There’s just something therapeutic about getting the bejeezus scared out of you. Well, I shouldn’t say bejeezus, exactly. I wasn’t so scared by my tour of the event winding through Philipsburg Manor that I lost my head or anything – but I was spooked enough to declare it an awesome night out.
“The horseman needs more heads,” blared the ominous voice over the hidden speakers. At moments like this – when an elaborately painted lady of the night (by which I don’t mean a prostitute, but a deadly white vampire) or a ghost yard goblin or a crazed flesh-eating Jack-o-Lantern (it’s true!) approach – I scream first and then…laugh. Laughter, they say, is close to tears. I also find that horror and laughter come in tandem. I wasn’t laughing at the creatures, I was laughing against them.
I kept remembering the haunted tours of my childhood when the thing lurking the shadows felt free to brush up against you. Luckily, times have changed and this behavior would probably result in a lawsuit, so the actors of Horseman’s Hollow don’t brush up, but they certainly have yet to learn about personal space. It’s that frisson of discomfort in staring a very believable monster in the eyes (or eye, as sometimes they were missing one) that creates this mix of fear and nervousness, which, for me, finds its release ultimately in joy.
The maze created for this event transforms the old-timey serenity of this lovely farm into the perfect venue for a freak-out. The dark garden with its mad tender (“Don’t touch my garden!”). The poor Revolutionary War victim, just a torso in a pile of entrails. Crows (or Poe’s ravens?) tearing up what’s left of a skeleton. A whole hall of disturbingly animated pumpkins. A haunted Victorian dance party. Ichabod’s weird school house (complete with floaty schoolboy). A corn maze harkening me back to Children of the Corn.
What pleased me most was the isolation one could still achieve despite the good-sized crowd in attendance on opening night. Timed tickets made all the difference, so guests could smoothly move through the 40-minute or so walk without feeling like they were part of a parade. It’s the isolation that gets you, knowing you’re all alone with who-knows-what.
Sooner than you’ve had your fill, you’re out in the commercial world again and it’s time to enjoy apple-themed treats at the food stand (hot cider, fritters) and ransack the Gift Shop for some unusual Halloween loot. The shop wins points for being well-stocked with unique, well-selected seasonal items from the $99 Haunted Light-up Gingerbread House to pumpkin pancake mix, monster wind-up toys, and interesting literature for all ages.
There were a good amount of kids around (despite the under-12 warnings), but no one seemed too broken by the experience. Mostly there were teens coming through, and adults happily out without their kids for once (myself and my husband, for example). We compared gore notes at the end with others. Entrails man? Oh yes, he wins for best in show for sure. Two bloody thumbs up!