Review: Haunted Cornfield at Connors Farm, Danvers MA (5 stars)
Last year, the team from Events INSIDER went on a 10-day Halloween blitz! In October 2013, I visited 28 attractions to bring you reviews and information on everything Halloween in New England. We went indoors and outdoors as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Rhode Island, and as far west as Connecticut. Don’t forget to visit http://EventsINSIDER.com, where we list more creative October events than anyplace else!
The Haunted Cornfield at Connors Farm takes place at another working farm in New England turned into an attraction, and at Halloween time they have three attractions: zombie paintball, a scary corn maze, and a not-so-scary flashlight corn maze. Having been to Charmingfare Farm and other farms, our expectations were low about how well produced and thought through the attraction would be, but we could not have been more wrong. Surprisingly, it was the best thing ever. VIP tickets are available to rush you to the front of the lines.
Start in front of the produce store where there is a large lit area just to hang out, with loud pop music playing. It’s insanely fun to watch tiny kids ride the mechanical bull, which is surrounded by inflatable padding, and I even got to try it myself — although only for 5 seconds because my “friend” asked the operator to turn the bucking up all the way. You can buy milk, cider, corn, and a wide variety of other goods in the store, and to the side they have a barbecue pit with fried dough, onion rings, chicken wings, french fries, probably hamburgers and hot dogs. If you’d like to just take a walk in the night air, go behind the store and find a lake to admire. You can borrow a tricycle for a pedal race or clamber over what appears to be a spider web made from rope. Unfortunately, while they seem to have go carts during the day, that attraction was closed. One nitpick: the porta potty that I chose was destroyed inside with toilet paper, in a way that did not seem recent, making me think that probably no one on staff was assigned to regularly check the outdoor latrines.
Our first sight of the zombie paintball was when a flat bed truck pulled up with paintball guns fastened to its sides. We had explored four other zombie shoot attractions in New England and could already tell that this was going to be good. Clearly we were about to drive by fields of zombies and get to shoot them! We and a dozen others boarded and sat on a bench that ran along one side of the truck bed. The tour guide made no attempt to play up a spooky zombie story, and for once I approve of this choice. Really the attraction was pure joy rather than a scare, and for this reason is safe for emotionally stable children as young as six.
Unlike at other paintball attractions we’ve seen, our guide ran us through the safety rules with complete clarity. There was no awkwardness leaving us wondering “What?? Never mind, whatever.” This was essential to our fully embracing the experience. He joked about the rules and made it fun, and ensured that we had our safety triggers off so that even the first zombies we saw wouldn’t be a bad experience. My only concern is that the hardworking guide should be given a megaphone or microphone and speaker. I appreciate good marketing: cleverly, while we were just driving out, totally stoked, he offered to sell us more paintballs. I jumped at the chance to spend $10 each, even though as press I could probably have finagled it for free. That being said, as long as you are conservative with your ammo, you do not need to buy extra paint to enjoy the attraction, and your guide will tell you when you are half way and when you are nearing the end, to help you plan what you have left.
This attraction was an easy 5 out of 5 stars and easily worth the $35 combo ticket. There were tons of zombies, including plain targets, mannequins, and plenty of live actors. Crucially, the actors groaned and bucked when shot, secretly signalling to us that they were in on the fun. This was a total opposite to our experience just outside Spooky World NH where the actors seemed depressed or beaten down by the chill, and I felt so bad for them that it was not fun to shoot them. I have to give big kudos to the brave men and women who volunteered to stand in the cold all night and get shot. Great job, and thank you. Every little detail seems to have been thought of. They turned the tractor off so we could hear the instructions at one point, and it did not smell bad of diesel. The guns have socks that go on the end and we were asked to sit on the bench facing away from the guns, to reduce any monkeying around before shooting time. When the attraction was over, a team rushed up and refilled all the paintball guns while we disembarked, leaving it immediately ready for the next group. Out in the field, the lighting was good so I could see where my shots went and get a sense for my aim. The ride was long enough, and there was a nice finish with lots of actors.
We had long yearned for the ultimate zombie paintball experience, and this one was finally it! Unlike elsewhere, we got to hold our own guns. Because it was a ride, we didn’t have to worry about footing. The zombie actors were good and there were plenty of them. The instructions were clear and given while riding so we didn’t have to wait. One nitpick: our safety glasses were too scratched to see through properly. And I would like to have seen a giant mannequin or animatronic at the end, something that end on the highest possible note.
We then entered the Haunted Cornfield. This was also an underproduced attraction with a lack of mannequins, a lack of big dioramas, and very basic set design. We would love to have seen more money invested here. And yet like the zombie paintball it was also the best thing ever on the strength of the acting and what tech they did have coming together beautifully: a truly outstanding job.
You walk through a real field of corn, which has been planted in a long twisting path (not a maze with dead ends and multiple routes). You start and end walking through fog so thick that you really cannot see where you are going, and there’s also fog throughout the attraction, generated centrally and guided by air hoses. Again we noticed how critical it is to have someone at a haunted attraction who understands lighting. Where the ground was uneven — and the corn field breaks into a forest walk at one point — they had bright flickering lights so that we could see our step but also remain in a dark and scary setting.
Yes, the corn field was often basic: a series of tight pathways where actors would jump out and startle us. But there were also a number of real dioramas in the field that set up scenes. They really made the most of what was presumably a tiny budget. The actors clearly had real roles to play and knew what they were doing, and more than just growling to do. At one point we entered a trailer and a shrieking woman in chains got yanked out of sight, around a corner, by an unknown monster. Other actors crawled out from ground level or ran around on their knees. My favorite was a large open area where we got surrounded by zombies on all sides: mostly mannequins but also five lives actors. We have never seen anything like that before, even at the highly creative Davis MegaMaze corn field (which mostly plays to kids and while they have spooks at night they don’t bloody it up for adults).
Again they seemed to have thought of every tiny detail in this attraction. They gave us glow sticks to wear around our necks, making it easier for the monsters to spook us. The lighting was positioned just right so we could see the dioramas and yet still be dark enough for monsters to startle us. Somehow, even without tons of special effects, this attraction plays to its strengths, the corn field is beautiful, and it comes close to competing with big haunts like The Haunted Graveyard, the well funded attraction at Lake Compounce, a giant amusement park.
Finally, we tried the flashlight maze. There are no actors in the maze and it is safe to bring your small children. You really don’t need a flashlight to find your way in the dark, but it’s not bad to have one, and conveniently (I love a good business strategy) they have them for sale in the store. (Why not for sale right in front of the maze?). It takes 20 minutes to solve the maze, so it’s not giant, but great fun to walk under the night sky and just explore. The music from across the street was not too loud for us to relax and just enjoy the stroll. However, even if there weren’t clouds overhead, I suspect that light pollution would have made it difficult for the stars to pop out. Although there are a few dioramas, including QR codes that you can scan with your cell phone that show you where you are in the maze, there wasn’t much else, making this similar to other corn mazes in New England, and less fun than Davis MegaMaze with its complex dioramas and bridges. Still, let’s not get grumpy about this. Taking any walk through a corn maze at night is great fun.
One nitpick: in addition to the wide avenues that were clearly part of the maze, there were a lot of tiny branches that we couldn’t tell whether they were official routes or just places where people had trampled. Running string on sticks along the sides of all avenues of the maze would have been a chore but it would keep people guided and not trampling. Obviously, we hope that in future years they will add more dioramas in the flashlight maze.
And I noticed something else as well: happy employees. When I walk up and say, “Hey, I’m a journalist, I’m on your press list, can you hop us to the front of the line,” it can be pretty awkward. It’s normal for the staff to think “What?” or “Are you lying?” or “Hey! Get back in line!” and whether they say that out loud is an indicator of whether the staff know what they are doing, are feeling stressed out, or basically get it that they should confirm with their boss (to make sure I’m not lying) and then hustle us to the front. Everyone I met at The Haunted Cornfield was spot on, well trained, and I was glad to meet so many of them afterwards and give them some encouragement.
The production value might have been higher: there were no animatronics or impressive dioramas, just basically the woods. But you know what? We didn’t notice or care. The Haunted Cornfield at Connors Farm is our pick for the best managed low budget haunted attraction in New England. It’s exceptional how good a job they have done with (presumably) so little. This attraction is on its way to being the best in New England if they pump in more investment. They are doing a great job and I hope you will visit them in 2014 and see for yourself.
This review was from Events INSIDER’s 2013 10-day Halloween blitz, where we visited 28 attractions across New England. Visit http://EventsINSIDER.com, where you’ll find more fun Halloween and October events than anywhere else!