Spoiler level: No specific details of what happens in each attraction, but lots of general description which could be perceived as spoilers.
Writing scare attraction reviews can sometimes be really difficult; you often see the potential in an event, the glowing passion of everyone involved, the valiant attempts despite a tight budget and small cast. But the proverbial warts on show and obvious setbacks can’t help but tinge your verdict slightly south of positive. Such was the case when I visited FEARFEST-EVIL last year: so much potential, such confused execution. Such however is certainly not the case this year.
It delights me to say that just 12 months later on from their 2017 inaugural run, the FEARFEST-EVIL team have returned in monolithic form, reshaping their event, capitalising on what made last year fantastic, and all but eliminating the shortcomings. What they now have is nothing less than one of the most intense and genuinely frightening scare events in the UK.
For those not aware of FEARFEST-EVIL, the event takes place at the National Diving Centre just outside of Chepstow, near the Welsh border. Or rather, more accurately, it takes place in the arse end of nowhere, a dark thicket of woods not too dissimilar from the setting of The Blair Witch Project, surrounding a vast 100ft high quarry. Fearfest offer the opportunity for those willing to add on an option to their ticket to zipline from the very top of said quarry to the bottom, all in pitch darkness. Sadly for us we were unable to do this due to inclement weather.
Base camp for the event is a welcomingly boozy marquee at the foot of the quarry, befitted with Halloween attire, a rocking live covers band and all manner of spooked up food and drinks- the latter of which may prove to be a necessary before and after the main attraction. It’s always nice to see the Halloween spirit spilling over into details such as themed menus and the Fearfest team have really gone the extra mile here.
Though still being marketed as the “Trilogy of Terrors”- three separate attractions- the route has been changed up this year into an entirely linear fashion, something we actually recommended in our 2017 review, and though the 3 segments are surely definable the attraction is actually one hour (quicker if you run!) journey through almost unrelenting fear. Starting with a trek – bathed in near pitch black – to the peak of the quarry, even before you’ve stepped foot in a scare maze proper, the tension wracks up. We were particularly besieged by a Goblin along the way who was both hands, and tongue on! At the summit we are faced with another Goblin, this one much more humorous and a gatekeeper for the terrors that await, little did we know he was the last comic relief for the next hour of our lives.
Tales of the Dark: Claustrophobia
The first trial in the Trilogy of Terrors is “TALES OF THE DARK: CLAUSTROPHOBIA” which kick-started appropriately with one of the tightest squeeze inflatables I’ve ever experienced, endless and almost impossible to navigate. Following this is effectively a walk through the woods… only these woods are peppered with seemingly merciless scares. I can’t begin to explain what a terrifying sensation having experienced your first jump (out of your skin) scare and then having to continue into the pitch blackness knowing another completely clandestine attack is imminent. Every single actor we encountered in the forest was frankly superb, from a ghostly bride to a Shining inspired ringmaster. But utmost plaudits must go to Mr Gacy, Fearfest’s resident clown, who took things to an almost extreme-maze level of intimacy; let’s just say having to walk around Asda following the event was made very awkward thanks to him. Culminating in one of the most heart-stopping encounters I’ve ever had in a haunt, a slow-strobe lit masterclass of suspense and an attack of inconceivably massive proportions, TALES OF THE DARK would seem unbeatable… alas, it wasn’t.
House of Horrors
Following the wide-open spooks of the forest, the text chapter in the Trilogy of Terror is the HOUSE OF HORRORS. How appropriate these names now seem in hindsight. Last year we praised the incredible sets built within the House setting, this year let me reiterate that sentiment with even more emphasis. For what is effectively a shipping container structure, the theming is completely transformative; you crawl from the sewers into the catacombs of a dilapidated mansion, through mad-scientist workshops, abattoirs, industrial hell-scapes and eventually back into the subterranean caves- never once questioning your immersion. That level of variation and detail also applies to the host of characters that besiege you throughout. I was constantly questioning what was real, what could be a person, what could attack me next… never once did I foresee it correctly. Actors in here once again knew expertly how to use the space, either erupting from perfectly hidden alcoves, or utilising plain-sight stillness to nerve wracking genius. Reader, let me tell you, very few jump scares work on me these days – I’ve seen it all – but one particular in moment in this scare maze, a laboratory where a scientist was quietly working away on a corpse in front of glowing plasma balls, had a reveal of both a mask and an actor’s unbelievable scream that put me on my ass. Unheard of. Moreover, sections of the House of Horrors were so drenched in absolute darkness that progress forward was made almost impossible by the tension it derived; and in some cases actually impossible when a scare actor blocked the way… effectively pretending to be a wall and waiting until the opportune moment of my confusion to unleash their scare.
Very literally running from the previous attraction, we found ourselves in Fearfest’s final entry in the Trilogy, PLATFORM 13, which follows the route of an abandoned railway. After the winding forest and cavernous corridors of the previous attractions, this was a surprisingly linear route; and, though not without its moments, one with notably less intensity. PLATFORM is segregated into several short vignettes: A terrifying banquet scene saw me stumbling out covered in orange jelly, only to be pinned to the floor very intimately by a chainsaw. However following this, the tone switched quite abruptly to one of comedy. Now, the actor in this scene was absolutely wonderful and had us genuinely laughing at his zombie-safety-inspector spiel; but it all felt somewhat jarring compared to the actual fear that preceded it. Furthermore we were set up to both ‘watch out for the giant spider’ and ‘avoid the infected’, from which we expected much more to come, only to find that this was actually the end of the walkthrough. As such, it was somewhat of an anticlimax to leave this hilarious pre-show like vignette and then find ourselves exiting. It would be our advice that this scene would work wonderfully as the very first of the attraction. If there was one criticism I could level at the event was that it was lacking a finale as explosive or terrifying as everything that came before it.
What the team have put together here is nothing short of spectacular – every facet from scenic design, costume and makeup, to stage management and acting – are firing at the very highest calibre you could want for a Halloween event. Never before have I found myself running in fear, falling to the floor, or unwanting to move forward in a maze as much as I did at Fearfest-Evil, neither have I ever experienced an attraction where a good 90% of the actors managed to elicit a very physical scare in me. As such, in terms of unremitting terror, Fearfest-Evil has reset the bar for UK scare attractions.