2014 Halloween Haunt Award Nominees: Best Introductory Scene

This is a new category, a bit generically named, which attempts to honor the trend toward ameliorating the conga-line syndrome by beginning a walk-through with a room in which a small group gathers to watch and/or take part in some kind of experience before proceeding with the rest of the haunt. These scenes generally set the tone for what follows; they often establish the back story, and typically end with a shock to jolt visitors into a speedy exit.

This Halloween we encountered these prefatory vignettes at haunts that ran the gamut from amateur to professional. We suspect that theme parks are adopting this strategy to compete with smaller venues and home haunts that provide a more intimate scare experience. Sometimes, these rooms require an up-charge (the Skeleton Key Rooms at Knott's Scary Farm); in other cases (Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest) similar introductory vignettes are included at no extra cost.

As Halloween attractions take on more interactive and dramatic elements, we expect to see more haunts with specific scenes interspersed throughout, rather than only at the beginning. For instance, Raymond Hill Mortuary features two or three after the initial entry, and Delusion Lies Within consists entirely of dramatic scenes. For the time being, we will limit this category to rooms that provide a prelude for the horrors to come. For this reason, the Freak Shows at Queen Mary Dark Harbor are not included: though some of them feature single-scene encounters, they are stand-alone attractions, not the beginning of a longer walk-through.

And the nominees are...

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The Black Magic Skeleton Key Room at Knotts Scary Farm

Knott Scary Farm's Black Magic featured an early 20th century theme - an era of seances and spirits. Appropriately enough, those who paid the up-charge would begin the maze by pausing in a parlor where a medium summoned the spirit of Harry Houdini - apparently none too happy over having his eternal slumber interrupted. The scene began with some spectral illusions, then shifted to a more physical manifestation, creating some memorable shocks.

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The Cabin in Curse of the Devil Swamp

After a brief walk through a gate and around a house, this backyard haunt truly began when we entered a cabin that appeared to be poised on the edge of a swamp. Inside this convincing environment, demonic figures warned us of the terrors lurking in the bog; there was a brief startling effect with a hanging body; and then we learned that the only way to proceed was to crawl through the fireplace. If  Curse of the Devil Swamp were not located on private property, one would take this scene for a professional effort.

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Wilsley Brothers House of Fun 2014 revised flier

The Lobby of the Wilsley Brothers House of Fun at Rotten Apple 907

The opening room of Rotten Apple 907's 2014 Halloween haunt featured decor to establish the funhouse atmosphere, along with a sideshow freak who we simply knew would escape from his cage - and he did! What made this room memorable was the manner in which it sowed the seeds for what followed, the gray-haired impresario warning that the "fun" in the "Wilsley Brothers House of Fun" meant the inhabitants would be having fun at our expense.

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A new haunt for Halloween 2014. (Copyright 2014 Yuki Tanaka)
Copyright 2014 Yuki Tanaka

The Register Room at Raymond Hill Mortuary

Oozing an excess of sympathy, a soothing funeral director asked visitors inside, took a moment to refute the scurrilous "rumors" plaguing the Raymond Hill Mortuary, and beckoned us to sign the register. There were things lurking in shadows or behind curtains during his speech, but the real scare arrived from another direction: the painting above the register abruptly dropped to reveal a grasping hand. We had seen this kind of gag elsewhere, but Raymond Hill Mortuary gets bonus points for having the funeral director lure us into the danger zone while lulling us into complacency.

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Sherwood Scare 2014 Sherwood Studios Stage 23

The Screening Room at Sherwood Studios

The Sherwood Scare home haunt has perfected the art of using its opening room as a sort of prelude to introduce the themes that will recur throughout the rest of the haunt. For this year's theme, Sherwood Studios, a screening of an old 16mm film revealed the back story of a child star who mysteriously disappeared, her ghost apparently haunting the studios decades later. The exposition served to distract viewers before hitting them with the scare when the missing girl materialized from behind the screen - similar to the effect in the first room at Raymond Hill Mortuary.

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