Last weekend I visited Dreamland, Margate for the very first time to experience Screamland, their Halloween event. Having heard good reviews of the event from previous years, I was excited to see what the park had in store, and how it would compare to other scare attractions I’ve visited. So, what did I make of my first experience of Screamland? I explore my thoughts on each of the Park’s five scare mazes below.
Please be aware there will be some spoilers below.
Hammer House of Horror
This was the scare maze I was most looking forward to in the run up to my visit. I’ve always enjoyed the classic horror stories having read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, and many more, some more than once. So, when I discovered that Screamland would feature a maze based on one of the iconic institutions of the British film industry I was excited to see what they would do with it. The maze takes you through the sets of some of the best-known classic horror films, including Dracula and The Mummy, as well as some lesser known entries from the Hammer Horror canon such as The Abominable Snowman and The House That Bled to Death. This is a maze which is more theatrical than scary, but that isn’t to say that it lacks scares as there are several moments where actors make good use of the space to deliver some effective scares. One nice little touch is the use of curtains between sections with each film’s poster printed on it to mark the transition between each scene. However, it is the finale featuring The Woman in Black which is the standout moment in this attraction, with the final room being cleverly worked to make it seem like she really does appear from nowhere. Screamland have achieved a good balance with this maze, with it capturing the spirit of Hammer Horror in just the right way.
A clown or circus themed maze has become a staple of many scare events up and down the country and Screamland features its very own take on this theme with Condemned Carnival. Where this maze does well is with its detailed sets, which are evident right from entrance which includes a giant clown mouth and a candy floss and popcorn stall which doubles up as a photo opportunity. Inside, you are first greeted by a Zoltar who sets up the maze with a well devised pre-show before sending you on your way. Whilst the sets are very well done, and there were a couple of good moments, especially when one of the clowns got the group involved in one of the carnival games, for me, this maze felt the weakest in terms of scares. It felt like it was lacking in pace and missing that manic energy which you’d typically expect with a clown themed maze. Having seen good reviews prior to my visit I can’t help but think that maybe I was simply unlucky and the scares which were delivered were just timed in a way that missed me, Many of the scares seemed to rely on the group staying together, which isn’t always possible. Condemned Carnival certainly has a lot of potential and with a few tweaks could be very good.
The Sleep Experiment: Lockdown
The most intense maze of the evening had to be The Sleep Experiment: Lockdown. Going in, I had no idea what to expect from this maze so was pleasantly surprised to discover it delivered some of the best scares of the night. Throughout the attraction a whole host of creepy creatures accosted us from all angles as we made our way along the winding corridors. It would have been easy for Screamland to have used a standard zombie format with this maze so it was refreshing to see them opt for something different and this added to the intensity of the maze as you just didn’t know what kind of creature you were going to encounter next. The attraction also featured an impressive set piece with an actor dragging a pole along the metal walls of a cage generating a spark effect. The finale was also particularly effective and regularly caused guests to come running, in some cases screaming, out of the maze.
If Sleep Experiment was the most intense maze of the evening, Submerged had by far the most detailed sets. Upon stepping inside you really get the sense that you have boarded a sunken ship with the clever lighting effects creating the illusion of being underwater and the strands of seaweed woven throughout the narrow corridors giving the sense that the sea is slowly but surely claiming the doomed ship which now lies at the bottom of the ocean. As you wander along the ship’s corridors encountering the various lost souls who went down with the stricken vessel, you get an increasing sense of eeriness. Whilst this attraction isn’t necessarily the scariest, it perhaps is the most atmospheric which helps it hold its own on the Screamland line-up.
When I discovered that The Brotherhood was a hooded maze, I will admit I was a little concerned. I’ve not had the best experiences with hooded mazes in the past and was concerned about the experience this one would give. Thankfully I need not have worried. Only the first section of the maze was hooded, and during this section the actors used some different techniques to not just scare, but also create a sense of revulsion that you were coming into contact with victims of the plague and the vile disease they carried. However, it was once the hoods were removed that this maze was at its best. As you wandered through the re-created medieval streets, you are accosted by several characters, but it is the Plague Doctor who lurks in the shadows who is perhaps the creepiest character of all and provides the most effective scares in this maze, appearing when you least expect it.
Overall, I was fairly impressed with Screamland’s maze line-up. Each maze had its own unique character, and there was good mix of theatricality and scares meaning the event has a good balanced line-up. Outside of the mazes, there are a selection of rides open, including the Scenic Railway and Pendulum (which during my visit was giving particularly lengthy ride cycles). The Park has also been decorated with many pumpkins, and the signature “Dreamland” letters have received a seasonal makeover to say “Screamland”, especially for the event. It would have perhaps been nice to see a little more street entertainment around the Park outside the mazes; however, it was clear that the focus was quite rightly on ensuring the scare mazes were done right and delivered a good experience. Maybe as the event grows in future years the street entertainment is something which can be expanded upon.