from the uniqueness of this maze.

 

SLAUGHTERHOUSE: THE FINAL CUT

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Diseased livestock and rancid meat are the least of your worries. You’ll see first-hand how they put the “Magic in the Meat.”

The backstory for this maze is very unique for a slaughterhouse-type maze. The company is Red Ribbon Meats, and their gimmick is they sell meat made from the “red ribbons” of the county fairs, but of course mixed with meat from neglected citizens of society.

As guests, you are basically entering a tour of the historic meat factory, beware however, as you may end up at the wrong end of the meat grinder!

From the entrance and queue you’ll find yourself walking through cattle gates until you see the glowing letters on the roof of the factory that read “RED RIBBON MEATS” until occasionally certain letters flicker off leaving “DIE” for a brief second.

Entering the factory we start in a simple butcher shop storefront and then quickly move through a freezer and into the bowels of the facility. The scenes were really well done with some great scenic paint treatments and interesting use of materials.

Nearing the end of the maze we encountered the packing area complete with sides of meat moving along a hanging conveyor then being boxed up and sent up another ramped conveyor. The kinetic motion of the scenes made for some great visual distraction as the performers would hit you with a scare.

 

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A slaughterhouse theme is somewhat of an easy transition to create scares and this maze was no exception. There were guys coming from left and right with cleavers and cutting tools.

After we passed the butcher area where a few guys were cutting up some fresh meat at a long table, we came to the area where the captured were kept in cages, waiting their turn to become part of someone’s next meal.

Further along we encountered a scene where a victim was strapped to a table and a large saw blade was inching towards them ready to split them in two. Then another butcher bursts out from the other side catching us off guard. In the finale we reached the smokehouse where the smell of burning wood was evident and we were chased out by a butcher with a chainsaw.

 

SILVER SCREAM STUDIOS

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Determined to make the scariest movie of all time, Von Hellsburg is sending out a casting call for some new blood to make their “Silver Scream” debut. Will you make the cut? Join us in this “sinematic” tour, and see the ultimate Director’s Cut!

 

Von Hellsburg is a director that never made it to the Hollywood elite, and we are invited to tour his soundstages to see if we are fit for his latest production. This is another interesting idea for a maze and lends itself well to many different types of scenery and ideas since we are walking “through the movies”.

Again, the scenic in this maze was all over the place due in part by the fact that we visit several different “sound stages” during different phases of film production. Walking in, we encountered hanging banners with the vintage film countdown numbers on them. We immediately know that our casting call starts in 3…2…1…I thought this was a fun idea.

As we traverse through the studios, we encounter many different film genres, some with very detailed sets. From an ancient Egyptian tomb to the laboratory of a mad scientist developing the latest monster, some of them were really well done, though due to the age of this maze, you could tell they were dated.

One scene with vampires in particular was dimly lit with many candles and was one of my favorites in the house. The maze wraps with a trip through the editing rooms where stacks of equipment and film reels provide a busy backdrop.

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Other than the very beginning of the maze, this one was sorely lacking in the scare department. We start out by taking a group pic in front of a green screen (like I had mentioned earlier about Depths of Darkness). However this time, once they took our photo we got a loud blast of air from behind when they snapped it. This caught us off guard and was a good little scare to get things going.

However, the further we got into the maze, it just seemed like the performers were not as into it as I’d hoped. Nothing that creative really stood out in my mind, and the “scariest” part of this maze had to be the Dracula scene that I mentioned above. There were several roaming vampires mixed in with mannequins so it was difficult to tell who was real.

 

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It was surprising to me that there were as many scare zones as mazes, but since Carowinds isn’t exactly a small park, it worked out well as things felt well spaced out but not too much so.  Overall the scare zones were a bit lacking as the performers didn’t seem like they were really into it. I can’t say this for all of them, as there were a few that were memorable. Keep in mind that some of these scare zones have been in the park for a few years though they have moved around to different areas. Below are the 6 themed areas that I encountered as I roamed through SCarowinds:

FLEET STREET

There’s an old English folklore that says ghosts only appear in places that have known either great happiness or great misery, and Fleet Street has certainly experienced both.

 

Enter the world of Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd as you walk through 19th century London. The sets in this scare zone were very impressive as we encountered several British facades as well as a scaled down version of Elizabeth Tower, the famed architectural icon that is home to Big Ben.

Characters were dressed to the nines in typical Dickens-era garb and would emerge out of the thick London fog to get scares all around. I didn’t get to experience this scare zone in the dark, but even during the light of day, it was a must see.

 

THE PLAYGROUND

Kids can be so mean! The playground is supposed to be a place of joy and laughter, but not this one. You can try to play nice or play dead, but neither is going to help you escape.

This playground was built on top of a toxic dump so none of the kids you will encounter here are what you might call, normal. There are small vignettes set up in and around the old County Fair section of the park where all the carnival games are, so it seems to fit pretty well thematically.

The scares and characters seemed to be lacking a little bit in here though. What I did encounter was more creepy staring and smiling than the boo scares that one would normally expect, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They did cast smaller people in these roles so they appeared to be more kid-like which offers more believability.

 

MASS ACRES

A presence pulsates through the trees – a presence of spirits and mischievous creatures. If you’re visiting this cemetery, you’re looking for trouble. Lucky for you, you won’t have to look long.

I thought I completely missed this scare zone until I looked back after I left and realized where it was. Located in the front of the park near the Skeleton Crew show, it just gets lost in the mix in my opinion. When the show is happening, there are so many people crowded around that you really can’t see any of the sets or vignettes of this zone.

When there is no show, what props there are seems very awkwardly placed around the out-of-place stage rigging for the Skeleton Crew show. I think it would have been more well suited in another area of the park. This was more like “Miss” Acres.

 

PSYCHO CIRCUS

Ladies and Gents, gather around. There’s a new type of fear that’s here to be found. Watch carefully and be alert, because you never know when we might go berserk.

 

Psycho Circus, I felt, didn’t quite live up to its potential in the new County Fair area of the park that opened this year. Festive string lighting was changed out to blood red and small props and set pieces were scattered amongst the planter beds.

Some of the performers were good however. One in particular wheels around an ice cream cart, but what he is selling is far from a refreshing treat. There were also some interesting photo-ops and freakshow-like characters. Overall I feel like this zone could have used more…perhaps some very small tents to walk through with performances.

 

SCARY TALES

You’ll soon find evil lurking around every spooky, malicious turn. Your favorite childhood characters will never be the same. No need to skip ahead, this fairy tale has a grim ending.

Scary Tales was in a very strange area in which had I not been paying attention, I would have walked right around it because it was situated in a bypass of the normal guest path. However it was flanked on both ends by tall gates and columns so once I realized that, I walked right in.

We encountered small vignettes of the most notable childrens tales from the Three Little Pigs to Red Riding Hood. One shelter housed a large sleeping troll-like creature. There was a crowd gathered around as though he would wake up, but he never did while I was there.

 

BLOODYARD

These are vampires, and they look thirsty – thirsty for blood. There’s no sense in trying to escape. You’re in the wrong place, at the worst possible time…If only there was a way out…

 

This zone is a few years old and has moved through different areas of the park, but this year it’s in the Thrill Zone area and that is very fitting. Blood Yard has a cool junkyard vibe to it with its brightly graffitied shipping containers, chain link fences, and oil drums.

The star of this show has to be the Blood Drums. Performing on top of a series of shipping containers, these high-energy performers are creating what I like to call “scrap music” in which they take ordinary junkyard objects and play some really cool beats. It is really the heartbeat of this scare zone and if you pay too much attention to the music, there just may be some creature lurking right behind you when you least expect. Blood Yard is the best scare zone in the park by far.

I must admit that I haven’t been to SCarowinds all that much in its 18 year run. This was probably my third or fourth visit but I think it was probably my favorite thus far. Being part of the Halloween attraction design business, you could say I’m a bit jaded due to seeing some pretty incredible events from Halloween Horror Nights to very impressive independent haunts.

 

 

However, seeing a big Halloween event at my local park is always a fun night out, and since I’m a Gold passholder, I will probably go back multiple times to really take it all in. At the end of the day, while SCarowinds doesn’t represent the absolute best in spooky entertainment, it still delivers quality on a level that is far and above even some other large theme park events that shall not be named here. If you find yourself around Charlotte this October, be sure to go check it out!

 

Venue: Carowinds

Location: Charlotte, NC

Number of Haunts: 6

Dates: Select Nights September 15th – October 29, 2017

Hours: 7:00PM – 12AM or 1AM depending on the night.

Cost: As low as $36 or free with your Gold or Platinum Season Pass.

 

 

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