Grimsley’s Gorge: Homemade Horrors in Central New York
Author: Bryan Oates (Team Skelegore) – Nov. 2nd, 2021 – Based on an on-location visit on Oct. 29th, 2021
Grimsley’s Gorge is a free home haunt, and as such, cannot be formally reviewed due to the minutes per dollar measurement tending towards infinity. However, we genuinely love what the fine people at Grimsley’s Gorge are doing, and we’re always happy to talk about their show. Therefore, we’ve included “officially unofficial” scores and an “overall” to help show where each aspect of the haunt would normally land on our 10-point scale.
Officially Unofficial Overall Score: 8.24
Grimsley’s Gorge is celebrating its twelfth year in operation and third year in Phoenix, NY. Every time I visit, there’s always something new, be it a new scene, new character, new props, or new scares. The team behind the haunt is always looking to think outside the box and push the boundaries just a little bit more with every season, and this year is no exception.
Cast: Officially Unofficial Score: 8.54
The cast at Grimsley’s Gorge has always been relatively small, as it is friends and family putting on a free show. However, the smaller cast hasn’t stopped them from effectively filling the space and maximizing the scares.
Of course, the caretaker has returned to napping in his chair, and the prisoner is still locked away in his cell. Frankly, I’m amazed that he’s still alive, considering Dr. Grimsley’s lack of regard for human life. Speaking of the good doctor, he’s out to collect souls; unfortunately for him, my review partner is a ginger and has already taken my soul.
The characters are certainly portrayed quite convincingly, but the character that stood out to us as the most convincing was the body collector in the boiler room who had some bodies currently roasting and assured us that more would fit. He was also the only character that played into the back-and-forth we initiated, as most characters seemed focused on their pre-written lines and sounds despite us trying to engage verbally. Other characters had the standard haunted house lines like “let me out!”, “you shouldn’t be here,” and my personal favorite – “AAAAUUUGHHH!”
We should note that actors will not touch you whatsoever, although I wouldn’t mind a little physical contact in service of the story.
Every actor in this haunt shows their passion for their roles and dedication to the craft of haunt acting.
Costuming: Officially Unofficial score: 8.51
I had the opportunity to speak with Stefan and Steve, who are part owners, and they said that, while they have had a dedicated makeup artist in the past, that person would not be able to participate this year. This vacancy means that most characters are wearing masks, and we sure saw some good ones.
One of the better-looking characters we saw was the librarian, who reminded me of the Cryptkeeper from the 90s television show “Tales From the Crypt.” He? She? It? Had long silvery hair, an incredible velvet coat, long bony fingers, and a face that only a mother could love. The librarian sat behind a desk and watched us closely as we ogled at the costume’s detail. But, disappointingly, they did not have a speaking role. I wondered out loud if the mouth on the mask was moveable, but the actor made some noise and showed that the mouth did not move. This instance was contrasted by the doctor’s mask, which either had a moveable mouth or had been modified to expose the actor’s mouth. Either way, it helped to sell the illusion.
Another great costume was the severed torso hanging from a wall. I always love to see this effect as it blends makeup and costuming with special effects and, when done well, creates a very believable illusion that makes viewers look twice.
There is not a single character that doesn’t have a great-looking costume inside of this haunt, and I could go on for days talking about how well each costume fits its respective scene.
Customer Service: Officially Unofficial Score: 8.26
What can we say about the crew at Grimsley’s Gorge other than they are some of the nicest humans we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the haunted attraction industry. One of the advantages of being a small crew is that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals in every aspect of running a show. That’s not to say that they’re doing everything perfectly, however. For example, many haunts are still putting hand sanitizer in public areas and encouraging masks and social distancing, usually via signage; we did not see any of these things at Grimsley’s Gorge. A quick look at their Facebook page does show that they are encouraging masks and social distancing for the unvaccinated, but we know that not everyone will look at social media.
Speaking of social media, the Grimsley’s Gorge Facebook page has everything anyone would need to know before going – days and hours of operation, hours for the kid-friendly lights-on tour, COVID policies, and all manner of other information. They are also outstanding about responding to direct messages if you have a question that hasn’t been answered, too.
Finding and navigating the haunt is relatively easy, as the exterior of the building is accented with spooky Halloween decorations, and the queue area is straightforward. Inside the attraction, guests should be aware that there are tarps on the floor, which could become slippery when wet from – uh – rain. Yeah, rain. Tracked in on people’s shoes. Definitely not pee from scared patrons.
Atmosphere: Officially Unofficial score: 8.1
There’s not a whole lot going on outside of the main attraction, and I think that’s a trade-off you need to make when putting on a home haunt. A smaller budget generally means that most of the effort will go into the show itself rather than the exterior. That isn’t to say they don’t have some well-made pieces for outside, though. For example, the graveyard scene is reminiscent of vintage Halloween decorations in front yards before inflatable props took over the store shelves. The headstones show clever references to the crew, the wooden sign lights up, and the mausoleum is an incredible piece of craftsmanship.
Inside the queue area, there are some cobwebs and other light decor to help set the scene, and no less than three staff members were greeting everyone with a smile. Just before going into the show, there is a staircase, but no decoration on it. We suspect there’s some restriction on using the stairs, as it may be a multi-use building during the day, but we couldn’t help but wonder if a Pepper’s ghost illusion could work in that spot.
Without scare actors in the queue area or extra spooky decor, it’s hard to prepare guests for the experience of the main show fully. Despite that, Grimsley’s Gorge has done an excellent job of setting the tone of a creepy old building with God-knows-what inside of it.
Special Effects: Officially Unofficial Score: 8.74
Have I ever mentioned how much I love the hellevator? Of course I have, and I’ll say it again: I love the hellevator. But why? It’s just one effect that, on its own, doesn’t make a haunt amazing. Sure, it’s a remarkable piece of technology that adds a level of thrill to the show. But that’s not what I love about it. What blows my mind about these props is how a single ten-second experience can suspend your disbelief and inject you into another world without seeing or interacting with another person whatsoever. You know on some level that you haven’t actually taken an elevator up or down any floors, but with well-made set pieces on either side, you might get confused about where you are geographically in the building. Now, I do have one gripe about this particular hellevator – it’s just a little bit too rough if you don’t know what to expect. Sure, I know enough to hang onto the handrails inside the car; but if it’s your first time riding, you could certainly lose your balance.
We saw many of the same effects and scenes from previous years, but they really don’t ever get old. The astonishing part of it all is that the team at Grimsley’s Gorge gets everything in place over about two to three weeks. That’s not only the pre-fabricated set pieces, but the electrical effects that may or may not need fixing and troubleshooting, rehearsals, and all of the little things that haunters need to deal with every year.
The set pieces seem to get a little bit more detailed every year, too. Maybe it’s a few more books in the library, or better lighting in a scene, or extra gore on the torso illusion; there’s always something new to discover every time we go through. Sure, some of the things we’re noticing might have been there for the last 12 years, but we’re seeing them for the first time, and that’s the magic of a good haunt.
The ambient sound throughout works well, but we can’t help but think it could be a touch louder. The hellevator has its own sounds, which are the perfect volume to sell the illusion that you’re in a plummeting elevator car, but not loud enough to cause a ringing in the ears. Although, that could be a good effect on its own.
Theme: Officially Unofficial Score: 7.6
The theme is loosely defined as an imagining of what sorts of things Dr. Grimsley would hold captive in his manor. This concept allows the freedom of having slightly unrelated scenes, characters, and props that all fit within the broader outlines of the story. The first scene certainly helps transition guests from the “upper floor” to the “basement” through the use of the hellevator, where all of the hell-spawns dwell in this nightmarish world.
The real-world location isn’t nearly as sinister as the show would lead you to believe, however. The haunt is temporarily set up in the Sweet Memorial building in the village of Phoenix, NY. The building serves as the Mayor’s office and that of the town clerk and some other administrative offices. There’s probably some correlation to the evil of Dr. Grimsley’s experiments and government, but we’re not sure we ought to speculate on that.
Scare Factor: Officially Unofficial Score: 8.06
We’re just going to come right out and say it: the finale scene was nonexistent this year. We headed into the darkness, heard an actor deliver a line, an electrical popper went off, and then that was it. On the other hand, there was no real build-up to the conclusion of the show either. The last few scenes didn’t seem to play into the story’s natural progression and felt added on as an afterthought. That’s not to say they weren’t well executed, just not very well placed.
Overall, we enjoyed the creepy vibe throughout the haunt and the energy of the actors. The dedication it takes to give 100% to every guest every night is a skill to behold, and every single one of the actors at Grimsley’s Gorge are striving towards that goal.
The timing on the dual drop panels was impeccable, managing to catch both of us simultaneously. We appreciated that there weren’t any actors in the mirror hall, as scaring someone in a space like that could be disastrous – people are very unpredictable. One spot that could have used a more significant scare was the pool noodle section. There are so many noodles hanging in that area that an actor could sneak up and really get a good scare on guests.
Since we were only a group of two, it was not difficult to direct scares at both of us. However, I tend to think about how a scare would work on a group of four or more, and for the most part, we mainly saw front and middle scares, where a scare to the back of a group could be just as (or more) effective.
As far as predictability goes, I’m an awful judge of this. Could I predict the scares? Yes, but I’ve also seen this show several times, and I understand the basics of placing scares. Could a first-time visitor predict the scares? Maybe. There are certainly a few that are kind of cliche, like an actor hiding in a dark corner waiting to make their move. But there are also some subtle techniques, like an actor on a freakin’ zipline. Seriously, be aware of the ceiling; there’s cool stuff up there.
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