THE HAUNTED FORESTS
The Haunted Forests is a brand new theatrical experience to Western New York. It's a Hayride, Barn and Cornmaze that are meant to tell the story of the Gogan Family. Merl and Lena Gogan and their sons: Willy, Grover and Merl Jr. as well as their daughter Elphaba. Having been the first haunt to pop up in a few years, my excitement was through the roof. I sought out the earliest conceivable day to visit and chose the fourth night September 18th. This place is located out in the middle of rural Niagara County which is a pretty spooky place at night to begin with. The Haunted Forests is sadly easy to miss on the side of the road. However, it's a good environment once you get there.
As a feature of the Hayride, some of the best actors are present. Unfortunately, due to a number of call-offs there were adaptations made to properly spread out actors. Some of these changes resulted in out of place individuals and costumes. On balance though, the accuracy of lip-syncing to the wagon's audio track and physical presence of Icon Characters brought the whole show to a better standing. Some of the best lip syncs were in a campsite and the ringleader of the Carnival. Throughout the ride we get to see the Gogan Family murderers, Willy in a rabbit mask and Grover in a Bear mask. Willy takes the lives of two young romantics and Grover ends a lost hiker with a poison dart gun. Acting alongside the wagon aside, your ”Safari Guides” are an amazing pillar of the performance. They mocked the riders, pulled out puns and references and made hearing the rules fun. Just two generally hilarious folks.
While the Barn is very small and only has four effective chambers, the acting is fantastic. There is a single actor per room and the buildup to each performance is suspenseful. The first actor is mourning the coming loss of an older woman in his life that you can see shuddering on the bed. He proclaims his beliefs in the power of the next character you'll meet. There are two more actors. One is in the second room who I will tell you about later and the third is a Living Human Trophy.
When my group got to the cornmaze, it was late in the night and seemed that the last actor of the night was leaving the corn. We still had a good aesthetic experience with the terrain, corn and moon. I'll give this element a highly generous five rating based on how it seems the experience would be dread-inducing with actors roaming the low corn
The main midway area is undoubtedly a cozy hanging area for groups to sit around firepits and chat. Over by the Barn, there are Pumpkins for sale and a few photo ops. There is a tent with a faulty video system that is meant to play a pre-show video for you while you wait. Lines for the Barn and Hayride are disorganized without dedicated cordons and stanchions and for the cornmaze, the combined entrance/exit is highly confusing with how you let yourself in. When we went it didn’t seem to really matter. We were so early in the season that waits didn’t have to be timed, we could almost walk right into the elements.
While this is a flagship element, it doesn't have any big, grand scenic elements. There are some cool scenes like a giant sliding Carnival door, a hunting cabin and a whole campsite. Two features that ostensibly don't fit but are entertaining all the same are a giant projected skull and a suicide by hanging scene. The well scene from which Elphaba climbs out like Samara from The Ring is pretty cool with the fog and lighting. Something slightly disappointing is the fact of the wagons being taller than all the scenes so, you have to stand up to see what's going on on the other side. But, scenes aren't all that there is to look at. Nearly all the costumes are beautiful; the Icon Characters and the Carnival. Some of the characters have great makeup that you can actually see from the deck. The majority of the wow factor is brought not by something that can be seen but, what can be heard.
The Barn is pretty simple. It consists of three rooms and an effectual hallway. The first room is a colonial/pioneer Bedroom with a fireplace. The hallway to the second room features a looping but not, motion activated CGI video of who is supposedly Merle Gogan issuing some kind of message. The second room is a colonial/pioneer Workshop with a caged up freak and body on the table. The third room is a colonial/pioneer Den with three plaques built into the wall for a person to stick their head and hands through.
This rating is probably an analysis of a very circumstantial experience. When we visited, the moon was in a Gibbous reflection which gave an eerie glow out across the corn but, not full visibility. It allowed us to see the true nature of the field which isn't actually flat but, in a bowl surrounded by small hills. Very unique. Topography plus the moon would have given actors a monstrous appearance.
Unlike any other Hayride, this one succeeds in its mission of being holistically entertaining. As I eluded to earlier, the wow factor comes from what can be heard. The wagon has three high powered outdoor speakers mounted up on posts. They play a sinister reading of the Gogan Family story and the words of the characters as lip synced alongside. There is another player in the mix and this is the driver themselves. Acting as staging director and harried escape driver. The single most memorable moment was the clown from the Carnival coming right up alongside the wagon where we were sitting and swinging a dripping wet dismembered head at our faces. Among the most unique and delightful actor interactions I've ever had. The entire experience lasted 18 minutes and 26 seconds.
This is the most simple element of the whole bunch. The Barn doesn't have that many more secrets. The character in the second room, Merle is a lonely individual who wants to keep one of you as a friend. Swinging his weapons, he cordons off you or one of your friends to be kept in the workshop for the basis of a research project. The entire experience lasted 3 minutes and 34 seconds
You could really tell the group who produced the show are all new to cornmazes as the path is extremely simple. This isn't likely a bad thing when there are actors in the field. The topography and lighting of the moon will make for a highly spooky walkthrough. This one could also only get a middling score from me because we were so late and confused by the queuing scheme. Partially my group's timing, partially design and acting choices. My entire experience lasted 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
HIGHLIGHT CATEGORY FOR THE HAUNTED FORESTS
Together, the Hayride and Barn are very unique. They're essentially stage performances that are walked through or driven through. Adherence to the characters of the Gogan Family story is highly consistent. The addition of speakers to a hayride and highly vocal characters throughout make for a much different kind of interactivity.
I do recommend this attraction despite coming to a lackluster grade. The Hayride is not to be missed and the Barn is a pretty chilling introduction to their scares of the future. It's evident from successive social media posts and a story of carnival games blown away in the wind that we went too early to get a fully developed Midway experience. There will be at least one food vendor starting this weekend and probably more actors for both the Hayride and crucially, the cornmaze. I can definitely see a strong future for the Hayride and any future houses they produce.