Team Zombillies reviewed this attraction on October 21, 2016.
Final Score: 9.64
Once again, we found ourselves dragging our drooling jaws down the hallways of Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead. This skilled crew continues to produce the most realistic show we’ve seen to date by way of incredible scenes, amazing talent and high-end special effects. When you visit these two attractions, it’s not like your typical visit to a haunted house… they own you. You’re in their world, now. These convicts will consume you, chew you up and spit you out into the underground abyss that’s filled with the most evil creatures to have ever been conceived. So’ ask yourself’ why would you ever want to put yourself through such tyranny? Because it’s AWESOME, that’s why! Many new scenes and effects were noticed during our tour this year and some of them are bound to make your skin crawl’ literally. So, drive on out to Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm, let the gavel fall and experience your sentence at Statesville Haunted Prison. But remember’ NO one escapes.
With 150 actors and actresses, just about anything is possible. The walls seemingly came to life, they made us duck, surprised us with tag-team efforts, twin disguises and more! Nearly everywhere that we turned, it wasn’t long before a prisoner, monster or other kind of unexplainable being was all up in our space… making sure we didn’t leave unscathed. Due to the sheer number of people that Statesville runs through their haunt in a night, the actors here use a little bit different style of acting than most other attractions. A select few actors were in place to stop and interact with groups that were moving too quickly, but it seemed that the intended roles for the vast majority of them were just delivering ‘pop scares’ and then dissolving back into their scenes so you can pass through. When we did encounter some actual interaction, it worked well at keeping our attention long enough for a good set-up by another actor (kudos). Also, while most of their lines were character- or scene-related, we did hear some generic ‘hi’s’ and ‘hello’s’ that came across as a little less than heartfelt. Aside from those rare instances, however, most of the cast members gave us believable performances that really made us NOT want to stick around for very long. The guy in the shower that had REAL cockroaches crawling on his hands and face, for instance, was an interesting treat. One of the prisoners (as we should’ve remembered from last year) even made us give him something in exchange for letting us continue. This year, it was a hair tie and, judging by the tennis ball-sized wad of them that he’d collected on his bunk, we weren’t the only ones he’d dealt with!
Okay so we have determined over the years that dialogue can come off as being very threatening and creepy, but you generally know what’s being said, right? Well, imagine irate creatures that are running around and saying things to you that you DON’T understand; now THAT can get downright scary! We have no idea what we agreed to, whom we may have sold our souls to, or told that they may plague us with spiders forever, but by the way the cave-dwelling creatures in City of the Dead were babbling on in non-english dialogue, we are sure that any of those are possibilities! Another cast member who followed us through the City was chanting some pretty crazy stuff most of the way through as well, which helped keep the creepy factor up.
One of the things that really sets Statesville apart is their unique assortment of characters that you won’t find at any other attraction. Each of them have their own look, backstory and demeanor that makes them scarier, more intimidating and just flat-out different than the typical, generic characters you can find at most other haunts. Let’s take ‘Fluffy’ for example: he’s a straight-jacketed criminal, essentially, but his uniquely-sinister mask and various subtle details make him much more different than your run-of-the-mill loonies and the same can be said for most of Statesville’s other characters as well. Lots of high-quality masks are dotted throughout each of the haunts. Some of them are purchased from the same vendors that make masks for Hollywood and others, like the leather dog masks, which are tailored to fit the specific characters and scenes that they’re used in. Speaking of matching, each of the characters’ outfits were very fitting for their respective locations. Prison guards are scattered throughout the flagship attraction, various prisoners were housed in their respective cells, red and white-checkered clowns were grouped into their own nutty little nook and all sorts of evil creatures could be found getting conjured up in City of the Dead. In the latter attraction, some of the costumes matched their scenes so well that we didn’t even see them until it was too late (in a good way). Where prison guards were scattered throughout the Prison, bib-overalled workers have been tasked with keeping these wicked monsters at bay, so you’ll see them every so often throughout the ‘City.’ Makeup effects throughout the complex aren’t very skimpy either. From airbrushed details to prosthetic appliances (the guy with gears protruding from his face was one of our favorites), anyone that wasn’t wearing a mask was made to look just as sinister as their fully-covered counterparts.
Customer Service: 9.81
If a boat-load of haunted house billboards isn’t enough to let you know you’re in ‘haunt country,’ then maybe the folks at Statesville should just keep you locked up’ FOREVER!!! Ok’ anyway… as we neared the Seigel’s Cottonwood Farm entrance, several ‘Statesville Haunted Prison’ signs were spotted and confirmed we were at the right place… along with a large military truck and man-eating hay bales (yes’ man-eating hay bales). Plenty of wand-waving parking attendants were able to easily lead us to the best spot in their massive, free and grassy lot (and even out of the mud). Ticket lines are marked appropriately and plenty of professional staff and security personnel made finding our way around the property pretty easy… although you may get distracted a time or two (or three) from all of the characters, farm structures and decor all over the place. There are so many booths, stands and goodies that you could almost make a night of just checking everything out. We do strongly recommend a visit to their large country store and fudge shoppe, where tasty food, gifts, Halloween items and haunt memorabilia (including shirts, hoodies, gloves and more) can be found. After exiting City of the Dead, don’t forget to stop at the photo op for a free mug shot of your group (that can be instantly sent to you) and take your turn at the zombie-style midway games that they offer. Also in this area, you’ll find another swag stand that offers pajama pants, tank tops, additional t-shirts and other memorabilia. Staff members can be found at the ticket booth, fudge shoppe, at the entrance to each haunt and near the game/photo area if any questions or concerns are to arise. Statesville is quite a happening place and the multiple queue tormentors running about are sure to help you pass the time while you wait. Their lines are known for regularly being over an hour long, so be sure to show up as early as possible.
Being located at Seigel’s Farm, Statesville has a very strong agricultural presence upon arrival. With massive silos, large bales of hay, pumpkins, barns and harvest decor, you really don’t get much of the ‘haunted prison’ vibe’ that is, until you get your tickets and make your way to the queue area. At that point, things take a turn for the better (or worse?) with calamitous queue characters, watchtowers, chain-link fencing, intense music, rotating lights, colored blasts of fog and a machine gun turret to keep the crowd at bay. We looked at each other, grinning from ear to ear and said, ‘Yep, this is Statesville alright.’ Even if you’ve never been here before, you can just tell that this is one bad-ass haunt before you even get in line. Is it all of the people? Is it the prison-esque facade? Is it the green ‘Zombie Army’ bus or the loud music? Regardless of what gets your ‘haunt gears’ turning, the roaming prison guards and escapees sure do a great job of keeping excitement levels up.
Special Effects: 9.76
Statesville’s secret weapon is undoubtedly their set design. To quote John Laflamboy, Zombie Army’s Founder and Director, ‘Most haunts design in square feet. We design in square inches.’ To say that the scenes in both of the haunts at Statesville are ‘well done’ would be an inadequate understatement. Saying that ‘every square inch is not only decorated, but has a purpose,’ starts to get you in the right ball park.
From the moment you set foot in the Prison’s initial, indoor queue area, you’re surrounded by broken concrete walls (the result of rioting prisoners, no doubt). However, these damages not only serve as realistic scene details, but they also act as many of the thresholds between scenes’ just as if you’re actually passing through the walls of a maximum-security prison! With rusty pipes (that are actually inside the walls), ripped-out and malfunctioning electrical systems, bathroom and shower areas with running water, pure nastiness and cockroaches, convict cells with homemade entrapments and even a dog kennel area for their K-9 units, we’re pretty sure you could go through the Prison about five times and still not see everything from all of the detail. Some of the other highlights that we noticed include hardcore music, sirens, horns, poppers, air blasts, thick fog, a large meat grinder, a very unique never-ending hallway and a one-of-a-kind clown area that we guarantee you’ve never seen anywhere else. We’d be here all day trying to list all of the movie-quality special effects to be found here, but it’s safe to say that creating a hyper-realistic experience for customers is priority #1 for Statesville.
Things start to get a little darker when you find yourself in the underground passageways of City of the Dead. Don’t let the name fool you, though, because you won’t find any concrete or skyscrapers here. Instead, this haunt is lined with moss, rock formations, boarded-up walls and enough creepy crawlies (mechanical ones AND real ones) to justify a shower after you get back home (you know… just in case). At most haunts, you can usually expect any secondary or alternate attractions to be not quite up to par with the flagship attraction, but we’d almost venture to say that there’s MORE detail in City of the Dead than there is in the Prison! With a plethora of impressive arachnid effects, a collapsing room, overhead effects, monstrous actor-matronics and a unique usage of claustrophobia bags that really ‘sink’ you into the scenes, the second attraction at Statesville is not one to be missed either!
Something that both of Statesville’s attractions excel at are well-executed theme introductions. They’re actually just as much a part of the shows as the walkthroughs themselves! Like we mentioned in ‘Special Effects,’ pretty much everything seems to have a purpose here and having a good backstory works wonders on keeping it all tied together’ even between the two separate attractions. Every character and scene reiterated their respective themes very well, which are outlined here:
In the Prison, the Warden greets you by explaining that ‘the prisoners have rioted’ and that ‘behind these walls are convicts guilty of crimes too great to imagine.’ He follows it up with shocking the Hell out of a couple of them (literally) and explaining that ‘the beast [within] must feed’… and ‘YOU are the food!’ His spectacular, fog-filled flight over the crowd makes way for the onslaught of convicts and prison staff that are, now, the Hellish captors of Statesville.
City of the Dead welcomes you by way of a large creature (the ‘GateKeeper’) that proclaims how these caves are the tombs for the prisoners of Statesville. They’re filled with the (un)resting souls that are’ or were’ the most evil creatures to have ever walked the Earth. Will you make it through the City before becoming a permanent resident, yourself?
Fright Effect: 9.26
On the night of our visit, the attraction was very busy and, because of this, not all of the crew members had time to reset to their hiding spots before we saw them. Even though it made some of the scares a little more predictable, it didn’t keep them from catching us off-guard throughout our journey. The creatures in City of the Dead proved to be exceptionally good at this; at times, they blended in so well with their surroundings that we would be looking right at them and have no clue they were a living thing until they lunged out at us! Matching the scenes wasn’t just limited to the City, however; the excellent combination of a straight-jacketed character, their like-colored room and thick fog effects made for a nice disappearing act’ despite us only being a foot or two away from them. We also want to give major props for the effective (and very disorienting) lighting that we found at various times that made it easier for some of the other beings to sneak up on us (more kudos)! Do you have a fear of being shocked? They’ve got you covered. What about clowns or chainsaws? Check. Are you searching for a place where you might get ground up into tiny pieces of meat? Statesville is your destination. Looking for a labyrinth of living-dead leviathans? Well, don’t forget to round off your stay with City of the Dead! We even had our go-arounds with real bugs, snakes and furry fiends on our way through, so don’t leave anything out of the question here. Something else to keep in mind about Statesville is their built-in means of keeping groups separated throughout the attractions. Various scenes are in place just for collecting groups of patrons and re-spacing them to avoid bunching up inside the haunts. While this is a welcomed ‘Customer Service’ aspect, seeing all of the other customers for several moments in the middle of the haunt kind of brings you ‘back to reality’ and decreases the intensity that they’ve built-up to that point. However, they do add some interactive characters to these areas that don’t let you feel displaced for very long. The many types of frights that we experienced in both attractions ranged from creepy stares and jolting startles to attacking monsters and intense disorientation.
Two full-length attractions can be experienced here for a single general admission price of $30.00 per person! Waiting lines can become extremely long during their peak hours, so if you want to skip to a shorter wait, VIP tickets can be purchased for $45.00 online (pickup is in the country store and fudge shoppe) or $50.00 on-site. Our total time served in the Prison, plus our attempts to escape the unexplainable creatures in the City, took us around 30 minutes (not including the times we were in the waiting/regrouping areas inside the haunts). That brings their entertainment received per dollar spent to right at 1 minute per dollar; but, even though that is below our ‘average’ from all of the haunts we visited last year (1.5), we did not come across any dead space our entire way through. The time that it takes your group to navigate both attractions may vary from ours… especially if you find yourself running from your fears or hunkering down in a corner hoping to remain unseen. Group rate discount information can be found on their website as well as a coupon that is good for a Thursday visit. Statesville remains one of the top haunted attractions in the country’ and for good reason. If there’s any chance at all that you might be interested in going there, we highly recommend making it happen; we’re certainly glad we made it one of our 6.5-hour haunted road trip destinations and would not hesitate to make the trip again!