Team Scary Potter and the Hauntwarts Express reviewed this attraction on October 14, 2017.
Final Score: 7.84
Weeellcccommmmeeee to Weirton, WV’s Haunted School of Terror. This season its back to offer another year of frights and chills. Featuring many new scenes, like the eerie Doll Factory, they welcome every customer to experience a curriculum of terror. So come on out to the HSoT this haunted season to receive an education in fear.
The average age among the cast members at the Haunted School of Terror was significantly lower than most haunts we visit, but the stand-out performances that we experienced were actually portrayed by some of their youngest characters. Molly, our guide into the cursed dollhouse offered us a chilling warning as we entered that segment, while her possessed sister absolutely creeped out one of our team members, hugging him tightly while pleading with him not to leave. In the end, we were left to question if perhaps the nomenclature may have been a bit skewed there… The astronaut, unexpected as he was, was enjoyable also, as was the young lady at the beginning of the Egyptian segment.
Many of the actors in the initial, mini-haunt were good as well. Like the sisters above, they offered extended interactions to disquiet or entertain us. We really enjoyed the young understudy of Pennywise the clown, though not quite enough to follow him into his dark lair. The “snotty” clown, with his youthful victim was humorously “punny” as well.
Of the actors we had briefer encounters with, the slinking actor in the “garden,” the barn scarecrow as well as the girl who warned us about him, the roped girl, and the “possessed” room girl were good examples of the talent available at HSoT. Additionally, the mummy in the Egyptian segment receives additional points for remaining in sympathetic character as we worriedly searched for our friend who had gotten lost in one of the dark halls.
While the first half of the attraction, barring a decent number of brief dead-spots, had an acceptable amount of actors available, the lack of any real cast presence throughout the dark “maze” hurt the experience significantly. I will return to this situation later in the review.
Overall, we were impressed by the acting chops of many of the folks haunting the Schoolhouse.
There were a few cases of underwhelming costuming that we encountered, including one really peculiar character near the beginning who didn’t seem to be in any costume of any kind, but most of what we saw was adequate, and with the ever-changing variety of sets on display, no one seemed out of place. The best outfitting on display, though, belonged to several of the characters in the mini-haunt – a lurching natural horror that we lovingly named “Treebeard,” a shambling golden straw monster, and a scarecrow, whose impressive mask provided him with one of the better startles of the night due to its ability to render him nearly imperceptible in his environment. The trio of horrors in the barn were well-costumed as well, and the slinking monster in the “garden” blended into the scene because of a well-designed costume.
Customer Service: 8.25
The parking situation at the HSoT was a bit challenging. It’s basically “every man for himself” to find a spot amongst the variety of small lots and curb space available in the vicinity of the attraction. I’d imagine that on slower nights, this is no issue at all, but because we didn’t know the area and there weren’t really any signs indicating where to go or park, it was all very confusing for a few minutes. Making it worse : our GPS, and I’d assume almost anyone arriving to the haunt, reach the location at the BACK of the school. We saw plenty of cars scattered everywhere, and a few people walking around, but no reasonable determination of where exactly to go or where the haunt would start. Granted, we decided to just drive around the block and quickly saw the entrance and the general flow of where customers were funneling, but a spotter or two would have really gone a long way toward making the experience less frustrating.
I’ve referenced the “mini-haunt” a few times now. Basically, in order to relieve boredom while waiting in line, the staff built a small, additional attraction between two smaller lines. We felt that was a brilliant idea. It wasn’t tremendously long (about 3 or 4 minutes), but it achieved its goal and actually turned out to be our favorite segment of the entire experience. Kudos for such a creative decision.
Line-the-first was a short affair, and several roving monsters filtered around, interacting with anxious haunt-goers. A red-haired clown was the most attentive of these, stalking a young customer back to his car.
Unfortunately, most of the pre-attraction waiting takes place in the second, indoor queue. The only entertainment available in that section were a few fuzzy television screens repeating a trailer for a single horror film. The ambiance was passable – honestly, it felt like the remains of an indoor mini-golf, complete with blacklights and a variety of well-made creature-statues, but the lack of any roving monsters indoors or any other kind of real stimulation made the long wait between groups (around 3 minutes) feel even longer.
They DO have a small snack area at the center of this main hub area, but after reaching the main part of the line, the only way to get back to it was to backtrack through the line – and all of the people now standing in it behind you. I believe there was an additional food outpost at the end of the attraction, but it was closed when we finished.
Interestingly, using the restroom while on the property requires an employee to escort you through a section of the haunt and into a hidden restroom. Secret agent restroom!
Speaking of the staff, everyone we spoke to was very friendly and helpful, even the monsters.
For what was (presumably) once a functioning center of learning, the building seemed to be tucked in a little corner of town, out of the way of much of the (relative) hustle and bustle. This serves to benefit its current incarnation as a haunted attraction, though – no non-haunt traffic or mood-depleting civilization interruptions. Haunted adornments to the school’s facade were minor, but effective (a few skeletons and lights) at “creeping up” the joint.
The mini-haunt’s exterior was mundane, but the hub center that we spent significantly more time in before entering the attraction-proper was more in-theme. It seemed to fit the credo of the attraction : spooky but not necessarily over-the-top scary – more fun than fear. We anticipate that HSoT is largely a family-friendly attraction and the waiting area’s motif reflected that.
Special Effects: 7.66
The mini-haunt began with what we’ve been calling a “sheet maze” because it was literally that : a maze constructed from hanging sheets, and it was actually pretty good. The floor seemed a bit treacherous, though; I couldn’t see what was down there, but we bumped into it a few times, and nearly tripped.
The set designers did a great job working with what they had available throughout the entire attraction, including a few very impressive focal-point set pieces. The “garden” area that encapsulated the entry ways to the dark “maze” looked fantastic, filled with real plants, soil, and a bridge in the center of the room. Likewise, the dollhouse really did look like a to-scale, enlarged version of a traditional dollhouse, with intricate design work, and a whimsical flower garden in the front yard. To a lesser degree, the entry point of the spaceship area was also well-designed. The Egyptian realm added a nice touch, with sand scattered across the floor for a definitively-realistic accent.
We did note that overlaying the set designs, the propping was a little light – the clown area and Egyptian area, among others, definitely could have used a little greater variety. However, the “possessed” room had creepy humanoid props lingering about, and what WAS present in the aforementioned clown area was actually impressive, especially a small animatronic with multiple, rotating faces. Many of the props in the alien segment were clever and unique, particularly a dissected alien baby on display and the incubators. The “dark sheet” hallway, simplistic as it was, felt nearly impenetrable as we trudged through, swatting away clothes or whatever they were that “attacked” us in droves, encircling our necks and bodies. That was an impressive effect, certainly.
This may be neither here nor there, but I do want to complement whomever launches the prop out of the dollhouse’s window. Your (unintentional aim) was true, and now, for the second week running, your humble author’s he-parts have been assaulted by the sadistic misandry of the unliving.
So, now we come to it… approximately half of our time in the attraction was spent in the “dark maze.” As a combination effect/set design, it would seem to be the most important segment to describe in this section. Its design is a bit different than one may expect. Realistically, the dark hallways aren’t exactly a “maze” themselves, as they are largely linear, with only a few dead-ends. However, there are multiple entryways into similarly-functioning dark hallways, all originating in the “garden” room. So, honestly, it’s more like a “pick a door; any door” game than a maze. The hallways are long and, (obviously) dark, and if you choose the wrong one, you’re spilled back out into the garden room.
The main problem isn’t with the design, it’s that they’re, well, boring. There are no actors, props, or effects, excluding a random dim strobe or two, and a decent spinning room. I understand that there are some people who enjoy/are scared by simply being in the dark for an extended period of time or not knowing what’s ahead, but I’d imagine that even these folks would become desensitized to the experience after a few minutes. Making the situation even worse for us, specifically, is that we actually chose the correct passage first or second, but there is a split partway through it. One path was blocked by what appeared to be an actor or staff member holding a flashlight, clearly indicating to not go that way. He didn’t seem to be in character, and we thought he must just be keeping people from wandering into a backstage area. So, we went the other way. He had been blocking the way out of course, so we then went through every other possible route, becoming more frustrated and bored of simply aimlessly walking through linear dark hallways, until we finally begged the one remaining actor in the garden room to show us the way out… which was the way that had been blocked previously.
We had actually been greatly enjoying ourselves to that point, even the first iteration of the dark hallway/maze, because in a limited capacity it was creepy enough, but after 15 or 20 minutes of it, well, that enjoyment had long dried up.
The Haunted School of Terror doesn’t seem to follow a singular theme.
Fright Effect: 7.42
As an actor-focused attraction (pre-maze at least), spooking and startling attempts were almost solely tasked to the cast. We noted a few good distraction scares in the mini-haunt at the beginning – a curious request to probe an unpleasant receptacle, and the well-hidden scarecrow being the best distractions overall. Recruiting one of our own crew members into haunt-service was a nice touch as well.
Many monstrosities chose subtler means of creepy interaction, such as one of the garden monsters slinking quietly along the ground toward us, or the possessed girl quietly twisting around in the corner as we walked past. More direct frights were offered by the barn trio, as they surrounded us “welcomingly” for several seconds before finally letting us go. Overall, the cast seemed more successful utilizing the former method of indirect frights than the in-your-face assaults.
The ending was, as previously mentioned, a disappointment for us, though, again, could be the most effective version of scaring for people who are terrified of the dark.
A standard ticket to the Haunted School of Terror is $15, with VIP admission available for $25. We spent approximately 45 minutes going through the mini and main haunts, making the tally 3 minutes of entertainment per dollar spent.
As is evident from this review, we were not fans of the dark “maze” that served as the attraction’s climax. But, honestly, until that unfortunate conclusion, we really did enjoy ourselves. There was a lot of clever set design and great interactive cast members. The staff were really great to speak to, and several of the line haunters did a great job keeping us on our toes. It was just a shame for us that as much as we enjoyed the first half (time-wise), the latter half really left a bad taste in our mouths.
The “maze” segment is not inherently bad. It’s HUGE, with a really clever implementation into the garden area. It just needed something more – even as simple as standard “sensory deprivation” tricks : creepy fabrics/props on the wall, scary sounds, etc. Alternatively, actors or animatronics could be used in a variety of ways to lessen the tedium and reverse it from a tedious slog into a panic-stricken creep-along, with the customer permanently apprehensive of who or what is waiting in the darkness around the next bend. Of course, the space could partially or wholly be re-purposed into a different environment entirely if necessary. The options are limitless. With the unique design-work evident in the rest of the attraction, we know that the crew would come up with something wonderful.
As it stands, considering the relatively low cost of entry, and the enjoyable first half, the HSoT is still a great way to spend a haunted weekend. Just be careful of that flying hand. Dead-eye Dolly is lethal with that thing!