B-Movie Geek

As I exited my vehicle and glanced towards the woods, something white could be seen peering through the treetops. Night had fallen and it was now dark, and I could hear the screams pouring from the woods. An odd electricity seemed to flow from the darkness, energizing the groups of patrons leaving their cars and heading towards the woods. The crisp autumn air and the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet simply felt right. This was fall; this was Halloween; this was Haunted Overload.

Halloween Incarnate

I've attended Haunted Overload for several years now, and the trek from Connecticut has become an annual tradition for my wife and I. The sheer spectacle of Haunted Overload has proven to possess something of an infectious allure, as a growing group of friends (eight as of 2013) now joins us for the annual journey. I couldn't quite make out the shape as our group moved towards the entrance, but something large was definitely looming in the woods, emitting an otherworldly white glow. Whatever it was, it was huge. This was hardly a surprise, as Haunted Overload mastermind Eric Lowther has been building up, literally, for years. From his humble beginnings staging a home haunt, Eric seemingly has a fascination with building big - monstrously big. It was clear that something new, and large, was in store for us this year.

First, a bit of history. Following the 2009 haunt season, Haunted Overload relocated to its current home at DeMerritt Hill Farm in Lee, NH. In just one year, a whole new 45 minute trail was established in the woods aside the farm, a genuinely creepy setting for the haunt. That first year the new Haunted Overload felt complete (see my 2010 review here), but I did miss a few set pieces from the previous edition of the haunt. Although I've neglected to write anything new since that 2010 season, the crew at Haunted Overload have remained quite busy. In 2011, old favorites made their return as new and improved versions of the circus tent and the vortex tunnel made their debuts. The new vortex tunnel is especially awe-inspiring, as patrons must pass through the vortex itself as they enter into the haunt. Not content to just establish parity, a whole new train yard section was added in 2012, as well as a new awe-inspiring structure.  Known as the "cactus skull," and baring more than a passing resemblance to a devilish jack-o-lantern, the giant structure looms over the haunt. A humongous 36-foot tall clown was also added, dwarfing the already impressive circus tent.

Something wicked this way comes

The haunt is designed such that the entrance consists of a series of cleverly designed queue lines. I say these lines are clever because the spectacle is such that the patron hardly realizes that they are waiting in line. First, outside the woods, a line snakes alongside the ticket booth, the path dotted with ten-foot tall scarecrows. Keep a careful eye towards the hilly farmland and you'll catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman riding about. Don't let your eyes wander too far though, or you risk being surprised by one of the monstrous actors creeping stealthily along the queue. As the line moves forward, you pass a highly detailed gypsy wagon and underneath a thirty-foot tall ghost (observant returning patrons may recognize the re-purposed giant witch). The trail continues between walls of aged wooden planks, and the patron arrives at the aforementioned vortex tunnel. This effect needs to be seen to be believed. Look at the picture below and then believe me when I say it looks even better in person!

Nothing clever, just real pretty

The vortex tunnel opens onto Halloween-incarnate, in the form of seemingly hundreds of creatively carved jack-o-lanterns doting what is affectionately known as Pumpkin Alley. This is one of my favorite parts of Haunted Overload, and, believe it or not, you're not even in the haunt proper yet! More actors filter through the line, interacting and improvising with guests. A new wall breaks your line of sight about midway down Pumpkin Alley, punctuated with an eight-foot tall bird's nest, complete with the creepiest crow-man you'll ever see. You pass around the wall, and the newest giant set piece is revealed. This is what could be seen glowing from the parking lot - a thirty six-foot tall skull facade, flanked by two sixteen-foot tall skulls, clearly animal in origin. The skulls looms over you, angled as if it were going to fly straight at you.

Only at Haunted Overload

It is only here, as you pass underneath this glowing monstrosity, that you officially enter into Haunted Overload. The single word that best summarizes the additions made to the trail this year is density. At every turn, seemingly something new was placed along the trail, emphasizing the attention to detail. The early part of the trail still weaves through monstrous tree sculptures, another personal favorite. Impressive lightning effects crackle, casting ominous shadows across their ghastly, contorted faces. A new sound system pumps chilling sounds and creepy music throughout the woods with impressive clarity.

A perennial favorite

I'm not sure I can recount all of the 2013 additions I noticed along the trail. Several new demon-esque facades appear along the trail, flickering with orange light. Two mausoleums, statues, and countless new headstones fill out the cemetery section. Several new 12-foot tall Reapers ominously guide you along the trail. A spooky jack-in-the-box and second vortex tunnel were added to the clown section. New lighting and fog effects enhance the already impressive giant "cactus skull." I'm surely leaving out several other notable pieces. Having been housed at DeMeritt Hill Farm for several years, the benefits of a stable home are truly beginning to bloom. It is clear that Haunted Overload's trademark giant structures were only the beginning, and that the trail will only continue to be fleshed out in the future.

Insane acrobatic skills Just insane

Beyond the craftsmanship of the set pieces, costumes and makeup continue to be of the highest quality. The actors populating the queue lines in particular are all adorned with movie or theater-quality costumes and props. Some of these may be credited to an extremely talented costume manager, and many others are made by the actors themselves. All of the actors at Haunted Overload should be extremely proud of the quality they put on display. The performances themselves are also top notch. A good mixture of screams, whispers, and guttural, animalistic sounds keeps patrons on edge. Combined with the new sound system, a spooky atmosphere is maintained at all times. The sheer number of volunteers populating the trail this year was also fantastic; I didn't see a single unoccupied corner or monster closet. Despite this, many actors showed restraint, working together to misdirect patrons and to really deliver the scares. Every haunt should be as lucky to have so many talented volunteers. Fantastic performances all around.

Ichabod best beware

With every passing year, I feel a mounting excitement to see firsthand the newest additions to the haunted trail. With the consistently amazing display at Haunted Overload, it becomes almost easy to take the skilled craftsmanship for granted. As eager as I can be to see the newest additions, I try to keep in mind that these accomplishments are achieved only through the hard work and dedication of a handful of incredibly talented and passionate volunteers. Even with this mindfulness about me, I find myself once again totally blown away.

Necrotia bids a fond farewell. Come back soon!

Haunted Overload simply has to be seen to be believed. No one else in the haunt industry is building on the same scale as Eric, Walley, Tom, and the rest of the crew at Haunted Overload. The gigantic structures prove that these folks are positively certifiable (I mean this in the best way possible). The attraction is bolstered through the hard work of countless others, from the workers at the farm store, the ticket takers, to the folks directing traffic in the parking lot. From Beth, the chainsaw wielding maniac, to Tickles, the demented circus ringleader, every patron is guaranteed the fright of their lives!

Haunted Overload is located at DeMeritt Hill Farm at 66 Lee Road in Lee, NH. The farm has a variety of other activities during the day, so parents be sure to check out their website for hours and other information. Tickets for day time walks through the Haunted Overload trail can be purchased in the farm store for $5, and I highly recommend it if you want to be able to stroll through the haunt and really appreciate the finer details. There are only a few shows left this season, so get online and buy tickets now!

After attending Haunted Overload the past two years and subsequently writing about my experiences both times, I wasn't sure that there would be anything left to say about this stalwart of the haunt industry. Last year saw fantastic progress for Haunted Overload, featuring a longer trail with all sorts of new set pieces and effects; it seemed like another annual review would hardly be necessary. If you've read my past reviews of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, then you know my opinion that Haunted Overload is the physical embodiment of the very essence of Halloween. I had resigned myself to the fact that there seemed to be little left to say about the fantastic and terrifying Halloween experience that is Haunted Overload. And then, the unthinkable happened.

Haunted Overload lost its home.

For the past three years haunt mastermind Eric Lowther had been staging the event at the Coppal House Farm in Lee, New Hampshire. It was around the second week of April when I heard the news- Haunted Overload would not be able to return to Coppal House for the 2010 Halloween season. I was genuinely upset at first, but good news was right around the corner. Within a matter of weeks, Haunted Overload was able to secure a new venue, that of DeMeritt Hill Farm, also located  in Lee, NH. Despite this stroke of luck, the immediate implications were staggering- Eric and crew would only have six months to build an entirely new haunted trail.

This may come as a surprise for the casual haunt fan, but professional haunted attractions are typically year-round endeavors. The moment a haunt closes following the Halloween season, work begins on next year's edition of the haunt. Six months is simply not a lot of time in this industry. Even with having secured a new location, I honestly wasn't sure that moving Haunted Overload would happen in the time-frame that remained. For Haunted Overload to return in 2010, and for it to be anything other than a ghost of its former self, it seemed like a Halloween miracle would be needed.

Despite being a holiday typically associated with the supernatural, the only miracle that occurred at Haunted Overload was good, old-fashioned hard work. It is clear that many long weekends and sleepless nights were contributed by a great many talented individuals. Collectively, they have managed to achieve the miracle that Haunted Overload needed. There is no greater testament to the skills and dedication of the Haunted Overload crew; the new haunt already looks like several years of work have been put into its creation. The elaborate sets, the detailed props, the giant monsters, the expert lighting- they're all still here. Haunted Overload is awesome as ever and, dare I say, better than ever before.

The new location is a big part of what elevates the new Haunted Overload over previous annual editions. The land set aside for the haunt takes the patron down a forty-minute trail deep into the woods. There is no manufactured substitute for the primal dread that comes from walking through the woods at night. Take away the actors and the impressive sets, and the woods are still genuinely scary in their own right. Dripping with this natural atmosphere, the woods at DeMeritt Hill Farm are the perfect place to set an outdoor haunted attraction.

The move to a new physical location practically necessitates that every major set-piece is a brand-new construct. Although I missed several of the previous large set pieces, the clown tent and vortex tunnel in particular, the new buildings definitely make up for those left behind. The new main gate through which patrons enter the haunt is especially impressive. The towering facade displays the glowing visage of a demon, its giant horns towering over the beautiful, eerie lights of pumpkin alley. Other notable set pieces include an off-kilter shack whose wildly exaggerated angles wreak havoc with your sense of balance, and a spooky old mineshaft whose downwards sloping entrance makes it seem as if you're actually headed under the ground.

The quality doesn't end with the buildings. Many of the highly detailed props and giant monsters made the move to Demeritt Hill, and they're accompanied by some brand new brothers and sisters. For those of you that have never attended, there's simply nothing else in the industry like the thirty-foot tall monstrosities that loom over Haunted Overload. Smaller siblings are also abound, with the fully-articulate, twelve foot-tall Death Stalkers returning from last year, and similarly sized scarecrow-like monsters making their debut. I really liked the dark, amorphous faces and hand-sharpened stick teeth of these latter creations. Other notable pieces include chainsaw-carved trees; artful sculptures with ghastly contorted evil faces. These tree-monsters are wildly imaginative, looking like something out of a Hollywood movie when lit up at night. The monstrous trees are definitely one of my favorite ideas on display at Haunted Overload and, to my delight, they are placed directly in the center of the walking path, allowing me to appreciate their finer details as I passed by.

Having made known my appreciation for the inanimate elements of Haunted Overload, I want to give credit to the flesh and blood that help bring the haunt alive each night. The trail itself is a spectacle to behold, but without the volunteers and actors it would feel like an empty tomb- disquieting, but not terrifying. The costumed denizens of Haunted Overload complete the experience, engaging the patron and perpetually keeping them on their toes. 
Moving beyond the superficial costumes and make-up, both of which are top-notch, I've been consistently impressed with the actors' performances. Haunted Overload is one of the few haunts where the actors are seemingly well-coached and encouraged to fully realize their characters. Some of the actors will speak to you and engage in conversation, while others remain completely silent. Depending on their character, actors may imitate animals, mumble incoherently, or simply even gasp or hiss. These performances are appreciably varied, breaking the trend of simply screaming until hoarse, an annoyance all too commonly found at other haunts. The use of low noises, breathy gasps and raspy growls almost too low to be sure I even heard them, are unsettling in ways that really add to the atmosphere of the haunt. Actors aren't afraid to work together either. More than once I witnessed an actor pass up their opportunity to scare and to serve as a misdirection of the patron's attention while their unseen comrade moved in for the kill. Teamwork like this ensures that the scares are constantly flowing and really helps elevate the overall experience. I can think of no greater praise than this: Having worked in the industry for several years and having attended half-a-dozen haunts during the 2010 season, the only place that made me scream was Haunted Overload. Special kudos to all involved!

Given the hardships that proceeded the 2010 season, I was thrilled to see Haunted Overload rise above and provide the quality Halloween experience for which they are known. The silver lining is now clear- Eric Lowther and the rest of the Haunted Overload crew have an entire year to expand and improve the new trail at DeMeritt Hill Farm. With the basics now established, it is time to see what new horrors the creative minds at Haunted Overload dream up next. I look forward to being surprised, startled and scared in 2011- and you should too!

Did you attend Haunted Overload in 2010? Feel free to add your comments below!

All images courtesy of Eric Lowther at Haunted Overload and Artifact Images.

The colors of fall blur by your car window as you travel down the secluded back roads of Lee, New Hampshire. The sun is just beginning to set, and you'll arrive as the shadows start to slowly blanket the land. You can almost physically feel yourself begin to slip into the twilight, the world between the physical and the fantastic. The excitement you feel in the pit of your stomach begins to grow but so does the dread in the back of your mind. What have you signed yourself up for? No time to wonder, there's a sign post up ahead- you're almost there. You turn off the main road and onto the loosely paved gravel, the final road leading to Haunted Overload.

You find a place to park in the expansive green fields and exit your vehicle. Immediately, you feel that there is a spell about this place, an almost tangible mood hangs in the air. The sun is quickly fading now, and other cars are just beginning to arrive in numbers. You turn towards the farmstead and begin to make your way towards the ticket booth. As you make your approach, your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the twenty-foot monstrosities towering over the walls of the indoor/outdoor haunt. You're not even in the haunt proper yet, but you've never seen creations like these. You're in for a wicked night.

For the uninitiated, a haunted attraction is a Halloween-themed locale where costumed actors attempt to surprise and scare fun-seeking patrons. Although this is still an apt description of what physically occurs within its walls, to call Haunted Overload a haunted attraction almost does it a disservice. Haunted Overload is not your average haunt. You will not find the same store-bought props and costumes that populate many other attractions of this type. Lead by haunt creator Eric Lowther, the entire cast and crew of Haunted Overload clearly have a deep love and respect for the season. The sheer amount of time and hard work that goes into preparing the haunt for each year is astounding. Their passion is obvious when one observes the countless hand-made horrors found within. If you have an eye for such things, you will quickly recognize the artistic merit that permeates the entire Haunted Overload experience.

The various set pieces are impressive for a multitude of reasons. As a direct example, early in the haunt there is a large structure, a wooden tower whose front has been crafted into a demonic, gaping maw. The scale and carpentry alone would suffice to impress, but the tower is also functional. A costumed actor can be seen pacing around this elevated perch, calling doom upon the mortal patrons passing below. The element that truly transforms this tower is the careful use of colored lights to add dimension and depth to the demon's face. The final product is a majestically spooky set piece, much more than the sum of its wooden planks and colored gels. No longer a mere tower, the wrathful demon, its head jutting forth from the earth, struggles to break free and unleash itself unto our world.

Beyond the artistry of the sets and props, special mention is due of the haunt's actors. The set pieces create the mood, but it is the actors that drive the tempo and give the haunt its scares. First, the costumes are incredible. It seemed to me that everything is either hand-made or modified. It is my understanding that many of the actors put together their costume and create their ghoulish persona on their own. To these people, I give my applause. Their hellish creations are both imaginative in appearance and demeanor. The actors give life to their characters in ways that compliment the artistry on display elsewhere in the haunt. I was especially impressed by the use of low moans and guttural growls. Quiet noises serve to change the tempo, mentally putting patrons off-balance, and thereby making the next big jump scare that much more effective. All of the actors seemed to understand the importance of this oscillation well. Special mention goes to the actor who portrayed the demonic crow last year. Your terrifying caws and unsettling neck movements earned you the favorite spot amongst the group with which I attended.

Being that 2009 was my second year visiting Haunted Overload, I wanted to keep an eye open towards how the haunt had changed from the previous year. I'm happy to report that the journey through Haunted Overload was substantially different. The path itself had been re-routed, with various returning set pieces being visited in a new sequence. Although I recognized some of the same buildings, the interior set pieces had been shuffled, replaced, or redesigned. Modifications in actor placement and routines were also apparent. For example, in the cornfield you encounter a tall demon with a melted face. The previous year, this demon was played by a live actor, menacingly banging his chain against his wooden shack. As I approached the demon, I kept waiting for him to lunge at me, but he never did. As I passed by, I realized the ugly brute was now a statue. A simple change, but one that worked off my own memories, misleading my anticipations. 

There were also several additions to the haunt that were completely new for 2009. The graveyard was expanded in length and several 12-foot tall grim reaper statues were added. I found these creations to be extremely impressive based on their detail alone, but that feeling was furthered by the disclosure that the statues were designed to be fully articulate and pose-able! There was also a new ghostly, skeleton-horse, affectionately known as Mr. Ded. Between the lighting and the detail work, you'd swear this deathly horse were the real thing. Another honorable mention goes to a spooky automated rocking chair, which I stared at for several minutes trying to figure out if the seated witch were real or not. Finally, amongst my group, the most impressive new feature to Haunted Overload in 2009 was voted to be the swirling green-fog vortex tunnel. My friends lost themselves in the effect of the swirling lights and I loved the way that the actor portraying the ghostly miner would fade in and out of vision depending on how deep he stood in the tunnel.

Although the Coppal House Farm was the host location for Haunted Overload in 2009, the 2010 edition of the haunt will be moving to Demeritt Hill Farm. The new location is primarily based in the woods and promises to be terrifying in whole new ways. The main event haunt typically runs during the final two weekends in October. The haunted walk itself takes approximately forty-five minutes if you pace yourself but, if you're easily startled, you may find yourself rushing ahead at an accelerated pace. Tickets are sold via the Haunted Overload website. All tickets must be ordered in advance and the showings have been known to sell-out, so be sure to get your tickets early. For $3 per person, you can visit the haunt during the day to further appreciate the finer details of the props and set pieces. These daylight outings are subject to farm hours, so be sure to call ahead. Furthermore, if you're a parent with a young child, you can choose to visit on a 'Fright Night Lite,' a special evening where you can come and see the haunt at night and meet some of the actors, but without the worry of the haunt being overly scary

More than just the movie quality sets and the high quality scares, it's the plainly apparent appreciation for the season that makes Haunted Overload the definitive Halloween destination. The love and passion combined with the home-grown atmosphere has completely won me over. Eric Lowther and his crew have succeeded in crafting an experience that captures the very essence of Halloween. Much more than the sum of its sights and sounds, Haunted Overload is a celebration of the outer boundaries of the human mind. I look extremely forward to the upcoming season and seeing the new venue in 2010.

As always, comments are welcome below. If you enjoyed this review, may I suggest checking out my review of the 2008 season at Haunted Overload.

All pictures courtesy of Artifact Images and http://www.hauntedoverload.com

You see the signpost for North Colony Road and take the right-hand turn leading you off the well-beaten path that is State Route-5. The urban trappings around you quickly fall way as the road leads you down a decidedly less traversed path. You pass through the four-way stop and see the large grass field immediately on your right. It's quarter-to-six and the sun is still in the sky, but the field has already begun to fill up with cars and small groups of people. You park alongside the trees lining the field and exit the car. Despite your knowledge that the city is but a mile down the road, you feel as though you could be in the middle of nowhere. A paranoid sense of isolation slowly begins to invade your thoughts. The sun is setting fast and you start off down the old, uneven road, following the crowd as you make your way towards the entrance.

The Trail of Terror is a popular New England haunt that opens within the confines of the Polish National Alliance Park in Wallingford, Connecticut. It was once voted as the "Best Outdoor Attraction" by Fright Times magazine and was ranked by Haunt World magazine as the number 2 "Best Charity Attraction" in 2008. The venue is a highly complex, haunted maze-like walk comprised of numerous twists and turns. When you first arrive you have to pick which line to enter, depending on what kind of tickets you wish to purchase. For those of you whom choose to wait in the general admission line, the snaking, roped off corridors are dotted with mood setting props and some large and imposing animatronic figures. The lines pass by Big Dan's Trail Grub (a concession stand that is accessible without losing your place in line) and eventually wrap back toward the creepy old building that serves as the entrance way into the haunt proper. Distractions from your wait are provided for by appropriate heavy metal music and a highlight reel of horror movies playing on a nearby movie screen. Additionally, costumed actors will periodically make their presence known as frantic screams punctuate their path through the crowd. The in-line entertainment does not end there as, over the course of the night, several different skits will play out along the rooftops of the buidling standing at the Trail's entrance. Given that the wait in line is typically long, these efforts to keep the crowd entertained are greatly appreciated.

Once you finally progress into the trail proper, different scenes and set pieces meld and flow into one another, with a total of thirty different themed locales being represented in the 2009 season haunt. Not content to just present the usual rogues gallery, although demonic clowns and inbred hillbillies are present and accounted for, the Trail reaches out and includes more obscure horror fare as well. For example, one scene had been made up to look like old-time England and whose shadowy corners were populated by coughing, hacking, wheezing plague victims. Another scenario, this one returning from the year before, featured a strung up Santa Claus and a delightfully demented Mrs. Claus whom has apparently decided that she prefers the company of elfs. Dark parodies of Sesame Street and Alice in Wonderland help round out the cards with skits that one doesn't normally think of as being haunt material. I'm happy to say that in my experience they all came off as equally spooky and enjoyable, from the Cage Maze psychopaths to the girl with the human pin cushion skills just outside the entrance to the Freak Show.

The quality of the set pieces at the Trail of Terror is generally top notch. If you can find the time to stop and smell the roses, you'll see a lot of fine detail and craftsmanship has gone into your surroundings. The demonic clowns for instance are centered around a circus tent that, from the outside, is even complete with a lite-up, rotating top. The faux-rock walls used for Jason's Cave and the Mine Shack in this years haunt look very much like the real thing at first glance. High quality set pieces are especially important when you wander between so many differently themed spooky realms. The quality helps to immediately place you in the scene and help manifest the proper atmosphere for each sub-story being told.

If I had any complaints with the Trail of Terror this year it would be that some of the set pieces and costumes are recognizable as store bought items that one might find in any well stocked Halloween warehouse. I'd like to stress that this is a fairly petty and minor complaint when one considers the number of different scenes contained within the Trail of Terror and its approximate 45-minute walk-through time. For a haunt as big as this one, you simply need lots of props and actors to fill all of that space. Given that this is so, it is understandable that not every piece on display is a one of a kind item. That said, there are plenty of unique props, many large and elaborate sets, and some fantastic make-up jobs on display. Clearly many people with great passion and skill have worked long and hard to deliver this level of quality to the haunt's customers.

The level of interaction included in the Trail's skits is one of the largest and most welcome differences between the Trail of Terror and many of the other haunts I've been to. Interaction can come in the obvious form, with actors talking and reacting to you depending on how you respond. My girlfriend, for instance, was singled out by the deranged Mrs. Claus and berated when I gave away that she didn't celebrate Christmas. For this slight, my girlfriend was separated from the small group we were in and forced into the oven first. This brings me to the next form of interaction present at the trail, that of physical engagement. At times you will have to duck down under a miniature door to enter into Wonderland, crawl through ovens, and even slide down a ramp leading to the bottom of a certain spooky well. The ground along the trail is frequently uneven and given that many of the floors are man-made, this is clearly by design. They want you moving at a certain pace and they want to keep you off-balance, both mentally and physically.

Along these same lines, several scenes at the Trail of Terror generate their thrills by exploiting your basic senses. The Vortex Tunnel, a haunt-staple involving a walkway crossing the center of a rotating outer shell of a room, makes an appearance along the Trail. The sensations of movement and vertigo that this simple yet clever device is able to trick your mind into producing never ceases to amaze me. Another room utilizes strobe lights and walls covered in a polka dot pattern, creating an optical illusion that prevents you from being able to distinguish the dotted actors from the walls as long as they remain motionless. Other sections of the Trail with similar themes are perhaps less creative yet no less effective. One section requires you to continue onward through the haunt in near-complete darkness, using only your hands to feel your way forward.

I find that these scenes aimed at exploiting your senses are not only very effective at unsettling you, but also serve to incite fear within the primal-most sections of your mind. If you cannot trust your senses, your sight and balance, then how can you be actively preparing yourself in anticipation of the next scare. The Trail of Terror's commitment to this approach to fright is rather unique amongst the haunts I've attended. They're really trying to push you out of your comfort zone, a desire that led to the most entertaining and interesting part of my evening. I should probably warn you now that some spoilers regarding the scene at the end of the Trail lay ahead.


As my girlfriend and I approached the final scene, that of a basement morgue, with her clinging to my arm in what no doubt would be interpreted as a death grip, an actor managed to disarm her with a simple and friendly greeting. Perhaps forgetting herself, my girlfriend loosened her grip as the actor directed her, and seemingly our entire group, towards an open door directly in front of us. I noticed that there were a couple other actresses in the room and, oddly, only one other petrified-looking female patron. My girlfriend stepped into the room and the actor deftly slid his body into the door frame, blocking me from immediately following. "Not you!" he snarled at me, quickly fading into the room and closing the door behind him. As the door was swinging shut, I could see my girlfriend begin to turn around, her eyes widening as she realized I was no longer at her side. The door shut and we were separated.

Immediately, a previously unnoticed door to my left slid open. A blood splattered female orderly steps out, urging our group onward into the basement. I pause, my eyes still on the door behind which my girlfriend had disappeared. I wasn't sure what to do. Should I wait here or should I go on? The orderly clearly could see my hesitation. "Don't worry. You'll get her back," she whispers to me with  a cackle. Powerless to do anything else, I obey and proceed into the morgue.

And that's how I felt walking through the entire last scene; unsure, powerless, and perhaps even a little afraid. Not that any harm was going to befall my girlfriend, certainly not, but I didn't know how she would react in a haunt off by herself. What if she were to freeze up? Or double back looking for me? At this point I didn't actually know we were near the end of the haunt and didn't know when or where along the path we would be reunited, if at all! Part of my fear was real; I couldn't remember if she had been carrying her cellphone. How would we find each other in the crowd? This was not just another jump scare; I was definitely outside of my comfort zone in a way that I think was quite intentional. Congratulations, Trail of Terror, you managed to scare me.

I suppose to provide closure on the story I should inform you that although we were separated and I had those countless worries running through my head, my girlfriend and I were reunited rather quickly as the morgue was the final scene of the walk. Turns out, while I had to crawl through a mock morgue freezer, she had been selected to take an alternative path. She and this other patron I had briefly seen were coaxed into laying down on an actual stainless steel gurney and passed into what she describes as a real-life morgue unit. As she lay there entombed in utter darkness, loud banging reverberating through the steel, the gurney was slid on a track leading through the wall and she was eventually released on the other side. What amazes me most about this branching path is that if my girlfriend hadn't been randomly selected to traverse it, I'd have never even known it existed.


Before I wrap up, I feel I must make mention of my one negative experience with the Trail of Terror. Allow me to preface this by saying I've personally attended this haunt every year for the last four years and, with the sole exception of last year, have always been impressed with their annual offering. On this particular night last year, I found that certain scenes contained too many actors while other sections felt too scarcely populated, and not in a deliberate way. Due to the sheer size of the haunt and the volunteer nature of its staff, it seems as though coverage can fluctuate a fair deal over the course of October. I assume that the root of this problem may stem from specific issues that only affected the one particular night on which I attended last year. However, since the quality of the haunt potentially may differ from night to night, your experience may differ from mine. That warning said, I was extremely pleased by my experience this year and you can bet that I will be back again in 2010. For my money, the Trail of Terror remains the single best haunted attraction in Connecticut. Great job to all involved!

The Trail of Terror is an elaborate and fun haunted walk that people come from all around New England to see. Proceeds from ticket sales ($10 General Admission, $20 Speed Pass) are donated to charity, which in the past has benefited the Red Cross. However, due to the recent closure of their local Red Cross branch, a different charity will be receiving proceeds from the 2009 haunt. The Trail closes at 11PM on Friday and Saturdays nights and closes at 10PM on Sunday nights. The attraction is immensely popular so you should either buy Speed Pass tickets online on their website or prepare yourself for a two to three hour wait in the normal ticket line. Over the past four years I've found it doesn't really matter when you get there, either before or after the gates open, as you'll spend approximately the same amount of time in line regardless. If you aren't buying tickets ahead of time, I wouldn't recommend arriving any later than 7 o'clock. Tickets can and frequently do sell out, so it is recommended that you arrive early.

If you enjoyed this review, may I recommend checking out my review of Haunted Overload 2008, the number 4 haunt in the nation as determined by Haunt World Magazine! As always, please click on an ad and join my Facebook fanpage to show your support for the Geek!

All photos courtesy of http://www.TrailofTerror.com

The time is dusk, just moments after the sun has sunk below the rolling hills and the last golden rays have become but a faded memory. Night is swiftly approaching and all around the colors slowly begin to fade like an enclosed, dying flame. In the far off distance, the trees surrounding the long grassy field where you've just exited your car are obscured by deepening shadow. You turn back, pausing so your girlfriend can catch up. You can see the fear in her eyes. You grab her hand in an attempt to reassure her, but the gesture is as much for you as it is for her. You turn away before she can read your face.

Up ahead you see the familiar angles of a man-made structure cutting across the blue-black sky. You approach the barn with growing unease, your mounting trepidation evidenced by the beads of sweat pooling on the nape of your neck. There's a small tent in front of you where you pause, smiling at the two women sitting behind the faded, wooden picnic table. They smile at you fondly, but you cannot feel the warmth. Thoughts of your impending doom cloud your mind. "Two, please," is all you can manage to utter as your vocal cords begin to tighten. They hand you two tickets and you proceed towards the barn.

Welcome to Haunted Overload.

Haunted Overload is a haunted attraction currently located at 118 North River Road in Lee, New Hampshire. This is the address of the Coppal House Farm, which for the last few years has served as the host for Eric Lowther's diabolical brainchild. The haunt began its life in the front yard of Lowther's home, but over the course of a couple of years it grew much too large to be contained therein. Many of the props and costumes on display are one of a kind items that were hand crafted by Lowther, a former student at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. It is these skills that have made Haunted Overload one of the most elaborate and creative haunted attractions in America. These achievements have not gone unnoticed and in 2008 Haunted Overload earned the privilege of being named the number four haunt in the nation by Haunt World Magazine.

To step back for a moment, I realize there may be some of you whom have never heard of the concept of a haunted attraction. Briefly, it is a form of entertainment where patrons walk through some sort of venue, be it a house or a walking trail, with the intent purpose of being scared. The haunted venue is typically populated with actors portraying a variety of ghosts, demons, maniacs and other assorted horror-genre staples. As you walk through the attraction, the costumed fiends do their best to unnerve and frighten you. Typically the actors are assisted in this venture by the general ambiance of the haunt, whose lighting, sounds, props and various set pieces are all designed to further immerse you in the experience.

Many people I know think it is strange that I would ever go to these types of attractions, not understanding the allure of paying strangers to scare the hell out of you. In reality, it's no different than buying a ticket to go see the latest thriller at the local movie theater. You might be terrified and literally jump in the moment of the scare, but you quickly realize what great fun it can be and the screams melt into laughter. This type of fun is best experienced in numbers so, if possible, be sure to bring a large group of friends along for the ride. It's typically a night that you will talk about for weeks to come.

The 2008 edition of Haunted Overload begins with a short line leading up to the edge of a corn field. Passing through a small hut, you enter into the corn. Immediately various actors, hidden by the gloom and the texture of the corn, begin to pop out from their cleverly hidden monster closets. As you make your way further into the corn, you begin to hear the constant, repeating thuds of a heavy chain being violently slammed against some nondescript, hard surface. You emerge from the corn into a clearing, a small shack directly in front of you. The noise of the chain is deafening as you turn the corner, suddenly face-to-face with the towering monstrosity creating the clamor. The monster is like nothing you've ever seen before; a melted face almost lacking in features, its hooded, beady eyes staring into you. He slams the chain again and you involuntarily jump back. You're afraid but somewhere in your mind remember this is only a haunt. You rationalize that the actor has done his bit and is now done with you; you are now free to pass. Your courage swells and you take a hesitant step forward. The timing now is both critical and perfect; no sooner do you begin that forward motion than the monstrosity lunges for you! You dart past him, screaming and flailing wildly as you make your escape.

It is at this moment, if you can think at all through the sheer terror, that you realize that the folks at Haunted Overload are professionals. This is going to be a long walk through the woods.

The corn stalks are only the beginning of your 45-minute descent into hell. Although the haunt is constantly being added to and expanded, I don't want to go into any further detail about the layout of the attraction for fear of spoiling it for the uninitiated. I do want to mention that the quality of the various set pieces are way above the standard fare. Dotting the landscape are giant, menacing Jack-O-Lanterns and ghostly trees with faces twisted in abject horror. Cleverly and creepily lit thirty-foot-tall witches tower over the graveyard. And just past the corn maze, in what might be my favorite part of the haunt, the trail opens up onto a wide dirt path lined by hundreds of expertly carved Jack-O-Lanterns. The eerie, flickering lighting dancing against the blue-black sky is beautiful in a strangely demented sort of way.

Of all the haunted attractions I have patronized, and I've both been to and worked at my fair share, Haunted Overload is my current favorite to beat. My first visit was in 2008 and you can be certain that I will be making the trek again in 2009 and onwards. It's a long drive, but in the end it's worth it. Interestingly, Haunted Overload is only open for 6 nights out of the month of October. I can only assume this is due to the sheer amount of hard work that goes into preparing the attraction for the public. Another positive side effect of this schedule is that it ensures that the staff and actors are enthusiastic and not worn out from a whole month's worth of performances.

For most nights the haunt is open, there are two different start times at which they begin to let small groups of people into the haunt. This scheduled start-time ensures that the wait is much shorter than at many other haunts I've attended. Costumed actors also come out to keep the line entertained, so be sure to keep an eye out for creeping clowns and other stealthy, scary spirits. My favorite of these was either the Headless Horseman, an impressive figure mounted on a real-life horse, or Jack-O, the towering, long-fingered phantasm with a pumpkin for a head (complete with moving jaw and diabolical laughter!).

For those of you with younger children, Haunted Overload does offer a special showing lighter on the scares. During the daytime you can also purchase a $3 ticket at the farmstand and walk through the haunt sans actors. I'm hoping to do so this year so that I can fully appreciate all the detail in their intricate sets and props (and maybe pop a few pictures if allowed!). On their website you can check the full schedule of showtimes as well as pre-order tickets. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time, so if you're not from the area you must secure tickets online first! Also located at Coppal House Farm is a 6.5 acre corn maze that is open during the day and closes around sundown. This means that a trip to Haunted Overload could be made into a full-day outing.

If you're anywhere near New England, I highly encourage you to check out Haunted Overload. Eric Lowther and the rest of the staff and crew should be extremely proud of their craftsmanship and the quality of the production they put on display. Much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I am adding this one to my list of annual destinations. Haunted Overload is simply one of the definitive haunted attractions that you must experience.

As always, comments are welcome below. If you enjoyed this review, may I suggest checking out my review of the Trail of Terror - 2009, a haunted attraction located in Wallingford, CT. Please click on an ad and join my Facebook fanpage to show your support for the Geek!

All pictures courtesy of http://www.hauntedoverload.com

Caution, some **SPOILERS** lie ahead, although none about the new movie.

I went to go see Rambo this weekend and I was throughly impressed. The 96-or so minute run time was entirely too short and left me wanting more, more, more! I may be overstating my case, but I really enjoyed this movie. I would recommend that you go out and see it as well, except you probably have already made up your mind about this film. You're well aware of the Rambo character from its place in pop culture and therefore already know whether or not you'll enjoy this kind of mindless, action violence.

Or do you?

The Rambo series, on whole, is largely remembered for the middle two films. First Blood II: Rambo and Rambo III were fun, cheese-filled, pro-America action fests. The scenarios were over the top and the explosions were numerous. This invincible, one-liner spitting, muscle-ripped Rambo is the Rambo that everyone remembers.

But it wasn't always that way.

The first Rambo movie, which didn't even have Rambo in the title, First Blood, was an effective albeit action-oriented look at the post-war life of a Vietnam vet. This isn't your soldier boy Rambo from the sequels, this is a broken husk of a man who simply has no place in a world where he can't hold a job and is despised as a baby-killer. The first film opens of John Rambo drifting from town to town before getting arrested for vagrancy in a hick, backwoods town. He's an emotionally distraught man, suffering from post-war stress, and is pushed too far by abusive law enforcement officers.

It's interesting that a character that would go on to become symbolic of America would spend his first cinematic endeavor killing and maiming police officers. While John Rambo is pushed into the actions he takes, he's clearly on the wrong side of the law. Luckily for theater-goers, this point is largely ignored. Also, the movie leaves out an interesting thematic element from the book it is based on.

Side note: Yes, Rambo is based on a book. It's titled First Blood and was written by David Morrell. It's a good read if you haven't picked it up.

In the book, Rambo is less a character and more a force of nature. The small town sheriff, who is the antagonist in the film, is more the protagonist in the book. The sheriff is a Korean War vet, while Rambo is a Vietnam vet. The two men are similar, with similar experiences and training. The difference is that the sheriff came back to an America that hailed him as a hero, whereas Rambo came home and was shunned and then forgotten. The author also fully acknowledges that the actions Rambo takes are extremely illegal and not justifiable. Rambo, as a character, is beyond the point of redemption.

And that's why he has to die.

There's the aforementioned spoiler. Yes, boys and girls, Rambo dies in the book. He doesn't go to jail only to get released early for taking on a mission rescuing POWS. He doesn't go on to become a symbol of the Reagan-era or a rallying point against communism. Rambo isn't a good man, and he isn't cheered for by the audience. He kills a lot of good people with little incentive and no justification. The movie glosses over this point, but makes it no less true. Yet, somehow, in the movie, we did end up cheering for him. Stallone really pulled one off (or hoodwinked the audience, you decide).

The first movie, despite glossing over Rambo's true nature, is still an effective movie. You feel for Rambo and go through the emotional ups and downs right along side him. The original sequels lost this quality, prefering to make Rambo an invincible, commie-killing machine. The newest sequel, title simply Rambo, is a return to form. We meet up with Rambo again, twenty years later. He's been trying to live in peace, but somehow war finds him again. If the new Rambo does nothing else, it brings us back into the emotional folds of the character. We understand his feelings and motivations. We appreciate him not just as this larger-than-life icon, but as a man.

And I'm happy to say, by the end of this film, Rambo finds himself. He becomes the man that the war machine wouldn't allow him to be. He finally does come back from the point of no return.

At long last, Rambo goes home.

If we never meet this character again, farewell and adieu. Rambo, you will be missed.

I'll be funnier next time, I swear.

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