images © Kyle Pedley, Screamfest
Halloween 2022 is proving to be something of a year of comebacks and callbacks for the spooky season. For starters, for many in the scare park/maze industry, it is the first full year back without any shadowy spectres of pandemics, or their associated restrictions. Elsewhere, branching out a little further afield into the world of Halloween entertainment, and we see sequels, returns and revivals for major tentpoles of the season, including long-awaited, eagerly-anticipated resurrections of Hocus Pocus and Hellraiser, to name but two.
The National Forest Adventure Farm’s ‘Screamfest’, already an established player in the world of spooky Autumnal visits, has decided to follow suit. Whilst it already made a comeback of its own last year, with 2021’s ‘Screamfest: Resurrected’ following on from a COVID-induced no-show in 2020, this year sees Burton bring back one of its best ever scare mazes, whilst simultaneously preparing to bid a fond, freaky farewell to one of its staple offerings.
Starting with the latter, 2022 is the last chance to experience the sewage-styled spookiness of ‘Love Hurts’ (given a fitting ‘Last Orders’ affix for this final outing), a dark, dank visit into the seedy underbelly of a nightclub offering love, but serving up so very much more. ‘Hurts’ has been a tentpole of Burton’s offerings for several years now, and remains one of their most consistently impressively themed mazes. Even in this final year, the team have seen fit to introduce a few wrinkles and surprises (prepare to get wet – if not soaked, thankfully), and whilst it will be sad to see it go, it is at least bidding adieu in impressive style.
The circus-themed ‘Freak Out on Tour’ is back, too, including the very welcome return of some pre-maze scene-setting that adds a little more narrative and world-building to what was previously a more straightforward and perfunctory affair. Your mileage – and fright – will likely vary based on your tolerance of clowns, but the twisty-turny nature of the maze, coupled with its various splits and junctures, (do you pick the ‘Good Clown’, ‘Bad Clown’ or ‘Evil Clown’ door?) where you and your fellow maze-goers will be forced to choose your path, keeps it an engaging and regularly disconcerting visit.
“More than perhaps any of its counterparts, ‘Zoo’ affords its actors time to interact with visitors…”
‘Hillbilly Joe’s Zombee Zoo’ remains the most bonkers and anarchic of the five mazes Burton offers, and there’s a darkly comedic bent to it, once again peppered with some fun interactive set pieces and characters. More than perhaps any of its counterparts, ‘Zoo’ affords its actors time to interact with visitors, including the personal highlight of ‘Granma’ and her beloved ‘Fluffy’. As per ‘Love Hurts’, the theming is excellent, as you pass through a ramshackle shanty town, seemingly in the throngs of festive celebrations, and its madness includes deranged zombie chickens, rifle-wielding hillbillies and a real colourful cast of characters. It isn’t the most outright terrifying of mazes, but it is, crucially, a lot of fun.
CrackerJack’s Back! – a sad omission from last year’s offering, Burton’s award-winning Insomnia makes a very welcome return this year, with a couple of new surprises and wrinkles thrown in for extra, chilling measure…
Far darker and more chilling, then, is ‘Creed Farm’, which has not only been given some extra sinister decor and theming on top of what was already an excellent, spooky trip out into Burton’s corn field of horrors (something of the park’s signature offering), but it has also been injected with some excellent and inspired surprises. To go into detail would likely spoil the spook and ruin the impact, but let’s just say a scare maze set piece that has become a little rote (and rope) here catches off guard with a genuinely frightening extra ingredient, turning it from one of the most formulaic sections of a maze into possibly the creepiest part of the entire park.
“…a wonderful example of instilling character, narrative and a palpable, gnawing sense of dread into a scare maze, this latest incarnation of ‘Insomnia’ is its best yet.”
Finally, returning triumphantly for 2022 is the fantastic ‘Insomnia’, Burton’s award-winning maze that visitors have sadly gone had to go without the past couple of years, including last year when the event re-opened after its COVID hiatus. Already a wonderful example of instilling character, narrative and a palpable, gnawing sense of dread into a scare maze, this latest incarnation of ‘Insomnia’ is its best yet. As per ‘Creed’, to go into specifics of the new wrinkles and sections added to the maze would likely incur the wrath of its sinister ‘Crackerjack’ character, but everything that worked in the original – including some terrific environmental design and even a spot of period-infused time travel – are back and more impactful than ever. As you navigate the nightmares of a young girl tormented by a demonic entity, the creators have here pushed the demented, twisted nature of ‘Insomnia’ ever further, incorporating some neat visual trickery that plays around with forced perspective, and even have included… deep breath… a visit to a sadistic dentist, for added trauma.
Outside of its enviable roster of mazes, Screamfest once again offers up a side showing of fairground rides and attractions, a host of scare actors wandering around to catch unwary wanderers off guard, a number of food and drinks vendors, and a smattering of live musical entertainment. For the latter, the organisers have shrewdly repositioned the main stage to be further out into the park itself, being now located near the entrances to ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘Zombee Zoo’. Not only does this help to avoid some of the bottlenecking that could occur around the main entrance area, but it also gives the whole event an extra sense of size and dimension, with several hub areas now stretching out across the park, as opposed to everything being so centralised, as before.
For opening night, queues moved swiftly, and everything was easily navigable and doable in a single visit (pit stop for food included). Burton are this year offering a ‘FastTrack’ pass, which comes in at an extra £12 on top of standard ticket prices, but that is for all five mazes. Whilst there were only two mazes where our group queued for any real length of time, the park will likely get a lot busier at weekends and the closer we get to Halloween, making the FastTrack passes a very reasonably priced option. Doubly so, given that the event is limiting how many FastTrack passes are available per evening, meaning their ability to bypass much of the queuing and down time should be a serious consideration, particularly for those going later into the event’s run.
In all, if 2021’s ‘Screamfest: Resurrected’ was a very welcome return for Burton, 2022’s roster of screams, spooks and scares feels like a full-throated, wailing renaissance. With one of their very best mazes back and on top, terrifying form, some ergonomic changes that only improve the park layout and experience as a whole, and the useful option to FastTrack your way through some of the queues, Burton once again proves itself a Halloween favourite well worth a return visit to. In a year of comebacks, revivals and haunting throwbacks, the malevolent Crackerjack is back, and invites you, too, to return to one of the UK’s best Halloween scare attractions, if you dare…