Hell's Dungeon (2022 Review)
Hell's Dungeon 3866 Linden Ave Dayton, OH 45432 http://www.survivehellsdungeon.com
Date of Visit: 9/16/22 Reviewer: Lindsay
My demonic companion has led me to a small chamber. Gently reaching out to part the curtain and step inside, I notice the light here is dim, a stark contrast to the bright surroundings we just left. Glowing candles form the backdrop behind a throne, and melancholy piano music plays from an unseen source. It's almost too dark to make out the silhouette of the more imposing demon sitting before me... but I know he's there. Suddenly, he rises from his seat and slowly approaches, stopping uncomfortably close and towering over me. There's a low, rumbling growl - then, a curious pause. "... Ah. I remember you. You're the one with the serious face."
He is absolutely correct. On this particular night, I'm preparing to descend into his domain of the damned once again - that would be Hell's Dungeon, a haunted house tucked behind an unassuming shopping center in Dayton, Ohio. And if I had to wager, things are most certainly about to get serious.
2022 marks season three for Hell's Dungeon, who officially joined the Ohio haunt scene in 2020. They've grown significantly each year since, not only fleshing out existing scenes and adding new ones, but also making improvements to their haunt as a whole. There's a lengthy backstory behind this place and you can find several videos if you browse their Facebook page, but to sum everything up, the Dungeon is the hellish home of Rufus, a demon who has condemned several others to this pit of the underworld with him. As you try to make your way through his circle of Hell, you'll progress through three themed areas and meet the many lost souls- or "Rejects" like himself- who have been trapped here forever. Explore carefully and trust no one, or rest assured - you'll end up joining them!
Finding your way to Hell's Dungeon can be slightly tricky. Upon reaching the shopping center location, you'll have to drive all the way to the back to reach the haunt. Signs will point you in the right direction, and you can easily find a free parking spot out front or around the plaza. General admission tickets to the Dungeon start at $24, but if you're in a hurry, you can upgrade to a Fast Pass for an extra $10.
Something you'll notice quickly is that Rufus can't seem to fully contain all of his minions... once you descend beyond the infernal glow of the stairs, you might encounter one (or more) of them running amok at any time. Before I even got through the front door, three of us customers were nearly mowed down by Bonkers, one of their crazy clowns... with a staff member charging right after him going "I'll be right back, I gotta go beat a clown's ass." (Best possible start to my night!) I also loved the three vicious little girls prowling the queue, who all swarmed me the moment I showed up, loudly commanding me to follow them up front... where the owner had to step in and stop them from devouring me! Hey, no eating the reviewer!
To kick off my journey through the Dungeon, I was given a personal escort- "Dee Mon"- who led me to a room outlining the haunt's layout. We then walked through a brand new portion that almost resembled a little town; it had barber and candy shops, a mortuary (where we had to pay our respects to the dead), a crashed plane (?!) and some other cool stuff. I should note that this was one of five haunts I visited this particular weekend, so my memory might be a bit fuzzy. But I want to say our meeting with Rufus came next, and he wasted absolutely no time getting in my face and making it very clear that 1. he was the one in charge, and 2. I was not at all welcome in his home! Dee and I then had to part ways, and my little tour through Hell was now officially self-guided.
Like I mentioned further up, there are three themed areas to explore in Hell's Dungeon. Your adventure begins in the Bayou, which happens to be home to the cannibalistic Firewood family - and believe me, they'd just love to MEAT you! Junkyards, an awesome jack o'lantern scene, and a sinister swamp all await you. You'll also pass through the Firewoods' ramshackle house, filled with some rather creepy and gory delights, like a room stacked top to bottom with eerie dolls and a blood splattered kitchen. Should you make it out of the Bayou without ending up on their dinner table, the Asylum is waiting for you next, where you'll encounter unhinged doctors and nurses who are every bit as nuts as the patients they're trying to "cure"! They've got some neat scenes in this part, including a realistic waiting room, operating rooms, and even a nursery. If you can get through the Asylum without being committed yourself, a rocky ride on an elevator drops you off into the Dungeon's deepest level - that of the Carnival, where the barker and his crew of killer clowns reside! This section includes 3D effects, and you will be provided with a pair of disposable glasses upon entering. Everything is decked out in vibrant colors, there's a fog and laser room, cleverly hidden pop out scares, and a whole bunch of clowns ready to mess with you... relentlessly. The phrase "never trust a clown" definitely holds true here!
Hell's Dungeon is a cool place in itself, but the Rejects are what really make this haunt. They've got SO much energy, and while they may not necessarily scare you, they are interactive and fun. My guide and I encountered a couple of clown girls early on, one of whom innocently requested my car keys. Dee then whispered that *she* was the one who crashed the plane... she just giggled and shrugged in response. No ma'am, I think those are staying in my pocket. Their icon character, Rufus, is an excellent actor who fears no customer; he was about five inches from my face the whole time he addressed me, followed when I tried to back off, and gave me a couple of long, unsettling sniffs before he allowed me to leave. I also got a good laugh out of the bearded lady in the circus area, who insisted I smelled terrible when I walked past her. My indignant "Excuse me? Rude!" was answered with "Excuse *me*! True!"
Also, be prepared to be involved in the actors' scenes if you come here. I was asked to place my hand against a peculiar section of wall in the Asylum for examination - where I surely would've received a shocking surprise if I hadn't refused! The nurse in the baby nursery had me picking out names for the little ones, and down in the Carnival, a carny invited me to play some ring toss. They're as interactive with each other as they are with guests, too; that same nurse was speaking with me about why one patient's baby died when we heard her snap from the other room, "Don't talk about my past!" I was cracking up.
Oh, and a little heads up. I'm not going to tell you exactly where he is, but their killer robot, Heywire, is back and even scarier than before. His scene was among those that got a makeover, and he's even found himself a canine companion! Such a unique character, but man, he intimidates me almost as much as Rufus... when I'm nervously creeping through his area going "I swear, if that effing robot is in here" you know you've got a winner.
Critique-wise, there really wasn't much about the Dungeon I'd change that won't come with more time and experience (and funds, I'm sure). But I did notice a few things that could be improved. They have signage outside to direct arriving customers, as well as crew members to let you know you're at the right place, but the haunt really needs a more obvious display over the front door. Something lit up would be perfect. Their queue could also use some love in the form of more scenery; they have some stuff here and there, but it's largely an empty room with a counter selling drinks and such. Upon entering the new "town" portion, I noticed there was no audio playing - thankfully, my guide was there to make the silence less awkward.
With all criticisms aside, I was impressed by how much has changed with Hell's Dungeon this year. They had new rooms, their show length has increased, and I loved the overhauls some of their existing scenes got as well. Despite the ominous name, I also love that this is a haunted house that seeks to entertain above all else, even if they don't scare the crap out of you. If you're looking for a really fun haunt to visit in Ohio, I can't recommend this place enough. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to avoid being locked up in Rufus' personal pit of Hell for another season - and hopefully, you will too.
ENVIRONMENT: 8/10 - Fun atmosphere in the lobby and queue. Themed areas are true to what they represent. Some scenes got really nice upgrades; Rufus' was my favorite.
ACTING: 7/10 - Good amount of actors throughout, dead spots at a minimum. Cast was energetic, quick with their dialogue, and interactive.
SCARE FACTOR: 7/10 - Got a few good startles as I was going through, but what this haunt lacks in scares, they make up for in humor and entertainment. Love it!
OVERALL: 8/10 - Hell's Dungeon continues to get better every season, and this year was no exception! I really enjoyed their show.