The Darkness | through 11.07.09

haunted_darkness_sm.gifThe level of detail in the sets, monsters and animatronic creatures is horror-movie worthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The annual Darkness haunted attraction in St. Louis is amazing to look at. The level of detail in the sets, monsters and animatronic creatures is horror-movie worthy. You may not notice all of that so much, though, when you’re being startled by teenaged actors and wading through the thick fog pumped out by smoke machines.

Your journey through the 27,000-square-foot complex begins in a sequence of rooms with an Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider-type theme. There are exotic statues, a truly huge crocodile in a pool of water, mannequins of native guys with spears, an elephant, and more. I was especially impressed by the animatronic figures, waving their arms about and wailing. It clearly took a big pile of money and a lot of time to build all this stuff; you may wish they’d turn the lights on so you can really appreciate it.

Of course, you have just a moment or two to take it in before a teen actor in a spooky costume bounds out and scares you. The Darkness employs dozens of these (mostly) kids to handle the real scares every night. The best of them really get into it, finding something about you to taunt, or screaming, "Did I tell you you could look back at me?" The ones who jump down from a perch have always done a great job of scaring me—I just hope they don’t get bum knees someday from the job. I also dig the ones who stand stock still so you’re not sure at first if they’re a fabrication or a person, and then they suddenly come at you.

Old standbys like the floor shakers, strobe lights and, in particular, the air cannon can get to you. I enjoyed a dummy that suddenly slammed into a screen door and then lazily slid down to the floor. Also, a crime-scene outline of a body divided into a hopscotch grid made me smile. It’s the little things, ya know?

The Indiana Jones theme yielded to an old, creepy mansion theme. There was also a suite of heavily gore-splattered rooms that are always nightmarish, with blood and body parts everywhere. One actress with a chainsaw was a big hit with a group I ran into; that fake chainsaw is so loud that it makes you move real quickly. The maze of mirrors can be really disorienting, too.

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Upstairs, the Darkness becomes TerrorVisions, a clown-themed haunted attraction that the Scarefest people have done in another location in the past. You put on 3D glasses and walk through a minimally decorated series of rooms with Day-Glo paint on the walls to discombobulating effect. If you have any sort of fear of clowns, this is pretty nightmarish. One clown on tricycle followed me around for some time, and it was unnerving. An attraction brought back annually, the spinning-tunnel effect works every time—it’s truly dizzying.

A new feature is the Monster Museum arcade, museum and gift shop that concludes the maze of rooms. You can play video and pinball games, take a $5 electric-chair ride, and check out horror-movie props and autographed photos of dudes like Angus Scrimm, Kane Hodder, Vincent Price and dozens more.

A horror gift shopped stocked by Slackers has DVDs, T-shirts, action figures, comics, pins and other Halloween paraphernalia. It’s fun, and if you’re a horror buff especially, a really cool collection of swag.

One of the nice things about the Darkness is how long it takes to go through. It’s a lot of square footage, so you feel that you got your money’s worth. Critics might say that these attractions pretty much deliver the same sorts of frights year after year: Either you like them or you don’t, and there’s not much even a big-money haunted attraction like the Darkness can do to change your mind. Even if you’re too old to enjoy teenagers emerging from the shadows to yell at you, the aesthetics of the sculpted monsters may make it worth the trip. | Byron Kerman

www.scarefest.com

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