2010 EVENT REVIEW
Usually the HOD!!! attends KI's annual ode to the world of haunting on the evening of the RIP Press Event, which normally takes place on opening night. It grants a straight to the front-of-the-line pass and a free seat at the Fright Feast buffet (something we never used-after all, you can eat anytime, and it's all about the haunting. We did have a review of Halloween Haunt forwarded to the HOD!!! once that cracked us up since the reviewer spent 75% of their column gushing about the food and adoringly listing all that they ate). We skipped it this year since our lovely better half Ayame was visiting from Japan the following week and we thought KI would be the perfect event to introduce her to American haunting. In fact, she was supposed to write this review, but as will be seen, didn't 'see' enough of it to do the job. We'll occasionally splice in her reactions just for fun, and let it be noted that she thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Halloween Haunt (and doesn't mind being portrayed as the 'terrified victim' here).
Halloween Haunt has always been about value-it's free to season pass holders and anyone buying a pass for next season gets one free trip (yes, free is a relative concept here-the parking fee is ridiculous, but that's KI). Even for couples like us that didn't have a pass, you can enjoy an entire night of haunting plus stage shows and KI's big name rides for less than $45 ($22 each). That of course doesn't include food and dropping a hundred or so on souvenirs for your sweetheart (who wanted mouse ears in the worst way but sadly didn't get any). The park is crawling with actors (500 according to KI) and seasonal decor. We had always wondered if it was indeed possible to see all of KI's haunts in one night without having a 'no-line' pass, and found out that YES, it is possible. Of course, you have to go early in the season, go on a Friday, on a night where rain is forecast, get there before the park opens, stay until it closes, skip going on any rides, and use your vast haunting experience to know where to go first. We hit a couple of the indoor haunts near the rear of the park first and then headed back to the Psycho Path before it 'opened'-this attraction always has the longest lines and if you wait until later in the night, they will be huge. Then it's best to head for Tombstone Terror-tory because of the 'double line' you wait in.
The HOD!!! made the mistake of heading straight for Slaughter House when the park opened. Now, Ayame is in her 40's, but looks about 15 and is as cute as can be. This naturally made her the prime target for every haunt actor that saw her. Once behind the counter of the suspect-looking butcher shop, the mix of gore, butchery, and blood soaked madmen threatening to separate her from her limbs quickly transformed her from a poised woman into a nervous wreck. I hope the inside of our jacket provided a pleasing view, because after the room where a young woman on a table was being carved up by psychos, that's about all she saw. The haunt was excellent and likely the most powerful of Halloween Haunt's lineup. As one might suspect, the experience made Ayame a bit reticent about entering the other events, but being a trooper, she soldiered on.
We were somewhat disappointed by KI's new haunt this season, Wolf Pack. It lacked the impact that the 'new' haunts from the last few seasons had (Club Blood, Urgent Scare, The Slaughter House) and was extremely short to boot-by far the shortest attraction in the park, including the Fear Zones. This walk through the beast filled woods featured a cool animatronic in a well, a nice soundtrack, and some impressive werewolves but had little time to create an atmosphere or sustained sense of menace. Ayame told us that in a Japanese haunt, you would see 'Nine-tailed Foxes' instead of werewolves-they're the shapeshifter of choice there.
Massacre Manor is the closest thing to a 'traditional' haunted house Halloween Haunt has, but contains a lot of comedic elements. As you progress through the attraction, you'll bear witness to the story of a 'prom queen' and how she was in the habit of murdering all the 'boy toys' that failed to live up to her standards. The event has one of the more elaborate effects in the park (an 'Exorcist' levitating bed) and the last room where you meet the Queen is probably the best final scare of the event.
Carnevil is KI's long time 3D Klown themed haunt, and as usual the barker herding hauntgoers together in the front room provides the high point. This year it's "Big Daddy" who introduces the group to the world of horror under the Big Top. There's a mirror maze, a vortex tunnel, a dot room, and other 'fun house' style gimmicks providing a backdrop for the collection of mangy and depraved Klowns that lurked within. As it turned out, Ayame was terrified of clowns. If KI's group freaked her out, guess we can forget about introducing her to our pal Bludzo. She'd be scarred for life.
Club Blood is the inner city 'gentleman's club' featuring exotic dancers with fangs and a taste for the jugular. While this haunt is usually a bit hit with men and much less so with women, it's added a few shirtless male vampires over the years to give the ladies a reason to enter. The restroom facilities within will be found revolting by most everyone. For sheer audacity, it can't be beat. It's been our favorite haunt at KI since it opened. Ayame was mostly curious about whether the dancer's boobs were real-since I doubt KI would let me check as part of my review, I can only assume they were.
Urgent Scare is a nicely themed haunt that makes hauntgoers part of the show-ostensibly, you're waiting in line to get vaccinated as protection against a virus that's turning people into flesh devouring ghouls. A nice feature of the haunt is that one can see society breaking down the further one progresses. From nurses on duty and harried doctors trying to do their job early on, the hopelessness of the situation becomes obvious as both medical staff and patients turn into ghouls. Finding the way out only leads to a world of burned out cars and soldiers in hazmat suits trying to contain the outbreak. Ayame's a doctor and found this haunt fascinating, particularly the fact that there was so much actual medical equipment and stage dressing on hand. I bet she really appreciates her nice clean, quiet practice now!
Death Row is the weakest of the indoor haunts. Once one of KI's more original events (from its initial season under the Eiffel Tower as "The Freezer"), the years have not been kind. This chain link fence maze is crawling with escaped death row inmates and the cops trying to round them up (who can't tell hauntgoers from inmates, it seems). There's fog and mirrors to further disorient hauntgoers. This event worked better when themed as a mental hospital and it's pulled a "Night Of Fright" over the years-most of the props inside have long since been removed and used in the other attractions.
The outdoor events tend to be short transition areas for people to enjoy while on their way from one indoor attraction to another. There are two exceptions, one of these being the extremely popular haunted trail, the Trail Of Terror. It's a trip through the woods at the back of KI where a toxic waste dump has seemingly turned the local yokels into homicidal maniacs. There are graveyards, the dump, a hillbilly shack with a guard dog, an outhouse that fights back, and lots of down home country crazies on display. Using rope lights to illuminate the path has made it a lot safer but a lot less immersive as well. While the outdoor events are usually not as intense as the indoor ones (the open areas provide plenty of room to escape), Ayame found that being pursued by several chainsaw wielding maniacs on her way out shattered whatever illusions of safety she had.
The second exception is Tombstone Terror-tory. It's the Western themed haunt that utilizes the park's steam engine railroad as part of the event. It's still a shame that safety regulations prevent anything from happening during the train portion of the ride. The walk back through the old mining town after the train 'breaks down' (being an American haunt newbie, Ayame bought into the breakdown big time much to the delight of the costumed tour guide) was a bit more intense than in previous years but still is a bit too linear design wise to allow the actors much of a chance to create a sinister atmosphere.
The last three attractions are 'Fear Zones'. These are short themed outdoor areas that have fast moving lines and serve as 'pressure valves' for the regular haunts, helping to keep their lines down. They're best considered as more intense areas of park decor that real attractions, and are very enjoyable on those terms. Cut Throat Cove is somewhat lengthier than the other two and is infested by Pirates. Cornstalkers traditionally has a great Halloween atmosphere with lots of fog and a cornfield with living scarecrows. Cemetery Drive is a walk through-what else, a cemetery, with lots of strange looking monuments, headstones, zombies, and marble statuary that almost looks alive. The zombies here are among the best actors in the park and have the shambling gait and mannerisms of the undead down pat.
The "Hot Blooded" stage show was the same as last season's and every bit as good the second time around. Scantily clad vampire chicks-that's all guys need to know. The dancing and music will be appreciated by the gals, and the show proved to be Ayame's favorite event of the night.
"Half-Pint Brawlers" is KI's newest seasonal entertainment in the Festhaus. It replaces 'Ghouls Gone Wild', a move which did not make the HOD!!! happy at all. Replacing a hot looking witch and vampire chick along with a goofy Frankenstein's Monster and Mummy with midget wrestlers? Bad choice. What does midget wrestling have to do with Halloween? Feed 'em to the werewolves, we say. Maybe a 'Sgt. Furry And His Howlin' Commandos Vs. Half-Pint Brawlers Grudge Match'-now THAT would be worth watching! Since we had seen lots of midget wrestling at the Gardens during the heyday of the Sheik, Bobo Brazil, Ben Justice, and Tex McKenzie, we skipped it. However, it was extremely well liked by people we talked to throughout the park who had sat in on it, so KI knows what they're doing. As anyone in the haunt biz knows, it's not about scares or gore, but about entertainment, and the wrestling show certainly delivered for the majority of parkgoers.
And if you're the type of parkgoer who absolutely HAS to ride the regular rides at a Halloween event, here's what's open: The Beast, Diamondback, Firehawk, Vortex, Drop Tower, Invertigo, Delirium, Flight Deck, The Racer, Flight of Fear, Adventure Express, Backlot Stunt Coaster, Monster, Zephyr, Scrambler, Shake, Rattle & Roll, Dodgem and The Crypt. OK, the Crypt would be appropriate, but you can see that all season.
As always, KI must be seen as an event that is more than the sum of its haunts. None of the 12 (and the two unique stage shows) are quite up to the standards or length of most of the other area attractions, but all are entertaining and of solid quality. With the multitude of themes there's a haunt for every taste and loads of other things to do in the park as well. Considering the sheer volume of actors in the park, costuming and makeup were outstanding and the general level of acting was good as well. The massive throughput required by the events means the creatures inside have little time for extensive interaction, so they concentrate on startles and entertaining dialogue. Fun and having a good time are the order of the day here. Taken as a complete evening of entertainment, it's an unbeatable deal and highly recommended by the HOD!!! And it'll be even better if they set up that grudge match between the half-pint brawlers and the Howlin' Commandos.
2009 EVENT INFORMATION
Halloween Haunt is located at Kings Island (Exit 24 off I-71 in Mason). It's open to the public Fridays and Saturdays September 25th through October 31st, and will also be open Thursdays and Sundays beginning October 8th through October 18th. Hours of operation are 7 to 1 AM (with the outdoor attractions Cut Throat Cove, Trail Of Terror, Tombstone Terror-tory, CornStalkers, and Cemetery Drive opening at 8) on Fridays and Saturdays, 7 to Midnight on Thursdays and Sundays. Hot Blooded has shows at 8:30 and 10 with 11 and Midnight shows added on Friday and Saturday. Ghouls Gone Wild runs at 8 and 9:30 on Thursdays and Sundays, 7:30-8:30-10-11:30 on Friday, and 7:30-9:30 on Saturday. Online admission for the Haunt is $21.99 Thursdays and Fridays with Saturdays and Sundays costing $27.99. Gate prices are $48.99 on Saturdays and Sundays and $34.99 on Thursdays and Fridays (and also Saturday, September 26th). FREE to 2009 Season Pass Holders-2010 Season Pass Holders will get one free visit. Fright Feast is a separate attraction running from 6-6:45 (and also 5-5:45 on Saturdays) before Halloween Haunt and is $13.99-it runs every day but the 25th. RIP Tours are available by making reservations in advance for $225 (minimum of two, maximum of eight in a group)-you get free parking in the RIP lot, front of the line access to rides, shows, and haunts, ride photos, the Fright Feast, a personal KI VIP tour guide, a group photo, and more. The Howl-O-Fest event for children runs from Noon until 5:30 on Saturdays and Sundays in the Picnic Grove from September 27 through November 1st. Admission is $27.99 for adults and $21.99 for children when purchased online, or $48.99/$31.99 at the gate. The Howl-O-Fest Backyard BBQ runs from Noon-3 and is $12.99 for adults and $6.99 for children. For more information call (800) 288-0808 or (513) 754-5700, or visit http://www.visitkingsisland.com .