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Team Scary Potter and the Hauntwarts Express reviewed this attraction on September 25, 2015.
Final Score: 8.52
Need a reason to visit Cleveland this haunted season? You just found a good one. The Fear Experience is not just one of Cleveland’s premier haunted attractions; it is one of the best in all of Northeastern Ohio. The Experience is celebrating its fourth year at its current home and has produced its finest offering yet – 5 attractions guaranteed to startle, scare, and surprise you should you be brave or foolhardy enough to enter them. Centralia County Fair and The Estate both return in all of their sanguine g(l)ory. Industrial wasteland, District 13, returns as well, now twice as large and twice as horrifying, as is Biotek which has been completely rebuilt because, really, who doesn’t love that fresh corpse smell? Also added this year: Zombie Warfare, a fully-interactive, squad-based battle against legions of the undead! Grab your rifle and a couple of friends and wade into fields of reanimated bodies, guns blazing. Do I have your attention? Good, because one wrong move and you’re zombie-chow, buddy.
The Fear Experience employs between 80-90 actors (excluding Zombie Warfare) across their four main attractions. Only 20% of the actors are volunteers, with the rest being paid, professionals. This is an abnormal distribution for a haunted attraction and the difference really shows. Either by coincidence or design, The Estate is comprised of a nearly all-female cast, and as it turns out, is also the best acted. We encountered corridor after corridor of high-energy, colorful performances; GREAT performances. There was one drawback that we encountered several times most frequently in The Estate, but also in the other attractions sporadically. Creeping along, cautiously excited, we would encounter a terrifying scarer, vigorously assailing us, however we were unable to understand any of what they were saying. Several of the masks used, effective as costumes, were also equally as effective as gags, and the actors wearing them weren’t as reactively full-throated as would be necessary to actually have been heard. Even several monsters without masks just couldn’t seem to speak up over the loud ambient noises and music. Most of these were really entertaining otherwise, but surely would have been even more frightening if we could properly ascertain their intended usage of our removed organs. Ironically, we were VERY impressed by one particular effect that several actors used (I shall detail it further in Special Effects) throughout the attractions that we had not experienced in a haunt previously. The Estaters were great at utilize props and animatronics as well, including one very unique animated prop that will surely leave you in stitches.
Bioteck had several stand out performances as well – a fun bathroom experience and a few very believable inmates locked side-by-side in cages. Some of the dialogue in Bioteck was noticeably weaker than The Estate and we did unfortunately see one scarer wearing street clothes. Centralia’s midway was one of our favorite sections of the entire Fear Experience, largely because its highly-interactive, taunting characters, and we also greatly enjoyed the “animal” exhibits that came later. The actors in these roles did a great job of maintaining character. A meow v bark contest may have broken out between a man-animal and a certain Mr. Whiskernuzzle of our troop… District 13 was really the only section of the Experience that we started to feel a bit of actor-emptiness. It just didn’t seem to have enough industrial evil-do’ers to fill the space. The few that were present were limited in their extended interactions with us, focusing, instead on startles and scares. The new, second section of District 13 was much more aggressor-abundant. The first hidden (spoiler alert) actor in the swamp area was top-pick for me. The bizarre, animalistic sounds that he was able to produce were quite impressive.
District 13: 7.63
The most impressive make-up was definitely possessed by one of the line-scarers, a human marionette. She looked so realistic, it made us feel mildly sadistic to pick up her strings and force her to dance for us… fortunately, again, only mildly – yeah, we went right ahead and did it anyway. This was a very well-crafted ensemble that held up to the scrutiny of actually being interacted with. Costuming in the attractions on the whole was adequate, though some of the masks did make character vocalization mostly inaudible (see above). We only noted one actor completely out of costume and in street clothes (in Biotek). Our favorite in-attraction costume was probably that of the very first monster we encountered in The Estate. It had a creepy authenticity that we enjoyed. The man-imals in Centralia and carnies were well done and added to the realism of the scenes they were in. The monsters in the Biotek bathroom area were very well detailed and the best of that attraction. The Estate’s residents were also outfitted appropriately, but I admit that we were so distracted (positively) by the quality of many of their performances that the aesthetics of their wardrobes weren’t as immediately memorable to us.
District 13: 7.42
Customer Service: 9.68
The line-scarers at Fear Experience are very entertaining. Marionette-girl is definitely one of the most interesting line monsters that we have seen so far, and is highly interactive. Additionally, between the second and third haunts, there was another actor prowling the line (I dubbed him “music man”). He was also especially entertaining an interactive, being so kind as to let me bang his cymbal… to the delight of no one. We exchanged a high-five while my compatriots exchanged piercing glares. Everyone’s a critic; I have the music in my soul! These actors and a few mini-haunts along its route (part of the line involves walking through a separate, dark crypt), make waiting in line surprisingly entertaining, and if you can make standing in line enjoyable, you’re definitely doing something right with your haunt, Fear Experience. We met a LOT of really helpful and friendly employees (THANK YOU, NICK AND MAX!) who answered all of our questions and made us feel very welcome. There was plenty of food available at 3 different concession stands (!), as well as a variety of souvenirs. Surprisingly, I, the hungriest man in haunting, didn’t purchase any food this time, but it all looked and smelled delicious. PLUS they even take a free photograph for you to commemorate your trip and send it to your phone or email. Overall, customer service at The Fear Experience was fantastic.
Haunts love metal. One day I’m going to visit a haunted attraction for the first time and, upon exiting my car, be immediately greeted by the Fur Elise. They’ll probably need to wheel me through the attraction after that. Anyway, so, yes, upon arriving at The Fear Experience, we were greeted by a solid helping of metal music which carried over into the lobby, now joined by copious amounts of fog. Unquestionably, we were in a haunted house. After purchasing your ticket and proceeding through line, the fog and music persist, joined by an array of flashing lights. Fear Experience is actually quite good at causing you to forgot about the outside world while you are within their realm. I’m generally not fond of the atmosphere of city-haunts, but because all of Fear Experience’s lines are indoors and they create an immersive environment while you are in line, it was enjoyable and appreciated.
Special Effects: 8.28
Let me elaborate on something I mentioned in the Cast section. There were certain actors, sparsely encountered throughout the various hallways, swamps, and carnival tents who were equipped with loud, mechanical sound effects and lighting, like those that would accompany an animatronic monster. Instead, the actors would manually activate these effects when initiating a scare. It sounds very simple and, truthfully, it is, but it proved to be INCREDIBLY effective, particularly the first time we experienced it. We needed to step back and just stare for a few seconds, awed at the simplistic efficiency of it. Has this been done at other haunts this year? I have no idea, but it was the first time that we’ve ever experienced it and it was the highlight of the trip. T.F.E.’s inclusion of these human-driven, machine-augumented scares make sense viewing the broader scheme of the attractions – they keep the animatronics light. The new section…can I just call it District 14?…makes the greatest use of them (including a pair of really cool man-amatronics that are guaranteed to catch you off-guard), and most of the other attractions rely more heavily on a combination of good build designs (we loved the slanted room in the Estate), intense musical accompaniment, and, of course, actor interaction. The sets are mostly designed quite well – one of our reviewers specifically demands that the various creative doors of the Estate get their own shout-out, and enhance the quality of the actors performances by provided them with realistic, immersive environments. The abandoned, decaying, carnival midway looks great. The slanted room in the Estate and the “leaning bridge” in Centralia are great environmental hazards. Placing a half-canal in the swamp area really makes that section stand out and feel unique – like you’re trudging through the mossy underbelly of a menacing bog. The chain maze of District 13, complete with its oppressive fog and disorienting strobes also created an effective habitat for its crazed denizens.
District 13: 8.21
It would be difficult to argue that the themes for its four attractions are particularly unique, however, what The Fear Experience lacks in originality is easily made up for by its faithfulness to those themes… with one important caveat. The Estate isn’t just an old mansion-themed attraction; the facade that you approach as your first stop during the Fear Experience IS a mansion, battered wooden walls and beams and all. Throughout the attraction, we legitimately felt as if we were creeping through dark and forbidden hallways. Bioteck was every much the corrupted research facility we expected, post and pre-experimented subjects calling out to us as we found our path through its twisting corridors. Centralia was spot-on. As mentioned, the initial midway location was really well-done, its crazed carnies cat-calling us to try our luck at depraved carnival games. District 13 is our caveat – the first half is acceptable, being an industrial-themed fog and strobe maze. However, the second half, “District 14” if you will, was basically an add-on “half-traction”, simply supplemental to the attraction. We realize that there is no illusion here – they weren’t pretending that it was part of District 13 proper, but it was still technically the same attraction. It would have been probably made more sense to give it a name and let it stand as a fifth attraction. It was mildly confusing to emerge from District 13’s harsh industrial landscape immediately into a forest and swamp. Oh! Some kind of experimental, time-warp animatronic affixed to the end of the industrial section that the customer steps into could result in their sudden arrival in this new ancient forest setting. I’m just going to pretend that’s what happened.
District 13: 6.52
Fright Effect: 8.31
District 13th did not top the list for most of our reviewed categories, but it does make up for that where it counts – in the scaring department. The District isn’t complex, or even terribly varied in its industrial invasion, but we found that the District’s scarers were VERY adroit at using the slow, oscillating strobes to spring from a dozen feet away, distant and harmless, to being aggressively right in our faces, without even a noticeable motion trail. It was an impressive maneuver that was employed continuously without diminishing effect. It was no less scary the third or fourth instance than the first, and produced a great deal of startles from or group. The Estate was also competent in startling us. The shrieking ladies of the manor also seemed to catch us off-guard, appearing suddenly from an undetected crevice. Even the house itself caught us in a sticky spot – one of our team actually got stuck on a dangling piece of the mansion for several minutes. While technically not an intentional scare, it did generate a lot of anxiety for her, so… mission accomplished, Estate! The other two attractions were not quite able to whiplash our pulses with quite the same degree of nervous expulsion, but didn’t entirely slack in the scare department either.
District 13: 8.84
A general admission pass for The Fear Experience is $25, with a fast pass available for $35, and an immediate access pass for $45. Our trip through all four attractions took approximately 40 minutes, meaning that we received 1.6 minutes of entertainment per dollar, which is a very good deal. Obviously, if the lines are unreasonably long, feel free to opt for one of the more expedited options, but if you have the extra time, I’d really recommend the general pass. The line experience is actually one of the best that we’ve seen with the mini-crypt and wonderful line-haunters. After you have completed District 13, you have the option of also taking part in the new Zombie Warfare simulation for an additional ten dollars. This took approximately 13-15 minutes for our group and was a lot of fun as well – the weapons they gave us felt and handled very realistically, and the zombies in that section were quite convincing. We just wished they had some way to fight back!
So, what should you do? If you ask us, go the $35 route – 25 for the main tour and 10 more for Zombie Warfare. The Fear Experience is an exciting, well-designed haunted attraction with enough variation and monster mayhem between its attractions to entertain even finicky haunt-goers. The unique nature of many of its scares and the invigorated zeal of some of its actors will certainly impress you… even if you choose to withhold your appreciation until you have are safely back outside. Recommended.