It was a spare of the moment decision to visit ‘Screamland’. We’d gone through two of their haunts at ‘ScareCON’ (review here) and discovered their plans for the 2016 season there. So we definitely had an interest in attending. But there was nowhere to fit in a trip given that ‘Screamland’ only opens on the Friday and Saturday. The only option was to jump on a train after work one Friday and do a quick ‘in and out’ visit, returning the same evening. The unfortunate result of doing this was that we were pushed for time, not getting anywhere near the amount of photos that we wanted. And we were just ten minutes from missing the last train back into London, that’s how close it was! That said, we still managed to visit all of the attractions excepting ‘The Story Teller’.
The Final Cut Presents… They Came From Outer Space: Being a ridiculous fan, I loved the seeing the Gremlins puppet in this haunt! This is probably a good starter maze, it’s more fun than scary and Screamland recognise this, going with a cheesy, 50s sci-fi theme. The concept of the haunt is still really cool – you enter a cinema and walk through the screen, becoming part of the movie that’s screening. Being a 50s movie, it’s in black and white and, consequently, so is the maze. It’s a nice touch and does make it stand out as doing something a bit different. The issue that we had with this haunt is that it’s exactly the same maze as last year but with the characters swapped out. Given the new name this year, we were expecting something more than what basically amounted to a change in title. It may have been better to sell it as the same maze rather than something different. To keep the film analogy going, this was a remake rather than a sequel. ***
Dead & Breakfast II – Murder Hotel: The other maze that we went through at ‘ScareCON’ in May and this one fared worse than ‘The Final Cut’. Having the same scenes as the previous year’s attraction, it just felt like a watered down version of that walkthrough. We personally didn’t encounter any actors in the blackout section of the maze which was a highlight last year because they seemed to be everywhere and it was pitch black! The ending in the bunker had also been altered. Featuring two actors previously; this year only had the one. It’s a change that doesn’t work considering that the group is split across two sides of the room. The theming is great though and the elevator section, while being a simple trick, is really effective. It just wasn’t a patch on the 2015 design. ***
The Bloody Mirror: We had an actor led introduction to this maze and the actress performing the introduction was impressive. She improvised well when some of the group were taking the piss which caught them off guard! Once we entered the maze, we only encountered one actor. It’s just a bog standard mirror maze and not a particularly difficult one to navigate at that. We kept thinking that if the maze itself was a bit more intricate this would be a lot more successful. For example, the mirror maze at Portaventura would’ve been perfect for this as that’s a difficult maze to navigate in the best of circumstances! That or have more actors inside. Although we can understand that the space inside is limited as this mirror maze wasn’t purpose built for the event. Having an introduction and then one person inside doesn’t make for a haunt really… We would give this one star but, as mentioned, the actress at the beginning was really good! **
Festino’s Forgotten Funhouse – King of Clowns: The first thing that stood out to us at this haunt was that the operator let us in with a group consisting of just two other people. Its such a rare thing to see but makes all the difference. Once inside though, we were less impressed. There were a few moments where we were stopped by actors for mini-scenes, this was a cool touch and made an otherwise bland walkthrough more interesting. There was a knife thrower scene that was extremely similar to ‘Carnival of Screams’ at Alton Towers a few years back. However, the execution here was lacking, with the other two in our group not even sure what was happening, walking past the thrower into the next section before the knives were even flung. This was down to the fact that there were no indicators that you should remain in the room for a while. We may never have stayed there either had we not seen this setup before at the Alton Towers haunt.
The ending was something we could get behind though. It was a neat spin on the ‘chased out of the maze with a chainsaw’ trope. We walked into a circus animal cage and were then locked inside. For what seemed like an absolute age, we were tormented by clowns on the other side. They were equipped with chainsaws, running them across the bars, ratcheting up the tension for the moment the cage door opened! Our final comment on this; yet another clown/circus themed maze! Although this did feature a varied cast of characters rather than just clowns. ***
The Paradise Foundation: Our final maze of the night and the most frustrating! With a fresh concept, ‘The Paradise Foundation’ is, on paper, a brilliant attraction. The setup and theming were fantastic. You enter the foundation, a place where you can be transformed into ‘the best version of you’ – cosmetic surgery on steroids! The set reflects this idea; the place looks very clinical and high tech when you first enter. But then you learn the secrets behind the outfit and it all becomes very nightmarish! To not spoil too much, the imagery in the later part of the maze felt very inspired by Clive Barker. There was one woman who had been reduced to a blob of flesh and another person who was attached to his wheelchair in an unconventional way. It was as though you turned a corner and stepped through the gates of Hell! The very end of the haunt was a great feature and we think that with a bit more smoke, they could really sell the effect. As it was, it was more that we recognised what was supposed to be happening rather than believing it was actually happening…
The frustrating part of this haunt was that, as you can tell, it did a whole lot fantastically well. The previously mentioned characters and other imagery were really novel and striking but the maze didn’t do anything with them. They were just set dressing, not interacting with you in any meaningful way. We got the occasional ‘boo’ but, more or less, it was akin to a walk through a museum exhibit or a zoo, we didn’t feel like potential patients. We’d love to see this return next year using the theme more effectively, splitting groups up etc. If any of the mazes called for more interactivity, this was it. And we can’t end this review without mentioning the music, it was brilliantly haunting and another element that set our expectations high for this haunt. ***
The thing that we took away from Screamland is their potential. They have a great foundation to build upon and we’ll definitely be returning to this next year to see how it develops. With a few tweaks to each of their mazes, this could be a solid event. We found the acting to be of a really high standard but, so many times throughout the mazes, the lack of actors was sorely noticeable. However, it demonstrates that the guys running Screamland know what they’re doing. They’re hiring the right people, they just need more of them! If it’s a budget thing our recommendation would be to drop a haunt or two. We doubt anyone would miss the mirror maze for example.
And we have to mention the on-site staff, everyone was really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in the event which does make a difference!
Aside from the previously mentioned missed opportunities, we had a few niggles during our time here. One thing that we noticed was that every single house had the maze music turned up way louder than it should’ve been. This interfered with the performances in certain places as it was sometimes difficult to hear what was being said. This carelessness towards presentation also reared its head in ‘The Paradise Foundation’. The beginning of the maze starts with an introductory video. We were ushered into the maze whilst this video was still playing. It felt as though the story played second fiddle to the contents of the haunt which we think was a bad decision. It did this maze a disservice, especially considering how this attraction went out of its way to present a unique story.
Something we felt, purely because of our own time limitations, is that the holding area between ‘The Final Cut’ and ‘Dead & Breakfast’ feels like an unnecessary time waster. We appreciate that it’s a by-product of the space that the mazes inhabit but it’s still a bit of a pain considering that even though we walked straight into ‘The Final Cut’, we then had a twenty minute wait to get into ‘Dead & Breakfast’. This is something that you don’t have visibility of before entering the first maze.
And then operationally this event was a bit scattershot. Picking up the tickets was almost farcical, ending up at three different desks before they were eventually issued. It’s unclear as to why all the desks can’t hand out these tickets and it seems as though staff were unsure too. Because the person at the first desk referred us to the second desk and then the person there referred us to the third desk. If there was some reason for only one desk being able to issue tickets, the least that could have been done was to ensure that all staff were aware of this. Visiting all the different ticket areas wasn’t particularly painful, just came across as a bit unprofessional. And then when we did get the tickets, we weren’t handed the white fast track ticket that we were supposed to be given. Assuming that either the wristband or the ticket provided was the fast track, we went on our way. We only realised that there was a problem when the first attraction wouldn’t let us in the fast track queue. This resulted in us wasting another ten minutes trudging back to that desk to finally claim those tickets. As we mentioned, the staff were all very friendly, it feels like something was just missed in the training.
We’ll be back. Knowing that this event is only in its second year and that it has apparently grown since the first year, we feel that if they make a handful of tweaks, this will be a ‘must visit’ destination in 2017. As it stands, it’s an event that has all the makings but just misses the mark.
Rating: *** (Out of 5) – Flawed but worth checking out
Ticket Price: £30 (including fast track)
Address: 49-51 Marine Terrace, Margate CT9 1XJ