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Dr. Kilmore
25 November 2015 @ 12:36 am
As I've said before, I love looking back on my stories from the early years of ValleyScare, when I created this blog to preserve memories of the fun I had.

I haven't had much to write about in recent years, but I have found a few things. While I wrote this blog for my benefit, and did little to promote it initially, I did have a small readership back in 2006, thanks to a community of Live Journal users in 2006. Most, if not all of those people, have long since quit using Live Journal. I'm not sure why I picked Live Journal back then, but I do wish my content was on a Blogger account instead. Oh well.

I also created a Twitter account on a whim, and use it now and then to have fun, but it's not as if I built an audience for my writing. Twitter came along toward the end of my acting career, although I doubt it would have generated a mass audience had it been available to me at the start of my ValleyScare career.

My ValleyScare account became a platform to write about the local haunt scene, and a few memories, as well as experiences working at ValleyScare. I was fortunate to work for a company that didn't get uptight about my blogging.

I remember getting comments from a woman I never met, a woman who recognized me in the asylum many years ago only by my dialogue. I enjoyed reading her blog, but like most people she disappeared from my online world.

I also had interest in my blog from a woman who I have communicated with periodically to this day via Twitter. We've even met and chatted a couple of times while I've worked at the Minnesota State Fair.

One of our original cemetery dwellers, a guy named Steve, use to correspond with me via this blog. I knew who he was because of his distinct character, but we never chatted in person. He was married and had a child, and that ended his adventures in the cemetery.

I had small doses of correspondence with a few people who had no connection to ValleyScare, they simply enjoyed my blog and wanted to share a comment or two.

None of that communication happens any more, but that's to be expected. I don't do a lot of writing for this blog, and therefore I'm not giving people a reason to keep coming back.

I have no idea what my life will look like next fall. My gut instinct is that I'll return to ValleyScare, but under certain circumstances I might retire from the haunt industry. Since I'm planning to visit Las Vegas for Halloween next year, I'd like the benefit of the added income I receive from ValleyScare in helping to bankroll my trip, a trip I already have more than $325 saved for. Regardless of what happens next fall, my career in the haunt industry most likely has no more than one more season left. I never say never, but I have a strong sense that the end is near.

One thing I do know, or at least think I know: It's time to retire this blog. The content isn't going anywhere, not as long as Live Journal supports it, but my interest in writing about the haunt industry is pretty much dead, and I'm run out of things to say. I could simply ignore this blog and let it dangle without a closing statement, but that's not how I operate. I like to close the book.

Yes, I could re-open the book, and I'm a big "never say never" guy, so I won't rule out the possibility that I'm wrong this evening, but that pesky gut instinct tells me that this is the final chapter.

Am I wrong? Only time will tell.

Thanks to everyone who has enjoyed my content... even though 99.9 percent of those folks will never read this sentence.
Dr. Kilmore
23 November 2015 @ 12:39 am
There were at least three organized trips to haunted attractions by one of my longtime cohorts at ValleyScare's asylum. We love a good show as much as we love putting on a good show.... well most of us, anyway.

I did not attend the first one, which was to The Haunting Experience on Highway 61. There was a large group that attended, and from all reports, the folks at HWY61 put on another good show.

The second of our three trips was to our perennial destination, the Dead End Hayride. There were at least two organized trips to the far north metro, because not everyone could attend on the Thursday night chosen for the main trip. On the night I went, there had to be about 50 people there that were somehow connected to our group. I didn't know the majority of them, as most of them were from Zombie High, I was told. I don't get a chance to know many people outside my maze.

I didn't visit DEH during its first year, but I've been there every year since. I think that makes it five years in a row. (I'm too lazy to fact check tonight.) I've said it before, there's a reason I make it back to DEH every year, they put on a great show.

I won't say a lot about it, it has been a month since I visited, the memory is a bit fuzzy at this point, but here's what you need to know:

• They do touch you a bit, and you don't get that much any more. A few decades ago it wasn't uncommon to have a little physical interaction, and for reasons I listed long ago, that went out of style. There is no waiver at the DEH that you sign, just a simple warning that there is some physical contact, but it's not a license for patrons to get busy with their hands. I feel like they upped this element of the experience from the first time I went five years ago.

• DEH has a one-way hayride and two separate mazes, and they have invested a lot into all of these in their six years in business. There's not always a major addition every year, but they've blown me away a couple of times with their fabulous upgrades, and this year was another memorable season. I had a hint of what was coming thanks to DEH being featured by WCCO-TV this season, and it did not disappoint. The start of the second maze now features a motel, and it's an interactive room.

My small group entered the room, but I was soon separated from my group, as I was accosted by the actors inside, and essentially prohibited from proceeding forward. It was hilarious, theatrical and entertaining, and that 30 seconds is something I will long remember.

I've heard a few different stories of interactions that take place inside the motel... it sounds like a lot of creativity went into both the concept and the delivery. I was very impressed.

• Things must be going well at DEH, they had 22 nights on their schedule, which spanned six weekends. They opened after ValleyScare and were open eight more nights, I think. Very impressive.

• They offer a great haunted attraction at a fair price, and if you plan ahead or organize a group, you can save money on your tickets.

A special thanks to the folks at DEH who helped Eli celebrate his belated Halloween. I couldn't be there on Nov. 6, but DEH reps made an appearance, and that was very cool. Eli's parents worked at ValleyScare for eight years, and they are great friends. (Perhaps I will elaborate upon this at a later date.)

The final ValleyScare trip was to Screamtown. I worked there in 2011 and had only visited once since then. The last Sunday night before Halloween marked my second return.

I won't chronicle a lot about the experience, but here are a few key details.

We had a group of 12-13 that night, and although we were supposed to be there at 7:30, many people delayed our entry into the attractions by about 45 minutes. Since the attractions closed at 10 p.m., we didn't have time to hit up everything.

Nobody did the VIP experience, and none of us had the time to hit up both of the VIP attractions as well as the main mazes. As it turned out, we only hit four of the main attractions.

We visited the Circus Asylum, where I worked in 2011. It's a huge maze, and I worked only a handful of nights in 2011, so I never knew the maze very well. I worked toward the end of it, and didn't see or interact with most of my co-workers, or get to know my way through it. But this much I caan say, although the actor density was a bit light, (which happens just about everywhere on a "school night,") the maze has continued to evolve. There's no shortage of decorations or props, and the attention to detail impressive. And there's so much going on in the maze there were several great scares executed.

Our second visit was to Meltdown at Sector 666. It's unique, and I enjoy it. It's not the most amazing maze, but again, lots of decoration within the maze, and some great work by the actors.

Our third destination was Redneck Resort, which is highly entertaining. Broken record: the set decorations are outstanding.

The last maze we hit before Screamtown closed was Oak Blood Forest. This is a long walk through dense woods. It's a great concept, and in the past few years they seem to have multiplied the props and decorations along it. It was far more extravagant than I remembered, and it had tons of great elements. I was blown away by how much it has evolved, and I loved it. Super cool.

We had a great night at Screamtown.

I know a few people made it to the Soap Factory's Haunted Basement again this year, and reports were that it was better than it has been the past couple of years. My question was why people went if they were disappointed the past two years. Nobody had a good answer for it. I quit going a few years ago after one of my co-workers reported some pervert licked her face. It's one thing to personalize the experience and make some contact, but I have a hard time supporting an attraction that employs people who are that gross.

Thank you to all those who helped make three great attractions, HWY61, DEH and Screamtown a success again this year.
Dr. Kilmore
14 October 2015 @ 02:55 pm
What’s the best haunted hayride in Minnesota? A Twin Cities television station will attempt to answer that tonight.

The local TV station asks viewers to recommend the “best of” each week. Then an online voting process determines what the best is for the category of the week. As you would expect, it’s far from a scientific process. Any savvy business being considered for a  “best of” feature during the 10 p.m. news is going to stump for votes via social media. The obvious winner for tonight’s feature will be Dead End Hayride, a worthy choice. Although Dead End stumped for votes via social media, I suspect it would win the award even without a campaign.

The TV station’s announcement that it would crown the best hayride got me wondering how many haunted hayrides we have in Minnesota.

Before the days of Spooky World, the first multi-faceted haunted attraction I know of in Minnesota, haunted hayrides were just that, hayrides. There were a few around the Twin Cities, and I went to a couple of them, including one that remains in business to this day.

Spooky World represented the evolution of haunted attractions. Instead of one-and-done destinations, haunted destinations found themselves adding haunted attractions in order to keep people coming back year after year.

Trail of Terror started out as a haunted house, and nothing more. That original building remains in place to this day, and now it is surrounded by a bunch of other stuff, much of it unimpressive. The trail added a hayride in response to Spooky World’s emergence in the southwest metro, although the wagons were pulled a few years ago so that you can now walk the haunted trail. For all the things Fail at Terror has done wrong over the years, they did a decent job of entertaining me with their hayride. Actually scaring me during a hayride is a tough proposition, as I’ve said many times, but ToT did a decent job of entertaining me.

At this point I know of three hayrides that are active, the aforementioned Dead End, the Nightmare Hallow Scream Park hayride and the Haunting Experience on Highway 61 hayride. Is there a haunted hayride outside the metro that I’m unaware of?

I visited Nightmare Hallow Scream Park a few years ago, and I have zero interest in going back. This is the hayride I visited in the 1990s, and it has been plugging away in the north metro for more than two decades. It has moved around the north metro a couple of times, and started as merely a hayride, as best I recall. It added a haunted house in the ‘90s after Spooky World made its debut.

Although I am not interested in making a return visit, what I do remember about my last visit was that the hayride had a fantastic visual display. There were tons of props and decorations, making it an entertaining visual experience. The trail didn’t have a lot of actors, and the actors didn’t do much to enhance the hayride, but it was a fun, visually entertaining hayride that seemed family-oriented.

I’ve only been to the Haunting Experience once, and I was impressed by what they did with their hayride. It wasn’t as visually stunning as the Hallow Scream hayride, but they had elaborate, entertaining sets scattered throughout their haunted trail. And when the hay wagon would reach one of the sets it would stop, allowing a character to board the wagon and interact with the riders. It wasn’t creepy so much as it was entertaining, and it was a good twist on the hayride experience. And they did manage to work in a few scary effects during the hayride.

The best hayride award will go to Dead End, and it should go with an asterisk. The hayride is entertaining, and it has evolved greatly since its inception a handful of years ago. It has an absolutely stunning set they added a couple of years ago that blew me away the first time I saw it, and that experience is over in less than 30 seconds.

Despite that, the hayride experience is built around the idea that it reaches a dead end, and therefore you depart from the wagon and make your way back through the woods, following a trail that leads you in and out of buildings, including an asylum at the beginning of your journey back. And at the end of that, there’s a separate haunted attraction. The sum of all its parts make Dead End an annual destination for me and a bunch of my ValleyScare cohorts, but the hayride wouldn’t work if it didn’t have at least its complimentary part.

While I won’t argue that the other hayrides in and of themselves are better than the hayride at Dead End, it seems silly to base a “best of” category on attractions that include a hayride as part of the experience. No hayride stands alone, and consumers rate their experiences on the sum of all parts, so picking out one facet of an experience as the basis for a “best of” award is silly.

How good is the Dead End Hayride this year? I’ll find out next week.
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 up 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 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 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 overnight. The hydraulics on those rides don't always work when it gets cold, and Steel Venom was a victim of it.

I enjoyed 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 halfway 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.