Date of Visit: 9/23/22 Reviewer: Lindsay
We are taught from a young age to be wary of the woods at night. Ask around, and you'll find that many people's childhood nightmares were sourced in what may be lurking in the darkness of the trees. They're found in the howl of werewolves under the full moon, or monsters waiting to drag the unwitting off the path and devour them. But what if the forest was not only home to creepy cryptids, but also the slasher icons we grew up watching on the silver screen? Where hockey masked murderers prowl lakeside campgrounds, and chainsaw-slinging cannibals want nothing more than to carve you to pieces?
All of the above was running through my head last Friday night, when I was driving into the wilderness of Kentucky to visit the realm these horrors all reside in: Nightmare Forest, a haunted trail lurking deep within the woods of Brandenburg's Otter Creek Park.
An aura of nostalgia surrounds Nightmare Forest; as a preteen, it was actually the first haunted attraction I ever went to. It was also the one that taught me I was not at all ready for haunts... I hated it, and wanted nothing more to be *off* that trail. What can I say? I loved all the fun parts of Halloween as a kid, but didn't like being scared. Thankfully, the scaredy cat child ended up growing into a woman who can't get enough. I returned to the Forest in 2014, and finally decided to come back for round three this season - a whopping eight years later! How much had this place changed? A lot, I imagined.
If you're feeling brave enough to take a walk through these woods, tickets to the Forest start at $28 for General Admission. This is a popular local haunt that draws big crowds as the season progresses, so if lines are long, you can also grab a Speed Pass ($40), or even speedier VIP access ($65). Parking at Otter Creek is free, and there will be attendants on hand to help you locate an open spot.
True to its theme, the Nightmare Forest experience starts with a spooky little stroll out of the parking area and into the woods. Walking down that gloomy path completely alone was a bit unnerving, a feeling that was only enhanced by the ominous music playing from somewhere in the trees. If you don't have your tickets yet, you can stop and purchase some at the shack on the left. Once you've acquired those, you can proceed to the end of the trail...
... where the haunt's midway area, the Circus Bizarre, is waiting for you to explore! This part wasn't around when I last visited, and I really enjoyed taking in the sights and seeing what neat extras the Circus had to offer. Directly ahead of me lay a set of warped funhouse mirrors. Walking a little further, I couldn't help but check out cases full of oddities to my left: shrunken heads, animal skulls, vampire slaying kits. Moving deeper into the midway, I spotted a tent where groups could purchase professional photos. A table had t-shirts, keychains, and other merch for sale. There was also a stand selling hot food and cold drinks, and a bonfire crackled into the cool night. Between this and the trail itself, it seemed like you could spend a good chunk of your night here.
Proceeding into the queue, I found myself greeted immediately by Bobo the Clown, one of their roamers - and by "greeted", I mean I got a horn honked in my face. (Clowns, right?) They had a movie playing to provide crowd entertainment, but what really got my attention was the little sideshow stage. Moments before I went in, it was occupied by a hilarious sideshow performer, who cracked jokes about babies being the real "ball and chain" in a relationship... followed by him hooking a real, heavy ball and chain to his nose (!) and swinging it back and forth. (The crowd's reaction to this was even funnier - they were so grossed out! Hopefully they waited to hit up the food stand until *after* they got off the trail.)
It wasn't long before it was time for my nightmare to begin. I did not fly solo this time, instead being grouped with a handful of loud, excitable teens. Normally I'd groan over this, but they were actually fun... well, right up until the first chainsaw showed up and they nearly bowled me over. Could've done without that, I guess.
All kidding aside, the first half of Nightmare Forest consists of general scary stuff and monsters of legend. Our adventure started out in a dark and creepy asylum, where we picked our way through operating rooms, a rather nasty kitchen, and bounced along the floor of a padded cell, all while trying to dodge the patients and orderlies! From there, we crept through the cave of an immense, shaggy werewolf, explored a vampire's lair, and tried to escape from a circus of killer clowns, among other scenes. One of my favorite areas involved us having to precariously cross over several rope bridges, where bodies were tied to the trees and laser effects shone everywhere. Cool! I also really liked the clown part, with its vibrant colors and realistic carnival games. It felt similar to the 3D clown houses you often see at other haunts, minus the glasses.
Chapter two of the trail was what Nightmare Forest has always been famous for: movie scenes! Several horror film favorites were represented here, including A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Thirteen Ghosts, IT (remake), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Curiously, we also walked through a few popular fairytales - with a dark twist, of course. I remember seeing the candy house from Hansel & Gretel, and a nicely built Alice in Wonderland scene. Although the sets throughout the trail aren't always the fanciest- I'm sure there's a lot of tearing down and rebuilding each season- they all do a good job of getting the point across, and we were never confused as to what movie or theme we were entering next. The haunt's build team constructed their sets in a way to provide lots of sneaky hiding spots for their cast, and also made good use of the park's natural surroundings. Animatronics and actor-matronics were deployed effectively, both to distract and provide further scares; the big wraith creature in the wolf's cave made me cuss and almost fall down... bastard was loud and could reach much further than I thought!
Nightmare Forest had a decent cast, and the only actorless area I can recall was the one with the rope bridges. All other scenes had at least one lying in wait to get us! There was an emphasis on quick jumps and pop-out scares, with the odd statue or distraction scare thrown in to break things up. The poor teens behind me were got several times, but I'd be lying if I said they didn't manage to startle me, too (see comment about the wraith above for a fine example). A few members of their cast made an effort to interact as well - Freddy Krueger was talkative, and totally not buying it when I told him I loved him. "You're just saying that so I won't kill you!" The little lady clown greeting us at the beginning of the circus was super cute. Their Jason actor had the character's demeanor and movements down pat; I only wish he'd tried to scare us. My absolute favorite of the bunch was Pennywise - he was perfectly concealed in his foggy lair, and acted and sounded 100% like the real deal. You'd swear he leaped right out of the film. I love clowns dearly, but he even creeped me out... I was gone very quickly when he showed up!
Before leaving, I returned to the midway for a while to grab a bite, write notes, and hang out by the fire. The night was slightly rainy, yet quiet and pleasant, an excellent atmosphere for an early Autumn night. I was also lucky enough to catch Evil Annie prancing about and grabbed a photo with her; I've noticed her and Bobo participating in ScurryFace's Scare Actor Spectacular contest, and it was an honor to get to meet them both.
Overall, Nightmare Forest provided a solid haunted trail experience. It seemed a little shorter than I remember for the price, but was still well designed and fun, with an environment that engages its customers as much as it scares them (always a plus, IMO). I also really enjoyed the Circus Bizarre, which had everything a guest could need to complete their night. Luckily for me, I made it out of this forest of frights alive and my nightmare came to an end... and if you choose to come here, you'll be hoping yours does too!
ENVIRONMENT: 7/10 - Some sets were more detailed than others, but all of them got the point across for what they represented, with a few stand outs.
ACTING: 6/10 - Not bad! Most interactions were what I expected, though they did have a handful of actors who caught my attention (see notes above). No real dead spots, either.
SCARE FACTOR: 7/10 - The rest of my group was terrified and I enjoyed watching the actors nail 'em right and left. They got me sometimes too!
OVERALL: 7/10 - Good haunted trail that is worth a visit if you're local or happen to be in the area, especially if you love horror movies.