Dreamland amusement park reopened last year after several years of being rundown, closed and boarded up. Its not getting the best reviews but I still like it- the design , the logo the retro style look they've created around the park, I don't want to see it close again ( LOTS OF DEBT ). Last year they launched SCREAMLAND a series of scare mazes around the park, I never visited because I worked for an attraction that thrived over the Halloween period- but I had enjoyed their marketing campaign and style and it had won some SCARE ATTRACTION awards .
This year I found myself with more time on my hands and was able to purchase a ticket for the 2016 Screamland event. Firstly the design of the poster and subsequent artwork they created for this event is fantastic, a throwback to 80's style slasher horror .
As myself and a friend ( A fellow Scare Maze and Attraction enthusiast ) walked to the entrance we saw the neon spotlights across the Hollywood-esque DreamLand Sign retitled Screamland. The fog machines puffed into the park loud Halloween related songs played over the speakers and in the dark it looked every bit like a ministry of sound event. It was not too busy and after a little confusion as to where to pay for parking we were into the park. We were handed a ticket card on entry with the five mazes on each- you could do each maze one and your card was stamped once you entered. The rides were unlimited , and they are fairground rides , not huge thrill seekers. Part of the charm about dreamland is each amusement ride has a some interpretations into his history of each ride as you wait. We made a beeline for the only maze we could see- we didn't get a map upon entry as they were priced at £2.00 as part of the programme for the night- but even that was a fantastic idea. Designed like a pulp comic book it featured facts, maps and insights into each maze . I later brought one because it was a novel idea.
Bloody Mirror, based on Bloody Mary. This was the only visible maze and the smallest , what a horrible experience and not horrible as in Scary, just bad overall. We may have been on a rubbish tour but there was absolutely no scares on ours. The character at the start was retelling the Bloody Mary legend but her make up was bad. We started to wonder if they blew their budget on the promotional material , I'm sure they won awards I kept saying. The maze was built inside an existing mirror maze, decorated with bloody bandages that you got snared up in, as we wandered round the pre-set route we encountered one actor - dressed in gold sequins. I joked that the costume looked like a character from the Mighty Boosh and the Mirror World. We found the exit and couldn't work out if the rest of the mazes were going to be that poor. Again could have been a bad tour... but we can only judge what we saw. After a few rides we found some characters walking around the park. A rather menacing Punch and Judy Double Act. They certainly nailed their theming. A carnival of horrors.
We found our second Maze-A large warehouse hidden just up a small hill called Festinos Funhouse ....
The premise was a Circus Overtaken by An evil Clown Called Pearlywight - the design was exactly as it sounded a circus of horrors. I don't want to spoil anything for people that visit in the future because they may not change too much, but aside from the Bloody Mirror there certainly are a lot of Actors in their mazes. Funhouse not only felt like a real scare maze , but it did things that I haven't witnessed at other places. Ringmasters, Knife throwers, Bearded Lady, Killer Clowns, Funhouse style music - strobe effects, neon and harlequin patterns , uneven flooring... and a killer ending. We exited the maze after a decent amount of time- each maze was longer than expected. It was really good, surprisingly because of how put off we were after Bloody Mirror. The bar had been reset. We started to queue for The Paradise Foundation but were advised to come back later.
Next Up The Final Cut and Dead And Breakfast Two mazes in one, you complete one maze and then enter another - you couldn't skip to the second. The Final Cut was my favourite , and out of all five that the Park had it certainly stuck with me the most. It was built into the building that runs behind the disused cinema on the main road . As you enter the building they had recreated a street scene , outside a rundown cinema. The Set design here was outstanding. You enter through a revolving door and into the lobby of the cinema, which contained Hammer Horror Posters, organ music and a creepy usher. After setting the premise and entering screen one , you pass through a Cinema Screen into the film ( like Last Action Hero ... an enjoyable Arnie Film , Look it up ) What I liked about this maze was that it was constantly eerie , mannequins had been placed in empty seats and you could never tell what was going to be an actor and what was a prop. Each exit from the movie scene would be through a clear curtain decorated like a film reel. As you pass homages to Aliens, Gremlins, Little Shop Of Horror and Mars Attacks the effects shifted from pitch darkness, smoke , strobes and neon lighting- it was delightfully B-Movie quality and one of the best scare mazes I have been to. Confectionary sellers threw stale popcorn at you, ushers had flashlights and movie monsters make appearances. Immediately after this Maze you find yourself outside a rundown guest house ( still inside the building ) The maze was Dead And Breakfast and features a grotesque landlady called Fag Ash Lil, our landlady was played by a man. What each maze has is a central main character with a fleshed out backstory, which can be found on social media. this was the first maze to fully utilise the horror tropes- grotty walls, dank corridors, peeling wallpaper. A mixture of effects in play with blackout scares, smells and hostile characters. The narrow corridors added a sense of claustrophobia to this maze and a nice elevator effect towards the end made this maze my second favourite of the night.
The Final maze and new for 2016 season was the Paradise Foundation, it had the longest queue and was the most intriguing at the attraction . There was a lot of hashtags for this maze, with keeping the secret from everybody else. You enter a fluorescent white room with android like staff talking about your wellbeing before you are sold on the black market during a bidding war, its obvious that the staff had been brainwashed and operated on by the resident doctor ( another character fleshed out ) Dressed in lab coats, with a futuristic silver wig and hi tech glasses you are told that you are looking for Bliss and that You can improve yourself. The main premise of the maze sees you walking through science labs and bathrooms as failed experiments and medical doctors jump out on you, passing hospital like surgery rooms and bloodstained corridors . This maze also features a photo opportunity , which dependant on how fast your group is and how good the scare actor on position is , can turn out to be very rubbish . We Didn't Buy Ours. Certainly not the best maze, that title was given to The Final Cut. But still a very clever and well thought out maze nonetheless.
Overall: Screamland deserves all the praise it gets, it may not have the budget that Merlin and other established attractions have but its |marketing campaign, its design and atmosphere should win people over. None of it is overly scary at all, but there is certainly some things it is doing that I haven't seen at other leading places. It does feel like a retro seaside attraction that you see in films and the lighting, fog and roaming characters make it feel bigger than what it has to offer. It wasn't busy and that may have made the park feel as if it wasn't popular. Well though out mazes, fleshed out stories , lots of scare actors in each area , good food and a clever and novel marketing campaign.
I'll look forward to going in 2017.