Date of Visit: 10/31/21 Reviewer: Lindsay
Every state has its urban legends, and if you live in or near Kentucky, you're probably at least familiar with that of the Pope Lick Monster, who is rumored to stalk the train trestle in Pope Lick Park. However, murmurs have recently surfaced of strange happenings in the city of Shepherdsville, too. Tales of a river that once turned deep red, thought to be the source of bizarre occurrences in the surrounding community. And rumors of a cryptid affectionately named "Lou Lou Belle", who is said to lurk within its waters. All of this supposedly took place long ago, but it left enough of an impact on the local community that they've taken to calling the river by a rather ominous name: "The Blood River".
Living in close vicinity to Louisville, I'm lucky enough to be near a large cluster of haunts, and 2021 birthed a couple of new ones. One of them- The Blood River- actually ended up becoming guests on one of our shows, Science Behind the Scare (put on by our wonderful Nick and Suzze!). I was impressed by the enthusiasm that Jessica, Keith, and Jeremy displayed for their haunt, as well as the storyline they came up with, but I didn't think I'd find the time to pay them a visit this season. However, opportunity would arise the last weekend of October - I was researching which haunts were available to enjoy on the 31st, and was delighted to find that they would be open! And so, on a dark and windy night, I was on my way to Shepherdsville to discover what waited in the river's murky depths. What better way to spend Halloween, right?
Brave souls who want to investigate the legend of The Blood River can do so for $22 and some change (I didn't grab the official price, but that's how much my ticket was). The haunt was a little hard to find, as it was in a location that gets incredibly dark at night - when you pull on to Dawson, keep going all the way to the end of the road. (Hint: they're very close to where the Awesome Flea Market is.) Parking seemed to be limited, but they do have space and it is free. While you're waiting for your turn to enter the haunt, you can pass the time watching movies on an inflatable screen. I also recommend stopping by Madame J's Concession Stand for some snacks - they sell "Voodoo Pies" for $5, a deep fried PB&J sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and I can vouch they are fantastic!
In addition to the river tours offered here, J.R. Malice is in town with his freak show-slash-haunted maze under the big top, and that's where your Blood River adventure will begin. Wearing a dapper jack o'lantern suit- and carrying a demeanor that was both comical and unsettling- J.R. met me outside of the tent and explained that while his freaks might "play" with me a bit, he'd certainly make sure I left in one piece. (No, really - he's got a 100% success rate!) However, I quickly discovered that he doesn't exactly get along with Big Ern, the former riverboat captain in charge of running the bus tours... he confided that he'd watched a group of eight people board the bus, but only five of them returned! Well, with Mr. Malice watching my back, at least I wouldn't have any trouble with anyone in this tent... or so I hoped.
Walking through the tent felt a lot like walking through a haunted house you'd find at a carnival or fair, and I'm pretty sure that's the exact vibe they were going for. As I stepped carefully among hanging sheets and ratty curtains, I came across several scenes full of random- but neat- stuff. (More than once, I'd look at something and wonder 'where did they get that?!') An early scene had figures of famous movie monsters: Pinhead, Freddy Krueger, and Ghostface, to name a few. There was also a Christmas section, where a Santa character wearing a cool skull mask was seated. I'll be honest, I thought this guy was fake - until he jumped up from his chair! I received another good startle (and a laugh) from one actor's arm unexpectedly reaching out between the curtains to grab at me. And of course, it isn't a freak show without the clowns: there were some delightful ladies waiting towards the end to see me out... where I promptly got another scare from J.R. himself, who feigned relief that I survived. See, he knew I'd make it!
Having completed my little tour of the maze, my attention fell upon a nervous looking boat captain waiting for me in front of a parked shuttle. I could only guess that was Big Ern. He offered me a ride, with the promise of possibly spotting Lou Lou Belle, the local river monster. Well, this was the perfect adventure for Halloween, and I'm sure there was absolutely nothing sketchy going on here. Who was I to say no? I climbed aboard, and was joined a few minutes later by two other riders. J.R., on the other hand, didn't seem too happy that we were going. "You're all going to die!" he called after us. Hmm... why would he say that? And wait - it was chilly and windy outside. Why were the bus windows open? I didn't get much more time to consider either of those questions before the bus rumbled to life and took us away into the darkness.
Whatever he might've had in store for us, I will say this for Ern: the guy had jokes for days. And we heard a whooole bunch of them for the duration of the ride. "What kind of fish is the wealthiest fish? ... A GOLDfish." Of course, you can't forget that this is still a haunted attraction, and unfortunately for us, the trip didn't stay lighthearted for long. "We feed her," he remarked, referring to Lou Lou Belle. Apparently this creature was real? "She eats lots of fresh meat." Oh? How interesting-- "She eats fresh meat," he continued, "... by the *bus load*."
I glanced at the two strangers. They glanced at me. All three of us were wearing the same "uh oh" face.
Nothing we could do now - guess we should've listened to Mr. Malice. Cackling, the boat captain sped off towards the processing facility, where foolish passengers like us would be carved up and turned into monster chow. Upon reaching our destination, we were escorted from the bus and marched into a shack, where another clown was waiting. She advised us to run really fast once she opened the exit door, and we found out why when we stepped out and were swiftly attacked by a big scary brute with a chainsaw! He gave chase as we fled, but thankfully, Ern decided that Lou Lou had eaten enough that day, and allowed us back to the safety of the bus.
There was just one not-so-little problem remaining: while Big Ern might've let us off the hook, Lou Lou Belle had other plans. It was just looking like we were home free when the river monster herself suddenly rose up out of the dark and blocked the bus, completely preventing our escape! For whatever reason, our jokester captain decided it would be a good idea to march outside, get in this creature's face, and try to scold her out of the way. Predictably, he almost got his head chewed off, but he broke free and hurried back on board. What followed was a fun and frantic pursuit by Lou Lou, who swept frighteningly close to the bus a few times, and even sprayed us all with "acid"! (So that's why the windows were open...) I really got into this part of the haunt, to the point where I saw her zooming up on us and shouted "Watch out, here she comes!" ... then shrieked upon being hit with her acid spray. I'd never seen anything like this at other haunts, and they pulled it off well - she really did look like a big river monster swimming around! Very cool.
(J.R. Malice reappeared with some advice for us when we finally escaped back to where we started. It seems Ms. Belle's acid spray might have some icky side effects. He helpfully offered us a mud puddle if we needed to wash up. As I write this, I'm pretty sure it's all worn off. I'll let you know if I grow any extra eyes or limbs.)
Were there any ways The Blood River could have been better? While I did see some spots where I would recommend changes, you must remember that this is a first year attraction and those are always going to be a bit rough around the edges. At least one more sign to assist customers in finding the location will help (maybe at the midway point), and if possible, some lighting for the parking area. They did have a good number of actors, especially in the tent, where I never had to wait too long to see someone. I'd love to see them add another chainsaw actor to the processing area on the bus tour, as it's a perfect space for trapping or ping-pong scaring groups. J.R.'s tent was fairly bright and easy to navigate on the night of my visit; if there's a way to make it darker or more disorienting, it has the potential to be quite creepy. There was also a heavy reliance on the statue scare and I heard at least one "get out". Removing that kind of dialogue (we never want to hear "boo" or "get out"), and mixing up the scare tactics a little more, will strengthen this part.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Blood River and I think it's going to be a solid addition to the Kentucky haunt scene. It is clear that the team who runs the place has passion, not only for Halloween, but also for entertaining people. I love the idea and the story they've come up with, and I genuinely hope I can return next year to see what they've added since their first season. If you're a haunted house fan looking for a completely new experience, head out to Shepherdsville and see if you can track down the legendary river monster - but take care that you don't become her next meal!
ENVIRONMENT: 5/10 - About what I would expect from a new haunt. As time goes on and the haunt grows, this score will increase.
ACTING: 6/10 - Everyone did pretty well beyond the one "get out". No dead spots either. J.R. and Big Ern were fun to interact with, and great choices to lead each part of the show.
SCARE FACTOR: 6/10 - funnier and more entertaining than terrifying, but they'll still getcha at some point. I had a good time!
OVERALL: 6/10 - The Blood River is a unique and fresh take on haunted attractions, and I'm glad I was able to come out and see them for their first year. Definitely recommend this for anyone seeking something new!