Date of Visit: 10/7/22 Reviewer: Lindsay
Waiting around at the farm's gate, I find myself gazing at the distant moon. It's a small comfort - I will soon have only it, and whatever's flickering faintly between the trees, to guide my way. After a long, tense couple of minutes, my attention is diverted by the sudden 'clang' of a bell, eliciting nervous whispers from the line of guests behind me. Maybe they're all wondering the same thing I am: is that the dinner bell? (Hope I'm not on the menu... I'm a Bacon, after all.) Or a church bell for the sinister "congregation" said to reside here, in worship of the ever-present buzzards circling over the barn?
In answer to the summons, I start walking. My tour of the Black family farm and slaughterhouse, Black Orchard Meats- known in other circles as Black Orchard Haunted House- has officially begun.
Formerly run by the team behind Louisville's Danger Run, and now a part of the collective under Sindicate Haunted House Group, Black Orchard is something of a hidden gem. It's tucked away in the sticks of Shelbyville, Kentucky's Red Orchard Park, and built inside of a real barn to boot - a very atmospheric spot for this slaughterhouse-themed attraction! The haunt's story used to center solely around it being a slaughterhouse, but the acquisition by Sindicate in 2021 has put a whole new spin on the place, adding a storyline involving the Black family's mysterious ties to a vulture-worshipping cult. And for 2022, a fresh chapter has been introduced, bringing in new characters and allowing daring visitors to dig even deeper into the family's secrets.
If you're brave enough to take a tour of Black Orchard Meats, General Admission access starts at $25. Itching to get in sooner? Fast Pass ($40) and Front of the Line ($60) options are also available. Since this attraction is inside a public park, there is plenty of free parking. However, pay attention when you're pulling in - the haunt's team has installed cones, motion-activated lights, and has added attendants to assist with parking, but it's still very dark up there.
From the moment you set foot on their property, Black Orchard does a great job of setting the tone for their show. While standing in line to buy tickets, you can clearly see the entrance to the Black Orchard Meats facility. The light over its sign flickers ominously as foreboding music plays in the background. Machines clank and grind from within the barn, and you can hear the cawing of the "saviors" - but are they perched in the rafters, or circling in the night sky overhead? You're almost tempted to look.
As you're waiting to get in, it quickly becomes obvious that some of the people who live and work here... well, aren't quite like the rest of us. I watched the pig-headed Porkchop sneak up and scare unsuspecting groups in line, and Lucky- a harsh faced, eccentric character- messed with several waiting customers. (A word to the wise: if you're asked whether you respect, or follow the birds... the correct answer is 'yes'!) When you reach the front, you'll be given some ground rules, then instructed to hang out by the gate and wait for the bell to call you in. Once it tolls, it's time for your tour to get started.
I wasn't far along the farm's perimeter when a well dressed, bearded gentleman suddenly emerged from the brush (?!) and wanted to know who I was and my reason for being there. Props to this actor for his ad libbing when I said I was there to take a tour "and review!"... he took that and ran with it, remarking that they don't get many people coming around for tours anymore, and he certainly hoped I wasn't going to review the meat - "It's not very tasty!" He identified himself as Atticus, and explained that since the former brothers who ran the business were either missing or dead, he was at odds with another family member- Lester- for ownership of the property... and leadership of their "vulture cult", as outsiders called it. "Personally, I prefer 'congregation'." (Right.) It wasn't too long before we had to part ways so I could resume my tour, but he sent me away with a little message for Lester: he would take back what was rightfully his.
Immersion is something this haunt excels at, and it starts as soon as you set foot on the slaughterhouse grounds. Black Orchard's show is also something of a slow burn, meaning it becomes increasingly more intense the further you get through the barn. The outdoor portion is themed very close to an actual farm, with old chicken coops, farm equipment strewn about outside, and you're even greeted by the milkman on your way in. But then you notice the unsettling vulture-shaped sigils sticking out of the ground, and the graves dug for those who strayed from the flock... and you remember this place is not what it claims to be. Walking into the family's butcher shop (make sure to ring the bell!), you can see plenty of choice "cuts" available for purchase - but what's up with those missing person posters on the wall? Prepare yourself, because once you leave the meat counter behind, you'll be entering the slaughterhouse itself... and that's where your tour takes a major turn for the worse! As you navigate the old barn, you'll pass through rooms filled with more broken equipment, one containing belongings gleaned from both visitors and victims, a rather creepy "church", and chicken wire pens filled with live captives - while doing your best to ensure you aren't joining them! If you've visited in the past, you'll also notice that the Sindicate team has made several changes for 2022. One brand new scene had a killer scare I won't spoil... but let's just say I came dangerously close to being torn to shreds, and it had me scurrying out of there (shouting profanities along the way). Loved it!
The entire Black Orchard Meats facility is staffed by a solid crew of actors, and I honestly can't recall finding any empty spots. Black Orchard's team seems to have really worked on character development and interaction this season, and that became apparent as soon as my walkthrough started. The farm's milkman was as hilarious as he was unhinged, and if you meet him, he might just send you home with a bottle of fresh moo juice... though I didn't see any cows while I was there... hmm. While shopping the fine meats on offer behind the counter in the butcher shop, the lady was kind enough to offer me a sample - except that the "meat" was mushy, gross, and I swear I found a hair in it. (If she gives you any, find a place to hide it other than the ground. She caught me and I tried to fib my way out of it... she went off.) One of the scarier sights I witnessed was a pair of robed, bird masked cultists dragging a screaming captive into a room with malfunctioning lights, where she was sacrificed before my very eyes. But my favorite moment was in the church, where I was instructed to have a seat in a weird looking chair... only to have the actor suddenly strap my leg to it, then bellow at me to "Watch that f**king video!" Some kind of cult propaganda was projected on the wall, and that man watched me like a hawk the whole time it played - I didn't dare look anywhere else! So intense!
By the way, speaking of interaction: Black Orchard is now a light contact haunt. They probably won't do anything too crazy to you, but definitely expect some physical contact when you visit - stuff along the lines of tugging on hands or limbs, a very brief grab, or being involved in actors' scenes. You might come out a bit messy too!
One small nitpick regarding my experience: with the increased focus on interaction, it kind of felt like scares took a little bit of a back seat. Nothing wrong with trying new things (the Haunted Hotel took a similar approach this year), but I would love to see the Orchard push their intensity back up to the same level they displayed during their Summer Slaughter event, and during my visit over the 2021 season. Remember that this is a grungy, bloody, slaughterhouse-themed haunt - a little aggression suits it perfectly.
I've been lucky enough to follow Black Orchard since its maiden season, and while it's always been dear to my heart, the changes the Sindicate team has brought on have only made it that much better. They've taken a haunt that was already great, and plunged it into a whole new level of immersion. In my eyes, this place is a gem, and deserves much more love than it currently receives in the Kentucky haunt scene. Venture out to Shelbyville over the Fall season, and see if you can discover "what's in the barn" ... if you dare.
ENVIRONMENT: 9/10 - Highly immersive from beginning to end. This attraction is built to pull customers in and make them a part of its story, and it does so very well.
ACTING: 8/10 - Great acting across the board and no dead spots. I enjoyed all of the new interactive bits that were added this year!
SCARE FACTOR: 8/10 - This dropped only slightly from the previous season, with more of a focus on providing an interactive experience. However, once you're deep in the belly of that slaughterhouse, you're in trouble!
OVERALL: 8/10 - Another awesome chapter in the Black Orchard story! If you haven't been here yet, you need to check this place out!