Thursday, October 20, 2016

Halloween Adventure 2016: Awaken Haunted Attraction vs. Darksyde Acres.

There's a number of ingredients to making a perfect Halloween season. One has to amass and balance just the right amount of seasonal snacks, booze, attend special events, pick out a fine costume, watch ludicrous amounts of horror films, and have at least one good adventure to a haunted attraction. Last year I failed to check off that last item much to my dismay. This time around I wouldn't let the opportunity pass by. In the heart of an extended work weekend I studied nearby haunts and restaurants in order to figure out a proper Autumn adventure. Question was, would we visit an old favorite, check on the improvements of another, or maybe venture into something completely new?

Note: Apologies for not having many pictures. My phone died early that night with no car charger so you'll just have to take my word on some of this.

Oddly enough, the Lansing Metro hasn't always had the best selection of spooky places. More often then not we're forced to take long treks east or south to find something worthwhile. Over the years I've been to giant record setting indoor haunts like Erebus, multi-event farms like Shawhaven, and even basic backyard haunts like the Duck Lake Haunted trail. My brother-in-;aw and I both agreed we wanted to try something new this year, luckily I found out there was a brand new spot called Awaken not far from here.

We set out on a journey to Leslie Mi. A small town just shy of 2000 people. Major props to the town for embracing this holiday as much as they have. The streetlamps were decorated by different folks with a competition where people could vote for their favorite. Didn't get to see them all but there were some fine entries all the same.
Before hitting the frightful festivities we had to fill our bellies while indulging in a little family history. The Crossroads bar and grill was formerly known as Ginnies and owned by my grandmother. We stopped in to check out the burgers and have a brew. It was odd to think the place once belong to my family but I decided not to lord that fact over the wait staff. The burgers were good, not the best I've ever had mind you, but definitely solid food in a comfy environment.

We found Awaken just a short ride out of town located in a former car dealership. That point in the night was quiet so we were practically treated to a private show. The first thing I noticed that set this place apart was the lighting. I've been in far too many haunts were you can't see an inch in front of your face but here each area had proper lighting which allowed us to see the work put into each scene. This wasn't a place wasn't the basic black walls with loose fabric. No sir, there were some sturdy materials in there made to look like bricks, tile, wallpaper, you name it. More than that items are placed in a sensible manner. There's no attempt to create atmosphere by simply piling junk in a corner. Each spot had a little story of its' own like the bedroom of a doll obsessed killer, scientists labs, barbershops, etc.

You might think the good lighting would make for a less scary environment, that's not the case at all. If anything the better lighting lulls you into a false sense of security. On top of that the scenes are so well designed you can't predict where all the scares are coming from. One spot in particular was outstanding in this regard, It was essentially an alleyway with zombies and a monster dog. There were just enough dark corners for performers and animatronics to be hidden while other actors shouted from windows and such to draw your attention.
On the occasions when you could accurately predict where the scare was coming from an additional element like a change in lighting would throw you off and make the moment scary. Across the board the place was impressive in both production and exaction.

On the downside, being the events first year combined with a rushed start-up left the place with somewhat less content than I'd hoped for. As it is you still get plenty of bang for your buck, but a little more would send it over the top. We were able to talk to one of the head honchos and he hopes to expand by at least 50% next year which could mean great things. Both my brother-in-law and I are planing on returning next year if only for one reason, it was actually scary. Sure most of these places surprise and shock with noises, jump scares, etc, Here, the effect didn't immediately wear off. The scares were so plentiful and well-done we actually stayed pumped for some time.

Bellies still full of burger and senses heightened by fright we decided to extend our adventure all the way to Jonesville to visit Darksyde Acres. This place has been around for something like fifteen years. I've heard of it over and over again but never took the time to visit.
The drive down was something of a thrill in itself. After normal stretches of highway and city we hit thin winding dirt roads positively encased by trees and darkness. Upon emerging we found the lights of a vast farm surround by a trailer community presumably made up of farm workers. Honestly it's a pretty amazing setting, but what about the event itself?

The haunt was divided into three primary sections. The first started off decently enough. There were a few good jump scares here and there. A bit featuring 3-D paint and black lights was a good touch but near the end of this portion things started to turn sour. There were stretches where we simply couldn't see anything. The last room of this chunk was pitch black and you have to feel around while someone taunts you for not being able to find your way out. This wasn't scary so much as annoying, not the feeling a place like this should inspire.
The second section was a maze made out of old wood and populated by chainsaw wielding goons. In theory this was a decent setting, in exaction not so much. You could easily see the monsters long in advance which meant they're best method of trying to scare is to fire off a chainsaw right next to you. Once again this is not scary so much as irritating. Doubling down on the issue is the layout. This isn't so much a true maze as it is a messy path for them to force you through until after enough dead ends they take mercy and reveal the way out.
The third and final portion was thankfully much better, featuring the best material. This chunk had the best mix of lighting, set dressing, and scares. The hallway of mirrors with a ghost girl was a legitimately well-designed set-piece as was the usage of a performer on stilts. If more of the event had been like this I would have had a much better opinion of the place but after the lame middle section the mood had been lost for me.
On the positive side there is a lot of content here for the price and some if it is good, just not enough for my liking. No doubt I've been to worse haunts, I've also been to much better and this night I'd already seen better at Awaken.

Also feel I should talk about the performers. Both places featured healthy sized casts and overall I think the crew at Awaken did a better job. Some of the Darksyde crew such as the stilt man or the mirror ghost had excellent timing but they were offset by many other actors who weren't scary so much as loud. Not to mention pet peeves of mine, body odor and bad breath were in abundant supply. By and large the Awaken cast had excellent timing, respect for personal comfort, and proper hygiene. More than that, I can remember more of them individually such as the mad doctor, doll room girl, and a rotten bunny. Wouldn't have minded hanging back with bunny girl actually. I can be scared and a Lothario at the same time, it's a free country.

As you can probably guess my endorsement this year goes to Awaken over Darksyde Acres. Not trying to tear Darksyde down. They do have some good people and scares, they just gotta fix the middle portion. Awaken on the other hand may have been quick but it was a strong show that I'm excited to return too. Essentially the double feature amounted to a great short film versus a bloated Summer flick. The latter may give you lots for your buck but there's something to be said for straight quality over quantity.

All in all it was a good night. Even the radio was in fine spirits, playing Freaks Come Out at Night as we drove through the dark woods. It was the sort of experience that helps elevate this time of year above all others. Since that's as mushy as I'm willing to get, let's wrap this up. Has anyone else out there had a good spooky trek yet this season? Any cool local haunts you like to include in your festivities? If not, I hope you're still having a good October. Get out there and drink in the Ghoul-Aide.

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