Screemers has an anniversary party and it is a happy horror
by DREW ROWSOME - Photos by Drew Rowsome 16 October 2017
A quarter of a century is not a long period of time for the undead. For us mere mortals, their prey, it is a significant portion of our lifetimes. Many of the sacks of human flesh thronging the midway that is Screemers had not even been born when the horror attraction was first unleashed upon the world.
The news, the warning, is that Screemers is not showing its age, it is bigger and better and thriving as it feasts upon the screams of terror it generates. Instead of just botoxing on a fresh coat of paint, all of the walk-through attractions have been expanded, sometimes significantly, and given some re-thinking to maximize the scares and add vividness to the experience. I've been to Screemers several times, dating back to probably close to the inception when the construction relied on wit and enthusiasm rather than a budget. So it was a delight to find the side attractions, the bally, to be more enticing and numerous.
An old favourite, House of Cards, is somehow more detailed (perhaps 3D technology has improved in the last few years) and more brightly coloured. To wander through candy-coloured horrors and graphically blood red splotches, past eye-popping - and eyes popped - clowns on meat hooks, is delicious. If I were allowed to decorate in such an extravagant and disorienting fashion, I would convert our apartment. And the maze at the end, playing on claustrophobia, circus tent flaps and creepy candy-canes, is longer and now ends with a truly disturbing riff on Temple Grandin's innovative design for leading victims to the slaughter.
The Haunted House has added more pathways to its gorgeous decayed garden with a blow-off double scare that startles to incontinence with its unexpected one-two punch. The Slasher Wax Museum - Chucky's bedroom is still dollistically droll and dreadful - has evolved another eerie element with a bridge over Crystal Lake that provides a jump scare that got me in the best way: I screamed like a little girl and got a surge of adrenaline that was decidedly adult. And the cast member guarding the gates to Skull Castle revenged itself for my moment of recognition and attempted role dissolution, by writing "DIE" in block letters on my ticket. That is dedication if not quite a prediction, though the castle was suitably horrific.
Of the new attractions, Zombie Prizon was thematically confusing but nerve-wracking for much better reasons. Beginning with the prison - rendered in disgusting detail from the filthy conditions, roaming rotting inhabitants, and particularly the skinned chimpanzees screaming in, and sometimes out, of cages - it then mutates into a riff on Krampus with chilly Christmas-themed horrors. It does make one's flesh crawl but the gingerbread monster meant to frighten instead became a target for the selfie-craving. As we excited an anxious woman momentarily stopped her pacing to beg for news of her boyfriend who had entered without her because, "I just can't handle it." We offered our sincere hopes for his survival.
The other new attraction is not new, it is retro in the most magical way. In the same courtyard that houses Zombie Prizon and Field of Screams, sprawls a midway of games, rides, and carnival food stands, punctuated by a Ferris wheel. Lurking in the back is Grotesque, an old-fashioned, or possibly just old, dark ride. As the car lurches around corners, triggering lights and sounds and dusty horrors, it is a trip back in time to when the magic of horror was easier to evoke. It isn't particularly scary - especially compared to the rest of Screemers which benefits from 25 years of advancement in the art of the scare - but was so wonderful and so haunting that I wanted to ride it again and again. It was the only attraction where the carny tradition of exaggeration and deception held true, and it was all the more delightful for the con.
Fortified by libations provided by sponsor Baron Samedi spiced rum - Screemers has cornered the market, there were only seven bottles left at the LCBO when I googled intending to acquire, it is that potent and tasty - we braved all the terror Screemers had to offer and were only disappointed that they aren't hosting a LGBTQ night this year with its horde of horrific drag queens (Donnarama was probably more scary than the patrons could handle), and aren't planning to cut into either of the gross-out anniversary cakes on display. But I'm probably not brave enough to sample those beautifully barbaric baked goods.
Screemers continues until Tues, Oct 31 at the Queen Elizabeth Building, 180 Prince's Blvd. screemers.ca