Friday March 27th through the 29th the annual Transworld Haunt and Attractions Show was held in the famous America’s Center in beautiful downtown St. Louis Missouri. Expectations were high since this would be the very first year The Haunt and Attractions Show and The Halloween, Costume and Party show would be separated from each other and no longer one massive tradeshow. With The Haunt and Attractions show came many different options for frightening entertainment. Your options included a behind the scenes tour of Creative Visions, a ghost tour of the famous Lemp Mansion, a tour of two frightening haunts in Columbia Missouri and of course the lustrous Darkness tour.
Over the years The Darkness has been touted as one of the most detailed and frightening haunts in the United States. It’s been featured on The Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, USA Today and has been ranked as one of the best by numerous news outlets across the United States. It had a reputation to live up to and a massive ticket price attached to it. Would this world famous haunted house live up to the hype or fall way short of expectations?
City Blood was willing to find out. The drive from the America’s Center was less than 2 miles and a stress free trip to say the least. When I arrived in front of The Darkness the crowd was massive and taxis surrounded the building dropping people off. I was shocked at the size of the crowd, but would later learn that the haunt was delayed and would open late. The weather that night was bitter cold and the air was damp and mysterious. I was ready to be scared out of my skin and blown away by one of the greatest haunts in nation? After an hour of waiting in line, it was finally time to step inside the darkness and enter into the cue line which had me waiting once again.
The Darkness’s queue line was unlike any I had ever seen. Foam skull wall panels made up the walls while army netting hung from above. The detailing in the variety of sets was impressive and included a running waterfall, an ancient crypt and some great props and animatronics. There were a few missteps here and there, but nothing too damaging. None the less, it was impressive. It was like a mini haunted house before entering the main event, The Darkness. After waiting about half an hour in the second line I was ready to be petrified. My heart was racing a bit and it was finally time to experience the world famous haunt known as “The Darkness”.
Length-10: Your tour through The Darkness and Terror Visions will take anywhere from 25-45 minutes to tour, but much of this highly rated haunt consists of waiting behind groups of people before entering into the next scene. This completely ruins the effect various scenes are intended to create and gives the appearance that The Darkness is longer than it truly is. Unfortunately because of the large amounts of groups put through many of the timed scares are missed because the people in front of you experienced it first. Likely if you toured The Darkness by yourself or with a small group, it may take around 25 minutes to complete. Either way this is a lengthy haunt with plenty of eye candy to gawk at and appreciate.
Design-9: When first arriving on the property of The Darkness you’ll notice right from the start that the outside of the building is completely bare. Considering that this haunt has been ranked as one of the best haunts in the nation, you would expect there to be some sign that an actual haunt takes place inside of the building. The only sign that was present was the large crowd of haunt lovers waiting to enter The Darkness and a ScareFest hearse playing Alice in Chains on its car stereo.
A simple banner or a well designed facade would do wonders in helping create a more sinister and haunting atmosphere before stepping foot inside the haunt. Serious time needs to be put into making The Darkness’s exterior come alive and set itself apart from other businesses in downtown St.Louis. So much money was invested into props and set design, so why not consider the outside as one of the top priorities in attracting customers.
Once entering the haunt, you’ll notice from the very start the vast amount of time and detailing that has been put into the queue line itself. The detailed queue line has been created to resemble ancient ruins or a haunted crypt that’s been taken over by ghouls and creatures from beyond. But while there’s plenty of detail to appreciate there are some noticeable mishaps that take away from your experience.
A few of the skull wall panels have been damaged while the running water fall has been designed in a way where it creates a large water puddle that has it being roped off for the general public’s safety. This makes the queue line seem somewhat tacky and unrealistic. You have to keep in mind that The Darkness is supposedly one of the greatest haunts the world has ever seen so the expectations are high.
After you’ve waited in line you’re off to experience the one and only Darkness. My expectations were high and in some ways they were met and in other ways The Darkness missed its mark. The first half of your journey consists of mostly haunted temple and cave themed rooms. Once you’re done with the first half of the Darkness you’ll proceed upstairs to the second half.
The second part of this haunt consists of different themed rooms and doesn’t follow a consistent theme that slowly progresses to creates a story you can easily follow. While this isn’t necessary with every haunt, it helps in creating a realistic environment that draws the customer in while helping them forget that this is a haunt.
With many haunts the key to making a scene come alive is great lighting and the makers of The Darkness know exactly what they are doing when it comes to making a room really stand out. Many great haunts use lighting known as mini spot lights. They are small, affordable spotlights that use less energy and are easier to conceal inside scenes. Many Christmas light enthusiasts use LED lights because they use much less energy than conventional mini lights. This is the same case with haunted houses.
The less energy used equals more money saved. The Darkness is full of mini spotlights that are well hidden, but some scenes had lights that were way too visible for the public to view. This takes away from the realism of a haunt and ultimately distracts the customer. Other lighting included classic strobe lights and small unique candles which illuminated props and scenes with near perfection.
Rooms consist of a haunted junkyard, spooky forest, a frightening playground, moving swamp house, a greenhouse and much much more. Once you’re finished with The Darkness you’re off to experience the new Terror Visions. In typical 3 D haunt fashion you are given special glasses to view the 3 D artwork created with special Blacklight paint. Terror Visions is your run of the mill 3 D themed haunt, but with great audio describing the various caged freaks which are on display. It’s unique and refreshing to say the least. With improvements in theme, outside decor and facade The Darkness could have perfect design in every way. But right now there are little things here and there before it’s able to reach that level.
Props/Animatronics-10: What else can I say, but wow. The sheer amount of high tech scares that litter rooms at the darkness is down right awe inspiring. Props range from pneumatic animatronics to 3 D CGI imagery created by Halloween Productions. If you aren’t impressed by the animatronics in the detailed cue line than you’ll be caught off guard by props from companies like Scare Parts, Scare Factory, Unit 70 Studios and more waiting for you inside the actual haunt.
The addition of popular props such as the famous claustrophobia tunnel or the shocking shock strips would greatly be appreciated. As it is the eye candy present at The Darkness is quite impressive. It includes a large attacking T-Rex, falling severed heads, a double vortex tunnel, a talking pharaoh bust and so much more. You have to experience it for yourself.
Acting-7: The best haunts have a mixture of detailed scenes, high startle props and characters that bring rooms to life. The Darkness does well in this respect with the exception of its actors. Some will say that many of the actors were new to this haunt and unprepared. But when you invest $200,000 into remodeling a haunt, some of that money should go into training your actors.
One bad actor can destroy a scene that has endless hours put into it. The Darkness may have included up to 20 actors, but the majority weren’t the least bit effective except for a couple. And sadly a few actors wore silicone masks to save time in applying makeup. Many haunts around the country love these ground breaking masks from companies like SPFX and Composite Effects. But they will never create the realism that makeup and prosthetics can achieve.
The standout characters of the night include the small actor who plays the baby killer in the haunted nursery. You won’t expect him for a second as he blends in with the rest of the decor. Another notable character you’ll come in contact with is the dead groom who looks for his beloved as he interacts with people outside of The Darkness. There are a few characters here and there that will impress you, but the vast majority of actors lack dialog and resort to hissing and intimidation.
Scare Effect-7: The Darkness is widely known as one of the best haunts in nation and to live up to that title you have to take fright to another level. But without intense dedicated actors your haunt crumbles and ends up being another scary creation that just showcases the latest and greatest props. This is the case with The Darkness. The scenes and props are impressive, but there is nothing in the haunt that leaves a lasting impression or puts chills down your spine. When more characters are implemented to fill various scenes then the detailed sets and scenes will make a much bigger impact on the customer.
Fright Value: During the regular haunt season the ticket price for The Darkness is $17 and $25 for VIP admission. But for one reason or the other the price of admission has been raised to $50 for online tickets and $75 for tickets purchased at the tradeshow. The $50 or $75 ticket price includes admission to the haunt and entrance to the Haunted House Association Auction which includes free drinks and snacks. Here is where the problem comes in. When you raise your price to $50 or $75 the expectations are extremely high and people are expecting a haunt that is near perfect. And when your haunt doesn’t deliver people walk away disappointed and feel cheated. The Darkness achieved this in many ways.
Final Stab-8.6: The Darkness is known as one of the most publicized haunts of all times. It’s been featured on The Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, AOL, USA Today, Hauntworld Magazine and has been on rated as one of the best haunts on numerous lists all over the internet and in publications across the United States. So when a haunt tour is advertised for The Darkness with a huge ticket price, people expect one of the best. Did The Darkness deliver in some regards? Yes, but in other ways it failed big time. The Darkness is full of impressive props and jaw dropping scenery, but in the end this haunt ends up looking like a haunted museum instead of a frightening world class haunt.
Please understand that The Darkness is a high quality haunt, but in aspects such as innovation and genuine scares it falls short of expectations and doesn’t live up to the high rankings it’s recieved over the years. A haunt can build sets and use high end animatronics. It’s how the haunt involves the customer in thinking that this experience is real and has them fearing for their lives. But in the back of their mind they know that they are safe and in good hands. With time The Darkness Could become one of the best haunts in The US, but right now it’s just another haunt full of expensive sets and props.