Spoiler level: A few specific details on what happens in the attractions at Screamfest, and lots of general description which could be perceived as spoilers.
Screamfest Burton has been one of my favourite seasonal treats for many years now. Alongside its series of scare mazes, Screamfest boasts an enticing array of sideshow thrills, including rides, music, and live entertainment. The mazes can be experienced in any order and at any pace, and as such, I’ve often cited this park as being ideal for newcomers to the world of the scare. Not feeling brave? Grab a drink, people watch, and soak up the spooky atmosphere. Thirsty for more? Hit them one after the other and celebrate at the end. You decide.
For us, we decided to mix it up, stopping midway through the mazes for a food and drink break. A freak-show style performance was taking place while we ate, and roaming scareactors did a superb job of keeping the spookshow vibe going. As I chowed down on a delicious smokey hot dog smothered in warm nacho cheese and onions (along with a generous tray of hot chips and a pint of cider), I watched with a mixture of guilt and amusement as a scareactor landed a gargantuan scare on an unsuspecting Zoe. The timing could not have been more perfect.
All of the mazes from last year have returned for 2019, apart from Demonica, which is just fine by us. In its place, a brand new experience has appeared: Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Zoo. We decided to try this one first.
Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Zoo
It’s a well known fact that comedy and horror work in harmony, and this applies to scare entertainment too. Playing with tone and introducing humour can throw guests off guard, and as a result, scares can have a far greater impact. It’s extremely common to burst into laughter immediately after having the shit scared out of you, but I cannot recall a time where my laughs matched my screams so frequently as they did in Hillbilly Joe’s. The high-energy scareactors never broke character and their setpieces were outrageously fun to watch – in fact, for a fleeting moment, a member of our group genuinely forgot where he was during a scene with the two sisters! The theming in this maze is an absolute joy; from the hillbilly wind-chimes to the vast quantities of moonshine, I 100% bought every aspect of it (and I literally would have if the “gift shop” had been real!). The backstory tied all the visuals together, and we received some spot-on jump scares to boot. What more could you ask for?
I’m no stranger to a grungy rock bar, so the facade of Love Hurts makes me feel right at home. We enjoyed some classic tunes as we eagerly anticipated our entry into The Diced Heart pub – or, more specifically, the pub toilets, where our dubious round of speed-dating was about to begin. The mere sight of those cubicles is stomach-wrenching enough, and that’s before you enter the rancid sewage works, where the real horrors are lurking. Last year, I lamented the lack of scares in the green mist, but this year made up for it and then some. If only there could have been a second wave to target the back of our group. Nevertheless, this attraction still delivers the most brutal sensory attack of all the mazes at Screamfest – smells, lighting and fog effects, and an intense soundtrack all combine to create a harrowing (and memorable) experience.
Dia Dia de los Muertos
Ah, Dia Dia de los Muertos. At this stage, it’s not really the overarching theme that bothers me insomuch as the terror-trip through a crime-ridden Mexico. This is something we’ve touched on numerous times before, and yet for all the awkwardness I feel as I dodge the gangsters and pass through the chop shop, there is still a great deal to be enjoyed here. The maze is extremely atmospheric; there’s something about the combination of chainsaws roaring in the distance, music, and multi-coloured lights that really enhances this for me. The journey to the festival entrance is still a definite highlight, even more so this year; the scareactor who hosted our group along the way was absolute comedy gold (I’m not sure whether this comedy was intentional, but I’m still laughing about it now).
Freak Out has one job, and it does this job competently. It does seem a little low-key when compared to the grander themes of its neighbouring attractions. However, writing this off as another clown maze would be doing a great disservice to its resident clowns. Just because these scareactors aren’t telling a story doesn’t make their contribution any less valid, and they all did a great job this year. They worked the sets from multiple levels and ensured we were separated at various points throughout the experience. In fact, one of my favourite aspects of this maze is getting mixed up with other groups or being sent off by myself. It’s a great change of pace. My highlight this year was wandering into an intensely dark room, getting hopelessly lost, and shouting at a clown to tell me which way to go. The clown was a dummy.
Simply put, Insomnia blew me away last year, and this year was even better. I used to suffer through some horrific nightmares as a child, and there’s something compelling about the way Insomnia encapsulates the complete and utter terror of a nightmare seeming so real, and also so impossible to wake from. This feeling of complete helplessness is conveyed so effectively; even in the child’s waking hours, her mother simply won’t listen to her. Perhaps, for the child, that’s the real nightmare. It’s haunting and devastating to watch. For me, the brilliance of Insomnia lies in the combination of theatricality and spookhouse scares. The dream dimension is so beautifully realised – the team have literally built a physical nightmare, and it still manages to be linear despite its many components and aspects (all of which deliver a different type of scare). It’s a masterpiece.
The atmosphere at this year’s event was next level, and while we were gobsmacked by the size crowd waiting to get in, we were surprised to find that queues were barely an issue. When we quizzed him on this, attraction creator Andrew Porter credited the efficiency of the mazes; their design has been tailored towards a consistent throughput without ever straying into conga-line territory.
Andrew also spoke about how the ‘event’ aspect has been stepped up this year, which is definitely something we sensed. Everywhere we looked there was something going on – from the witches brew bubbling at the bar to the roaming scareactors who were determined to keep the party going (despite the rain). These seemingly small details are what we love and appreciate, and this is why Screamfest wins every time.
- Screamfest will be open on selected nights until early November 2019
- The event is located at the National Forest Adventure Farm, Burton upon Trent
- Tickets available here
- Anyone under 16 must be accompanied by a responsible adult
- This is a online ticket only event – tickets must be purchased online in advance