The Halloween Grab Bag!
The King's Dominion 2013 Halloween Haunt!
by: Protoclown

There are two major theme parks in Virginia: Busch Gardens and King's Dominion, both of which I'm fortunate to be within an hour's drive of. For those of you unfamiliar with either park, let me quickly describe them to you. Busch Gardens is the cleaner, prettier, nicely-landscaped park. It has fewer rides, but the ones it does have are high quality, and it's generally a beautiful place to spend a day just walking around. King's Dominion is smaller, more densely packed full of rides but the quality varies a little more, and it's a little tackier than Busch Garden's, feeling like a state fair's more sophisticated, highfalutin cousin. It's also changed hands about a million times in the past 15 years, and the remnants of previous owners like Paramount can still be seen all over the park (the Wayne's World area still has all the recognizable locations, like the Stan Mikita's diner, but they've had to remove all the text references to Wayne's World). I remember back when it was owned by Paramount, I flicked off a wandering Klingon one time when I was a rambunctious teenager, and he threatened to behead me with his bat'leth. Ah, the folly of youth.

Each park does a big Halloween attraction during the month of October: Busch Gardens does Howl-o-Scream and King's Dominion has Haunt. Over the years I've seen Busch Gardens get lamer and lamer in their effort to be more family-friendly about their Halloween experience (evidently some concerned parent complained that their wimpy child was afraid of the spookiness of the park, or something - here's a helpful tip for any other clueless parents out there: if you don't want your child to be scared, don't drag them to something that's supposed to be scary). King's Dominion, on the other hand, makes no bones about Haunt being for adults. If you can't handle it, you can get the fuck out. That's actually printed on the entrance sign at the front of the park (okay, it's not, but it should be). If the Halloween attractions could be compared to movie monsters, Haunt would be Freddy Krueger, while Howl-o-Scream has been reduced to Disney's Mr. Boogedy.

I only made it to Haunt once this season, but between this year and last year I got a pretty comprehensive experience, as it hasn't changed much from the previous year. Haunt has ten haunted house attractions and six outdoor "scare zones" (spooky thematic areas you walk through) scattered throughout the park. I'm going to talk about them a bit now, so if you haven't been and you plan to go, this might spoil a few of the surprises for you. I took the best pictures I could with my cell phone camera on the Night setting, but things may still be a bit dark in some of the photos. Unfortunately they don't let you take photos inside the mazes here so I was unable to get photos of the interiors for you.

The first thing you see when you walk into the park is this giant skull of doom. You can see here some poor suicidal soul is attempting to jump into its mouth.

My favorite of the haunted houses is by far The Doll Factory. It's got one of the freakiest premises of any of the houses: some twisted bastard dubbed the Marionette Murderer is kidnapping people, killing them, and turning them into dolls (probably every CSI NCIS SVU BYOB show has had an episode about this guy). You go through a labyrinth of twisted corridors covered in mannequin parts, while creepy dudes with babyface masks silently stalk you, and spooky doll girls sit motionless until you get close, at which point they spring to life and scream in your face and ask if you want to play. The actors in this one have always done a great job of remaining perfectly still such that, sometimes, you can't tell which people are real and which are mannequins until you're right on top of them. The best part is the final room, which has mirrored walls and flashing strobe lights, and a bunch of dangling marionettes blocking your way out. Some of them are fake and some of them are real people, but you have to weave your way past all of them to make it out. The first time I went through this room, I got so disoriented by the mirrors and lights that I actually walked into one of the walls.

The Feary Tales scare zone doesn't sound like it would be that scary, but it's actually one of the better ones. The "monsters" in there are based on children's stories, like Little Dead Riding Hood, Jack & Jill, and so on. There's a Raggedy Anne looking girl, a freaky bunny, and a scarecrow guy. What makes this area particularly eerie is the music. Discordant children's tunes like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" will play throughout the area, and it reminds me a bit of the creepy music from American McGee's Alice. They had large block letters stacked up to spell out words. I'd hate to see the baby that plays with those things.

This scarecrow guy in the Feary Tales scare zone was really excited to have his picture taken. Either that or he just couldn't see where he was going and thought I was the exit or something.

Miner's Revenge is one of the new haunted houses this year, replacing a mediocre summer camp one from last year. The summer camp was one of my least favorite ones from before, but somehow they managed to convert it into one I liked even less. This is an outdoor house, and the "monsters" are supposed to be dead miners who were left in the shafts to die, but they all end up looking like very generic dead people, so the theme isn't very strong. Toward the end you walk through these covered corridors that have roots hanging down getting in your way, and at the end there are guys in gas masks, but there really isn't anything that doesn't make this an entirely generic experience. Definitely one you can skip.

Blue Ridge Bloodbath is a "house" that actually takes place on this little driving track where you drive a car through this wooded area, which sounds fun until I tell you the driving is the best part, and you can do that any time of year. You're supposed to be driving through mountain territory owned by a dangerous redneck family, but the "scares" in this one are so few and far between that it's kind of a snore fest. The scares aren't that exciting anyway. "Oh, look, there's a guy standing a ways off the road with an axe! Oh noes! We'll never get away! Oh but wait, we're in a car, so I guess we will get away after all!" The most fun we had with this was that my girlfriend Ducky was in the car behind me, and she kept ramming our car from behind.

IronworX is the steampunk scare zone, and it's actually one of the better ones. Industrial music plays (they routinely play NIN's "At the Heart of it All" in their playlist), steam and fog permeate the area, and colorful lights strobe through the fog, making it one of the most darkly rainbowtastic zones in the park. You often can only see silhouettes of the people around you against the backdrop of misty color. My favorite part is what my friends and I call the boss monster, a towering mechanical behemoth with green glowing eyes and some kind of gas mask, who glides through the area as if on air, hastily charging people from afar until he looms directly over them. I couldn't get a better picture because he would have killed me if I stayed still for too long.

I love this picture featuring two of the masked actors in the IronworX scare zone. They were just talking, but it looks like they're having a secret romantic rendezvous.

And this one here is one of my favorite shots of the night. Ducky and I were sitting on a bench in the IronworX zone just catching our breath and watching people go by when I saw a King's Dominion employee going by collecting trash. Something about the idea of this fearless trash collector venturing into the monster and scream-filled fog made me smile. All in a day's work!

Slaughter House is another fantastic attraction. We walked into it to hear the sound of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" blasting over the speakers, accompanied by screams and chainsaws. This ghoulish woman near the entrance prepared us for our journey by coming up to us with a giant pepper shaker and making sure we were well seasoned. Pig men with chainsaws chase you around and you have to walk through hanging slabs of meat to get through. At one point, Ducky and I became disoriented and took a wrong turn, accidentally ending up behind the facade wall in one of the hallways that the monsters use to traverse the maze. That's where you really get to see how the meat is made. My favorite part of this was the music combined with the horrific sound effects... it just gave the whole thing an amazingly twisted atmosphere.

Medieval Macabre is another one of the more generic houses. It looks neat from the exterior, dressed up like an old medieval castle, but the inside couldn't be more generic, with black-clad dead people and long straight hallways. The most annoying thing about this one is that they force you to get your picture taken in the beginning so they can attempt to extort you for money later. Right in front of the entrance a strong gust of wind blasts you, attempting to startle you (even though you can plainly see this happen to everyone in front of you), and it snaps your photo right as you're supposed to look scared and surprised. Such cheap trickery is the best this house can muster.

The Lair is hands down the worst of the scare zones. It's enclosed inside a covered tunnel bridge, and is full of vampires and decorated with coffins. The vampires aren't the least bit scary, it's just a bunch of people dressed in old style clothing that looks like the puffy shirt from that episode of Seinfeld. Really weak, and I don't know why they haven't replaced it yet. But for some reason I can't explain, I always see girls screaming and running out of the tunnel. Maybe they really don't like puffy shirts.

Outbreak: The Evolution is probably my least favorite of the haunted houses, and it feels more like a first-person shooter than something you're actually experiencing in person. There's some kind of alien infestation, strongly inspired by the xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise, and you go through the medical facility and see what has happened to people, while aliens walk around and stare at you. If they gave you a laser tag gun and allowed you to shoot up the aliens, it would be amazing, but as the only sci-fi themed house in the park it feels really out of place next to the others.

No Vacancy is a tour through a haunted hotel, and is one of the creepier, more atmospheric houses. A disturbed bellhop greets you as you enter, and you walk through haunted rooms with people that spring up out of beds, paintings that move, haunted laundry rooms, and a security room you walk through full of monitors where you can see other poor suckers coming in to meet their doom. The lighting and overall mood in this house easily plant it in the top five.

Cornstalkers is another one of my favorites, where you go through a maze of corn and hay bales, while scarecrows pop out of hiding places and stalk you from behind. What's great about this one is that the hiding places are so damn good that you really won't see a lot of the monsters until you are either right on top of them, or they are already right behind you. With plenty of opportunity for creeping up behind, there's a lot more than the simple jump scares in this one. You'll be looking over your shoulder the whole way through.

The Cleaver Brothers Carnival, or The Gathering of the Juggalos, features lots of creepy looking clowns. Tom Waits does his best carnival barker as the song "Lucky Day Overture" blares over speakers, there are clowns on stilts that hide behind circus tents and large, colorful boxes. Clowns with kneepads skid across the ground trying to scare people with the loud noise of their knees scraping concrete as they pop up in front of you. And then there's the vulture clown, one of the boss monsters, a giant mutant clown whose oversized head juts out on a crooked neck in front of his body instead of above it. Unfortunately every picture I tried to get of him didn't turn out. He moved faster than a giant vulture clown has any business moving. Also, he would have killed me.

This guy on the other hand was more than happy to have his picture taken. I don't think he was a clown, so I'm not sure what he was supposed to be. Perhaps a random carnie. I don't recall if he smelled like cabbage or not.

The best new addition to the park was Zombie High, which replaced some really weak plague-themed house from last year. I expected this one was going to be cheesy and lame from the name, but it was actually really well done. We walked into the zombie-infested school and the panicked principal assured us after entering that there was nothing to worry about, the situation was completely under control. Further into the hallways we encountered passages blocked by haphazardly piled classroom chairs and desks. A disemboweled cheerleader lay on one desk we passed by. And at the end we came upon the Zombie Prom, with music and zombie dancing. Lots of fun.

Primevil is the primitive jungle scare zone, inhabited by grass-skirted cannibals, who most people I know think are cute rather than scary. They're a lot of fun though, and they really like to hide in the trees and sneak up on people. One time last year I was walking through there with a funnel cake and a cannibal approached me. I offered him a bit of the funnel cake and he grabbed a chunk off my plate and scurried away back into the darkness. There are lots of skeletons and bodies impaled on spikes decorating the borders of this area.

Club Blood is a vampire night club where they draw their victims in and feast on the dance floor... or something. By itself this one is nothing to really write home about. If you've been out to a club on goth night, you know that half of the people there dress like they think they're vampires anyway. But my friends and I had a great time by doing really cheesy dances as we traversed through the haunted house, actually causing some of the vampires to forget to try to scare us because they were too busy laughing at our ridiculously terrible moves. So this house can be quite fun if you approach it the right way.

Necropolis is a scare zone that looks like a cemetery, so it's pretty straightforward. Lots of great fog and colored lighting, but the best part of this one is the boss monster, a giant gray ghost that silently creeps up out of the fog to startle you. The other denizens are just regular dead folk, nothing too remarkable about them. They also have these really cool hooded statues at the entrances.

Near the entrance/exit to the park, they have these creepy masked Victorian-dressed people wandering around who are happy to pose for pictures with people. There's something really spooky about the fact that they never speak (they only bow or curtsy if you compliment their costumes). I think that if you were to pull their costumes off, you would see nothing but rats stacked on rats inside.

Another nice touch is that the fountains near the entrance of the park have red light under them so it looks like massive amounts of blood are spraying into the air. Almost enough blood for a classic Sam Raimi movie. Almost.

Here's that skull from the first picture again all lit up at night, with some of those creepy Victorian people posing for a picture in front of it.

One of my favorite moments of my last visit came randomly from just walking around the park. These guys dressed as Ghostbusters went running past us with proton packs and traps at the ready, shouting for people to make way because they were on a hot trail. They were obviously having a lot of fun, and we bumped into them again later and I managed to grab a picture. The best part is that they weren't even King's Dominion employees... they just decided to dress up as the Ghostbusters and go to King's Dominion. Or maybe they were actual Ghostbusters and they misunderstood and thought the park was really haunted.

These nighttime photos hardly do the atmosphere and all the hard work put into Haunt justice at all, so if you're in or anywhere near Virginia, it's definitely worth it to head to King's Dominion this last weekend in October and check it out! I guarantee that you will have a fantastic time! And if you're torn between Busch Gardens and King's Dominion, definitely go with King's Dominion (at least for the Halloween stuff)... Busch Gardens has really been phoning it in lately, but King's Dominion's passion about Halloween clearly shows!

Have any questions or comments about this piece?


If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:

Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream!


Things That Shouldn't Be Scary (But Often Are)

Reader Comments

soon to be internet icon
Oct 25th, 2013, 11:30 PM
You can never go wrong with a giant skull at the entrance, it reminded me of Castle Greyskull. All I could think of with the picture of Primevilwas " someone's been watching Bram Stoker's Dracula..." I'm trying to think of a clever joke for that, but the pics are great.
Forgetable Cyborg
Oct 26th, 2013, 12:55 AM
Scurrying away with a chunk of funnel cake is some really good improv work. Sounds like these actors have a lot of fun with their jobs.
Forum Virgin
Oct 27th, 2013, 09:39 PM
Why is it that whenever you see guys dressed as the Ghostbusters at something horror related there are always only three of them?
Im one good looking Troll
Oct 29th, 2013, 12:40 AM
Not only they got some of their ideas from Aliens but the name Primevil is from the Syfy movie with the same name and the thing happening in Miner's Revenge came from what had happened to some of the miners at the Crescent Mine in Oregon 1800's the show Ghost Mine looked up the history about that area as modern day miners look for gold in the haunted mine.

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