Backed up against a wall, shoulder to shoulder with my friends and some random strangers around me, I felt the normal hackles I get when I'm in a confined space with no escape. This was my first time experiencing a holding pen at Statesville Haunted Prison, surrounded by what felt like a thousand people crammed together with no end in sight. Right off the bat, Statesville made me feel like I was a prisoner atoning for my sins, surrounded by others facing the same predicament.
I'm a big fan of Statesville; my 2016 visit was one of the most fun experiences that I have ever had in a haunted house to date, so I was hoping to recreate the magic again this year. This year's trip was as enjoyable as ever, though the sheer amount of visitors impacted the pacing throughout the visit. After leaving the holding pen, the large group was herded into the waiting area, where we waited for our turn to enter. From here, we were separated into lines and met the Warden, who gave a brief introduction to Statesville. I always enjoy the floor drop effect that comes into play in this scene, and there are some fun aerial stunts at play as well. Conversely, I still had some trouble understanding everything the Warden said, likely due to the background noise in the room.
From here, we were moved into the next room, where we were again staggered into lines to wait for our turn. My group left this room relatively quickly and didn't get to experience much of the wait entertainment, but one of the guards was again equipped with an adorable rat that he was sharing with the crowd.
Once we entered the prison, the calamity and chaos that one would expect from a bunch of escaped maniacs was in full swing. As I've noted in the past, one of my favorite elements about Statesville is the attention to detail. In this case, I really felt as if I were trying to escape the prison, dodging through walls that had been torn down to find an escape route. Some favorites include the walk-through school bus, the clown room, and the tight section of walls that are quite tricky to navigate. I also enjoyed the plate of cockroaches that was offered at one point. Yet another detail were the water effects that came into play; there's something downright spooky about being in a haunt with water running haphazardly and creating a sense of ruin.
Acting, costuming and makeup, as always, were on point. Statesville employs a ton of actors, and there's at least one in every room that's looking to jump out in search of a scare. Due to the size of the crowds, it seemed as though my group may have missed some of the jump scares, as we merged with the groups before and after us. Again, different waiting areas and lines were included throughout to space out groups, but we inevitably caught up with the group in front of us. My best suggestion for haunt goers would be to anticipate larger crowds as the season continues and to plan accordingly (perhaps going close to opening time or on a different day).
After we finished the prison, we made our way to City of the Dead, which is filled with the spirits of Statesville's dead prisoners. We had a bit of a wait ahead of us. Something to note is that the waiting area outside City of the Dead is not enclosed, so plan according if there is inclement weather. Once inside, we were funneled into another waiting area, where we watched a brief intro video that introduced what we would find within the City of the Dead (hint: snakes!)
City of the Dead is a shorter haunt, but I think it has fantastic attention to detail throughout, as well as some excellent animatronics. I was legitimately started by some of the actors who blend into the scenery, an effect that I really enjoyed. Similarly, I felt that City of the Dead seemed to have more actors than previous years, which added to the scariness. Pacing throughout this haunt was smoother, as there were not as many guests making their way through this house.
Statesville's popularity is clearly strong, as evidenced by the massive turn out this past Saturday. This attraction excels, due to the attention to detail and actor effort. I'm hopeful that 2018 will bring some changes to the size of the groups going through the haunt, as well as some adjustment to the pacing issues throughout.
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