Fright Haven is a Good Cause But Not as Compelling or Long as Other Halloween Attractions (3.5 stars)

Fright Haven, in Southwest Connecticut between Hartford and New York City, is an all-indoor Halloween attraction, meaning that it is open even if it’s raining! It’s a 20,000-square-foot warehouse space that donates to Connecticut charities including the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation, Stratford Police Activities League, and others. You get three attractions along one 11-minute pathway: Psycho Ward 13, Cabin in the Woods, and the 3D Carnival of Lost Souls, where you put on 3D glasses.

The best part of the attraction is the lobby and entrance area, where you’ll find animatronics of a graveyard beast, take a photo with a monster who has jaws coming out of its chest, and you’ll pass dioramas advertising special off-season dates where you can come to Fright Haven for a spooky Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, or Easter, or a full contact night called Blind Rage, which is 18+, and they may put pet rats on your shoulder.

While waiting in line to go in, they play haunting, ambient choral music, and you’ll see a metal fence and spooky church doorway. Ask to see the box with a special something inside! There’s a pumpkin ghoul to one corner, sitting on a throne, which was not well lit enough to see.

Unlike outdoor attractions, which are naturally spooky at night even without decoration, and seem limitless, an indoor attraction like Fright Haven is necessarily limited in length, pays more for rent, and has to go the extra mile to respect fire codes. Being a event that gives to charity, Fright Haven is also limited by a presumably low, non-profit budget. Before proceeding, I’d like to mention that reviewers at Events INSIDER do not take cheap shots because they’re having a bad day and want a puppy to kick. We really care, and our only goal is to support the arts and get people out of their houses and enjoying life.

Unfortunately, I must say that these challenges keep Fright Haven from rising to the level of other Halloween destinations. For visitors to suspend disbelief, there should be a story that is played out in theatrical set design and acting of the costumed performers. Fright Haven’s sets are mainly uninteresting filler such as painted plywood, plywood with black spray-on foam, camouflage netting, corrugated metal walls, or plastic sheeting with blood spatters, with props such as a table of mannequin heads that do not set a scene. It makes you think, “Is this supposed to be a scary doctor’s office?”

In one area, you put on 3D glasses and walk through a clown town, which is mainly painted plywood, spattered with dots, or drawn with murals. I have made the same following observation at Witch’s Woods, Field of Screams, Spooky World’s Nightmare New England, and elsewhere (I think they’re all done by the same 3D artist): if I’m walking through a clown’s madhouse or carnival, why would it have trippy murals of starscapes on the walls? I’d prefer to see a spider mannequin than a painting of a spider on the wall. To me, that’s just not immersive set design. (3D glasses attractions that have done it right include those at Fright Kingdom and the now defunct Haunted Acres).

Actors didn’t seem to be theatrically trained to contribute to a storyline. Some sat, apparently bored or, to be charitable, trying to look quietly menacing, and others jumped out to startle us without a line of dialogue to say. Actors mainly wore thrift store street clothing and had only basic makeup.

I happened to be going through in a small group with a father and his 9-year-old son. The boy wasn’t mature enough for the attraction and said, “I want to leave!” But the actors didn’t direct us towards an exit. I took a few steps ahead and told one of the monsters, “The kid is freaking out. Go easy on him,” but that didn’t seem to have an effect. Later, perhaps because I wasn’t reacting to the chainsaw guy, after I passed him, he tapped me on the lower leg with the chainsaw. That’s no big deal, but indicates that more actor training is needed. Actors should respect the “don’t touch us, and we won’t touch you” hallmark that makes a Halloween attraction feel scary but safe.

It’s common for Halloween attractions to pick up whatever junk yard stuff they can find, and that explains the room with the bloody fridge and kitchen stove. One location has clothes on clothesline. I don’t find such housewares dioramas spooky. Fright Haven has a few animatronics, but nothing theatrical or fast-moving. One animatronic pumpkin man kneels on the floor, which is not threatening enough. There’s a room with lasers, but no fog with which to see them. (Is it supposed to be a ‘laser lake’, a plane of laser light that looks like the surface of a swamp?) When pushing my face and hands through a series of cloth strips hanging from the ceiling, I always wonder whether they ever get washed.

Despite these complaints, Fright Night does have notable high points. There’s a distorted obese naked mannequin, a swinging pendulum axe (from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum), and a room with a glass bottom like you’re walking a plank over a deep chasm. A few of the actors did have lines to say, and kudos to the clown lady who giggled and toyed with us at length. At one point there’s an actor hidden amongst plants by being dressed as a plant! You’ll find a carnivorous plant, a pentagram with a weird snake, a drawbridge that shakes, an impressive, 7-foot-tall clown head, and “Attila”, a tree monster.

Upon leaving the attraction, they have a gift shop that sells wigs, costumes, and t-shirts, but it wasn’t properly lit or set up for browsing the merchandise. Out front, they play heavy metal music. I get it, monsters play scary music, but it’s loud and thus hinders socializing, the opposite from other attractions that extend how much time you can spend on site with a gathering space to sit and chat. Fright Haven is run by Tours and Events, a tourism company that among other things can bring you to Romania in Eastern Europe for a tour including spending a night in Dracula’s Castle!

Fright Haven is a good cause, but short, low production quality, and not very theatrical. Sometimes people who own Halloween haunts get so busy in October they just don’t have time to explore and visit other haunts, and I suspect that Fright Haven would benefit from sending staff out to competitive attractions this season. Fright Haven has great future potential, which you can tell from the creativity of its lobby and off-season holiday events. But as I often got on my grade school report cards, they are not currently living up to this potential. Adding more theatricality to the set design and acting could produce a more powerful attraction even in the absence of a big budget, and giving keeping visitors for extended scenes with monsters would lengthen the experience even in a necessarily limited indoor space. (I am thinking for example of Fear Town, whose scenes keep you 3-minutes-per-room, or Legacy of the Hanging Judge at House of the Seven Gables.)

For now, I’ll give Fright Haven just 3.5 stars.

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