Haunted Hills Estate
236 Rolling Hills Estate Road, Uniontown, PA 15401View All Details
Free Parking, Food/Concessions, Special Events, “Old-School” (Low Tech), You may be touched, Original Characters, Uncovered Outdoor Waiting Line, Indoor/Outdoor Attraction
Team Scary Potter and the Hauntwarts Express reviewed this attraction on September 23, 2017.
Final Score: 9.1
Haunted Hills Estate is back this year with another forray into darkness. In Legends of Torment, a reporter has gone missing while investigating this Wellness Clinic, and you are tasked with finding him and bringing him out safely. A visit to The Doll Factory brings you face-to-face with Mr. Friedrich’s not-quite-human creations. The journey ends with the Voodoo Challenge Trail, where you must complete six different mental and physical challenges to rid the woods of an evil curse, while simultaneously avoiding the death-grip of its living dead guardians who seek to capture the last strands of protection that keep you among the living. All in a night’s work. Head on down to Uniontown, PA for another season of terrifyingly fun interactive horror.
At HHE, a performance bell-curve has traditionally been apparent between the non-Challenge Trail attractions, with a handful of stand-out portrayals, a wide swath of moderate/adquate characterizations, and a few, thoroughly unconvincing outliers. THIS year, however, in the most substantial shift that I can remember, the bell curve has both condensed and transitioned significantly along the X Axis. In other words, the variability of performance has shrunk and increased the median significantly. In even simpler terms : the cast was fantastic.
HHE has always boasted a much higher-than-average percentage of interactive cast members, and prolonged interactions (the Trail is built upon them after all), but that number has grown even larger. Fortunately, the quality of nearly every one of them has also improved. Its an embarrassment of riches this season, truthfully, and attempting to isolate specific stand-out performance is a bit overwhelming.
Excluding the gate-keepers and roving entertainer (to be discussed in Customer Service), a hilariously depraved conversation with a pharmacist is easily the most memorable experience for us from Legends, though the half-dozen persistent grumblers and shriekers (foremost the “Dental Gal”) from the attraction’s outdoor segment were the hands-down creepiest of the lot. I developed an emotional attachment to John Cough-ee, an enthusiastic bearded beastman with the sniffles. I intend to nurse him back to health and then release him into the wild.
In The Doll Factory, it’s impossible to ignore the lasting emotional scarring generated by the pair of actors in the last room. The Barber certainly skated the subjective line of “too far”, though never crossed it, and generated a hilariously-shocking situation for his chosen client. A real eye for style, that one.
The Challenge Trail annually features some of the best cast performances, but there is a definite argument to be made this year. Still, that possible usurpation is mostly due to improved competition, not sagging Trail performances. The actor portraying the first Challengeer is always a group-favorite, no matter the face he wears, even if this season’s “speech impediment” was more than a bit inconvenient. The last or penultimate (depending on how one wishes to categorize things – see below) demon was also entertainingly sinister, and being chided by a pun-a-holic, dreadlocked gardener made the night much more colorful, despite a few comedically-cynical groans.
However, the creepiest and most convincingly-acted role easily belonged to a dual-personality-equipped Challengeer. Crossing between over-bearing grump and playfully delightful sweetheart seemed effortless for the actress and an otherwise-uninspired Challenge was rendered wholly enjoyable due solely to her performance.
The Trail performer that our team appreciated the most, overall, may have (the margins are so slim here) been one of a much more jovial disposition. The Country Cousin who served as the buffer between the Trail and reality (in both directions) was a friendly, song-and-dancing country gal who saw us properly equipped to survive our foray into the deep woods and then share in our triumph as we retreated back to the main concourse. She had a few hiccups to deal with during our time together, but she remained sweet-as-pie, without battin’ a southern-fried eyelash.
As for the less-talkative cast members, the Trail Zombies did a good job of staying in character as they chased, flag-molested, and snarled at our procession. A legitimate (accidental) head-butt to one of these undead stalwarts didn’t even break his stride, let alone his character. Lots of haunted attractions claim to be “real haunted” every year, but does Haunted Hills Estate stand alone as the only haunt to feature a real zombie?
If forced to nitpick, I suppose wouldn’t have minded a few more zombies on the trail and a couple more actors tucked into the two houses, but that is far from necessity. All three attractions felt pretty solidly-stocked the night we were present.
This exceedingly (unnecessarily?) long category write-up gives some examples of stand-out performances, but, as I said at the beginning, there really weren’t ANY poor displays. Every actor really gave a noteworthy showing. Were some better than others; could some performances use improvement? Of course, but the cast as a whole really impressed us this year and represented The Estate the best of any ensemble we’ve seen there.
Across The Challenge Trail and Legends attractions, the villainous retinues are comprised of human(or inhuman)-based terrors, so intricate costuming isn’t necessary. Regardless, the various zombies and voodoo personal of the challenge Trail and the score of lunatics, psychopaths and macabre medicinal practitioners in Legends were appropriately-adorned. We didn’t see any outfits that seemed woefully out of place in their scenes.
The Dolls of the eponymous factory required a bit more attention, which they received. Evilyn, the awkwardly friendly greeter, was the most (wait for it…) dolled-up resident of that attraction.
Overall, everyone looked pretty good. HHE doesn’t usually opt for a lot of elaborate costume design, but doesn’t skimp on making every look appropriate to their roles.
Customer Service: 9.5
I gushed last season about the quality of line-scarers/gate-keepers; they easily gave some of the best performances of all of the actors at the Estate.
Surprise, surprise : they’re still great.
Though there has been some actor-shuffling this season (the Bellhop gate-keeper from Legends is now an interior-haunter in D.F., as well as a similar switch for the Trail), the quality of performances outside the attractions has not diminished. Again this year as well, the wonderfully idiosyncratic Line-folk from Legends and the ever-changing third attraction (the Doll Factory this year) earned top marks, THOUGH : the charismatic haunt-vagabond that
paroled the concourse was nearly as entertaining.
Legends is stationed by Ada, a snarky joinalist from Joisey, who also figures heavily into the back-story of the attraction (as illustrated by tie-in video that plays in the first room of the haunt). An aficionado of teasing sarcasm she pleaded for our help to locate her misplaced partner. Evilyn is the pitiable MC for The Doll Factory, shuffling around its exterior as quickly as her wooden joints permit, greeting guests and apologizing ad-nauseam for every perceived slight.
Both were excellent as que managers and line entertainers, portraying distinctive characterizations to amuse and inform us as we awaited our turns.
The nameless gentleman sidling along the main course was enjoyable as well, offering a variety of horrible jokes and witty off-hand comments about our team members and other cast members.
These performers didn’t interplay much this time around. We did miss seeing that, but, honestly, it didn’t make a significant difference. Each performer was satisfying enough on their own.
The restrooms, lit-up self-parking lot, and concession stands remained from last season. We’re told that they’ll be carrying uniquely delicious pizza beginning the week after we reviewed them… story of Scary Potter’s life : always showing up a week too soon.
It is important to note that anyone with serious issues bending over, etc, should consult with staff members before entering Legends. There are quite a few low-hanging ceilings that could be difficult for certain individuals to clear, but I assume there are alternative routes that could be taken.
Every staff member we spoke with was friendly and very helpful.
I think I summarized the basic elements of The Estate pretty well last season, so let me begin with that :
“Three haunts in a triangular position, encircling a bonfire-laden hub area, occupying a dark, secluded farm in the middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Pennsylvania – that is the facade of Haunted Hills Estate. The greatest experience, though, comes as you begin descending the first hill towards the trail – dim lamp posts astride your path, you watch the frontage of your wooded destination begin to take form before you, and internally steel yourself to begin your quest. It’s definitely a great transitional bridge between the moderate bustling of the other two attractions and the forthcoming isolation of the Challenge Trail.”
The one major change this season was that a DJ was added into the main concourse. Unfortunately, the soundtrack during our visit was primarily pop-songs and a few Halloweenish throwbacks (Michael Jackson’s Thriller for example). We really would have preferred creepier music – horror soundtracks, Midnight Syndicate/Nox Arcana-style haunt-tunes, or the like. The usually spot-on atmosphere of The Estate was corrupted a bit by the bubblegummy aural mismatch. Perhaps the average customer would be appropriately entertained by less seasonal tracks, but for us, a little more musical dread and gloom would have complimented the location perfectly.
Special Effects: 8.79
The Estate’s aesthetic remains largely old-school, utilizing homemade set design and props over flashy animatronics and high-tech flippery, but there were still smatterings of technological acumen scattered about.
The best aspect of Legends is still its plethora of hidden passages and secret doors. They are integrated into the sets pretty seamlessly and add an appreciable degree of uncertainty and confusion to the experience. The introductory video was a nice addition that helped to better convey the story’s exposition. Poor Sal.
Its sets were sometimes a bit sparse, but always passable, acting more as conduits for great interactive performances than attempting to stand-out on their own.
The Doll Factory is a straight-forward affair, with a good bit of set diversity throughout its brief expanse. The tea party room was certainly the visual highlight.
Both attractions included occasional eerie aural accompaniment that enhanced the atmosphere of the scenes in which it was present. The music was a bit too loud in the final room of T.D.F, though, making it very difficult to understand what the very-communicative actors were saying to us at times.
The Trail’s Challenges were a bit lackluster this year, not seeming quite as exciting or epic as they have been during previous iterations, which was a disappointment. However, the scene’s did LOOK especially good, with excellent degrees of sinister detail and every nook-and-cranny seemingly brimming with nefarious adornments. The addition of a second aspect to the game (the Zombie-flag battle) helped to buoy the lackluster challenges (as further discussed in Theme).
Legends utilizes a spin-off of the commonly-seen “institution” haunted house theme, but is set apart by a story-within-the-story of a pair of reporters exploring the location to horrific consequences. The excellent introduction by both Ava and the video background story add a layer to the storyline that worked well to elevate Legends beyond a standard horror trope. The maniacal residents of Legends maintain the theme throughout.
The Living Doll motif of The Doll Factory is definitely less frequently tread territory. Beginning with Evilyn, who introduced the backstory to us in tragic, anecdotal chunks, the theme was carried believably by the other actors and sets. The random chainsaw at the end didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, though.
The forest that houses the Challenge Trail really has bad luck. Every year by unbelievable coincidence, a new evil manages to be summoned into its wooded depths. This year, as a result of mob injustice against an innocent magician, voodoo zombies and other spirits have infested the grounds. What are the odds?
HHE has done a good job of fleshing out the backstory of the trail and it all begins intriguingly. Unfortunately, unlike last year, the challenges don’t really slide into the storyline as neatly. You do receive a small charm pouch from the outset, and are able to collect an additional charm for each challenge successfully completed. Each is incredibly
valuable and increases your chances to defeat the evil at the climax of the tale. The sub-challenge of defending your personal life essence (in the form of flags attached to a worn belt) from hidden aggressors throughout the length of the trail also ties in quite well. These two tasks intersect during the last confrontation in a satisfying fashion that makes every success feel truly substantial.
That being said, there were times that the man vs zombie game felt blatantly unfair. Early on, it seemed to be established that we were safe only when involved in challenges or communicating with the various challenge keepers. The foes attempting to snag our precious flags were mindless (albeit aggressive) zombies. Got it; sounds great. Unfortunately, at one point, a young fellow took us into a building in what was clearly a necessary progression of the path. He spoke to us for a minute or so, only to suddenly reach out and grab both of my flags – from 2 feet away… in a room that we couldn’t leave. It was certainly a surprise, so points for that, but seemed needlessly cheap and unreasonable. In nearly every other confrontation (see below), we had been given at least a moderate (fair) ability to outmaneuver our attackers which was well-done and appreciated, but that stunt just felt lame. This unfortunate experience left an unpleasant taste in my mouth for the rest of the trail.
During one of the later challenges, as we were first listening to instructions from the challenge keeper and then standing in line, waiting to take our turn, a couple of zombies randomly kept appearing to try to pilfer any remaining flags. Though less egregious than the previous situation, again, we were stuck in a mostly-stationary position, engaged in a DIFFERENT game, which we didn’t really understand the rules to (thus annoying the challenge keeper), because we were busy dodging zombies while they were being explained. I concede that an argument could POSSIBLY be made for this increasing the tension of the experience in a positive way.
There’s a high degree of suspension of disbelief when visiting any haunted attraction, obviously, but there is an expectation that, during what is essentially a competition, an attraction will play by its own rules in a logical and fair manner.
While that was three substantial paragraphs of complaint, understand that that was only a tiny sliver of the overall experience. The two intersecting competitive aspects of the trail really do come together quite well. If there had been a better thematic/storytelling flow from challenge to challenge, and a more impressive finale (like last year), it would have absolutely been the best version of the trail we’d ever experienced.
Fright Effect: 8.75
As implied by the “Cast” write-up, most of the scares from HHE come from interactive cast performances, leaving the number of “boo-scares” pretty low. This has actually worked out quite well. The most effective frights within Legends/D.F. involve a single patron being placed into an uncomfortable, physical interaction. HHE is definitely more “touchy” than most attractions and do a great job of making the customer feel playfully uncomfortable. This isn’t a version of an “extreme” torture house; patrons will likely affix a half-scowl/half-smile during these moments, and shake the experience off with a laughing shudder when they’re done. The spirited tomfoolery introduced by the best of these hands-on cast members represent the creepiest moments of The Estate – the Barber chiefmost among them.
The other most successful form of scaring is executed by the Trail zombies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the addition of an actual vulnerability when presented with haunters amplifies the intensity of the experience incredibly. See, normally when you go through a standard spookhouse, faux-monsters leap out and snarl at you, and you can just walk on by them – there is nothing significant they can do to you (apart from injecting themselves directly into your nightmares), but the Trail zombies aren’t only interested in psychological scarring – they want your flags. Though you have only a vague notion of their purpose, innately you realize the benefit of protecting your velcroed charges for as long as possible, so THESE monsters possess a legitimate threat. With that directive etched into the brain, that long, foreboding stretch in the underbrush linking challenges, becomes something to truly fear, and the actors portraying the monstrosities in question really did an excellent job tickling our nervous systems while simultaneously trying to tickle our flag belts.
The price for a full trip through The Estate is $25; knock off 5 dollars each if you choose to bypass one or two of the attractions. Once again, a complete journey takes over two hours, and the Legends attraction was significantly longer this time around. By haunt standards, 5+ minutes of entertainment per dollar spent is an incredible deal.
Haunted Hills has taken their improvements from last season and solidified and even expanded upon them. Factoring in the positive and negative changes to The Challenge Trail, the vastly improved Legends, and a formidable third entry with The Doll Factory, this version of The Estate is probably the best that we’ve reviewed. The cast did a great job and nothing felt stale or unimaginatively reproduced from last season (almost all of the sets appeared to be refreshed or completely new).
This year was another great visit through an ever-improving haunt that features a little (ok…lot) bit of something for every type of haunt enthusiast – it’s scary, interactive, and most importantly : a lot of fun. Therefore, we highly recommend a visit this Halloween season, because that curse isn’t going to lift itself, you know?
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Guest ReviewsGuest Average: 10 out of 10
John – 10/10These guys know how to have fun loved the Twisted Nightmare and the Challenge Trail. This is must do …show more