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Dr. Kilmore
28 May 2014 @ 12:28 am
I've been thinking about a lot of things related to ValleyScare in recent weeks. I'm not sure why. So let's go back to last Halloween season and share a few memories that I never bothered to chronicle at that time.

I made it to two attractions during the 2013 season. I went to the Dead End Hayride, again. This must be the third consecutive year I went. If it weren't worth the drive, I wouldn't keep going back.

The 2013 hayride included an amazing new scene for the hayride. They put a lot of time, effort and cash into a pretty spectacular enhancement. I had no idea it was coming. I was blown away. The only drawback to it is that it's part of the hayride, the wagon keeps moving. Despite the fact it's a spectacular enhancement, the experience of it is over in 30 seconds or less. It goes by too quickly,  you really want more time to take it in.

As for the haunted trail, there turned out to be a major disappointment in my visit. In 2012 they built a fantastic new structure (an asylum) that was part of the opening moments of the trail. The asylum was bypassed completely during my 2013 visit, and from what I learned via Twitter, that was due to some sort of inspection issue. I don't know what the problem was, and therefore have no idea why it couldn't have been fixed in order to utilize it during my visit, but it was a big disappointment, and I hope whatever the issue is, it is rectified for 2014.

The hayride and its haunted trails provided the usual showmanship, a few new twists, a cool new special effect I hadn't seen anywhere previously and a lot of fun for my small group, which didn't include any ValleyScare cohorts this year. (My cohorts did make a visit on a separate trip later in the season.)

I also made a return trip to Screamtown and purchased a VIP ticket. It was the second year of the VIP experience, and the only time I could go was on one of the rare Sunday nights it was open. I managed to find one co-worker willing to shell out the $40+ for a VIP ticket. So, along with his girlfriend, the three of us went on a Sunday night.

The attractions I knew from 2011 were status quo. Not everything was exactly the same, but they delivered the same caliber, if not slightly better, experience than what I remembered from two years ago. (The hillbilly hotel was redesigned in 2012 and the corn maze was redesigned for 2013.)

New in 2013 was "Meltdown at Sector 666," a maze based upon a nuclear reactor meltdown. It had great set decorations that sold the theme, and was very entertaining. Vampires, scary clowns, graveyards and asylums are common themes in the haunt world. I had never seen one based upon a nuclear meltdown. It was an entertaining experience.

The VIP ticket allows you to skip the line for all of the regular mazes, although that wasn't much of an issue on a Sunday night, as the crowds were thin.

The VIP ticket also gives you access to two attractions that the regular ticket doesn't. One was another outdoor walking trail, but this one was based upon sensory deprivation rather than props and hidden monsters. "Abandoned" is a walking trail that leads you away from the activity around Screamtown. Yeah, you can see the lights off in the distance, but it's surprising how far away you get from the action. You're given a lantern to help you find the trail, but it's not a well-delineated trail, it's tricky to figure out even with your lantern.

There are beasts lurking in the woods, and they will grab you. No, they won't throttle you and throw you to the ground, but they're hard to see, and if they catch up to you, they'll startle you in a way monsters won't in other mazes.

The trek through the woods is limited to no more than two people, and you're staggered by several minutes, so you won't see lanterns all over the woods. You might hear or see another group off in the distance, but you never run into them like you would in a maze full of slow teenage girls.

Since Paul was with his girlfriend, I wasn't allowed to join them. I had to go solo. I was OK with that, it made my trek extra creepy. I didn't have the benefit of a second set of eyes to help me figure out where to go. Yes, you have a lantern, but it's tricky to figure out which way to go, especially when the lantern goes out, which it did occasionally, and that was by design.

It was a fun experience, for sure. It could have used a bit more interaction with beasts in the woods, but I'm guessing that was a result of the fact it was a Sunday night, and therefore lighter than usual when it comes to staffing.

The other bonus attraction for VIPs was "Cracked," a stage show where a creepy doll comes to life and performs a variety of magic tricks, interacting with the crowd during the show. It runs every 30 minutes or so and is very entertaining.

The added benefits of the VIP experience were worth the additional price, and certainly more so on a busy weekend, I am certain. The VIP ticket doubled the price of a basic admission on a busy weekend, but there were often discounts to be had on VIP tickets if you bought them in advance, which definitely made the bonus features of the VIP ticket well worth the added cost. I wouldn't say either one is so remarkable that you must experience it one time no matter what the cost, but you'd be hard pressed to regret spending the extra cash, unless you couldn't afford the cost of a ticket in the first place.

I only made it to two local attractions this year in part because for the first time in many years I didn't get free Trail of Terror tickets. I didn't get access to a fistful of freebies this year, unlike years past, and I'm not particularly disappointed. But it is nice to have an excuse to get a bunch of the asylum freaks together for a night out, even if I'm not dazzled by the spectacle.

And for the third consecutive year I made it to Las Vegas to celebrate Halloween. I didn't go to any haunted attractions, however, even though there was a new one fairly close to the strip. My girlfriend went with me again this year, and she had her fill of haunted attractions during the past two seasons, even without going to Screamtown with me. So I decided we'd limit our Halloween fun to creating costumes and spending the night milling about on Fremont Street. It was ridiculously busy, so much so that it was hard to move about. We spent periods of time just standing around, watching others walk by. I took a few pictures during the evening, and perhaps I'll post them onilne one of these days.

Our costumes: she was an octopus, I was the garden.

As I noted last fall on Twitter, a few of our original ValleyScare members retired after last season. They put in eight years and decided that they had seen enough. I have never asked why, but I will some day. It was suggested to me that they might consider working at the Haunting Experience in 2014, as they live in St. Paul.

Rumor has it a few of my co-workers also want to carpool together to the north metro and work at the Dead End Hayride. As I noted in 2011 when I worked part-time at Screamtown, it's nice to experience a different environment. I suspect a bunch of us would enjoy working at Dead End if it weren't so far north of where most of us live.

People come and go every year, and the list of eight-year veterans of ValleyScare is a short one. (I was part of the inaugural 2006 crew, but I only have seven years under my belt as a result of taking 2011 off.) I think it's hard to maintain enthusiasm for the job after several years. Some have, but I couldn't. I wouldn't have been back in 2012 if I weren't working building security.

As much as we have loved being part of something unique, there's a wear-and-tear factor for many of us, and I have been seeing it in play the past few years. We may play the role of the undead, but deep down we're still human, and time stands still for no one.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
17 November 2013 @ 03:40 am
So I made good on my "pledge" not to blog during the season. It was a busy season that included the wedding of one of my longtime ValleyScare friends and visits to a couple of haunted attractions around the Twin Cities. I'll write more about the season that was in the days to come.

But fast forward to Saturday, Nov 16. That longtime ValleyScare friend, and her husband, hosted a game night at their home. It wasn't planned weeks in advance, so the ValleyScare representation was low, but that didn't matter so much. I had a chance to chat with two of my favorite ladies from the asylum, and we discussed a lot of things related to our years together.

As I drove home in the middle of the night, I couldn't help but think about the how and why of our conversation. If it weren't for ValleyScare, the three of us would never know each other. For all the crap we put up with each year – obnoxious customers, corporate edicts, the "Asylum cough" – it's those friendships that have kept us coming back over the years. Sure, we love putting on a show and scaring the crap out of people, but it's the people we work with that we love the most, there's no doubt in my mind.

Friendships will fall by the wayside as the years roll on, but much like our high school graduating classes, there's a bond that many of us form, a bond that won't erode over time, even if our paths no longer cross on an annual basis.

I've had great times with many of the people I have worked with over the years, and I have friendships that will last until the day I drop dead, regardless of the direction our lives pull us. Tonight was proof of that.

The benefits of my employment at ValleyScare will continue long after the day I cash my final paycheck.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
08 August 2013 @ 01:05 am
The ValleyScare rehire letters were sent out a couple of weeks ago. For some the planning process begins long before the rehire letters are sent out in late July, for the rest of us, the rehire letter is the beginning of the journey toward Halloween.

As I have noted many times, this blog is for my benefit, but it's nice to share my experiences and memories with those who randomly stumble upon it. I wrote quite a bit over the years, reviewed many haunted attractions, both locally and in Las Vegas. I reviewed them to a fault... I gave away details that you wouldn't want to know if you ever plan to visit.

I said what I liked, I noted what I didn't. I'm one person, who works at a haunted attraction and pays to go to others. Nothing more.

I will always discourage people from patronizing the Trail of Terror, as it underwhelms every year. I have no interest in paying to go to the Soap Factory, despite all the cool things they do. I don't like how they run their business, so I won't support it, even if their attraction is distinct and entertaining.

I love what they're doing at the Dead End Hayride, they do really cool stuff at Screamtown, too. The Haunting Experience on Highway 61 put on a great show last year on a night when it should have been difficult to keep the energy level up.

It's no secret what I like and don't like, if you've read my writing in the past.

I'll find something to write about this fall, I am certain, but there's not a lot to be said about working in a ValleyScare maze that hasn't been written already. I don't really need to review what's different, for better or worse, at haunted attractions locally. People may read my blog, but I'm not a news source. Somebody might appreciate that effort, but it's a limited audience that does, and that's a nice bonus, but not why I wrote about being a pirate in 2006, and not why I write now.

The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. There are new mazes coming to ValleyScare this fall, and the pirates are dead. The competition is fierce, and operators have to give people a reason to come back every year, because most people won't get to them all in one season. ValleyScare has grown quite a bit since its 2006 season. It has been great to be a part of that almost every single year, and I'm looking forward to returning.

But this year season will likely end with the least blog output of my eight years on the job. I've run out of material, and that's fine.

I'm grateful for all the years of memories my jobs have given me, and glad I took the time to write about many of them. I look forward to spending time with all the great friends I have made over the years, meeting some new friends, attending an Asylum wedding and enjoying the season as a non-actor. I also look forward to giving this blog a rest in 2013.

Until next time, whenever that might be.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
18 June 2013 @ 12:11 am
I like to joke, early in June, if not sooner, that it is hard to believe summer is almost over.

But time really does fly. Every summer. And this year we've had so few days in Minnesota that qualify as summer days it seems as if there's no hope.

It's the middle of June. Three months from now it's the middle of September. Nights can be cool. The sun will set about 7:30 p.m. and seasonal Halloween stores will already be in operation. It's barely three months away from opening night at ValleyScare.

Summer goes by faster every year, I swear.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
28 May 2013 @ 12:21 am
I never wrapped up my 2012 season, at least when it comes to my blog, so here it goes:

After five years as a ValleyScare actor I took a year off from the corporate amusement park and spent a few nights at a non-corporate haunted attraction in 2011.

After six years I was tired, and that sucks. Part of it was that the novelty of scaring obnoxious teenagers had worn off. But I put a lot of energy into my work year after year, and like all people, there are limitations to what I can give physically, mentally and emotionally. I'm older than most of my co-workers, and that didn't make it any easier. I had no interest in dressing up and yelling "boo" anywhere for a seventh consecutive season.

One thing that didn't change: I love the people I have worked with and being a part of a haunted attraction. And I can always use extra cash, so I wanted to return to a haunted attraction in 2012. That's why I chose building security, so to speak, for the ValleyScare asylum, a place I knew well.

As I noted previously, people asked if I missed being an actor, and I really didn't.

I would love to recapture my youthful enthusiasm, not to mention my youth, and put on a show for the kids, but there's a time to move on. My time had come. While there's a degree of remorse, it's better to embrace the future than mourn the past. I love to reminisce, but sitting at home on Friday nights in October wouldn't have made me happy. Being at ValleyScare, making life better for people that mean more to me than I will ever mean to them, made me happy.

And honest to God, I would have been just fine spending my 10 nights at ValleyScare carrying a flashlight. But when the offer came to reprise one of my characters during my final night on the clock, I said yes. I negotiated a bit of a deal to make it happen, and for the seventh consecutive year I can claim that I was an actor at a haunted attraction. One night was enough, without a doubt, and I thank those who made it happen. I'm not guaranteed a night in costume when working building security, so that makes me appreciate the opportunity all the more.

What does 2013 hold in store for me? Can't say for sure. One day I'll have to say goodbye to my asylum family, just as Sarah, Amy, Casey, Caleb, Taylor, Di, Tim, Carson, Cali and many others have done, for one reason or another. It sucks knowing that day will come, even if I'm at peace with it when it does.

My ValleyScare/Scream Town years coincide with a very challenging period of my life. I can only speculate how my life would be different without the friendships gained through my past seven years of haunted fun, but I know these friendships have enriched my life exponentially, and for that I will be forever grateful.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
02 February 2013 @ 01:07 am
ValleyScare's final night of the season was Sunday, Oct. 28. It was the only Sunday night the park was open. The asylum crew planned a theme night for the season finale, something it had done on off nights in season past. This year's theme was something along the lines of "bon voyage." The theme suggested the inmates, doctors and nurses of the asylum were ready for a winter getaway in a tropical destination, so that meant floral shirts, leis and anything else that might suggest beach vacation, more or less. Sadly I was not there to see it. I was in Las Vegas.

For the second consecutive year I spent Halloween week in Vegas. In 2011 I went solo, for 2012 I was joined by my girlfriend. She wasn't part of my life in 2011, so I didn't have the luxury of having a travel companion that year. In 2012 I did, so that changed the way I spent some of my time.

If you have 20 minutes, review my Halloween adventures from 2011, it contains a lot more detail than you'll get in 2012. http://valleyscare.livejournal.com/29359.html

In 2011 I arrived on Sunday, Oct. 30, and didn't plan to spend Halloween visiting haunted attractions, so I was quickly off to the first of my two destinations after checking into my hotel. Given it was a Sunday night, and a night before Halloween, the attractions were rather busy.

For 2012 I arrived on Sunday, Oct. 28, and was exhausted from 2-1/2 marathon days leading up to my arrival in Sin City. I put in time all day on Friday and Saturday between my day job and ValleyScare, went to the bar following work both nights that weekend and ended up with about four hours of sleep per night. To say I was exhausted by the time I sat down on the plane was an understatement.

Thankfully I was able to relax on my first night in Vegas this time around. My girlfriend and I went to one haunted attraction this year. We went to the Freakling Bros. Trilogy of Terror. I knew what a good show they put on there, and figured my girlfriend should see a great show. Having been to it once, I knew a lot of what to expect, but like all good haunted houses, the experience is worth repeating once per year even if some of the element of surprise is taken away. I won't revisit my recollections during year 2, they'll basically duplicate what I wrote in year 1. But I will say that after visiting two haunted attractions here in Minnesota during October, Freakling Bros. was far more horrific than my girlfriend was prepared for. She made it through all three attractions, but she also decreed she had no desire to visit another haunted attraction in 2012.

The nice thing about going on a Monday night, two nights before Halloween: far fewer people attended than on a Sunday night immediately preceding Halloween. We didn't buy VIP tickets since we figured we wouldn't have to wait ridiculously long for any one attraction, and being a return guest from Minnesota does have its privilege. I got to talk to my buddy George again this year, and he introduced me to one of the owners, who gave us VIP access to one of the mazes.

Las Vegas Haunts was back for 2012, too, but they did something either brilliant or baffling, not sure which. LVH has two attractions, and I enjoyed them last year, too. For 2012 they split them up. One was located somewhere in North Las Vegas, perhaps the same location as last year, the other was in downtown Las Vegas.

It might have been a brilliant idea to have an established haunted house set up downtown. There are tons of people out on Fremont Street every night, so there's a potential for a huge walk up crowd, and if locals really want to see it, it's not that hard to get downtown and park.

The drawback, if you want to see both of their attractions, you have to make a lot of extra effort, and I'd guess most people didn't. From what I recall, they sold a combo ticket for both attractions, but obviously that wasn't of much value to most tourists. Perhaps a bunch of locals took advantage of it and went on different nights to each destination, but I certainly wasn't interested.

Prices go up periodically, that's part of life, but LVH was now charging $15 for its asylum in downtown Las Vegas ($12 for locals with a state ID) and $12 for everyone at the hotel in North Las Vegas, or $20 for a combo ticket. And of course you could pay additional for VIP treatment.

Like many tourist attractions, you pay more than you normally would for something since you're on vacation. And most tourists aren't going to know what they're getting for their money. I made a point to drive to local haunted attractions in 2011, most tourists don't, I'm certain. So I know what you got for $15 on Fremont Street wasn't worth all that, but on the other hand, if you're a tourist in Vegas during the Halloween season and not interested in hitting up a local haunted attraction, LVH brings one to you right on Fremont Street, so arguably that's worth a few extra bucks. While I wouldn't say they put on a $15 show, it's a good show, and they bring it to you, so it's most definitely not a rip off, just not something you'd go back and pay $15 for on a regular basis.

The much-maligned Fright Dome at the Circus Circus amusement park was back, and I still have no interest in it. There's just too much negatively online regarding that operation to ever consider spending my cash. I don't have to visit it to know going to Freakling Bros. and Las Vegas Haunts in 2011 was a far better decision.

New in 2012 was a poorly promoted haunted attraction on the second floor of the sad, deteriorating Las Vegas Club in downtown Vegas. The Amazing Johnathan, a Vegas entertainer I know nothing about, was the brainchild behind another downtown attraction. I have no idea how successful it was, but early indicators suggested the casino -- the one casino downtown that is almost universally reviled -- did a poor job of promoting an attraction intended to drive traffic into the damn building. I'd have been interested in checking it out, nonetheless, but it just wasn't going to happen on this trip.

Also new is a year-round attraction on the strip. Goretorium. Millions of dollars were dumped into this attraction, guided by director Eli Roth, known best for directing the "Hostel" movies. It's not cheap and it garnered a lot of less-than-glowing press during its start up. If it's any good, it'll be around for more than a year, so I'll have another chance to see it without having to be in Vegas during the Halloween season.

It's too early to say whether or not I'll be in Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, for my third consecutive Halloween. It's not going to be an annual tradition, but I certainly hope I can do it again this year.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
03 January 2013 @ 02:13 am
Disclaimer: I'm done posting disclaimers for my writing. If you don't like what you see, too bad.

Given it's January and I haven't bothered to wrap up my 2012 reviews, that should tell you something. I'll get to that later this month, I promise.

A week before Halloween I joined several ValleyScare co-workers at The Haunting Experience on Highway 61, a hayride/haunted maze combo platter.

I sense that the Haunting Experience has been a slow growth process over a period of years. Perhaps I'm wrong. All I know is that I haven't made an effort to visit this establishment in the past. Thanks to a Groupon clone and co-workers in St. Paul, two separate group trips were planned to beautiful Cottage Grove, Minn.

I was part of the group that went on a rainy Wednesday night a week before Halloween. Needless to say, it wasn't a busy night.

As I've written in the past, working at a haunted attraction is tough when it's not busy. You may have several minutes to relax, but it's harder to put the same energy into your performance when you stand around waiting for anyone to come through your maze. And I have never envied hayride workers. Most of your night is spent waiting for the next wagon to arrive. That's not a fun way to make a buck on a cold October evening.

So, on a damp, slow Wednesday night it is safe to assume we didn't get the best show of the season. Even so, it was a pretty good show, and we all enjoyed it.

The haunted maze(s) have a few different themes as you go through them. You won't see much when it comes to fancy technology in the mazes, but the actors put on a good show, and that's what I remember more than any particular scene in the mazes.

The hayride was entertaining because there was more interaction with the characters than you would see back in the days of the Trail of Terror hayride. The wagons stopped at scenes and characters climbed aboard to interact. Since it's hard to freak me out on a hayride, I appreciated the interactive elements. Overall it was a good show with some elaborate sets and creative scares built into the ride.

Your ticket purchase gets you one admission to the mazes. (They bill it as multiple mazes, but you go through them in a series, you don't cherry pick when you go into each one.) At the end of the mazes is the hayride. It was a decent value, and a good value if you bought a discount ticket as most of us did. And the folks running the place offered us a second trip through the mazes, which is always appreciated because you will see things you missed the first time. (It probably helped keep the actors stimulated, too. As I said, it was a slow night.)

The folks working there were incredibly nice, and they put on a good show, too. I won't try to rank it against other attractions, but I will note that there are attractions I won't return to, or won't pay for a ticket to, and Haunting Experience isn't on that list.

The place has been around for several years, I believe, and I am definitely glad I finally made a trip down Highway 61.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
27 October 2012 @ 03:30 am
Disclaimer: This blog contains opinions. They are my opinions. They are not influenced by or subject to any of my employers, past or present. (Thank you very kindly, past and present employers.) If this is confusing to you, stop reading now, your head will explode.

I wanted to like what I saw, I really did.

Once again a group of my ValleyScare cohorts gathered together to visit the Trail of Terror. I won't link you to my past reviews, it ain't necessary.

I have been underwhelmed by Trail of Terror for years, thanks to complimentary tickets I obtain each year. Those comps also provide admission to several of my friends, and last year I learned to appreciate it for what it is, a modest night of entertainment with no gate fee, and a chance for a bunch of us to get together outside of work.

I was slightly optimistic about the 2012 trip, as they seemed to be overhauling the attractions. The giant maze, their best feature, was now called Hotel 666.

They eliminated their reasonably entertaining, but not scary, hayride, replacing it with a haunted walking trail. I liked the sounds of that.

They renamed some of their crappy little trailers that provide about 30 seconds of haunted entertainment. They're pretty weak shows, but new names suggested improvements to the offerings. I wanted to believe it.

So what did we find?

The walking trail followed the old hayride trail, primarily. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but a trail that winds through the trees instead of following a 12-foot-wide path would have been creepier. They had actors along the trail, a few set decorations that appeared to be new this year, but little to impress you. They can scare you better if you're walking on a trail rather than riding on a wagon, but few of the actors put forth a great effort. Some of them were walking around, visible, so there wasn't an element of surprise.

One thing the Trail of Terror hayride had done well is use moving props to startle the passengers on the hay wagon. Not enough of those were in play along the walking trail, which seemed silly.

The consensus opinion: good concept, weak acting. The walking trail should have been a great show, but instead it was rather forgettable, even if my buddy's 10-year-old daughter kept freaking out at the site of costumed dudes 50 yards away. (That's another story.)

The big maze had a few things that looked new or different. I think they make a few cosmetic changes every year, but beyond the maze entry, little in the maze sold the concept of a hotel. I don't need a complete makeover of a maze I walk through one time a year, so I have no complaints. The giant maze is their best show, and I enjoy it, but it seemed silly that they renamed the maze, yet did little to remake it to fit the them.

And then there were the five crappy haunted trailers. They have themes, they're short, they have potential. This year they had new names, and in one case, they designed a new opening scene that was cleverly done. But for the most part the mazes were the same, and they were poorly done. The trailers could be entertaining if they had more actors in them. Sometimes you'd find one or two actors in a trailer, sometimes you'd find nobody. I walk through them because they don't have much of a line, if any, to get into them. But they're the same as always, despite the new names.

A few of my co-workers paid the extra $5 or whatever the fee was for "Lockdown," an interactive attraction where they strap you down, blindfold you and then make you think you're being tortured with bugs, spiders, snakes or other dangerous things. The one report I got: it was an OK idea, but they have several customers in each session, yet only a few people to execute the ruse, meaning the delivery was staggered and not very effective. Sounds like a scam to me.

To look at the Trail of Terror website you'd think they did a major overhaul for 2012, and I wanted to believe they did. But once again I was underwhelmed. (At least they didn't waste time setting up a lame corn maze this year.)
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
16 October 2012 @ 03:08 am
Disclaimer: If you've never read this blog before, it's not what you think.

I returned to the The Dead End Hayride this past weekend with several of my ValleyScare co-workers.

Last year there was a modest group of four of us, none of whom were working at ValleyScare for one reason or another. Working back at ValleyScare this year must have had an influence, as I convinced a few people to make the trip, and they convinced a few more. We had 11 this year, and we would have had 16 if one guy hadn't gotten lost trying to find it and one woman wouldn't have been so paranoid.

DEH isn't so much of a hayride as it is a multi-faceted haunted attraction. It starts with a hayride, but drops you off at the start of a haunted maze, which has both indoor and outdoor components. Once you complete the main gig there's a second maze available.

What I remember from last year about the hayride portion: decorations were sparse. That's not the worst thing, as there are a couple of cool segments of the hayride. I won't say less is more, but the hayride down the freeway has tons of props, but isn't particularly scary. It's good for family entertainment, but it ain't scary.

DEH isn't scarier because it's darker and has less props. I wouldn't mind seeing more along the way, and perhaps that will come in time. Everything comes at a price, and I wouldn't want to see it done if it isn't done well.

No, the scariness of the hayride comes from the fact that the actors climb on and around the hay wagon. It's quite the site.

I don't remember any disclaimer last year about the actors climbing on or touching you as they climb around, so it was quite the pleasant surprise last year. This year there was a clear disclaimer as were about to depart on our ride. So yes, I'm spoiling it for you a bit, but the FAQ section of the website also says that DEH is an "interactive haunted attraction," so it's not exactly a secret.

I wouldn't want that job, by the way. The wagons aren't overloaded, but there's not a lot of room to spare. I have to believe the actors along the hayride end up stepping on feet throughout the night. Considering they're moving around a moving hay wagon, I've gotta believe it's tricky just keeping from falling on top of customers throughout the night. One guy made quite a leap onto the side of our moving wagon. We applauded him for it. I might have been able to pull that move off 15 years ago, and maybe even 10, but not today.

So in summary: the hayride portion is about the same as last year, and it's more entertaining than other hayrides, despite being light on set decorations.

At the end of the trail you reach the big new addition to DEH this year, the Sunnyvale Asylum. A brand new building that is loaded with actors and props, including a rather disgusting bathroom scene and a cool effect at the end. It was a Sunday evening, and therefore I assume the actor density is lighter than a busy Saturday evening. And when the crowds are down, as an actor your enthusiasm tends to drop off, as well. I don't know how our Sunday night compared to the previous two nights at DEH, but there were plenty of actors in the asylum, and they certainly were putting a lot of energy into their performance. We all agreed it was a good show.

After you depart the asylum you continue on through the Departed Oaks Haunted Trail. It was much like last year: cool effects and creepy actors. Nothing in it struck me as fresh, new or exciting, but it's fun, well done and worth a visit once a year even if nothing changes.

The final attraction is the Site 66 cornfield. I call it a corn maze, but it's really not a corn maze. There is plenty of corn, but it doesn't have the feel of weaving through rows of corn, which is fine. It has sets and props within it, as well as actors. They have added additional props to it, and it was a lot of fun. It's not the greatest haunted maze in the world, but it is better than last year, and I have no complaints with the show.

Notes:
• As mentioned earlier, the actors will make contact with you, and that's not something you see at many haunted attractions these days, for multiple reasons. It hearkens back to a bygone era of haunted attractions, and adds a nice creepiness to the experience. The touching applies to the hayride, mazes and commons area, where a few costumed characters can be found. (No sign of the demented rabbit on Sunday night, unfortunately.)

• There's a kid who runs around the commons wearing some sort of bird suit, and despite the limitations of his character, he does a great job.

• A magician/fire eater was entertaining the crowd lined up for the hayride. He did a good job with his magic, performing staples of slight-of-hand magic. Nothing he did was unique, until it came to the fire eating. He'd eat fire, just like every other fire eater, but he'd also eat two wands at one time, which I'm not sure I have ever seen. He would also put out wands with his hand, which isn't something you see very often. Sure, dudes will touch the fire or pass a flame by hand from one wand to another, but I can't immediately recall a guy extinguishing a wand with his hand. And I don't think I have ever seen a fire eater set his pants on fire. Bravo!

• My group wasn't the only group from ValleyScare attending DEH on Sunday night, evidently. According to one of my co-workers there was a group from another ValleyScare maze. I don't think I would have recognized any of those cats, but Sam did.

• I also ran into the owner from Scream Town, as he had a small group out there Sunday night.

• As I have learned from working at both a corporate and non-corporate haunted attraction, there are limitations to what you can do. Bigger ain't necessarily better. ValleyScare has some cool props and decorations that you won't find at Scream Town or DEH. We have a fancy, new prop at ValleyScare's asylum this year that is a big hit, and it wasn't cheap, I am told. It's probably too expensive for many haunted attractions to justify, but it's not as if I noticed the lack of high-tech props while walking through DEH. I only realized their absence after the fact, which is a sign that DEH is putting on a good show.

• Last, and certainly least, I can't get over an ounce of disappointment. A few of my co-workers were wearing ValleyScare garb. As my group, the last to enter Site 66, talked to the entrance attendant, we commented we were from ValleyScare. (I was the only one of four in my group who actually works there this year.) We chatted a bit and went on our way. I assume as our groups passed through the cornfield word was spread among the actors that we were a ValleyScare group. And I heard one actor mention it to another as we were winding through the big chainsaw finale. You'd assume that the actors wanted to put forth extra effort to impress their contemporaries, and by all accounts, they did. But one guy felt it necessary to make a disparaging remark about our past/present place of employment as we exited the maze. As much as I have criticized how crappy I find certain attractions to be, I don't think I've ever make a disparaging remark to anyone working at Trail of Terror or Frightmares, and it soured me slightly that one guy decided that his work was superior to mine, or anyone else's, because of where he works. It didn't ruin a good time at the maze, but it certainly disappointed me. The irony is that I bet many of my co-workers would enjoy working at DEH, and might do so if it weren't more than an hour away from Valleyfair. Most of the people I work with live between Minneapolis and Valleyfair, so working at DEH is not the least bit practical. There were reasons I worked part-time last season at Scream Town, and if I was as close to DEH as I am to Valleyfair, I might be working there now. Every attraction/employer has drawbacks and benefits, and ValleyScare does some great stuff, even if it has constraints that DEH doesn't. For a variety of reasons all of us who work at ValleyScare year after year do so with a lot of enthusiasm in our hearts. It's a shame the last person I encountered in the maze didn't understand the concept of professional courtesy. And yes, I'm aware there are probably more than a few morons working at ValleyScare who don't understand the concept, either. 

That aside, it was a great trip that was enjoyed by all 11 members of my group, as best as I can tell. I don't remember anyone suggesting any disappointment with our evening in the sticks of the north metro.

As noted, there are two haunted attractions way up in the northern fringe of the Twin Cities. I went to one in 2010. I went to DEH in 2011. I organized a group trip to DEH in 2012 for a reason, and until they stop giving me a reason to come back, it will be the only place I road trip to in the north metro.

Am I wrong in not giving the competition another chance? My friend Monica ended up going to both attractions on Oct. 6, 2012. That wasn't her original plan, but that's how her evening worked out. I'll skip the details because it is past my bedtime, despite the fact it makes for a great story. The bottom line: she concurred with my opinion, DEH is the superior attraction.
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
14 October 2012 @ 03:37 am
Disclaimer: If you don't know why this blog exists, or what its purpose is, too bad.

I missed the "opening weekend," as usual, so my season in the asylum consists of five weekends this year. At this point I have completed three of them.

I don't think I was asked the question this weekend, but during the past weekend or two I was asked, once or twice a night, "Do you miss it?"

After being an actor for the first five years of ValleyScare I took a year off last year, sort of, and did not set foot on the grounds of Valleyfair. As explained not so long ago, I returned in 2012, and I work building security.

As a member of the security team, I do a lot of things, and I have some latitude in how I spend my time from night to night.

First and foremost I walk the maze many times throughout the night, ready to assist anywhere a problem occurs.

Beyond that I try to help my co-workers when they need it. Alexis needed a bandage for her finger one night, I tracked one down for her. Mike forgot his Mountain Dew bottle in the break room, I retrieved it. New Guy wanted a glass of water while he was working in the maze, I brought him one. I know what it's like to work in the same spot in the maze for several hours a night, so I do what I can to make it easier for those doing the job I use to do.

I don't wear a costume, I don't pop out of dark corners, I rarely make a sarcastic comment toward a guest and I don't stay in one place very long. I like it. It doesn't look like I like it, but I do. I laugh occasionally, but more often I am looking for trouble and attempting to defuse it before it occurs. And that rarely brings a smile to my face.

Do I miss jumping out of a dark corner and yelling my favorite catch phrases? Occasionally, but not much, honestly.

I treat my new gig as a job. I don't come to work to sit around all night, chat up a storm and cash a paycheck for doing little to nothing. Sure, I get to watch my co-workers work their magic throughout the night. Sure, I get to chat with my co-workers throughout the night. Sure, I'm earning cash for my upcoming vacation without breaking my back. But I keep busy, because that makes the night go faster, and helping make life better for my co-workers, in any way possible, is important to me.

I'd love to relive 2006, the first year of ValleyScare, and my one year working in the pirate maze. As much as I love being part of the asylum, I'm not sure I have ever had the same adrenaline rush as I had during the nights in which I wore down my body jumping up onto the side of a wooden bridge in the pirate maze. The memories are less than vivid, but they are among the most cherished from my years at ValleyScare.

Do I miss being Dr. Kilmore in the asylum? Yeah, a little bit. But there are others who have taken my place, and I am fortunate to see some of them in action every weekend this season.

For 2012 I wouldn't want it any other way.