Ranking The Scares of SCarowinds 2017

This weekend, I visited SCarowinds for the third consecutive year. Now in its 18th year, Carowinds‘ annual Halloween Haunt event has grown from a modest two haunted mazes and 60 monsters to a terrifying six mazes and six scare zones, featuring over 600 monsters. It has become one of my favorite times of the year at the park.

Armed with a Fright Lane Pass, which provided one-time front-of-the-line access at each maze, and a Skeleton Key, which gains entry into special areas in each scare zone, it was my goal to conquer all of SCarowinds in one night. While on the surface, it may seem like SCarowinds doesn’t change much from year, new locations for five of SCarowinds’ six scare zones, as well as an all new maze, Depths of Darkness, it was almost like experiencing a new event this year.

Rather than go in order of my trip around SCarowinds has I’ve done in years past (you can read about my 2015 and 2016 trips by clicking on the respective links), I’ve decided to rank each element of SCarowinds; the scare zones, the mazes, and the skeleton keys, in reverse order,  while giving some backstory and talking about my experiences. As in past years though, this recap will likely visit the grey area between spoilers and spoiler-free, so keep that in mind while reading.

SCarowinds’ Newest Maze: Depths of Darkness (Photo: Carowinds)

And please note, I was a fan of all of the mazes, scare zones, and skeleton keys at SCarowinds. Just because I’ve ranked something 6th does not mean I didn’t like it. Not everything can be a favorite, though! (And yes, a lot of the pictures were taken during the day, mainly because I left my camera at home by mistake.)

Scare Zones

All six scare zones from 2016 made returns in 2017, but as I mentioned earlier, five of the six were in new locations.

6. Mass Acres (2016 Rank: 5/6, 2015 Rank: 5/5)

“Mass Acres is one of the oldest cemeteries in the Carolinas. It is home to thousands of departed souls that date back to the late 1700’s. Ancient and crumbling tombstones stand side-by-side, marking the lives of yesterday. Six feet of dirt is all that separates you from the remains – or at least that’s what you’re led to believe.”

Mass Acres has moved to the main entrance of the park, and is the first scare zone you come upon when you enter Carowinds. There are grave monuments everywhere (that depict the names of Carowinds’ leadership team, which you can see better in daylight), and Mass Acres also houses the main stage for the opening of SCarowinds and the Skeleton Crew acrobatics show.

This was the last scare zone I walked through, at about 10:15pm, and it was a little “dead.” (Pun absolutely intended). The atmosphere and scenery were both good, but the amount of Scare Actors seemed to be less concentrated than other mazes.

5. Fleet Street (2016: 2/6, 2015: 3/5)

“There’s an old English folklore that says ghosts only appear in places that have known either great happiness or great misery, and Fleet Street has certainly experienced both. The city was built on greed, vengeance and violence – a tradition that is still celebrated today. Crime is especially high at the moment, and on nights like tonight – the blood flows like cheap pub beer.”

The lone scare zone to stay in the same location this year, Fleet Street is located on the Carowinds midway between the main entrance and Harmony Hall. Resembling 19th century England, Fleet Street is one of the best themed scare zones at SCarowinds. I actually walked through twice, and I really enjoyed the classic architecture.

One of the things that always bothered me about this scare zone in the past was the constant aroma of Panda Express, which admittedly is a really minor thing, but it took away from the theme. Now that Panda Express has moved to Planet Snoopy, 18th century England no longer smells of Orange Chicken, which allowed me to become more immersed in the environment.

4. Scary Tales (2016: 3/6, 2015: 2/5)

“Once upon a time there were wonderful fairy tales. Lots and lots of sweet, sugary stories of sunshine and rainbows where everyone lived happily ever after! Unfortunately for you, this isn’t one of those stories. These half-baked stories take place in an enchanted forest.”

Due to 2018 Construction, Scary Tales has moved to an area just outside of the Carolina Boardwalk, near Chickie & Pete’s. While the move has resulted in some more space in the area, I think one of the things that made Scary Tales a good scare zone in the past was the tight quarters, darkness, and scare actors. The scare actors were still present, but having the area more open meant that you could walk through and avoid the Scary Tale characters if you wanted to.

Scary Tales did receive some great upgrades as part of the move though, including some haunted trees that flank the new scare zone.

3. The Playground (2016: 6/6, 2015: 4/5)

“This is supposed to be a place of joy and laughter, but not this one. You can try to play nice or play dead, but neither is going to help you escape. Like the old saying goes, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt…then it’s even better”

Maybe my biggest surprise this year was how much The Playground improved over past years. I’m not sure if it was the new, expanded location (to Crossroads, moved from Planet Snoopy), or if the actors were significantly less creepy and therefore more enjoyable, or the additional scenery in the area.

One of my favorite scare zone moments of the entire night took place in The Playground, watching three scare actors, who may have been actual triplets, but definitely were made up to look like doll triplets, walking in formation around the scare zone, not making a sound. It was creepy, but not in a “DO YOU WANT TO PLAY WITH ME!?” kind of way  like it’s been in years past.

2. Psycho Circus (2016: 1/6)

“Ladies and Gents, gather around. There’s a new type of fear that’s here to be found. Watch carefully and be alert, because you never know when we might go berserk. See black magic and evil clowns. You’ll dread when our circus comes to your town.”

Clowns, especially psychotic clowns, are an irrational fear of mine. (I did not go see “It.”) At E.H. Bailey’s Psycho Circus, there are clowns-a-plenty, among other things. Psycho Circus has moved from Crossroads (in front of Plants vs. Zombies) to Carowinds’ new County Fair, and its an area that suits the theme of the Psycho Circus so much better. Given the size of the area, there is plenty of room for Psycho Circus to expand in the future, and plenty of places for clowns to hide. (Great.)

Psycho Circus cracked my top two because it fits the theme of its location better than pretty much any scare zone at SCarowinds. The scare actors playing the clowns are great improvisers, and I found myself laughing, which is a completely different feeling than the unease I typically feel around clowns.

1. Bloodyard (2015: 1/5, 2016: 4/6)

“These aren’t your average villains…These are vampires, and they look thirsty – thirsty for blood. There’s no sense in trying to escape. You’re in the wrong place, at the worst possible time…If only there was a way out…”

Bloodyard may have changed more than any scare zone at SCarowinds. Like the other zones that moved, the footprint expanded, the layout was changed, but Bloodyard also received a new bar and the addition of the Blood Drums show, which previously took place near Carowinds’ main entrance.

Blood Drums was great, the area looked great, the scare actors were great, and I got my best scare zone scare of the night in Bloodyard when a scare actor utilized the interior of one of the many shipping containers in the scare zone to its full effect. It wasn’t even a “targeted” scare, and I still almost jumped out of my skin. It was that good.

Mazes

There are six mazes at SCarowinds. SCarowinds’ Haunted Toy Factory, DeFex, was retired this year and made way for the new maze, Depths of Darkness. To me, it was definitely addition by subtraction.

6. Zombie High (2016: T-3/6, 2015: 2/6)

“The year is 1987, and the students of Pat Hall High School are on cloud nine after the football team’s victory over their arch rival, the B&M Furies. The mood was right for a totally bodacious Homecoming Dance!”

Zombie High is a maze that is themed to this aforementioned Homecoming Dance, but it, along with the rest of the school, has been overrun by zombies. I love this maze because of the attention to detail inside. With scenes featuring classrooms, a gymnasium, to the libary and even the locker room, it’s like walking through a high school. Keep your eyes peeled for some horror-heavy puns as they relate to the school you’re walking through (especially on the chalk boards.)

Why I ranked this sixth was due to comparing it to past years, specifically in the gymnasium “Homecoming Dance” scene. In past years, there were some good “mannequin” props and a scare actor on bungees that jumped at you before popping back. The strobe lighting was also a little more intense in past years. I’m thinking I might have caught it on an “off night.” Zombie High is still a very solid maze though.

T3. Dark Harvest (2016: 1/6)

T3. Silver Scream Studios (2016: T3/6, 2015: 4/6)

T3. Urgent Scare (2016: T-5/6, 2015: 3/6)

It may be a bit of a “cop-out” to rank three mazes tied for third, but all three of these mazes were great for three different reasons, and I couldn’t justify ranking one above another.

Best Scare: Dark Harvest

“Recent construction in the area has put a strain on our area’s cornfields. Varmints, pests and wondering guests have started making their way into the maize – spreading their filth amongst the husk. With each wilted, black ear that falls from its stalk, the scarecrows become possessed with rage…an ear for an ear – an eye for an eye.”

Being in the south, the “Deliverance” feel of Dark Harvest is easy to pull off. The paths are narrow between the stalks, the actors all speak with a certain country twang, and it’s a very good maze. However, of the three mazes I’ve tied for third, the best scare of any of the three came at the very end of Dark Harvest.

It’s tough to describe why this scare happened, because it was right in front of my face, and I knew it was going to happen, but when a scare actor pointed his prop shotgun at the ground near my feet and fired, the vibration from the sound caused me to jump more than any other maze.

Best Scare Actors: Silver Scream Studios

‘Facing constant mockery, Von Hellsburg was driven mad and was institutionalized – closing his infamous Sliver Scream Studios for decades. Refusing to go down in history with dishonor and humiliation, Von Hellsburg escaped from the sanitarium and is once again holding auditions at his studios. Determined to make the scariest movie of all time, Von Hellsburg is sending out a casting call for some new blood to make their “Silver Scream” debut.”

Silver Scream Studios was my first maze of the night, and the scare actors were plentiful in this maze. They all played their roles very well in the various film tropes, and one of them had the best line from any scare-actor that I heard all night.

While walking through the Mad Scientist scene, the sounds and effects simulating an electric shock caused a girl walking in front of me to jump and scream. As I was walking through, the scare actor playing the mad scientist said to no one in particular, “That really ‘shocked’ her, didn’t it?” As someone who appreciates a good pun, I laughed way harder than I should have been laughing in a haunted maze.

Best Atmosphere: Urgent Scare

“Welcome to Urgent Scare – where we believe FEAR is the best medicine. No matter your ailment or disease, our ethically warped staff is here to provide the scare you need for a healthy tomorrow.”

In its first year as Urgent Scare last year, the maze was missing several elements from previous years, including a full body air curtain, as well as screens that looked like hospital windows. Thankfully, those are back again this year, and the hospital theme is definitely conveyed well throughout the maze.

I think when it was running on all-cylinders, as it was this weekend, it is one of the better themed mazes in all of SCarowinds.

2. Slaughterhouse: The Final Cut (2016: 2/6, 2015: 1/6)

“By the late 40’s, Red Ribbon meats was the most profitable meat processing plant on the east coast. They had to close their doors for a brief period due to numerous health code violations, but they’re back and open for business!”

Slaughterhouse has been one of SCarowinds’ strongest mazes for me the last two years, and it maintained its spot near the top again this year. Walking through Slaughterhouse is different than any of the other mazes, because of the gory nature of the maze. There’s plenty of blood and guts that don’t really appear in many other places at SCarowinds. Combined with a great cast of Scare Actors, Slaughterhouse’s atmosphere puts it near the top of my list. It would have likely regained its 2015 rank of #1 in my book if not for…

1. Depths of Darkness (New for 2017)

“Determined to uncover the whereabouts of his latest victims, authorities have taken the State Line Slasher to the abandoned Blackthorne Research Facility, once the center of controversial experiments involving mind control, brain alteration and tortured human subjects. Now, after collecting dust and rodents for more than 40 years, Blackthorne is being reopened and its wicked technology is back in operation.”

Depths of Darkness was the last maze I experienced at SCarowinds this year, and I truly think I saved the best for last. Moreso than any other maze at SCarowinds, Depths of Darkness relies less on physical scares and is a way more psychological experience. It’s incredibly dark inside the maze, and I found myself running into walls several times.

The combination of darkness, projections, and occasional looks into the State Line Slasher’s past make Depths of Darkness a “different” maze for SCarowinds, and one that shouldn’t be missed!

Skeleton Keys

As part of the Fright Lane pass, you are also granted a Skeleton Key, which “unlocks” special experiences in each of the six scare zones. Some are designed to be frightening, while others are there to entertain. I won’t go into as much detail on these, because they really need to be experienced first hand. (I also made up the names.)

6. “Fried Zombie” – Bloodyard (2016: 4/6, 2015: 2/5)

This Skeleton Key has been largely the same for the last three years. First time visitors will definitely get a kick out of it, and even though I knew what was coming, it was still enjoyable.

5. “Beanboozling Riddles” – Scary Tales

The Scary Tales Skeleton Key involved solving some riddles, and a bit of bait and switch resulting in the two girls I experienced the Skeleton Key with having to take their chances with some Beanboozled Jelly Beans. (Ladies, if you read this, I’m sorry that one of you had to eat a dog food flavored jelly bean!)

4. “RIP Mr. Kibbles” – The Playground (2016: 6/6, 2015: 3/5)

The scare actress in this skeleton key was great at improvising, and played the “twisted child” role very well. This one was definitely better experienced in a bigger group.

3. “Jack The Ripper” – Fleet Street (2016: 1/6, 2015: 1/5)

Jack The Ripper was another repeat from last year. The scare actor inside was great, and even though I knew what was coming, it was still fun to play along!

2. “Madam Zora” – Mass Acres (2016: 5/6, 2015: 5/5)

This one was made by the both scare actors and large crowd I experienced the Skeleton Key with. Madam Zora is back communicating with the spirits, but between the crowd sending the actual story off the rails, and some quick improv from Madam Zora and her assistant, it was a hilarious experience.

1. “Jack’s Revenge” – Psycho Circus (2016: 3/6)

I experienced Jack’s Revenge twice last year, during a preview, and during SCarowinds itself. There were a lack of scare actors during actual SCarowinds which caused me to rank it 3rd overall last year. The scare actor problem has been remedied, and there were a huge number of scare actors in the Skeleton Key.

SCarowinds Quick Hits

  • The SCarowinds make-up team does an incredible job. The monsters looked AMAZING! It’s always good seeing a lot of the same scare actors year after year. They probably don’t remember me, but I remember them.

  • According to the nightly opening ceremonies, former SCarowinds “icon” the Overlord has regained control of SCarowinds from Lilith, the evil queen of SCarowinds. The new opening ceremony takes place on the Skeleton Crew stage, which allows for a lot more action, including a very “heated” finale.

  • For the first time, I tried the Haunt Finger Sandwich, which is only available during SCarowinds. It was a sandwich featuring Chicken Fingers and Mozzarella Sticks, all covered in marinara sauce. It was delicious!

  • I caught bits and pieces of all three of SCarowinds’ shows, Blood Drums, Rocktoberfest, and Skeleton Crew. If you’ve got time during your trip to SCarowinds, be sure to check them out.
  • To avoid the crowds, definitely go on a Sunday. Compared to past years, when I visited on a Saturday, the crowds were may more manageable. Even though I had a Fright Lane pass, the lines for the mazes throughout the night weren’t long at all.

  • Because we are a roller coaster website, SCarowinds wouldn’t be complete without a night ride on some of Carowinds’ coasters. I was able to close my night out with a front row night ride on Fury 325. (Oddly enough, my season at Carowinds started with a front row night ride on Fury 325, so it was a good set of bookends on my 2017 Season at Carowinds.

SCarowinds takes place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October 29. For more information, be sure to visit the SCarowinds website and follow Carowinds on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Response

  1. Zachary says:

    Oooh,Very Scary!

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