Date of Visit: 10/30/21 Reviewer: Lindsay
The night is overcast and misty, creating a sheen against the parking lot's pavement. Scampering frantically among the cars- and trying not to get flattened by new arrivals- I steal a glance behind me. Sure enough, the cleaver-wielding maniac is still in relentless pursuit. "Where going, Bacon?!" he keeps repeating. 'Hopefully somewhere you can't go?' is the first response that pops into my head, but I've already learned too many lessons about mouthing off to scary people this year. "You know I can run faster, right?" he calls after me. At this point, I realize escape is futile and attempt to reason with him... to no avail. Sighing, I turn around to resume the search for my car - only to be met with a second ghoulish face out of nowhere, and one maniac coming after me is now two of them. Awesome. Hey, wait... there's my car! They see it as well and try to chase me away from it, but through some miracle I'm able to scramble inside, and nearly throw myself on the lock. Both of them peer in through the windows and mock me for a while before stalking away. I live to see another night... for now.
Though it might sound like one, this isn't a scene from a cheesy horror movie. Stillwell Manor- a multi-level haunted house in Anderson, Indiana- just likes to send their customers off in style.
Tucked just off the main drag of Anderson, Stillwell Manor was once one of the best kept secrets in the Indiana haunt scene. I was made aware of this unique haunt lurking within an old movie theater in 2015, when they held a fundraiser for another haunt in the state that had recently suffered a fire. Since then, it has continued to grow and gain in popularity, drawing larger crowds every season. They've also been known to open over the rest of the year for occasions like Christmas, Valentine's, or whenever the mood strikes (for example, it's not uncommon to see their doors open in May!). Honestly, it's a really cool place to visit, and if you spend any amount of time around the Manor's owner and crew, you will find passion to spare - these people love what they do, and work on their attraction all year long.
If you're interested in checking out Stillwell Manor, a general admission ticket will run you $25, and I believe VIP is available as well. Thanks to its former theater location, there's plenty of free parking, and many more lots nearby if theirs is full. After grabbing your tickets, make your way under the striped tent outside to be admitted to the haunt. (This seems to serve as an overflow queue - you may be able to go straight to the front door if they aren't busy. There was a good crowd the night I went!)
Stillwell is another one of those haunts where it benefits you to arrive early, and not just to reduce your wait time... I was waiting patiently in the tent outside with many other haunt-goers when, out of nowhere, we found ourselves under attack! In a matter of seconds, their entire cast of monsters completely swarmed the tent, stirring up a ruckus of screams, shouts, and all around panic. As actors ran amok through the crowd, I had one come up and scold me for being on my phone (... sorry?), another tell me I was about to die (rude), and the most memorable was a possum man, who presented me with some kind of chains or cuffs and cackled that we were "gonna have fun later" (uh oh!). A "Manor Minions" chant followed ("Make 'em scream!"), and with their battle cry launched, they eventually retreated back into the shadows of their home, daring all of us brave souls to step inside.
While the entrance alone has some neat things to look at, the Manor's indoor waiting area is impressively themed. Visitors stand on faux cobblestone floors, surrounded by stone walls that are studded with skulls and illuminated by flickering lanterns. Skeletons, spectres, and statues have been added here and there, making the room feel almost like you're walking through crypts instead of just waiting in line for a haunted house. Spooky music plays ominously in the background, and vines creep up the fences that form the queue for the first of Stillwell's three attractions, as well as its title house: STILLWELL MANOR.
Every attraction here has some kind of story, but Stillwell Manor's is the most elaborate, weaving the tale of General Stillwell and his family as you go through. For the most part, the house is faithful to its storyline, and doesn't have that many random "haunted house" elements. Starting out on the Manor's front porch, groups will explore the parlor, a mazelike library (still a favorite scene - love the old book smell!), the tombs where the General and his relatives are buried, and more. Some of the crazier scenes include a demon's lair, a super creepy basement area with dolls and mannequins, a butcher shop (where the term "walk-in freezer" is taken quite literally), a church taken over by evil spirits, and a realistic foggy swamp. The scenery in each room is on par with what you'll see in the waiting area- if not better- and a scattering of special effects are also utilized, like actor-matronic puppets and scents. (They've got a few tricks of their own, too - there's one spot that's notorious for tripping up groups, and I'm not going to spoil it!)
For being the longest house, Stillwell Manor had a decent sized cast on the night of my visit, and I didn't notice that many spots without actors. A wide variety of creeps and creatures call the Manor their home, including wicked house maids, ghouls stalking the Stillwell mausoleum, a bush monster prowling in the swamp, and a demented doctor.
One of my favorite and more random encounters was with a hillbilly woman, who told us a gruesome tale of how her friend got sealed in the mansion's walls, and eventually became a rotted stain in the carpet... by that time, the nice couple I was grouped with had moved on, giving her an opening to trap me and let me know I'd become one too! There was also a particularly creepy character in a suit and a plain white mask - he noticed that I didn't want to look at him, and wasn't shy about getting in my face and trying to make me (to the point where we knocked heads). Whoever was operating the giant rat actor-matronic slung that thing around with gusto, and the possessed lady in the church not only made some absolutely unearthly noises, but also followed us all the way out of the house!
Upon exiting the Stillwell home, groups are sent spilling out into the theater's former lobby. Between all the guests roaming about, the merch counter, and even more cool stuff packed into this space, things can get a bit confusing. However, the haunt's helpful staff are glad to point you in the right direction - which happens to be the little circus tent that serves as the queue for Stillwell Manor's second attraction, FORSAKEN.
Forsaken (formerly Isabell's Beyond) is not as lengthy as Stillwell Manor, but still a fun and unique attraction with some good startles thrown in. The story is that a mad doctor has taken over a sideshow, and the freaks you find within are the outcome of his experiments. Making your way through the carnival, you'll have a brief encounter with a fortune teller, and see many freaks and oddities on display (some fake... some not so much!). The tour is wacky, whimsical, and a bit unsettling to boot. Unfortunately, your group will ultimately wind up captured by the doctor,and subjected to a nasty experiment meant to turn all of you into his latest test subjects. By the way, he thanks you for "volunteering".
The cast in here was pretty good, and Forsaken was the only haunt we walked through that had zero dead spots. In every room, there was always someone- or something- waiting to scare or interact with us. I did notice that the doctor has a new look this year and I loved it! He looked amazing! Higgy, the pig-nosed guide who escorted us in, was also a total sweetheart and she remains one of my favorite Stillwell characters.
If you managed to escape the doctor's clutches without too many side effects from his experiment, an employee will be waiting to direct you to Stillwell Manor's final house, TANTIBUS LABS. Once solely named "Tantibus", the word's origin is debatable, but it's said to mean "nightmare". The storyline for this attraction is a little looser, yet also plays off Tantibus' supposed meaning: Tantibus Labs is developing an "Anti-Fear Medicine" in an attempt to help cure patients of their phobias. As you might expect, the exact opposite occurs!
Out of all three attractions, Tantibus is the closest to a traditional haunted house. You'll check in at the front desk to start, and there is a hospital scene upstairs, but then the house branches out into more random rooms that are themed around common phobias, like zombies and clowns. Tantibus is also interactive, with features like a toilet in the zombie scene that sprays water, a huge UV-reactive clown that tries to grab you (this scared the crap out of the people I went in with), and- the best part- a slide that drops guests into a colorful ball pit.
Tantibus Labs had a reasonable amount of actors, and most of those we ran into were enthusiastic in their roles (the orderly checking us in was especially entertaining). My one concern is that the haunt was a lot shorter, at least half of its usual length.
Everything that was supposed to be after the clown section was closed off. It was very busy, so I didn't get a chance to ask anyone about it, but I'm sure they had their reasons. Regardless, it felt kind of abrupt when we were suddenly back in the lobby again. Even the couple in my group, who hadn't been to Stillwell in a while, were like "That's it? We're done?"
Well, *they* might have been done, but my little horror story wasn't quite over yet... as the introduction to this review suggests, I was quickly found- and attacked- by a familiar psycho brandishing a meat cleaver in the lobby. Of course I panicked and fled into the parking lot, and of course he continued to chase me out there, where another psycho showed up and came after me, too. (The helpful shout of "Leave Bacon alone!" from another customer did nothing at all to deter them, by the way.) Thankfully, I managed to make it back into my car without bringing any scary people home with me.
As for opportunities where the show could've been better, I really didn't see that many. There were a few spots that would've been good for scares, like the "dollhouse" room in Stillwell (the fancy room with a ton of static figures, leads into a bedroom). We had a female actor talk to us in there, but I kept waiting for a startle and nothing else happened. I'm also curious as to why Tantibus was cut short as it shaved several minutes of walkthrough time off the haunt, never a good thing. Having some form of entertainment outside would've been nice, too; there was still a crowd waiting under the tent as I was leaving, and I've seen roaming characters and food vendors in the past (in their defense, they might've had roamers out there and I just didn't spot them).
All critique aside, I thought Stillwell Manor was great this year. The haunt felt stronger and scarier than what I experienced in 2020, and I think being able to back off somewhat on the COVID stuff really helped - the hesitance I noticed from their actors was not present this time. Although they are gaining in popularity every year, I still feel their haunt doesn't get nearly as much love as it deserves, and can't recommend it enough for anyone willing to make the trip to Anderson.
ENVIRONMENT: 8/10 - Scenery in the main waiting area, and set design in Stillwell Manor, is awesome. Front entrance and lobby had some cool stuff on display, and Forsaken and Tantibus each had fun and interactive elements. Loved the preshow before the haunt opened, too!
ACTING: 7/10 - Solid across all three attractions. A few empty rooms here and there in Stillwell and Tantibus, but not a huge issue.
SCARE FACTOR: 8/10 - This was the biggest improvement from last season - they were fired up in there! Great energy from the actors.
OVERALL: 8/10 - Really good show from Stillwell Manor! Everyone in my group seemed to enjoy it.
(NOTE: at the time of posting, this haunt has closed for the season. Make sure you follow their Facebook page for news on special events and their 2022 schedule!)