Sunday, September 23, 2007

Screamtown, baby! (unedited)

I stumbled onto a nice surprise this weekend, Screamtown!

I’m not sure why, but I was attracted to the thrills of a haunted house at a young age. I have been to many haunted houses and mazes over the years. If Halloween passes and I haven’t been to a haunted attraction I feel like I cheated myself out of the enjoyment of an otherwise silly day on the calendar.

While I don’t spend all my weekend every October going to a haunted attraction, I’ve been to enough of them over the past 10-plus years and watched the development of many of them to be a quasi-historian on the subject.

For the past several years I have attended such attractions primarily with two people, my nephew and “The Chief.” Chief is a youngster I was matched with about 10 years ago through the Big Brothers program, and for several years we hit up the biggest attractions in the metro. In the past few years that role has been filled primarily by my nephew.

Haunted attractions tend to have a limited life span, for whatever reason. In its early years the Mall of America had one of the best haunted houses I have ever been to. I loved it and it was seemed to do good business. I’m not sure why it went by the wayside after a few years, but it did.

The first haunted attraction to raise the bar in the metro, to the best of my knowledge, was Spooky World. It started in the mid-1990s, originally at Murphy’s Landing, a site best known for its historic preservation of old buildings, and later at Canterbury Park, a site best known for horse racing and poker.

Spooky World seemed to be the first to serve up a combo platter. There were a couple of prominent haunted hay rides around the metro and a variety of haunted houses, some with mass marketing, others that seemed to stick to entertaining the local crowds. Spooky World put the two together and threw in a bunch of miscellaneous crap to sell itself as the best of both worlds. I think it worked.

I did go to it in its earliest incarnation at Murphy’s Landing, although I don’t remember a lot about it. There was a hay ride and there was at least one haunted maze, and perhaps two. By the time it moved to Canterbury it was featuring the hay ride and three or four haunted mazes, as well as the miscellaneous crap. I went to it a couple of times at Canterbury, thanks largely to media comps.

Spooky World’s proprietor was self-employed, evidently, and when he took a full-time job a few years ago he apparently couldn’t sell the enterprise, as he sold off the props and costumes, bringing Spooky World to a close.

But by that point every haunted hay ride still in existence was offering a haunted house as part of its package, or vice versa. The Trail of Terror, operated by the same huckster(s) that run the big Renaissance Festival each fall, added a hay ride to their package somewhere along the line. The Trail of Terror was already mass marketed, but the proprietor(s) ratcheted it up a bit, positioning their operation as the successor to Spooky World.

The Trail of Terror seems to be a big success. I get media comps to it each year, so I’ve been there for at least the past three or four years. It’s not bad, but it’s not that spectacular, no matter how much they talk it up in their advertising. And you can spend two hours waiting for a hay ride on a busy weekend, a hay ride that’s well done, but not worth two hours of your time.

So I’ve soured on the Trail a bit in recent years. Last year a new player entered the market. Our major amusement park, Valleyfair, decided to offer its own combo platter, haunted mazes and amusement rides. It’s the most expensive haunted attraction in the metro, but worth it if riding roller coasters in 50 F weather is appealing. I took my nephew to it on a Sunday afternoon last year (and then the Trail that night) and it was cloudy and 44 F in the afternoon. Not ideal conditions for a ride on the Wild Thing roller coaster.

I think Valleyfair’s mazes are well done, and I don’t say that because I worked there last year. (I had for years thought it would be a blast to work at a haunted attraction, and last year I added that to my life experiences. I enjoyed it so much I’m going back for another season this October.)

The mazes are well done, but again, you have to want to pay for the privilege of rides, too.

With the Trail of Terror and Valleyfair’s ValleyScare in the south metro, not that many miles apart, it wouldn’t seem like there’s room for yet another combo platter in the vicinity. But this weekend I learned I was wrong.

There are a few websites dedicated to listing haunted attractions by state. Some have more listings than others and some are better organized than others. I don’t have a favorite, but and are two of several that offer such a service. Getting excited for the upcoming Halloween season I decided to peruse one of them. And what do I find? Screamtown!

Screamtown will operate at Canterbury park, a mile or so from ValleyScare. Property outside the track has been the site of a popular corn maze for more than a decade, and that appears to be the locale for Screamtown.

Screamtown doesn’t have a hay ride, but the same corn maze will become the “Nightmare Corn Maze,” as best as I can tell. There are also three other haunted attractions, “Circus Vampire,” “Haunted Chambers” and “The Carver Mansion.” These seem to be indoor attractions although there aren’t permanent indoor structures near the corn maze, so it’s unclear as to exactly how substantial each of these are.

My first instinct it to pencil in a date to visit the newest attraction in the metro. Screamtown is getting the jump on most, if not all, haunted attractions by opening this weekend. Typically haunted attractions are open for four weekends in October, at most. Screamtown will be open for five weekends this season, although its only Sunday night will be Oct. 28.

My ValleyScare schedule will keep me booked on Friday and Saturday evenings in October, so that limits my options quite a bit.

I will be up north this weekend, bicycling my ass off I hope, so I cannot make it to Screamtown this weekend. It looks like I will have four chances to visit it. One Wednesday and Thursday night during the week of the big education convention that turns kids loose every mid-October, the Thursday night before Halloween and the final Sunday of October.

So there are two nights that are particularly appealing out of the four. While that should be enough of a window of opportunity, I’m not sure I’ll make it. The Chief is now a high school graduate, so he’s too busy to meet up with me more than once a year, and my nephew lives too far up north to be convenient, as I proved last year. Both my available nights are school nights for him, so I have to write him off.

Most of my friends are married with children and have never struck me as highly interested in visiting a haunted house. And their kids are too young for these sorts of things, so it’s too early for me to start borrowing them for a night of haunted fun. Perhaps in a few years.

So perhaps I’ll have to rely upon the reviews of others this year to learn how good or bad Screamtown is since I may be tapped out of resources for exploring the latest haunted destination in the Twin Cities. If that’s the case, is this the end of an era, a sign that yet another chapter in life is coming to a close? Or do I just like to assign significance to silly circumstances in my life?

1 comment:

Tequila Mockingbird said...

oooooh screamtown! my curiousity is piqued. no one to go with? proposition: you, me, my flask, a filthy hobo. ok, fine, no hobo.