By ZACHARY STRADER
An eerie gloom has fallen over Central Park’s Fun Land, the locally-owned and operated family entertainment center located just minutes from campus. On Thursday through Saturday evenings in late October, brave souls are welcome to attempt to find their way out of the brand new and very aptly named haunted house, Maze of Darkness.
Many people are familiar with walking through dimly lit haunted houses at amusement parks with actors and creepy sets at regional events like Kings Dominion’s “Haunt” or Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s “Howl-O-Scream.” For anyone accustomed to that linear, straight-forward haunted house format, Maze of Darkness will provide something radically different.
Fun Land, led by its new general manager, Clint Novak, has designed and built a new walk-through attraction that poses questions that most guests have probably never encountered in a haunted house before. The have included sensory illusions.
Furthermore, unlike a normal haunted walk-through attraction, guests do not simply stroll past hidden actors—the actors all follow the solitary group of guests permitted in the maze at any given time throughout their entire experience. This allows the actors to learn and adapt to their audience in ways that they are simply unable to in a more traditional setup.
The format isn’t the only unconventional touch you’ll find inside Maze of Darkness. Custom designed and constructed special effects are also in use within the attraction. Guests encounter the first of these before they even enter the house—a troublesome flashlight that visitors will use to try to find their way through the maze.
At an American Coaster Enthusiasts event hosted by Central Park Fun Land on Oct. 15, Clint Novak made some bold claims regarding feedback they had been receiving on their new haunted walk-through—most notably that a group of veteran scare actors from Kings Dominion visited Maze of Darkness and came out the other end insisting that it was superior to any of Kings Dominion’s Halloween attractions.
When I visited, Novak informed the group of guests I was with that, thus far that night alone, four people had already used the safe word, “Big Bird.” When the safe word is said, all the house lights turn on and the group is removed from the maze—without refunds of course.
For a little context, I have Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream, Kings Dominion’s Haunt, and Six Flags America’s Fright Fest under my belt thus far this year. In the past I’ve visited haunted attractions like Maze of Darkness all the way from Florida, at Universal Studios’ famous Halloween Horror Nights event, to Pennsylvania. Fun Land’s Maze of Darkness delivered the best startle scares I’ve experienced this season. Moreover, the house features effects and gags that I have never, personally, seen at any other haunted walk-through attraction.
Gavin McNabb, a fellow Maze of Darkness guest who had previously experienced Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as well as Kings Dominion’s Haunt, shared similar thoughts to my own.
“I was so terrified, that I forgot the safe word,” McNabb said. “The effects, while simple, were quite effective and different than I’ve seen before. Honestly I wasn’t expecting too much going in so the quality did surprise me, while other houses have scared me, [Maze of Darkness] was the only one that truly terrified me.”
At only six dollars per person, Maze of Darkness is a good value as well. One of its nearest competitors, Terror on the Farm at Ashland Berry Farm in Beaverdam, VA, charges nearly double that for each of its houses.
Maze of Darkness opens at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 26 and Friday, October 27. Its final day of operation will be Saturday, October 28 when the maze will open at 7:30 p.m.
Oh, and if you decide to give it a shot, watch out for that flashlight. Sometimes it just needs a few light taps.