Halloween Blitz Day 2: Canobie Lake Park Screeemfest, Fright Kingdom

I love Halloween attractions because unlike bars they’re creative and unlike museums and concerts they’re interactive. So this year I’m doing a Halloween blitz! The Events INSIDER team and I are visiting 28 attractions in 10 days, going indoors, outdoors, and as far away as New Hampshire and Connecticut. Click and scroll to the bottom to see my list of 160 Halloween attractions and more creative October events than anyplace else!

Day 2: Friday, October 25, 2013. We returned to southern New Hampshire for Canobie Lake Park Screeemfest and Fright Kingdom.

Canobie Lake Park Screeemfest, Salem, NH (5 stars)

Canobie Lake Park is the second biggest but my favorite amusement park in New England. Six Flags is way too commercial for me. At Canobie Lake, no one will take a photo of you and then badger you for $10. You won’t feel like they’re trying to suck every dollar out of you: even parking is free! Canobie Lake has a real lake and forest, and in the summer you can spend a mellow day strolling around and riding attractions like the Ferris wheel, riverboat, and sky gondola. Now in the fall, the water rides shut down and they open for Screeemfest and Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is basically a stage for bands where they sell German weiners, but it makes you smile and there’s nothing like exploring a venue outdoors in the night. Just make sure to bring a coat! We rode two roller coasters but were afraid of the third, which is new and very twisty. Except for the Psycho-Drome there weren’t any non-water rides that we saw closed. You can easily spend the entire evening there and there are a lot of rides for tiny kids, too.

As for the haunted attractions, well… I’ve learned that the more commercial the venue the less artistry is involved. The Dead Shed is an F-level attraction that features rubber chickens and a lot of rope. The lighting, the actors, and the stacks of old tires seem thrown together rather than planned out. At least the line was short! Our favorite of the 5 haunted attractions was “Virus”, because it had a real theme, and kudos to the female actor who performed contortionist twists as though infected! One of the attractions had a “vortex”, where the room seems to spin (see photo). But really, you don’t go to Canobie Lake Park for the haunted attractions. I’m glad to give the venue 5 stars for the joy of the rides themselves. Everyone has great fun at Canobie Lake Park and that enthusiasm is itself infectious, and it’s driven further by the rock band on stage, roar of the rides, and views of the lake. If you like to eat healthy, though, eat before you go, as only carnival food is available. (I think I actually did see salads amongst the fried foods and wieners at the Oktoberfest tent. I did not buy one. URP.) VIP tickets are not available, but the waits in line were not long.

Fright Kingdom, Nashua, NH (4.5 stars)

The defining factor to Fright Kingdom is that its 5 attractions are set in a warehouse. So you won’t find the glorious outdoor woods walks of many attractions, but if you’re afraid of the cold or if it’s raining you have found the #1 spot in New England! We were able to speak with owner Tim Dunne and learn some behind-the-scenes facts.

Unlike many venues, Fright Kingdom is not temporary — it stays up all year, allowing them plenty of time to create and fix things, and to hold special events like their December 14th “Fright Before Christmas”. They’ve been in the same warehouse for 9 years, growing from 15,000 square feet to now 150,000, and the entire thing is indoors — including waiting in line. But wait, there is no line! When you enter, they give your group a playing card, such as the 8 of Hearts, and then you are free to roam around the central area until they call your card. In the central atrium you can see live tarantulas, explore the museum of movie props (all authenticated as items that were used in real horror movies, like the shirt that the spooky girl wore in The Ring), and buy merchandise from a variety of vendors selling posters, books, jewelry, hot dogs, and cotton candy. And you can get your face painted. (Please ignore the psychic reading. Those con men and con women prey on the gullible.) But that’s not all! They also have a stage and performers from local dance studios come out and dance dressed as zombie to spooky music! Now that is a fantastic treat and you feel totally entertained and haven’t even gone into the attractions yet. They do have VIP tickets to rush to the front of the line.

It’s difficult to evaluate the attractions at Fright Kingdom. On one hand, the well-lit open warehouse environment dilutes how spooky it feels to walk through the attractions. Some of the routes do not have ceilings so the light and warehouse atmosphere are part of wherever you go. And there is a definite low production quality and “found object” element to much of the decorations. The owner, Tim, works in demolition and from the houses he takes down he pulls leftover furniture and supplies for Fright Kingdom, which explains why it is so extensive. But you know what I mean. A room filled with hanging boffers and crazy clown paint is much more a carnival attraction than a spooky haunt.

On the other hand, given those limitations, everything about Fright Kingdom is masterful. The actors have clearly defined roles and tricks that they use that aren’t just shouting boo. A creative genius was clearly in charge of trap doors because many of the monsters pop out from places you would never expect! The place is so extensive that it’s really unreasonable for me to complain that parts of it have low production quality, and there are high production quality aspects as well. For example, Fright Kingdom has tons of dummies and animatronics, some small but also plenty of large ones including a talking skeleton and two 12-foot demons. Our favorite was the devil on a throne in the 5th attraction. I saw at least 20 creative spooky design choices that I had never seen before, such as a “vortex” (where the room seems to spin) and the use of air cannons and water sprays combined with video on high definition television sets. And although Fright Kingdom may not have the high production quality of a pure theatrical venue such as Barrett’s Mansion, it is much, much longer — you really can spend an entire evening at Fright Kingdom.

So is it the best or the worst? Given the creativity, I am tempted to say the best, especially because of the center hall with the zombie dancers and vendors. Working within their limitations, Fright Kingdom deserves 4.5 stars, but if it’s raining then call it a 5 stars plus!

See all 160 Haunted Attractions and tons of Halloween events and much more at www.EventsINSIDER.com. And click ‘subscribe’ to subscribe to the blog and read more about the Halloween blitz!