Thursday, September 29, 2011

Niles Haunted House

'Tis now the very witching time of night
when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
contagion to this world.
-Shakespeare's Hamlet
That most bewitching time of year draws nearer, casting a spell over thoughts and inclinations, causing otherwise sane and practical people to seek out creatures of the night. As the ancient celebration of Halloween falls upon us, thousands of terror-seeking souls make their annual pilgrimage to Niles, Michigan, resting place of haunts so scary, Kelly and I could only make it through with the lights on.

Death, our Tour Guide
On an overcast Friday afternoon, we arrived at Niles Haunted House Scream Park to meet Death, our tour guide for the evening. Dark robes, extreme pallor, unnatural white eyes: while unsettling in his appearance, he proved to be a wealth of knowledge. We were, after all, at no mere haunted house, so who better to provide insight to the planning and psychology that goes into a dark and deranged production than Death himself?

How big of a production are we talking about? Niles Haunted House features six haunted attractions over 44 acres. Building begins in January for its mid-September debut when, on an average night, 150-200 volunteers creep around and creep out up to 13,000 visitors.What's most impressive? Niles Haunted House is a non-profit that raises over $75,000 for local charities.

Niles Haunted House
Calling all Hogwarts fans! The haunted house's theme changes annually, and this year's is "Scarry Potter." As Ron would say, "Brilliant." Death led Kelly and me through the opening scenes outside of the haunted house, and I couldn't help but smile at the quidditch field and graveyard with wand wielding wizards. Our lights-on tour continued inside through notable settings from the Harry Potter series: the Forbidden Forest, Hogsmead, and the "Grand Staircase" with its portrait covered walls, serving as your starting point to a hundred different routes (you have to go through an estimated eight times to see every room).

Jumping spiders, moving floors and walls, and a famed elevator: nothing is really as it seems. Unique scares left our hearts racing even when Death gave us a heads up. An insiders tip? If you just experienced a crash, blast of air or unexpected pop of a prop, there's more than likely a ghoul nearby waiting to scare you too.

Clowns. I hate clowns. What is it about these sadistically grinning, brightly colored devils that make our skin crawl? Perhaps it was Stephen King's 1986 novel It that forever demonized that which once represented cheerful children and cotton candy. Perhaps it's the creepy carnival music so often accompanying them. Either way, in CarnEvil, there's no escaping clowns nor the sounds of a calliope. As Kelly and I approached, still in broad daylight, with the lights still on, we hesitated at the door where wooden blocks merrily spelled "die." We turned around and walked out, only to regain the conviction of duty to you, dear blog readers, and reentered. We really need to reexamine our priorities.

I honestly can't give great depth of detail on CarnEvil, as I hurried through as quickly as possible while looking down or up but never really at anything. There were clowns. Everywhere. Big clowns and little clowns. Seemingly innocent clowns doing seemingly innocent things. Clowns who were obviously up to no good. No, never again. Stop with the clowns, West Michigan!
Field of Screams
We began our journey through Niles Haunted House's outdoor maze well before the sun began to set, which gave us the benefit of a well-lit day, and it was still mind boggling. Kelly and I walked in circles, backtracked along stark black walls, and stared at each other with baffled and, yes, fearful expressions. Mind you, we made our visit before the park was open, so we weren't waiting for creepers to jump out at us or lead us astray. The feeling of being lost was scary enough without the added fright.

Once we made our way through the opening labyrinth (which took us about twenty minutes), the maze continued on just as twisty and turny, only now it upped the ante: creepy baby dolls, grave yards, birch forests, a well-positioned hearse... We were lost. We were scared. The sun was beginning to set.

Eventually we found our way out (not without great effort) and moved on to the next attraction. We were told that in the dark of night, it can take hours to make it through.

Dark Terror-tory Haunted Hayride
Outdoor rides are often great spooks for the little ones (and Kelly), and this one proved no different. On a nice autumn night like the one we had, a trip through the woods pulled by tractor makes for the perfect night cap. This is the only attraction that Kelly agreed to go through while the park was open and fully staffed with spooks and ghouls. Death called her out on her cowardliness, but Kelly cared not.

The highlight of the hayride, themed Deadtime Stories, is the fire breathing dragon.Yes, actual flames burst from its reptilian mouth. Still it was calm, tame compared to the rest of the Scare Park, and sometimes the narration was hard to hear over the chatter of the passengers, but if you have young children, there's the perfect amount of startling-but-not-to-scary antics.

Midway of the Macabre
All of the attractions, which also include Underworld Unleashed, stem from the midway which has its own set of haunts to explore. You can send your friends to the electric chair, shoot corn cobs at unsuspecting maze-goers, or visit with the Monsters of the Midway (this is where Death hangs out nightly). Barbara the Gray Witch is available for tarot and palm readings, and she is absolutely charming and hilarious. She kept Kelly and I rolling with her puns. We also had time to chat with Zendor before his puppet show, which I volunteered for but was dragged off by Kelly before we could participate (sorry, Zendor!).

If you are after a good scare this Halloween season, you certainly cannot miss Niles Haunted House. It takes its claim of being one of the "scariest, creepiest, most blood-curdling attractions this side of the Continental Divide" dead seriously.

Niles Haunted House Scream Park is conveniently located between Detroit, Chicago, and just over the Indiana border. Before you go, creep over to for a $7 off coupon.

Haunted High Five,


1 comment:

Suzanne Collette said...

My brave child!!!!