I used to love haunted houses. I hadn’t visited any in years. I’d been curious to rediscover this interest, especially thanks to the comprehensive reviews by my good friend Oni. I’ve also been pursuing an unspoken resolution to explore more of central Pennsylvania, which has much to offer beyond truck stops, Penn State, and a target for hillbilly pejoratives.
So I headed to Lock Haven – mentally flagged as one of the more notable exits off I-80 – to pay a visit to Spookhaven.
Spookhaven Haunted House is a boxy old building in Mill Hall. Staff were friendly, from the ticket salespeople to the unaffiliated folks running a hot dog and snack tent outside. Free onsite parking seemed to be filling up fast even around opening time.
The line area was a dark, open room with graveyard props, a few standalone tunnels with black light murals and hanging vines, and scare actors doing their best to liven it up. Photography was allowed in here – a nice concession to people wanting to take souvenir pictures.
Unfortunately, much of the waiting room scenery got lost in the gloom. Strategic lights could show off the displays, especially the giant hanging animal carcass I only saw by chance. A talking face was projected on the wall, but hard to hear over the echoing chatter of people waiting in line. I suspect this may relate to Spookhaven’s story – a zoo plagued by infection and animal/human hybrid experimentation – which could use comprehensive buildup in the entryway. I first heard the premise after the fact, so the haunt felt like a sequence of creepy themed rooms.
But it was a good sequence of creepy themed rooms, with detailed handcrafted sets and time to enjoy each experience. The opening areas flowed into each other, as did a great use of multilevel space – a crawl tunnel leading around and up a ramp to an observation ledge over a zoo pen. Simple effects were effective – a projection of writhing snakes, wobbly wooden floors.
Spookhaven’s actors brought out the best of this all. They were engaging, expressive, and aptly timed, which gave a sense of flexible choreography to the scenes. A perfect tag team jack in the box jump scare had me laughing my head off in the best way possible, as did the many distraction scares and ankle grabs which were mixed up enough to not be spoiled by shrieking guests ahead. The overall effect was more Creepy and Entertaining than Diapers Recommended, but that could be more me than Spookhaven. I still had fun reacting to the characters and recoiling when they got up close and personal. And I do startle easily – and enjoy it in the context of a haunt.
Guests were pulsed through in small groups, which initially worked well for pacing. The crowds started to back up near a dark maze that reduced us all to a shuffle and didn’t offer much in return. It had some points of interest, the best of which was an actor who jumped out from above on bungee cords and gave high fives on request. I forgot the others because I was focusing on not bumping into the people ahead. The maze could have used some minimal lighting at floor level – perhaps only activated during a backlog, as some haunts do to keep the line moving – and a cushion over the threshold at the end that I almost tripped over.
Similarly, a strobe and fog room near the end was more disorienting than anything else. It appeared to have some decoration that was difficult to see in the haze. I saw one actor in there – perhaps it was meant to be more of an interactive experience. The teenagers ahead of us did some lunge ‘n scare, which did freak me out for a moment by making me think some zombie crowd had just showed up.
Spookhaven has a lot of handcrafted heart and wow factor in its best moments. Its focus on scare talent is commendable, especially its investment in coaching from Rabid Badger Haunt Consulting. The actors’ enthusiasm made the whole experience. A few scenes could be more atmospheric and engaging, but the quality of the rest more than made up for those. I got my evening’s worth of fun, and I look forward to checking out the extensive remodel planned for 2015.
Spookhaven Haunted House
100 Danis Street
Mill Hall, PA 17751