Date of Visit: 9/10/22 (Opening Weekend) Reviewer: Lindsay
Ten of us tread carefully through the darkness, surrounded by a maze of crumbling stone. In the dim light, we can just make out the etchings of runes and crude drawings, the remnants of some ancient civilization. Here we have left the safety of the world outside, trading the warmth of the fire pit, the upbeat music, and the fun decor for surroundings far more ominous. Not a wise choice, all of us are aware... but this is only the first such adventure we'll have to survive this evening. Five more worlds wait for our group to enter: one where our worst fears may take form, a funhouse overrun with killer clowns, the home and practice of a devious doctor, a trail through woods that are crawling with nightmares - and one that, for now, is a mystery to us.
In other words, we've only just begun our night exploring the Land of Illusion, a "scream park"-style haunted attraction located in Middletown, Ohio.
For most of the year, Land of Illusion bills itself as an adventure park that offers seasonal entertainment and events for all ages. These include Aqua Adventures, where guests can cool off over the warmer months, and the annual Christmas Glow, a drive through tour of colorful lights for the winter holidays. But when the nights grow longer and the weather starts to cool, things in the Land take a darker turn. Stacks of pumpkins, spooky skeletons, and giant jack o'lanterns pop up everywhere, transforming the property for the Halloween season. Their concession counter and bar follow suit, becoming the Creepy Cafe and Voodoo Lounge. Ambient lighting glows throughout the park, blazing fire pits offer comfort against the Autumn chill, and energetic music creates a lively atmosphere amidst the screams of guests fleeing from roaming monsters. Most importantly, six different haunted attractions wait for every patron who steps through the gates. Can you survive them all?
Several ticket options are available depending on how much of the Land you want to see. You can purchase on site or online; I opted for the latter, where you can get single attraction tickets for $25, a General Admission wristband to all the haunts for $55, or- my favorite- the Fast Pass wristband for $80. (Be advised that if you buy when you arrive, these prices do increase a bit.) Something awesome about the wristbands is that they allow you to tour every haunt in the park as many times as you wish, so if you find a favorite, you can come back to it later. As for parking, a large gravel lot provides plenty, but there is a $5 cash fee per vehicle.
Before I jump into the haunt reviews, it's worth mentioning that for the first time, I was not here on my own! Three teams from our friends at The Scare Factor- Zombillies, Enchanted Séance, and Teachers of Terror- graciously allowed me to join them for this night of fright-filled fun, along with a lovely young lady named Rachel. We also ran into another member of the Honeymooners pack, Nick, hanging out with some of his fellow haunters from the Dent Schoolhouse.
While you're always welcome to grab some food, order drinks, or warm up by the fire early in the evening, some attractions will not open until dark. Thankfully, TEMPLE OF TERROR is not among them, and that is where we chose to begin our adventure. Temple of Terror tells the tale of an expedition that didn't quite go as planned... it seems some uncouth explorers have broken into an ancient temple, not only with the intention of uncovering its secrets, but also making off with any riches to be found within. Unfortunately for them (and us), their actions have now brought a curse upon those who dare to enter. Temple is one of the more immersive haunts at Land of Illusion, and that starts as soon as you step into its dimly lit queue. (Watch out as you wait in line, as they often have a roamer or two lurking about!) A rough ride on a mine elevator provides the start to your group's journey, quickly dropping you into the belly of the temple itself. From there, you must work your way through a labyrinth of mossy, cobweb-covered tunnels, avoid nasty booby traps, navigate rope bridges over a swamp, and pass scores of corpses and mummies from unlucky visitors... some of which aren't quite dead!
2022 brought some changes to Land's attractions, and I noticed at least one scene that either got some touch ups or was new (provided my memory's not failing me, of course). I was pleased to see quite a few restless souls haunting the temple, and none of the character-breaking I encountered last season. Melvin, our elevator attendant, was a fantastic actor and I wish our interaction with him hadn't been so brief. My group also liked the character who made each of us step inside of one of his coffins, only to declare us "too small!" and continue to scold us as we were leaving. (Then he started in on the group behind us. So funny!) Temple was my favorite house the first year I came to this scream park, and I was happy to have another strong visit to kick off the night.
ENVIRONMENT: 8 / ACTING: 7 / SCARE FACTOR: 7 / OVERALL: 8
Once we managed to escape from the treacherous temple, we trekked across the park to PHOBIA for our second stop. This is a house I recommend doing early, as the line seems to fill up fast - apparently, lots of people like to face their fears! And as its name implies, Phobia is built from a collection of things that scare us the most. Tell me... what are you afraid of? Is it spiders and creepy crawlies? Demented doctors? Slithering snakes? What about total darkness? I'll warn you right now: it's all waiting for you in here! I believe I've commented in the past that I'm not the biggest fan of this house; not because it's bad, but because it does its job just a little too well. The build team has constructed it in a way that effectively creates dread from room to room, whether it's through use of darkness, fog, or even unsettling music and sound effects. (I was leading our group, and what they had playing in the roach-infested kitchen made me *not* want to proceed.) Some of the best uses of special effects were found in here, too. To name some examples: realistic animatronic snakes squirmed menacingly around us in a swamp, where the fog effect on the floor genuinely made it seem like you were wading through murky water. The spider's lair was coated in nasty cobwebs we were loath to touch, and housed an equally nasty animatronic arachnid that you'd swear was as real as the snakes.
Phobia's cast was on fire when we came through, with at least one actor ready to pop us in every scene - we got some excellent scares! My personal best came from a cloaked actor lurking at the end of a passage to the superstitions scene. They slooowly edged close enough for me to catch the hint of movement... "Something's moving... something's moving!"... before charging in for the scare, prompting me to duck out of the way with a shout of "oh my god WHATTHEHELLISTHAT". Nice!
ENVIRONMENT: 8 / ACTING: 7 / SCARE FACTOR: 9 / OVERALL: 8
After all of that, our whole group needed a little time to regain our senses before we moved on to our third attraction, which would surely challenge them. Billed as a new haunt for 2022, DYSPHORIA is actually a revamp of the former Big Mama's Revenge. It's still a maze, but shortly after we entered, it became clear that the Land of Illusion team had poured some love into this thing and turned it into a true haunt. Before you go in, you'll be informed that your task is to figure out what inside of the maze is real, and what isn't... and try to avoid the former as you attempt to escape! While inside, you'll find yourself navigating around stacks of colossal tires, taking wrong turns, encountering dead ends, and following a path that becomes increasingly darker and disorienting as you progress. And the significant amounts of fog, strobes, and the haunt's intense soundtrack certainly won't make it easier to reach the exit.
Although I appreciated the changes to the maze, Dysphoria's biggest upgrade was to its cast. Plenty of actors were cleverly disguised among identical static figures, and they demonstrated good synergy, working together to mislead our group and make effective use of the maze's many hiding spots. Our poor group leader got scared several times, and our attempts to escape these entities often ended with us being surrounded by more. I would have liked to see some variation among their masks and costumes, but I also understood the theme they were going with. Shout out to the Land team - big improvement from what I saw last year.
ENVIRONMENT: 6 / ACTING: 7 / SCARE FACTOR: 8 / OVERALL: 7
Having made it through another crazy experience, we all hung out at the picnic tables outside for a while before heading up the hill to haunt #4, KILLER KLOWNS. You can pretty much tell what it is as soon as you see the facade: a bizarre funhouse that's home to a collection of creepy clowns. Formerly a 3D attraction, Killer Klowns still has all the bright colors and zaniness you'd expect from this type of clown house - just without the cardboard glasses. Painted clown faces leer at you on the walls, there are two vortex tunnels, a handful of animatronic clowns may startle you here and there, and you can laugh at your warped reflection in the mirrors. But Land of Illusion's version has some surprises, too, like the human sized pinball room, a super creepy scene where you're surrounded by (hopefully) fake clowns on all sides, and a perplexing, fog filled fence maze. I always enjoy this haunt, but believe me... if you hate clowns, this ain't gonna be a "fun"house for you.
There were a few more actors in the house than I saw last year, and some of them got us good! We had a laugh from watching a bigger clown and his shirtless friend heavily mock the rest of our large group as we split up and began going through. One with wild orange hair pounced on us the moment we walked in, and terrorized the strangers in the back for a while. A female clown lurking behind the curtains right after the fence maze popped us *hard*, as well as the one waiting after the white inflatable tunnel. An extra special shout out is for the bearded clown in the final scene; I've seen him before, and he is hilarious. He tried to make us kiss a hanging clown's foot (my friend refused) and when we were leaving, he shouted after me. "Hey, shouldn't you be out there wrestling?" (They had little people wrestling that night... I'm short. Roasted!)
ENVIRONMENT: 7 / ACTING: 6 / SCARE FACTOR: 6 / OVERALL: 7
At this point in the night, we'd managed to conquer most of the Land's haunts - only two remained. And while I'd normally save the next attraction for last, the rest of our group wanted to tackle it before it got *too* late. MIDDLETOWN HAUNTED TRAIL is Land of Illusion's longest and signature attraction, the seed from which this place grew into a complete scream park. Clocking in at an estimated 25+ minutes to complete, the trail has no set theme and sends groups through several different scenes, with many incredibly well designed and containing immense props and animatronics. Middletown was another haunt that received some extra love this year, too. Lots of old favorite scenes made a return, like the radioactive waste area, the bunker with alien experiments coming to life around you, a supremely spooky Halloween (movie) encounter, the cavernous pits of Hell, and more. But there was also some new stuff - the most noticeable change was a witch or plague village with structures resembling teepees; I believe this took the place of the former hillbilly camp. We loved it!
But as amazing as Middletown's sets look, the real stars of the show are its cast. They had actors everywhere, and they went absolutely nuts from beginning to end. I'm not exaggerating when I say we might've gotten a couple minutes' peace here and there... and if we did, we were on edge, because the sight of one character usually meant more were waiting to attack. They were loud, they got in our faces and hemmed us in, and they also did a great job of scaring the entire group evenly. It's hard to name standout actors because they were strong across the board, but the whole cast in the asylum turned their scene into total bedlam in a matter of seconds, and the plague doctor characters in the village were very cool. There was also a monster with a huge hammer who was giving me nothing short of hell in his area, to a point where I panicked and fled. He ran right after me, hammer and all... I'm convinced he would've chased me down the entire trail if he was allowed to, and if I hadn't had the good sense to run back to my group!
Two small suggestions here: the actors may want to mind their volume where they can, we had several instances where they were basically shouting over each other and it was hard to make out what they were trying to say. The final scene had an intense atmosphere with its disorienting light and fog, but hearing variations of "get out" shouted the whole time was a turn off for our group. Other than that, this was personally the best run through Middletown I've ever had. I wasn't sure if they could beat 2021, but they pulled it off.
ENVIRONMENT: 8 / ACTING: 9 / SCARE FACTOR: 10 / OVERALL: 9
We reserved one of the creepiest and goriest houses in the park to complete our Land of Illusion adventure. DR. PSYCHO'S HAUNTED ESTATE weaves the scary story of Dr. Christopher Psycho, and takes groups on a complete tour of his home and practice. Guests will explore the grounds outside, pass through a dubious butcher shop, discover the dark secrets hidden within his old house, and attempt to survive multiple blood-splattered operating rooms, where they will witness the grisly results of his "work". More changes had been made to this haunt as well - I'm pretty sure that plastic-lined hallway we passed through later in the house wasn't there before. The melancholy music that played when you got close to meeting the doctor was an unsettling touch, too.
I hate saying this because Psycho has always been one of my favorite houses, but this year's walkthrough felt lighter on scares and interaction. Most of our encounters seemed to be with Dr. Psycho's staff and patients, threatening and mocking us. Myself and a friend from our party teamed up with two strangers, and they did get us good a couple of times. I also liked that we were taunted about the doctor throughout, setting us up for the final encounter with him towards the end (another good change for 2022). The house could've used a stronger finish; after we parted ways with Dr. Psycho, there was no scare waiting in his room, nor anyone popping out as we were leaving. I've never known the good doctor to let us off the hook that easily, and I hope that was just a mishap of opening weekend.
ENVIRONMENT: 7 / ACTING: 6 / SCARE FACTOR: 6 / OVERALL: 7
Before I close out this review, it's worth mentioning some of the other neat things Land of Illusion offers besides haunts. There's almost always an event going on, like live music or special shows, and a couple of rides as well. We watched a small group take on the new "Shockwave" carnival ride they brought in to replace the dark ride; as soon as it got going, they were all praying to the Lord, because that thing was rocking back and forth like it was going to tip over. They had many awesome roaming characters, too. We spotted a Silent Hill nurse, the famous Exorcist girl zooming around in her bed, and at least three sliders among them.
For four years in a row, Land of Illusion has managed to pull me back every haunt season. Not only do they open early in the run, but they also provide everything you need for an entire night of entertainment. I would still like to see them grow the property even more in the future, adding more side attractions and maybe a couple of new haunts. But the changes made to their existing houses this year definitely boosted the experience as a whole, and for me personally, it was one of the strongest visits to Land I've ever enjoyed. If you're interested in checking out a haunt that's a true scream park in every sense of the term, this is the place!
ENVIRONMENT: 8/10 - Haunted amusement park atmosphere that's lively and fun. There's a lot to do to occupy your whole night.
ACTING: 7/10 - Strong cast size and performance in most of the houses. I did think Dr. Psycho's could've done with a few more people, which may be why it felt a bit less intense this time.
SCARE FACTOR: 9/10 - Wow... they were ferocious tonight! I couldn't get over how many times they got us, but I was loving it.
OVERALL: 8/10 - Awesome run through one of the best scream park haunts around.