After a rickety hayride rounds the corner in the dark, its riders are dropped off at a ticket booth surrounded by torches and skulls. A bonfire roars, waiting to help the guests warm their chilled bones when they return from what they’re about to experience. Open for its 14th season, Fear Forest has brought the terror back to Harrisonburg.
Fear Forest features almost half a mile of haunted trails through the woods, lit only by the light of the moon and glowing ghouls. A menacing zombie knight leads the way through the entrance. As they walk, guests are transported through many terrifying worlds. Along the trail are a variety of vignettes, ranging from spooky asylums to haunted junkyards and crumbling crypts.
The attention to detail in the scenery is impressive. Skulls line the dirt walls of the crypt, and cobwebs cover every corner of the haunted church. Guests round tight corners and are greeted abruptly by giant skeletons with glowing eyes and rotting hands reaching out for them.
The Fear Forest has actors hidden throughout the walk, waiting to terrify guests. There are also cleverly placed animatronic scares and statues, leaving guests on their toes, wondering what’s real and what’s fake. What appears to be a bush or shrub may actually be a cleverly disguised actor waiting to swipe at the ankles of anyone who walks by.
For guests who want to experience the Forest with less intensity, a “Monster Wand” is available to help fend off the spooks. The wand is a glow stick that a guest carries with them that lets the actors know to tone down the scares. While the attraction still isn’t recommended for children under the age of 12, the Monster Wand allows the whole event to be a bit more family friendly.
In addition to the Forest itself, Fear Forest also has Fear Factory and Fear Crops attractions. The Fear Factory is available for guests who didn’t already satisfy their need to get tormented by clowns in the abandoned carnival portion of the Forest.
Fear Crops takes the haunted trail concept and amps it up a notch. Guests take a haunted hayride through a cornfield, where they shoot laser-tag style phasers at zombies. But they have to be careful; sometimes, the zombies shoot back. After the laser showdown, guests are dropped off in the middle of the corn maze and must find their way back before the zombies find them.
For many students, going to a haunted house can be an important part of Halloween. Amusement parks like Kings Dominion stay open during October with their own haunted attractions. But for students in Harrisonburg, it’s difficult to attend due to high ticket costs and distant location. According to its website, Kings Dominion’s Halloween Haunt tickets cost $40, while FearForest tickets are as low as $15. Fear Forest offers the same scare factor for a fraction of the cost, right in Harrisonburg’s backyard.
One part of the night that can’t be avoided at either Kings Dominion or Fear Forest is the long lines. Long wait times are an unfortunate side effect of popular attractions, so impatient guests may want to get to Fear Forest before it opens to ensure a shorter wait.
At Fear Forest, the wait in line can be enjoyable. The attraction provides a food truck that serves snacks for guests to munch on while they wait, and some actors do their best to spook people who are in line. While waiting, guests can be tormented by a human-possum mutant, a medieval plague doctor and a chainsaw-wielding maniac.
Fear Forest is a fun and spooky outing to get one in the Halloween mood. It promises big scares, and it delivers. But guests should be careful to hold hands and stick together. There’s no way of knowing what’s really out there in Fear Forest.
Contact Taylor Sarlo at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.