_REVIEW.   it’s about _LIVE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.   at _NATIONAL FOREST ADVENTURE FARM.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _31st OCT 2021.

October 28, 2021
images © Screamfest/Postern Leisure 2021.

One of the true terrors of Halloween 2020 was the conspicuous absence of the National Forest Adventure Farm’s annual Screamfest celebrations; another live entertainment bottle unceremoniously knocked off the wall by the obnoxious persistency of that pesky pandemic.

Where other scare maze attractions eked out a truncated or restricted presence (“I don’t care if they normally do, the actors will not be touching you this year”), Screamfest understandably sat out the 2020 spooky season altogether.

Which only sweetens its return this Autumn, triumphantly reborn with a fitting ‘Resurrected’ moniker, and bringing with it a handful of equally welcome surprises and new additions, not least of all a completely new sit-down experience unlike anything Burton has offered before.

For those amongst the many already familiar with Screamfest, the usual concourse has returned (with a slight layout tweak), offering merchandise stands, food vendors and, of course, that trademark psychedelic DJ booth blasting out tunes and lasers from the middle of, well, a duck pond. Burton, more than many of its peers, feels like a celebration – and this is only amplified this time round by an expansion of its funfair area. Throw in the likes of fire-throwers, comedians and musical performances on the open stage, and the overall blast of light, colour and sound, and Screamfest once again does a deft job of balancing being both scary and fun in equal measure.

The mazes are where the real meat on Screamfest’s bones lie, though, and at first though it may be disappointing to see the excellent Insomnia of yesteryear no longer intact, its presence still manages to creep quite literally into the layout and structure of other mazes.

Perhaps the best mission statement for Screamfest 2021 lies in the reworked Freakout On Tour, a circus-themed nightmare that does a terrific job of revitalising one of the site’s oldest mazes. From welcome cosmetic touches such as it now being set further back in the park with a suitably foreboding lead-up path, to more significant changes to the experience such as no longer entering from the front but instead quite literally now through the back door (with some neat storytelling and scene-setting to accompany it), and the incorporation of disorientating set pieces and areas from the aforementioned Insomnia, it’s a fun, frightening celebration of both old and new alike.

Burton’s award-winning maze Insomnia (pictured above) may not be back for 2021, but the curse of its demonic ‘Crackerjack’ may have found its way into other mazes…

Elsewhere, Love Hurts brings fewer surprises (being another maze with a few rings in its trunk by now), but even for those familiar, it remains a stellar example of production design, lighting and concept, as you enter the world of a grimy dating club that soon descends, quite literally, into the gutter.

Hillbilly Joe’s Zombee Zoo treads a smartly-crafted balance between being laugh-out-loud funny (keep an eye out for firm favourite mee-maw) and downright disturbing; bandying between the two with startling confidence and regularity. Like Hurts, the design work and execution here is notably high and consistent, too; the world of a hillbilly dystopia having some morbid yet marvellous attention to detail. Given the quality of their surroundings, there were one or two ‘zombies’ whose makeup was disappointingly slight, but its a very minor blemish on what is overall a fantastic maze.

One of Burton’s real coups remains its expansive cornfield – a foreboding and deeply atmospheric environ to be cautiously navigated or outright chased around within. In the past, this MVP locale has housed a variety of excellent mazes, from the Victorian stylings of Children of the Corn through to the Luchador-by-way-of-Stephen King hijinks of Dia De Los Muertos, it has always proven a real highlight of any visit.

As such, it is sad to see the usual method of entry to the ‘corn’ maze – getting onto the back of an enormous tractor and getting driven out into the black bleakness of the fields – has not yet returned. Burton gets a pass on this, though, partly owing to it likely being a COVID-related precaution, but namely because the maze that replaces Muertos – the new-for-2021 Creed Farm – is excellent.

Its theming and styling on paper may not be a million miles away from Zombee Zoo – set as it is at a nightmarish meat farm where scarecrows and other horrors have run amuck, but where Zoo injects plenty of laughs and levity, Creed Farm is relentlessly horrible (in the best way possible) from the offset and rarely lets up. As well as boasting the innate creepiness of being out amidst the corn, some of the costume design and scare performances especially are at a particularly high standard here – you will not be forgetting some of the creeps and creatures that follow (or even block) your path, in a hurry.

Marginally less successful, but a neat and creepy change of pace nonetheless, is 2021’s other new arrival, the sit-down, interactive experience of Le Theatre Noire. It’s unlike anything Screamfest has offered before, as you are invited to sit down and watch an unhinged showman attempt to summon forth the embittered spirits of a coven of murdered nuns.

Whom he is inviting to kill him, no less.

Check out our exclusive footage / trailer of Screamfest: Resurrected from its preview night earlier this month.

Noir’s strengths lie in its storytelling and occasional inferences of world building. The premise and backstory are neat, and the sinister coven are eerily realised. To say too much would be to spoil things, but although it is a little too brief, and not terribly far in execution away from some of the ‘4D’ theatres of yesteryear, it is still a suitably creepy and unsettling foray that offers something different from the conventional maze experience.

Returning to Screamfest feels much akin to carving out a pumpkin; a staple marking an ‘official’ return to the Halloween season. With excellent mazes and a regular willingness to mix things up, experiment and bring new scares to the table, Burton has rightly become an essential visit for scare enthusiasts. It was sorely missed last year, and in 2021 offers up one of its strongest and most diverse years to date. There’s very little to critique, and a whole lot to enjoy, laugh at, and, of course, run from in blind terror and panic.

…just could we please have the tractor back next year?

Burton has rightfully cemented itself as one of the must-visit scare attractions in the UK, and its Resurrection for 2021 is a terrifyingly welcome return.


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