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Shocktober Fest 2019 Review

Dramatig lighting draws the eyes to the new Wastelands Penitentiary entrace hanging over the corwd as they walk underneath.

Written by Ryan

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9th November 2019

Horror Nights in the UK – Can Shocktober Fest compete with Universal Studios Orlando?

When you think of Halloween you think of pumpkins, ghosts and things that go bump in the night but Halloween is big business in Orlando. Halloween may be over for this year but if you are contemplating visiting Orlando in either September or October you may be wiser visiting a scare park in the UK first to see if they are for you. The leading operator in the UK is Tulley’s Farm’s annual Shocktober Fest event. We visited the event this year to see how it matches up with those in Orlando. Read on for our full Shocktober Fest 2019 Review.

flame sleap above the second live act stage illuminating the night sky
Visitors to Shocktober Fest have live entertainment and a couple of rides as well as the live haunts.

Outside of Christmas and Easter, October is probably the busiest time you could visit the theme parks. If it’s your first time to Orlando this may be more of a hindrance than a benefit. If you have young children you likely won’t be able to benefit from extra festivities that are laid on annually throughout October and now much of Septemeber. But what is a scare park? What can you expect? How can you make most of your time at one? As well as our review of this years event we will give you some important time saving and money-saving tips to enhance your time at the UK’s premier Scare Event. But first, a little history and an argument for why you may want to avoid October in Orlando.

What is Shocktober Fest?

In short, Shocktober Fest is a scare park, an immersive experience designed to play on our fears. The event now includes 2 live stages, numerous food and beverage outlets, street entertainment, a couple of thrill rides. The highlight is various highly themed mazes (also called haunts) with scare-actors. In 2019 Shocktober Fest has 9 haunts to experience. It takes place at Tulleys Farm just outside Crawley in Sussex on select nights throughout October.

History Of The Scare Park

The scare park concept started out at Universal Studios Florida in 1991 under the guise of ‘Fright Nights’. The initial event ran for 3 nights and included 2 mazes. Halloween Horror Night‘s popularity has meant that every year it has increased in size and scope from previous years. Now it is so popular that it regularly sells out despite being hosted on an almost nightly basis for all of October and even most of September. It is a separately ticketed event to the normal day admission to the parks and is aimed at anyone over 12. Universal Studios Hollywood started its own version in 1997 that allows visitors the opportunity to walk on the fabled Universal Studios Backlot where many blockbuster movies have been filmed.

Why First Time Visitors To Orlando Should Avoid Halloween Horror Nights

The 2019 Halloween Horror Nights Event in Universal Studios had multiple mazes and scare zones as well as some popular attractions open until late.

Why would first-time visitors want to miss out on this immersive experience? There are 3 main reasons; cost, crowds and timings.

Cost

A first-time visit to Orlando is always going to be an expensive endeavour. In 2019 a single night ticket to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando will set you back another $67.99 per person. That’s if you pre-book your ticket. Turn up on the night and the price jumps to over $120 each. There are extras like scare-actor dining and ‘behind the scream’ tours that can push the price up even further.

Crowds

You don’t get voted the best Halloween event worldwide 11 years running by the Amusement Today trade publication without spending a lot of money. With an honour like that, it’s inevitable that crowds of people will want to see what all the fuss is about and they descend on Universal Orlando in droves for the event. It’s Universal Orlando’s busiest time of the year. With people comes queues and you can expect to queue a lot at this event especially if you don’t purchase a front of line ticket upgrade.

Timings

Opening schedule for Halloween Horror Nights
The events popularity is now so high that it spreads through much of September as well as October

This is quite possibly the most important reason you would want to avoid Halloween at Universal Orlando if it’s your first time. The event takes place in Universal Studios from around 6:30 pm. As a separately ticketed event, the day admission to the park is cut short in order to empty the park ready for the Horror Nights team to take over. You can expect Universal Studios hours on the dates that Halloween Horror Nights is on to be 9am-5pm. That isn’t nearly enough time to get everything done if it is your first visit. Find out what you can do in a normal day by looking at our Universal Studios park overview.

Get Your Scare On In The UK

Immersive experiences, haunted mazes, scare-actors, street entertainment. It all sounds very exciting but getting to and staying in Orlando is a pricey proposition in October. Instead, get your wellies at the ready and head to Crawley for the UK’s premier scare event. But is it any good compared to the world leader?

The Main Difference Between Shocktober Fest & Halloween Horror Nights

Universal has a lot of infrastructure that they repurpose for the event (storage buildings, old queue lines etc). Tulleys does a spot-on job of installing covered walkways, fire pits and marquees to keep the British weather at bay as much as they can. Remember though that it is a farm and it can get a little muddy when the rain comes out to play. Having said that it’s not nearly as bad as you would expect.

Universal has a lot of rides that stay open so you can “ride them in the dark”. That’s the marketing department trying to justify the ticket cost. 6 of the 7 available rides in 2019 were set indoors so riding them at night is exactly the same as in the day.

The focus at Halloween Horror Nights or Shocktober Fest should rightly be the street entertainment and the haunts, not the rides and in order to get through all 10 haunts and 5 scare zones without paying extra for front-of-line access passes you won’t be going anywhere near any of the advertised rides.

Thrill rides waiting for visitors at Shocktober Fest 2019
The main entrance area to Shocktober Fest now incorporates several thrill rides.

Shocktober Fest has introduced 3 thrill rides to differentiate its offerings but the focus is very much on the haunts and street entertainment. The setting for Shocktober Fest, a windswept field in the middle of nowhere, also helps with the theming. At Universal, no matter how many lights or how much dry ice is pumped around you, you can’t escape the fact you are still in a giant theme park. Shocktober Fest is set up and taken down every year. Halloween Horror Nights use the same park layout with props, actors and clever lighting to set the mood.

Shocktober Fest 2019 Review: Shocktober Fest Haunts

How could a small family run business hope to compete with a media behemoth in terms of budget? The answer is they don’t, but what they do have is imagination, ingenuity and a keen eye for what scares us. Shocktoberfest doesn’t have any scare zones as such, but the street actors more than make up for the lack of those and the theming of most haunts are as good as you will find in Orlando.

Shocktober Fest 2019 Event Map
The event map shows how much can be packed into a relatively small area.

In 2019, Shocktober Fest had an amazing 9 haunts including two huge new additions for this year. Thats only 1 short of Universal Studios. The numbers in the photo above relate to the haunts.

  • 2. Wastelands Penitentiary
  • 3. Chop Shop
  • 4. Twisted Clowns
  • 5. The Cellar
  • 6. Horrorwood Hayride
  • 7. XIVI
  • 8. Coven Of 13
  • 9. Circus
  • 10. Creepy Cottage
  • 11. The Wreckoning

Shocktober Fest 2019 Haunts Overview

The Wreckoning

  • Fear Factor: 5/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 5/10
  • Theming: 8/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Review: One of the new haunts for 2019, The Wreckoning is an outdoor sunken treasure of a maze. Set in part of what used to be a huge cornfield this maze is epic in size and scale. It’s also one of the muddier options should the heavens open as they did briefly when we were there. But that all adds to the atmosphere!

The problem here is the size of the area the actors have to cover making large parts of your trek round more silent than expected. There are though, a couple of stand out scares waiting where you least expect them. The theming is top-notch and in parts, you really do feel like you could be walking the ghostly sunken remnants of a ship.

Without a doubt, The Wreckoning will be returning for another season and with some time to weather in and the addition of a few more scare-actors this could become one of the best, and largest mazes you will ever encounter in years to come.

Wastelands Penitentiary

Dare you enter a prison full of the undead in Wastelands Penitentiary?
  • Fear Factor: 7/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 8/10
  • Theming: 7/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Review: The second new haunt for 2019 is the imposing Wastelands Penitentiary. The events team went all out to create a stunning looking backdrop for this maze as you can see looking at the cover image for this article. As well as a great looking entrance this area also hosts a live show every half hour, great for keeping you entertained while queueing.

The premise is a prison inhabited by the undead. It is set throughout a series of shipping containers all interlocked to keep the weather out and visitors in! The scares here are more standard, mostly loud music and disorientating strobe lights coupled with a few set pieces. What lets it down is the fact it looks, and smells, too new to be a derelict prison. The actors do have fun with unsuspecting passers-by, especially in the large maze-like central hub with chainlink fencing but this creates another problem.

There are little in the way of surprise elements in the main room due to a lack of dry ice obscuring the layout ahead so the actors can be seen. The strobe lights and loud music do their part but this can hopefully be improved next year by pumping in some dry ice reminiscent of Thorpe Park’s “The Freezer” maze from years gone by to really give everyone a surprise.

Twisted Clowns

Demented clowns, moving walls and more than one or two surprises await those brave enough to enter the world of the Twisted Clowns!
  • Fear Factor: 8/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 9/10
  • Theming: 8/10
  • Overall: 9/10

Review: In the 3 years since my last visit this is the maze that has changed the most, and for the better. Out is the cheap but still creepy circus tent theming (even though I miss the ball pit) and in comes a fresh coat of 3D paint. It is everywhere and it’s impeccably well done. Even using the cheap cardboard glasses, the walls appear to pop out at you. One standout setpiece will literally jump out at you leaving anyone of a nervous disposition cowering against the opposite wall. Or they try to get away only to get tangled up in another setpiece next door.

Actors creep out from all corners and in some really unsuspecting ways. Your way is slowed down by various fun obstacles like shrinking corridors, low ceilings and uneven paths. A 3D moving tunnel may have some people reaching for a sick bag.

There is almost too much to take in here on only 1 run through. This haunt begs to be done again and again. The pacing is spot-on, scares are fast and furious. The most fun you can have in here though is looking at others getting scared witless in front of you. It’s fun getting scared but a lot funnier seeing other peoples reactions.

The Village Coven Of 13

New for 2019, The Coven Of 13 are waiting for their next victims to sacrifice.
  • Fear Factor: 6/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 7/10
  • Theming: 8/10
  • Overall: 8/10

Review: Scares in Coven Of 13 start the moment you step in. A brilliant opening scene uses lasers, raised walkways, dry ice and genuine pop up scares to great effect before the action moves outdoors into a highly themed coven setting reminiscent of The Wicker Man.

Fires burn bright while the muddy field underneath really helps set the scene. The entertainments team also change up some more traditional scares using dry ice, low lighting and heat in one setpiece. Low lighting and the British weather sets the mood for much of this mainly outdoor haunt. It also suffers some of the problems of The Wreckoning; space. There is so much space that the haunt could do with a few more scare-actors in the outdoor sections although it isn’t as noticeable here as it is in The Wreckoning.

The Chop Shop

Sadly the queue for this one was closed by the time we made it out of our last maze due to crowds. Judging from the queue it is certainly a popular returning haunt, having debuted in 2018. The sounds of chainsaws and screams near the exit testify to some exciting things to look forward to on my return in 2020.

The Cellar

Inhabitants of The Cellar wait for any unwitting victims in one of the most impressive Halloween Haunts around.
  • Fear Factor: 9/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 8/10
  • Theming: 10/10
  • Overall: 9/10

Review: The Cellar has been a standout haunt for years and this year is no exception. Considering it is mainly inside a giant marquee, the use of space is exceptional. This haunt just goes on forever. When walking through its creepy corridors it feels as large as The Wrecking or Coven Of 13 that have the luxury of a cornfield to spread out in.

Theming here is as good as you will find anywhere in the world. The walkways are atmospheric, dark and, at times, claustrophobic. Scares could be more but the theming keeps you captivated until someone inevitably jumps out to make someone scream. The pacing is brilliant and queue line surprisingly small.

The Cellar, for me, is the epitome of what makes a good haunt. You can have all the scare-actors you want but the devil is in the details and that is where this maze shines above all others.

VIXI

Push your boundaries and face your fears blindfolded in VIXI.
  • Fear Factor: 8/10
  • Scareactor Interaction: 6/10
  • Theming: 8/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Review: You don’t realise what you have until you lose it. Most of us take our sight as a given but this maze plays on our fears by attacking our other senses. Before you enter you are asked to put a sack over your head for a large part of the attraction. For many that instantly rules out this particular slice of fear.

Without sight and a slower moving crowd seeing as you can’t see where you are going, the entertainments team trust in peoples fears of the unknown. The smallest change in our controlled environment can have dramatic effects on people. Changes come small, such as a simple change in handrail that you have to hold on to, to the large setpieces like fireballs, wind generators and ice blasts that all help to set the tone.

Unlike previous years, once you have negotiated the hooded corridors you are not free of this nightmare, a small but superbly themed section of maze sits between you and the exit. I call this a marmite maze. You’re either going to be freaked out by not knowing what’s happening or it really doesn’t faze you. If you are the latter you may not find this that scary but either way, it’s good that the maze is adapting. This was all about pushing boundaries and you don’t do that by standing still.

Creepy Cottage

  • Fear Factor: 7/10
  • Scare-actor Interaction: 7/10
  • Theming: 9/10
  • Overall: 6/10

Review: I had high hopes for Creepy Cottage after previous experiences but they were cut short somehow this time. Before we knew it we were exiting the maze just as we felt the fun was beginning.

Creepy Cottage 2019 sadly doesn’t live up to my memories. The theming is almost as good as The Cellar but it seems criminally short in comparison to The Cellar which now outshines this in almost every way.

It doesn’t help to be tucked away in the back of the park, almost as an afterthought. If there is one maze to be missed because of time or excessive queues then this should be top of your list.

Horrorwood Haunted Hayride

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a very big surprise in Horrorwood Haunted Hayride.
  • Fear Factor: 6/10
  • Scareactor Interaction: 9/10
  • Theming: 8/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Review: There is something perennially popular about the Haunted Hayride that keeps people coming back. It is the busiest attraction in the park. The queue regularly tops 60-90 minutes while most mazes are around 30-45 minutes. There is something special about this attraction to make people queue this long to be pulled through a wood, sometimes in the pouring rain, on the back of an open-top tractor-trailer.

It’s probably one of the least outright scariest attractions but the actors are having a blast at scaring us and it really shows. People feel part of the experience. The emphasis is more on laughs than scares. Each ride is different from the last because actors are allowed to ad-lib depending on the audience and it’s that that keeps people coming back. And the nuns. The nuns are brilliant!

Getting The Most Out of Your Time At Shocktober Fest

5 or 6 hours may seem like a long time to do all the haunts but the time really does fly once the crowds start to arrive and queue times creep up. In order to get everything done, you need to be time smart.

  • Arrive at park opening. Mazes usually open half an hour after. Use this time to get something to eat or get in a queue ready.
  • Haunted Hayride should be a priority if you want to ride because the queue will only get longer.
  • If you need to eat, earlier would be better.
  • One time Fastpass tickets can be purchased individually for £5. If the time is running out it is a very good option to enable you to get around everything.

Making Your Money Go Further At Shocktober Fest

  • Like with any live experience there is a premium for things in the park such as food and beverages. The event usually starts at 6 pm on quieter nights or 5 pm on peak nights. Try to have an early dinner before you arrive.
  • PRE BOOK YOUR TICKETS! This is the easiest money saver going. Get organised and get booked! If you know you want to go, get the Early Bird tickets which are usually released in batches starting around Valentines Day. On the gate prices for 2019 start at £38. I booked my tickets on the second round of Early bird releases for £27. Follow Shocktober Fest on Facebook to be notified of when tickets are released.
  • If you know a lot of friends, the groups’ rate starts at £29 if you book online.
  • Don’t book X-Scream tickets. As fast passes are available singularly on the night, arrive early and see how many mazes you can do before the queues get up then just book what you need. X-Scream tickets are £53 online (£48 for Early Bird). I only needed 2 Fast Passes on the night taking my ticket total to £37 with minimal waits for 4 haunts by arriving at park opening.

Does The Experience really match up to Orlando?

One thing that Shocktober Fest doesn’t have compared to Orlando is the crowds. Don’t get me wrong, the nights are busy, especially if you go on a weekend, but the queues in Universal Studios (not to mention those over at Disney’s Not So Scary Halloween) are on an entirely different level.

From a business point of view, Halloween Horror Nights is a very important event. Orlando theme parks are world leaders in monetising and leveraging what they have. That translates into hours-long queues for the haunts and increasing pressure on the attraction operators to get people through as fast as they can.

I found the haunts to be too busy to be very effective. Any potential scares were negated because I saw them on the group ahead of me. Shocktober Fest, while being popular, is still niche enough to put people through in groups of roughly 20 every couple of minutes. This helps the haunts to keep their throughput so people aren’t waiting forever in queues but also maximises the experience for people in the maze.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios has become a juggernaut of an event but the focus is more and more on monetising the event at the expense of the experience. It’s just too busy to be any fun. In that respect, for me, Shocktober Fest is the finest Scare Park around and at a bargain price if you can get organised and get your tickets ahead of time.

Scare-actors stare menacingly at the camera in fron to fhte Shocktober Fest logo
Frankie & Mummie will be waiting for anyone brave enough to visit in 2020. Will it be you?!

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