Ever since my behind the scenes visit to Caine Who Am I, a new temporary scare attraction right in the heart of Sheffield, I had been nervously anticipating the grand opening. With so many impressive ideas and talented actors in the project, my expectations were high. However, I didn’t know whether all of those ideas had been successfully put into practice; what was waiting inside the maze was still a mystery to me, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.
Please be aware that the following review does contain a few details about the maze. There are no major spoilers, but maybe skip this if you’re planning to visit and you want everything to be a surprise.
One thing has been clear to me since day one: the National Emergency Services Museum really is the perfect venue for a scare attraction. It was getting dark as we arrived, and as I surveyed the building, with remnants of the sunset fading against its old brick walls, I felt a sense of unease. It’s really quite eerie, and being inside it after dark was a real spooky treat in itself.
I was getting quite giddy as we entered the dispatch zone. We were greeted by Sarah who ran us through a few basic rules, and also made us aware of the difference between ‘live spirits’ and ‘real spirits’, and what to do if we were troubled at any point by a ‘real spirit’.
Personally, I felt that the mention of ‘real spirits’ at the beginning of the maze did devalue the attraction a bit. After all the effort of building the maze, with all its theatrical elements and skilled actors, it seemed a shame to shift the focus away from them and the scares they were about to deliver. Audiences could easily end up getting distracted; paying less attention to the attraction itself and becoming more concerned with the paranormal.
Likewise though, you could certainly argue that this warning adds a great deal of tension to the maze. I guess it all depends on what you personally believe in.
Our first scareactor encounter was spot on. He set the scene perfectly by using his voice and body to intimidate and unsettle us, and he got our adrenaline pumping before we entered the first room. This was a good indication of things to come; the scareactors in this maze know exactly what they’re doing. They were energetic and unpredictable; within each scene they engaged us effectively, and pushed us out of our comfort zones. They maximised the spaces they were working in by making good use of props and existing structures; it was evident that they’d taken a proactive approach in preparing for their roles. The maze actually contains a mix of scareactors and genuine paranormal investigators, which presented an interesting change of pace at times. This is a great example of the unique blend of fantasy and reality within this maze.
In terms of scare tactics, this maze was a great combination of narrative and impact scares. This is something I don’t see often, and it was great to see it executed so well. We encountered traditional techniques such as theatrical & strobe lighting, jump scares and misdirection, but there was also a solid storyline and effective storytelling devices at work. For example, scenes had their own individual scare climax, but they also contributed towards the narrative because the actors kept referring back to it. Little clues of what was to come, and constant reminders that Caine was waiting for us; it all simultaneously increased tension and developed the story.
The set design within the maze was excellent and showed real attention to detail. Each environment was immersive and fun to walk through. The classroom scene was particularly good; the two girls were scribbling away with crayons at their school desks, and the walls were adorned with their sinister artwork. Their bedroom was equally authentic; it was filled with children’s books and toys, and the walls were decorated with colourful imagery which, in context, looked quite disturbing. The names ‘Jack and Emily’ were scribbled on the wall; a reference to the ghosts of two children who haunt the the museum.
The moment we had been waiting for did not disappoint. Caine’s cell is probably the most haunted area of the entire museum and the scene which took place in there was extremely tense. Fear levels did drop off a little towards the very end of the maze, but that was more to do with the layout of the building than anything else (we couldn’t get a gate to open), and our final moments with the scareactors were memorable to say the least.
This maze was a great experience and it had a lot to offer. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. However, beneath the culmination of the different elements, themes and characters; at the very heart of this project there is subtle theatrical aesthetic which I think seasoned scare attraction fans will appreciate the most. People who have walked through countless combinations of Heras fencing and strobe lighting will understand how refreshing it is to take part in something which tells a story and is also pleasing to look at! Attractions like this offer a perfect alternative to those of a more extreme and shocking nature (which do have their place), and remind us how fortunate we are to have so much diversity within the UK scare attraction industry. Well done to all involved!