The Darkness Transworld 2011 Review

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The Darkness-“Haunt Show Edition”
By Noah Wullkotte / jollypumpkin@aol.com
Genre: Haunted House
Location: 1525 South 8th Street
Saint Louis, MO 63104
Runtime: 30 minutes
 
Please Note: This review is based on the Transworld tour of The Darknesss which includes Terror Visions 3D. Your experience during the fall season may be drastically different. The photos featured are examples of the types of scenes you may experience.
 
Saturday March 12th, 2011 The Darkness would open its doors for haunt owners, actors and enthusiasts who were attending the annual Halloween & Attractions Show. Friday The Lemp Brewery Haunted House was open as well as behind the scenes tour of Lemp Brewery and The Darkness on Thursday. Sadly, Talon Falls Scream Park would not open for their Transworld Scream Break due to a large fire they had in February.  This large fire burnt down an outdoor portion called Talon Falls, but spared The Dead End Haunted House and Blood Creek Haunted Hayride. 
 
The Darkness in downtown St. Louis Missouri is one of most celebrated haunts in the country. It’s been featured on numerous networks such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and others. It’s also been considered one of the most frightening haunted attractions by media outlets like Hauntworld Magazine, Fangoria, USA Today, AOL and numerous other magazines and websites.
 
2009 was the first year the annual Halloween & Attractions Show would be in St. Louis, MO and The Darkness would be one of the few haunts that would open its doors for the haunt show attendees. It would also be the first time many haunted house owners would experience The Darkness, a world class haunt they’ve been hearing about for years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was invested into renovating this 2 story haunt with state of the art animatronics, innovative scare techniques and an immense amount of intricate scenes that most haunts would be jealous of.
 
There was a lot of hype surrounding this high profile event and while it exceeded expectations with its over the top queue line and detailed scenes, it fell short in being a truly scary haunt that would warrant being called one of the best in the nation. While some haunt owners left inspired by what they saw, many left with a sour taste in their mouths mainly because of its $50 ticket price. It just didn’t seem worth the admission price since there were so many things that needed to be tweaked like lighting, sound and the many unprepared actors that were unfamiliar with a haunt they were working at for the first time ever. It was an attraction that needed more time to work out its bugs. but the creators did a sufficient job considering 2009 was the first year for the tour. It would obviously be at its best during the Halloween season when customers would experience a haunt that had everything working just right.
 
Fast forward two years later to 2011 where the Haunt Show and Halloween, Costume and Party show are together side by side for the first time since 2008 when it took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. For the third year in a row The Darkness and Terror Visions 3D would be open for the attendees of the tradeshow. There were many things that haunt owners, actors and enthusiasts had to look forward to such as an improved queue line with live animals (snakes, fish etc), new scenes and a completely overhauled Terror Visions 3D. Nearly $300,000 was invested into The Darkness and Terror Visions 3D to bring it to life. After 2 years of haunt tours, would the 3rd time be the charm for The Darkness?
 
This is the 2011 review of The Darkness during the annual Halloween & Attractions Show. 
 
-This creepy sea creature/mutant haunts one of the many rooms inside The Darkness.
 
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What’s Good About The Haunt?
The Darkness is a very elaborate haunt with talented artists behind the scenes that spend countless hours adding detail to rooms to make the haunt as close to movie quality as possible without breaking the bank. In many ways The Darkness achieves this by using foam carving techniques to create many of its over the top scenes. The Spider Cave looks like its made out of real limestone with a few stalagmites hanging from its roof. Many of the catacombs, ancient ruins and temples look like they’ve eroded and have been affected by chemical weathering over the years. You’ll feel like you’ve just stepped on set of the latest Mummy movie.
 
But The Darkness doesn’t solely rely on themes that deal with ancient Egypt. Not everything you’ll experience will have you coming in contact with angry natives or cursed idols and totem poles. There’s a lot of variety at this haunt. Scenes range from a filthy sewer that looks like it was created for “Stephen King’s It” to a malfunctioning elevator complete with a CGI video that’s built into its floor. Other scenes include a dark laboratory, murky swamp (aka The Swamp House), a gory meat locker, mirror maze, endless hallway, The Hellstead Funeral Home and Mortuary and much more. There are well over 40 scenes inside The Darkness with many that will appeal to a broad audience of chill seekers.
 
This year’s Darkness seems to focus more on detail than high end animatronics. The animatronics you’ll see are much better themed and make more sense in the rooms they reside in. You’ll see snakes burst out of walls in the snake pit and a large spider using 18 pistons emerge from a dark cave, while in another area of the haunt realistic corpses can be seen mourning in the funeral parlor. The new and improved 13 foot Impaler can even be be viewed sitting in his newly designed thrown waiting for you to bow at his feet.
 
The Darkness showcased many new innovative props from Pale Night Productions and you’ll get to experience them at the 2011 Darkness for the very first time inside a haunt. When’s the last time you got a front row seat of a man being burned alive in a furnace or a poor soul getting his head squeezed until it popped? These dynamic props as well as The Darkness’s falling barrel room, realistic animated insects, alligators, prehistoric creatures, a large talking Pharaoh bust  and a variety of over the top props make this a haunt that stays current with today’s technology and growing trends. Companies featured in The Darkness include Scarefactory, Pale Night Productions, Dark Raven Designs, Edge Designs, Halloween Productions,  Ghost Ride Productions, Unit 70 Studios and many other notable manufacturers.
 
After you escape the horror of The Darkness, you’ll get a chance to experience the newly overhauled Terror Visions 3D that has nearly $50,000 worth of new scenes and effects. This is a much more light hearted haunt that focuses on humor, killer clowns and dynamic 3D effects. Get ready to put your 3D glasses on because things are going to get a little crazy. In Terror Visions 3D you’ll come face to face with a one eyed mutant, cotton candy cocoons, an ice cream truck, a large killer baby and everything you would expect from a twisted carnival. The 3D artwork is some of the best I’ve seen with every inch of the haunt covered with great detail. Both The Darkness and Terror Visions 3D compliment each other well and create a haunting experience that’s both scary and funny at the same time. Terror Visions 3D is the calm after the storm that is The Darkness.
 
-Here is one of the many over the top and detailed scenes that can be seen at The Darkness.  
 
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What’s Bad About The Haunt?
Before ever entering the line, you’ll notice right away that the building is bare and in dying need of a facade. The first impression customers will make about your haunt is the outside appearance of the building. To not make the building look haunted is foolish. The addition of spooky music and creepy lights shining on the building would enhance the experience and make the haunt more realistic and memorable.
 
I arrived around 10:55 and got in line about 11:00 and what I thought was the line to get in was actually just a few actors taking a break. After a few minutes of waiting, one of the staff members came out and took my ticket. I proceeded to walk inside and was surprised at what I saw. The queue line that was promised to have live animals, insects, and plenty of detail and props was pitch black. In previous years, the queue line featured a sleeping giant, a large serpent creature, a talking witch and set design you would expect from Disney. There wasn’t a single light on and there was even a small roped off area to the left that had a huge puddle of water. I’m not certain if there was a waterfall or there was a problem with plumbing, but it has been a reoccurring problem with the queue line’s waterfall leaking and it should be removed entirely since it always had its issues over the years. I was confused as to where to go since I could barely see a thing inside the queue line. The staff member quickly showed me the way and I was off to experience the world famous Darkness.
 
After a few minutes of walking I eventually met up with a group of 3 people who appeared to know the staff and would proceed to talk with actors and workers while an actor in full costume and makeup hung out with the group. An actor should never come out of character let alone hang out with a group going through the haunt. At on point the waterfall featuring a CGI talking demon head malfunctioned and someone came out to tweak the scene as he talked back and forth to the group of people. A couple minutes later the owner’s son showed up and would walk behind me nearly half of the tour, talk with actors and even shake an actor’s (Cameron) hand inside the funeral parlor as they conversed. This was definitely distracting and took my focus off the haunt a little. 
 
The scenes in The Darkness are very detailed with nearly every inch of the place covered with impressive props, Hollywood style special fx and some unique scenes. But some of props need to be improved such as the brand new Hellevator. You’ll enter into a small room that looks like an old fashioned elevator that is ready to take you down to the 13th floor. Suddenly the floor moves up and down while a CGI video of the elevator falling plays below you. The movement of the Helevator is very similar to the Swamp House Room. It’s a neat room, but pales in comparison to many Hellevators that can be seen at haunts across the country. It needs flashing lights, sounds of cords snapping etc. The  loud sound of air compressors being activated also makes it very unrealistic and needs to be muffled. 
 
Quite a few of the rooms in both haunts are small and claustrophobic and need to be expanded upon to have a bigger impact on customers. The lighting in a few of the scenes inside The Darkness could also be tweaked. The issue is very apparent in the spider cave. It’s obvious that this area of the attraction is loaded with detail, but some of it can hardly be seen because of the dim lighting. I would later learn that one of the lights was burnt out. Mediocre lighting seems to be a trend in quite a few rooms, but I’m sure this problem with be fixed for the Halloween season when The Darkness gets the majority of its business.  It’s the opposite in Terror Visions 3D where everything is bright and playful. The rooms in Terror Visions are a little small and confining, but it’s not that big of an issue since it’s much easier to  see the 3D effects up close and personal
 
The purpose of The Darkness Haunt Tour is to inspire haunt owners to improve their attraction and to walk away with new ideas. The goal isn’t to scare the daylights out of visitors since it’s very difficult to scare people that are involved in the industry when they’ve experienced just about everything including the kitchen sink. This is obvious because of the small amount of actors inside scenes. Many scenes don’t have any characters and the ones that are inside rooms are very unenthusiastic and seem confused about what’s going on. This was also the case inside Terror Visions 3D. It was great to look at, but without great actors it just falls flat. Unfortunately because many of the actors have never worked at The Darkness or Terror Visions 3D, below par acting is hard to avoid. It’s still inexcusable considering the $50 ticket price. For that price everything should be running like clock work.
 
Customer Service:
After exiting Terror Visions 3D, you’ll enter the Monster Museum and The Darkness Gift Shop. This section of the haunt features arcade games, horror movie action figures, life size monsters,  a video of The Darkness and Lemp Brewery Haunted House playing on a flat screen tv, various goodies and a variety of The Darkness apparel and merchandise at reasonable prices. Sadly, there wasn’t any hot food or cold refreshments available, but hopefully this isn’t the case during the Halloween season. The staff is very friendly and the total tour time is around 30 minutes. Even so, $50 is still an unreasonable price to pay during March considering that the ticket price during fall is only $20. A $10-$15 increase in admission price would be acceptable.
 
Final Thoughts:
The Darkness is one of the most elaborate haunts in the nation with detail in rooms that’s off the charts. But, there are areas that need to be worked on in order for its true potential to be reached. Lighting in certain rooms needs to be improved, actors need to be more enthusiastic, many of the rooms lack music or sound effects and everything needs to be working properly no matter how many people show up at a certain time. If you pay $50 for a 11pm-12am ticket, the workers should be expecting you and everything should be in working order. When everything is working correctly I can see The Darkness being a haunt that’s hard to compete with, but this year’s Transworld Haunt Tour left a lot to be desired. 
 
Length-10    Design-9   Props/Animatronics-10   Acting-6   Scare Effect-7 
Official Score – 8.4
 
Fun Facts:
*Kip Polley, the president of Pale Night Productions is one of the many technicians that works on scenes and effects inside The Darkness.
*Lemp Brewery Haunted House, less than 2 miles from The Darkness is owned by Larry Kirchner, owner of The Darkness, Creepyworld, Halloween Productions, Hauntworld Magazine, Hauntworld.com and other companies.Lemp Brewery takes place underground in real caverns that are rumored to be haunted.
*The Swamp House in The Darkness uses self inflating airbags that can handle 6,500 pounds of pressure per bag. This scene like quite a few were built to scare many people at once. The falling barrel room, hellevator and others were created to scare groups.