Halloween Blitz Day 3: Harvest of Horror, Haunted Overload, Hunt of the Undead

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 3: Saturday, October 26, 2013. It’s our last night visiting southern New Hampshire! We returned to Haunted Acres and visited Harvest of Horror at Chamingfare Farm, Haunted Overload, and The Zombie Walk Hunt of the Undead.

Haunted Acres, Candia NH (5 stars)

We returned to Haunted Acres because we arrived too late to explore Charmingfare Farm in the daytime. We met owner John Tracy who led us to the central outdoor area. Having just been here two days ago, it was strange to see it in the sun! It definitely looked larger at night. We got to try the pumpkin smash, where you can take a whack at a small pumpkin with a big mallet. We ate dinner at the food stand — they had only hamburgers and other grilled food, but it was delicious and a huge step up from the deep fried carnival food we ate at Canobie Lake Park.

John asked us to give his staff a pep talk, which we gladly did. It takes a lot of strength to scream at people all evening and they deserved a lot of praise. It’s quite possible that we will choose Haunted Acres as the best in New England at the end of our tour, thanks to them. Finally, we got another go at the Haunted Zipline. How fun! The first time I mostly freaked out, and I so badly wanted a second time so I could enjoy the view. It was an even better experience than the first time, and I kicked my legs and screamed to entertain the crowd below as I zipped by them overhead.

Having seen so many Halloween destinations, I am a bit jaded I admit. It’s not hard to startle me, but it’s very hard to scare me. Well, in their woods walk, I exited screaming like a little girl and running from two guys with fake chainsaws. You have to visit. Haunted Acres is an important attraction and will most likely be the only one we go to twice in 2013.

Harvest of Horror at Chamingfare Farm, Candia NH (3.5 stars for adults, 4.5 for children)

Harvest of Horror at Chamingfare Farm takes place on a farm that’s open to the public during the day, intended for little kids. There you can pet animals and go on a hay ride. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to experience this daytime fun, but returned for “Harvest of Horror” in the evening.

The first attraction was a haunted hay ride, pulled by two draft horses. It was serene and incredibly beautiful to experience the woods at night like this. As we rode, we passed outdoor displays, some with one or two actors. Our guide AJ told us that they have tried adding more actors, but they tend to spook the horses. (It’s unclear to me how the horses could see so far behind them, and I think having more actors could possibly work, though.)

In the past, Charmingfare Farm has tried an adult attraction, but is now playing to its strength with children. So the ride avoided blood and gore, and was only somewhat scary. However, this is not a pure children’s event that will bore adults with bright lights and puppets. In fact, I thought it leaned a bit to the adult side, with occasional corpses, actors who didn’t hold back from jumping out of the dark, and a bloody axe. I was surprised (pleasantly surprised!) that none of the tiny kids, some as young as 3 or 4 years old, freaked out.

We then were led to the “haunted bog”, another ride where a tractor pulled us in little carts filled with hay. This was also a real treat, again with a few actors, but mostly displays of limited production quality. We ended up at a barn filled with hay bales creating a short maze with actors inside to scare us.

To this point, Harvest of Horrors seemed like a solid attraction that was just not edgy enough for me, but that wasn’t a failing: it was designed for smaller children. However, we then arrived at the cornfield maze and that was a blast. We were genuinely startled several times and walking under the night sky through a corn field is delightful. Tiki torches and a campfire led the way, which I suppose were safe enough. (If the field caught fire, we’d just trample the corn field to escape, exiting in any direction. No problem.) Apparently there was a bigger bonfire at the farm, but I think we missed it.

Finally, we discovered that a barn with animals to pet was indeed still open! We got to pet goats, a cow, a rabbit, and saw some llamas at a distance. Pretty great.

Having given Canobie Lake Park a high rating for their amusement rides, even though their spooky attractions lacked style, it would be mean for me to mark down Charmingfare Farm. It seems to be an ideal place to bring small children who can handle a real scare (not as lame as those “not so spooky” destinations where literally nothing scary happens and adults are bored). The night air and the trip couldn’t have been more beautiful, and we even got to pet some animals. We were able to spend plenty of time there, too. That being said, I couldn’t give it the highest marks with its current level of acting, staging, and costuming. For brave small children, call it a 4.5. For adults, call it a 3.5 for its beauty.

Haunted Overload, Lee NH (5 stars)

Haunted Overload is the only Halloween attraction I’ve ever been to that could be considered a work of art. It’s a walk through the woods set on the Demeritt Hill Farm in Lee, New Hampshire, which has ‘Halloween Storybook Hayrides’ during the day for kids, and a pick-your-own apples field. They also grow peaches, nectarines, blueberries, pumpkins, vegetables and Christmas trees. While Haunted Overload is “only” one attraction, it is extensive, and surely for marketing purposes they could break it into 5 pieces and just say that they have 5 attractions, which is what Fright Kingdom and other destinations do.

What an attraction! They rarely buy props or displays at Haunted Overload. Instead, they build them from scratch like master sculptors and carpenters. Spook leader Kyle Arruda met us and explained that founder Eric Lowther began work in his front yard and it just grew and grew in popularity.

It is incredibly creative. You begin by walking into the mouth of a giant wooden skull which is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, with a laser and fog creating the sense that you are entering a tunnel to another world. At most attractions that would be the main and only “wow” display, but at Haunted Overload it is just the beginning of wow and wow and OMG WOW! It really is a sensory “overload”.

The footpath through the woods was groomed and mostly free of obstacles, a must for visitors who want to spend their time looking around, not watching their feet. Soon you encounter an even more enormous skull which must be 50 feet tall, made of wood, with fog and eerie purple lighting coming from its mouth. And that’s just the beginning. Someone with a fantastic, creative sense of theatrical staging and lighting has put together a series of displays that must have stemmed from a decade of a team asking themselves, “how can we top last year?” over and over.

What’s more, there were plenty of actors. So in addition to the displays, we found ourselves surprised and delighted by the monsters, and they didn’t all need to scream. Many just growled or had plausibly twisted interactions with us. The only negative I can think of was that the line bunched up considerably because there were not enough pauses in-between letting people into the attraction. So we only got to interact with half or a third of the actors, because the other two thirds had just interacted with those visitors directly in front of us. (We did try waiting for those in front of us to advance but it was no use; more people just came from behind us.) It was also a shame that the farm store (perhaps due to low lighting and a lack of benches) did not really seem a place for people to hang out before or after the woods walk. Perhaps they will add benches and a campfire next year.

But never mind that. The 40-foot clown, 20-foot pumpkin people, and the dozens of hand crafted wonders make this a must-see destination. I can’t give it a “5 stars plus” like Haunted Acres but it gets a well-deserved 5 full stars!

The Zombie Walk Hunt of the Undead, Lee NH (4.5 stars)

Let’s try this again! The Zombie Walk Hunt of the Undead was our 4th attempt to see zombies get shot. First, in Abington, Mass., we held fake pistols to shoot zombies in an indoor attraction: pretty great. Second, at Spooky World New Hampshire, a carnival booth where two zombie actors did not seem to be enjoying themselves ambling around, making it not much fun to shoot them. I just felt bad for them. Third, the military march outside Haunted Acres (run by different management) where the ground was far too rocky to have guests running at night. Would the Zombie Walk Hunt of the Undead break the curse? Would this finally be the zombie hunting experience we were craving?

The answer was yes! Visitors in groups of 25 were given masks and paintball guns, and then led through a forest walk to shoot at zombies. The staff made it fun and “got it” from top to bottom that their guests were not seeking an athletic experience and were not paintball enthusiasts. So we got none of the ‘man up, hard core’ attitude that we had found elsewhere. The route and our encounters followed a tale of viral infection that while not intricate bound the trip together into a single story. Somehow they had great timing, where most times they allowed the group to stop (reducing the worry about tripping to zero) before zombies appeared to shoot. Somehow they assembled lots of actors, so that everyone in our group had plenty of targets, all the time!

The zombies came from a distance so that I didn’t have to worry about hurting anyone with the paintballs, but we heard that the gas pressure had been turned down on our guns as well. And the actors were clearly having great fun so it was great fun to assault them as a consequence. The rule was that when a zombie fell to the ground that we should stop firing. They were also careful to give people in the back of the group things to shoot at, not just always having zombies attack from the front.

The experience was fantastically interactive, and there were few negatives. They kept us well supplied with paintballs and did not rush us forward. They managed to keep us grouped together without being condescending but also without expecting so much athleticism from us that the challenge turned from fun into performing a chore. However, the story about viral infections was thin (no names were given, there were no characters), the displays were rudimentary, and there were no lighting, fog, or animatronic effects. I was told by manager Nate Miner that because the location is an active paintball field that is used during the day, that they had to keep the displays simple so that they could be broken down. I don’t know. I’d like to think that paintball enthusiasts could work around a few Halloween displays in the daylight. The campfire was nice and they were also playing a movie to entertain those who were waiting. Instead of having us stand in line they simply had benches. But the hot chocolate ran out and so did the snacks. It would have been nice to have a grill with dinner options.

Really, we could not have had a better time, so I am tempted to give The Zombie Walk Hunt of the Undead a full 5 stars, but I also see a great deal of potential there for more. Let’s say 4.5 stars this year and I don’t doubt that in 2014 they will deserve 5 stars plus!

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