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Dr. Kilmore
24 March 2015 @ 12:49 am

I had big plans to write about a bunch of stuff last November to put a wrap on the 2014 season. I never got around to it.

So why not?

I love to write, but I don't always have the time to write as much as I'd like. Writing is what I do for a living, sort of, and it's usually not a lack of desire at the end of the day that keeps me from writing. It's everything else in life.

Some people love to play video games. They can spend hours trying to defeat an impossible enemy in some sort of complex video game. Some people love watching TV shows and movies, and want to keep with Game of Thrones, and the Kardashians. Some people like to write, and would rather write than watch TV or play a video game.

But I don't always make time for all everything I want to do. There just isn't enough time some weeks. And every time I take an hour to write, I take an hour away from something I should be doing. As much as I love to write, it's a luxury I don't always find the time for.

I've made time in the past. I had a blog for nearly four years, full of anecdotes and observations that had nothing to do with Halloween. Some of the things I wrote were damn near brilliant. Some of it was weak and uninspired. I shared that blog with but a few people. It wasn't about generating an audience, it was for me, much like this blog.

While I've written my blogs for my benefit, there is something to be said for having an audience and receiving feedback to my writing. I did kinda, sorta try to promote this blog a little bit back in 2006, but it wasn't that important to me as time passed. I thought it would be fun to have a Twitter account for this blog, and I use it, but I really only interact with a couple of people, and it's rather infrequent interaction.

I wrote dozens of entries for this blog over the years, and I'm glad I'm able to look back upon the highs and lows of years gone by. But I've had a harder time finding things worth writing about the past few years, and I think the lack of an audience has limited my incentive to put thoughts into words, at least when it comes to the Halloween season.

Am I finally done writing for this blog? Maybe. But I learned long ago never to say never. I made this prediction on Oct. 5, 2007, as I was about to begin my second year at ValleyScare and my first working in the asylum: "This will be my final season at ValleyScare."

I was wrong. Very wrong.

We'll see how I feel about writing come this fall. Perhaps I'll be busy with the new blog I launced not so long ago. Perhaps I'll finally work on that book I've wanted to write for about seven years. It's hard to know right now.

What I do know is that there are a few thoughts about 2014 I never chronicled, so here they are:

It was cold

The final weekend at ValleyScare was much colder than it had been through October. Halloween was on a Friday night and I remember checking the local temperature readings via my cell phone throughout the night. I remember it being in the mid-20s that night, and not much warmer on Saturday night. We had decent weather for the 2014 season, and it's not uncommon for it to be that cold at night by the end of the season.

The crowd was decent both Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, but given how cold it was and the fact that Halloween is not the busiest night, it wasn't ridiculously busy that weekend.

I feel sick

The park was open all day Saturday, Nov. 1, and the annual award ceremony for the ValleyScare crew was held at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Yep, we worked until midnight on Halloween, some of us went out to a co-worker's party after work, in Crystal, and somehow we were supposed to be back at the park at 9 a.m. Saturday if we wanted to attend an awards ceremony? D'ohkay!

I must have went to bed about 3 a.m. that night, and I got up at 8 a.m. in order to attend the ceremony. I've never attended the awards ceremony in the past, because it's always early in the morning, before the park opens. That's the only time they can hold the ceremony, evidently, and they don't pay me to attend, so why would I get up early, drive out there for an award presentation when I'm dead tired? I did so in 2014 because I knew who was going to win our best monster award for the asylum, and I wanted to be there to congratulate him. It was a well-deserved award, and there's a back story I won't get into. I was happy that he won, and I wanted to be there for it.

After the ceremony we were allowed to hang out in the park and ride rides. Some of them were open, others weren't because it was so cold. The one coaster I wanted to ride was Steel Venom, but it wasn't running because it had been too cold. The hydraulics on those rides don't always work when it gets cold, and Steel Venom was a victim of it.

I rode a few coaster rides that morning with a couple of co-workers, and after we rode the Corkscrew one time I thought I was going to throw up. I hadn't eaten breakfast, but I felt like I was going to lose my previous day's lunch.

I can still ride a roller coaster, but as I get older, my tolerance for such rides is diminishing. It sucks. It makes me feel like I'm getting old. I've never imagined myself being some 80-year-old guy riding roller coasters, and fear hasn't kept me from riding a roller coaster since I was a youngster, but it's motion sickness that is bringing my roller coaster days to a close.

Dead End Hayride

A small group headed to the northern fringe of the metro for a night at Dead End Hayride. This is the one haunted attraction I go to every year. They put on a good show, and the word is out. The wait for the hay wagon on a Sunday night was longer than I've seen in the past, although I did go later in the season than I usually do.

One of my asylum co-workers started working up there last fall on his off nights at ValleyScare. He lives about half way between the two, and the hayride is open nights ValleyScare isn't, so he was able to put in hours at both places. He liked it, and I know most of my co-workers would enjoy it, too, we just don't live close enough to justify working there.

No Vegas

I spent Halloween at ValleyScare for the first time in several years. It was the first time in four years I hadn't spent Halloween in Vegas. I spent Halloween 2011, 2012 and 2013 in Vegas. For multiple reasons I decided Halloween 2014 wouldn't be spent in Vegas. I was fine with that, but I did check the current temperature in Vegas more than a few times on Halloween night as I was watching the temperature in Shakopee drop into the 20s.

Party time

Several years ago a former manager hosted a post-season party that was a lot of fun. I miss those days.

One of my co-workers decided to organize a post-season party at a Bloomington hotel. It worked out well and we had a lot of fun. It included a costume contest, and most people participated. I always wondered why our post-season parties of years past weren't costume parties. It would seem like a given, wouldn't it? But it never happened. So in 2014 we finally had a costume party to celebrate the end of our season, and I was too lazy to come up with a costume. How lame am I?

Halloween 2016

I'm trying to drum up interest in a Vegas trip for Halloween 2016. Halloween will be on a Monday night, and we should be done working on Saturday, Oct. 29, so I hope I can convince a few people that the Halloween fun of Vegas is worth planning and saving for. I have ideas, lots of ideas, for how my co-workers can make it happen without having to sell their soul next summer for a plane ticket. It takes a little discipline and effort, but it really wouldn't be that hard for most of them to earn an extra $300 by January of 2015. Can I convince anybody of that? Is anybody that interested in a group trip to Vegas? Perhaps I'm just wasting my time.

 
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
29 October 2014 @ 01:36 am
This time next week the Halloween season will be a memory. A few rotting pumpkins and stray yard decorations will be the last reminders of another October that has come and gone.

When I mention that I work at ValleyScare, people ask me what it's like. I don't know what to tell them, especially when they want to know if it's scary. Some people think our mazes are terrifying. Others think they're boring. The first thing I typically tell people when they ask about the big corporate amusement park: "Don't go on a Saturday."

Saturday nights are busier than Fridays, and I know our Saturday nights are more crowded than they were several years ago. After eight years ValleyScare is well established, and it draws plenty of people, including plenty of youngsters who have season passes to the park. I could spend an hour writing about the season pass concept, and my opinions related to it. But that's irrelevant. The reality is that Saturday nights are huge nights at the park, particularly during the last week or two leading up to Halloween. I'll leave it at that.

Halloween weekend won't be our busiest weekend. We'll be plenty busy, but a lot of people do something other than go to a haunted attraction on Halloween, and I suspect that will be the case again this year, as there should be plenty of people having Halloween parties on Friday night. Saturday night will draw a good crowd, and just about every haunted attraction in America is open on Nov. 1 when Halloween is on a Friday night. Whatever the reason, it doesn't have the same draw as Saturdays before Halloween. And the fact that this weekend will be colder than we've seen during recent weekends won't help entice people who are on the fence.

So it all ends this weekend. It's a weird world I live in. I and my co-workers gather most Friday and Saturday nights over the course of seven weekends, then go our separate ways, more or less, for 10-plus months. There's no doubt I'll see some of them in the near future, including Nov. 7 when the first of several social gatherings take place as a result of our shared occupation.

Around the globe

Last week I had a chance to visit Feargazm, a new haunted attraction in downtown Minneapolis.

For the record, I received a complimentary ticket. I didn't go looking for one, I was offered it simply because I had shown interest in learning more about the new haunt on the block, and perhaps because I tend to share opinions on the local haunt scene with the few dozen people who pay any attention to my blog or Twitter feed during the Halloween season. For what it's worth, I think I had a bigger audience in 2006 than I do now. I've never done what I do with the goal of building a mass audience. It's for me, I've always said. If somebody happens to enjoy what I share, that's a bonus.

I coordinated a small group trip to Feargazm on a recent Thursday night. Because I work on Friday and Saturday nights, I have to go to haunted attractions on Thursday or Sunday nights, should they happen to be open. In doing so, that typically means I'm not getting the best show. You don't get as many warm bodies working at a haunt on a "school night" as you do on a Friday or Saturday night. Although the crowds aren't as big, either, so you don't wait as long. At this point in my life I'm not interested in waiting in line all night for the show, so I'm happy with what I can get on a Thursday or Sunday.

Feargazm is trying to do what the Soap Factory does with its haunted basement: give you a more personal experience than pushing you through a maze like ValleyScare does on a Saturday night. That kind of experience commands a premium price, and I understand that.

Feargazm is on the second level of the Gay 90s, a downtown Minneapolis bar. They have room to work with, but not unlimited room, so they have to be creative in order maximize the space they have. The venue dictates that they run something akin to the Soap Factory rather than a traditional maze.

On our Thursday visit, six of us showed up for an 8:20 p.m. gathering. I can just about guarantee that Feargazm won't be open on Thursday nights if it returns in 2015. I ended up getting there earlier than I needed to, and I saw one group of three enter the building from Fourth Street during the nearly 30 minutes I stood outside the building. Nobody was showing up for this on a Thursday night barely a week before Halloween.

I like the set up and the concept of Feargazm, but it needs work. Again, this isn't a traditional haunted house. You don't walk through a maze where people jump out and yell "boo." It's more interactive and creative. They have good ideas in play, but if feels as if they need to come up with something more to make the experience stand out.

I learned a few things a day after the fact. For one, a ValleyScare co-worker I don't know is working at Feargazm on her off nights from the big corporate amusement park. That's a serious commitment to scaring the crap out of people.

More importantly I learned there's an element of the attraction that is dependent upon there being a crowd at the bar when you visit. I'm not entirely clear how that works, but the lack of a crowd in the bar areas of the second floor of the 90s on that Thursday night resulted in a diminished experience during one portion of my adventure.

This is an 18+ attraction, meaning you have to sign a waiver, as they will make contact with you during your visit. Combine that with the small group approach to ticket sales, and you have the makings of an enticing attraction. Now they just need to improve on the execution, no pun intended.

When this haunt launched they were charging $25 for a ticket. It looks like the price dropped to $20 since opening weekend, and last week there was a promo code that would reduce the cost to $15 if you receive their email alerts.

Even though it was an incredibly slow Thursday night when we visited, and the handful of actors working in the maze were probably starving for any sort of stimulation they could get, my visit was over in about 15 minutes. If those were 15 action-packed minutes I'd be raving about the attraction. But obviously I wasn't overwhelmed by the experience from start to finish.

Some of the comments Feargazm has received on its Facebook page seem to love it. Oddly it's a page that was created days before the attraction opened. (The online presence of Feargazm is less than you'd expect in 2014.)

There's no doubt the potential is there, and I suspect the experience is better on a Friday or Saturday than it was on the Thursday I visited. For now, I can only speculate. If it returns in 2015 I suspect Feargazm will be fine tuned to build upon what it does well. We shall see.

As for the first "extreme" haunt on the scene, the aforementioned Soap Factory, two people who went to it this year were not blown away by the 2014 edition. It sounds more like a 30-minute "Choose Your Own Adventure" journey than a traditional maze. They try to do something different every year rather than trot out the same formula on an annual basis, as I understand it. Perhaps they've run out of ideas.

A new, interesting twist on the scene this year is that Screamtown is offering a "lights out" night. This is a late addition to their schedule, and not one I've seen done locally. On Sunday night, Nov. 2, three Screamtown mazes will be operating, without lights. You get a glowstick to help see your way through the mazes, and that's it. Like an extreme haunt, you sign a waiver, and tickets are limited so that small groups don't run into each other inside the maze.

I think it's a great idea, but it comes at a premium price: $40. I'd love to be a part of it, as either an actor or as a patron, but I have a family obligation that night which prevents me from visiting Chaska. I'd love to hear comments on what the experience is like.

For whatever reason, Fail at Terror is not open on Thursday nights this year. (Perhaps they weren't last year, either.) I have a few comps for this year and was going to take my friend and his daughter on Thursday night, until I learned that they aren't open on Thursday any more. I read recent Facebook comments about Fail at Terror and most of them weren't overjoyed with their visit, not to my surprise.

My ninth year in the haunt industry is about to come to a close. Where does the time go?
 
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
22 October 2014 @ 01:25 am
If memory serves me correctly, this is the fifth year of the Dead End Hayride, and my fourth consecutive year of attending it.

I keep telling people, if they didn't put on a good show, I wouldn't keep making the 45-minute drive to attend.

A bunch of my ValleyScare cohorts think it's a good show, too, as there has been a good turnout for group trips to the hayride the past two years.

Two Sundays ago there was a group of about 40 who gathered for a visit. Those of us who couldn't be there, such as me, went this past Sunday. Several of us, along with family and friends, resulted in a group of about 20.

The first year I went I had no idea what to expect. They never told me that the actors would touch you. I had no idea the actors would climb around on the moving hay wagons. Nowadays they tell you this before you depart, which ruins the element of surprise for newbies. I think they call it "interactive," although they make sure you know that you can't touch back.

It's funny how haunted attractions that initiate contact are bold and radical. In some cases you sign a waiver allowing the actors to touch you. That makes the attaction extreme, allegedly. The irony is that modest contact was part of the show once upon a time. The "don't touch them, they won't touch you" mantra is probably a result of our litigious society. But that's another discussion for another time.

The Dead End Hayride won't hurt you, but the actors will make contact. It adds a nice touch to the element of surprise on occasion.

What impresses me most about this haunt is that every year they put meaningful effort into some sort of enhancement. I was blown away by last year's addition. This year I didn't find anything quite as spectacular, but they defintiely made changes and additions for the latest installment of their attraction.

One of my current ValleyScare co-workers, who I've known since 2007, started working at the Dead End this past Sunday, and pans to do so on his off nights from ValleyScare for the rest of the season. It was a hoot seeing him working in their asylum, and hilarious to hear his booming voice before I ever entered his area.

A former ValleyScare employee is working there the entire season this year, sans this past weekend, I am told. I don't know him personally or know why he switched from working in the far southwest metro to the northern fringe of the metro, but he did.

I've said it before, I would enjoy working at the Dead End, and would consider coming out of retirement as an actor to do so for a season if the hayride wasn't so far from where I live.

Since that ain't gonna happen, I'll have to settle for being an annual customer. I'm pretty sure the Dead End Hayride is the only attraction I've been to for four consecutive years, other than perhaps Trail of Terror, which I went to in the past because of the comp tickets I would get. It's certainly the only attraction I've been willing to pay to see for four consecutive years. Yes, it's that good.
 
 
 
Dr. Kilmore
09 October 2014 @ 01:32 am
A lot of interesting things happening in the haunt world this year, another year that seems me returning to the big amusement park in Shakopee to work in a non-costumed capacity for my third consecutive year. I've said it before, but never quite like this: After the thrill of the haunting is gone, the friendships remain.

1. Jobs are plentiful in the industry this year. I'm not sure why that is, but I have seen multiple ads looking for help, from multiple attractions. ValleyScare has been adding staff members in the days since the season kicked off, and I've seen other haunts looking for help, too. Some sort of new attraction that is allegedly opening this weekend (details when I know more) is scrambling to find people, evidently.

2. So long, Frightmares. Without looking back at my blog, I can only guess that Frightmares at Buck Hill opened in 2009. I remember a few things about that opening season, whichever year it was.

First off, it was a rainy season. Weather hurt attendance on multiple nights that season at attractions. That meant that Screamtown, which is largely exposed to the elements, was a sloppy mess when it was open. The same went for Fail of Terror at the RenFest grounds. Their big haunted maze is indoors, but their grounds were so wet and messy it was difficult to navigate them because of the mud and puddles. I can remember working a rainy Friday night at the ValleyScare asylum and spending most of the night bored out of my mind, as we had a few hundred in the park the entire night.

A new attraction will always draw well, but a source I trust told me that Frightmares came in well short of projections that season, due in part to the weather.

The Frightmares management spent a bunch of money to build a haunted attraction from scratch, and they didn't go cheap in doing so, as I recall. They had cool mazes and some great special effects, no doubt. I can't say for certain how much they invested in creating their attractions, but the number that comes to mind is $500,000. That seems like a lot, but maybe not. Raw materials, props, professional design, construction and costumes for multiple attractions can add up in a hurry.

I know Frightmares expected to do gangbuster business that first seasaon, because they priced their attraction at a premium, and anticipated overflow crowds. They had three indoor and one outdoor maze, and probably live entertainment of some sort that first season. I know some sort of magic act and live bands were part of their marketing, I just don't recall how much of that was part of their first year. Regardless, I planned a group outing on a Wednesday night when ValleyScare was closed so that I could see it with a bunch of co-workers. In prepping for that visit, I read about the shuttle buses they were offering from the nearby mall, as parking at the ski hill isn't unlimited. By the time our group trip rolled around in late October, there was no info about shuttle buses on the website. Clearly they scrapped the shuttle bus servcie, and they did that because they didn't need it.

That first year, the cost was $20, if I recall correctly. And for $20 you received a wristband with four admission stubs, one for each maze. You could buy a second admission to their asylum or vampire house, or you could use your four admissions to go to the same maze four times, but it wasn't unlimited admission to the mazes in year 1. I've previously debated the merits of haunt buffets vs. one-and-done attractions. In the old days you paid your flat fee, went through the local haunted house in your town, and the show was over. In the 1990s that started to change with multi-faceted haunts, and that's essentially the  expectation of paying customers. We'll pay $25 or $30 for an attraction, so long as we can line up as many times as we have the patience for. It's not entirely that way, but that seems to be the model at your biggest haunted attractions.

Did pricing Frightmares at $20, without offering repeat visits to their mazes, hurt the park? Probably not in its first year, but they figured out it wasn't in their best interset to go that route, as they were offering the unlimited access by their second year, if I recall correctly, for one flat rate.

As the years went on, there didn't seem to be any growth by the attraction. Their asylum burned down prior to the start of their season a couple of years ago, so they scrambled to put something new together, and I think they tried to play off of the fact the asylum had burned down. Maybe not. All I know is they slapped together a replacement within a couple of weeks, and that was the only significant change to their mazes that I'm aware of since the inception. Does that discourage people from making a repeat visit? Not sure, but if there's one thing I've learned in the haunt industry, you have to have something new to sell every year, or people are less likely to come back to your venue in successive years.

I had no idea that Frightmares wasn't coming back this fall until I talked with my former ValleyScare colleague Chuck this past weekend. He mentioned it during our 35-minute discussion outside of a comic book show inside the prison fences of the Minnesota State Fair. A company in Texas bought the whole kit and kaboodle and moved it to the Lone Star State. You can see for yourself at frightmares.com.

3. Holy crap we love zombie paintball. It's not a new concept in 2014, but the idea of having customers pay to shoot paintballs at people portraying zombies shows now sign of slowing down. That craptastic scam at Running Aces Harness Park was offering it at least a year ago, and Fail at Terror has it this year. The new owners of the Frightmares mazes that are now in Texas are also selling zombie paintball fun. And the folks at The Haunting Experience on Highway 61, which I enjoyed during my lone visit two years ago, are in their second year of selling it, as well. It's a $15 or more add on, it appears, and it must work, otherwise haunts wouldn't sell it. I've never fired a paintball gun in my life, and I have little interest in paying to do so. I guess I'll never know what I'm missing.

4. Money talks. Just about everybody wants to sell you a "fast pass" these days. And why not? It's free money for the proprietor. It costs next to nothing to offer, and if it's busy, you'll make extra money off the small percentage that wants to pay more in order to avoid standing in line at your mazes.

5. Is the bloom off the rose? I've had mixed feelings about the Soap Factory's Haunted Basement. They run a unique attraction in this market, and they've managed to make a lot of money off of it by offering something nobody else does. It's a business model that goes against conventional wisdom. Instead of pushing as many people through as they can, they sell the experience at a premium by personalizing it and therefore offering limited tickets each night they're open. It has worked well for several years now, as they get lots of free press and good word-of-mouth without having to do any real advertising.

And they'll do well again this year, without a doubt. But perhaps the novelty and the exclusivity has hit its ceiling. I'm not sure what they're charging this year, but their prices have certainly increased as they've tried to maximize their earnings. Not really a surprise, that's what businesses do, be it a for-profit operation or a nonprofit arts organization like the Soap Factory. Yet this year they sent out an email alert a day or two before opening weekend, offering discounted admission for opening weekend. I don't think that signals a financial crisis for the Haunted Basement, I think it's merely a sign that they've hit the limits of how much they can charge and still sell out their attraction. It's hard to know based upon one weekend discount, but it will be interesting to see where they're at in five years.

This much I know after a little research: Tickets are $25 to $27, depending upon the night, and there are time slots available on some key nights on the schedule yet this season. Not tons of time slots, but in the past they'd be all but sold out by now, but you can get a variety of tickets available on Halloween and a couple of the days prior, based upon a quick check just now.

With all that said, I'll close by saying there are local haunts I love, and a few I loathe. I don't hide my opinions, either. I may work at ValleyScare, but I'm just a guy with a seasonal job who is a consumer like you. I have recommendations, but it's up to you to decide what you like and what you don't like. If you enjoy the Halloween season, find time to visit an area haunt, be it an old favorite or somewhere you've never been. All of us working in the haunt industry love putting on a good show, and we couldn't do it without you!
 
 
 
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.