Screams has been around for over 20 years now down in Waxahachie, just south of Dallas, TX. Built on the same ground as the Scarborough Faire renaissance festival every Halloween, Screams is not your average haunt. Dallas is a mecca of sorts for haunts, but Screams is even unique among the rest of the “haunted theme park” style haunts in the area.
With five mazes and a plethora of other activities for one low entrance fee, Screams is all about getting the biggest bang for your buck. They aren’t as high tech or detailed as many of the other local haunts, but for the low 2017 entree fee of $30 per person, you can go through the mazes as many times as park hours allow and take part of much of the other entertainment for no additional charge. Even the carnival games and booths aren’t priced badly, averaging around $3 a turn to throw some hatchets, shoot a zombie, or get executed.
More on that in a minute.
Accompanied by DC’s other DFW denizen, Freddy Ruiz, I hit Screams on the first Friday in October. Haunt tip: early Fridays are a GREAT time to hit haunts. Crowds are down, lines are short, but the show is the same. Such was the case at Screams, with only one wait hitting close to half an hour all night long. Another great thing about Screams is that their fast pass option is only an additional $15. $45 for the whole package as well as fast pass entry? That’s an amazing bargain given standalone haunts elsewhere in the region can go for nearly $30 a person for a single entry without a fast pass to skip the line.
The mazes at Screams are the star attraction, and like the rest of the haunt, they’re more or less outdoors or at least without climate control. In the warmer early-October night, that was only an issue at Pirates of Peril Point. That one got a bit…musky…in places. Hey, pirates aren’t known for their hygiene, and they’re pretty active in there, so at least it attains the funk honestly. Just be prepared when visiting Screams that this is definitely a climate-dependent attraction: if it’s hot, it’ll be hot. If it’s cold, it’ll be cold. If it’s raining, it’ll be wet.
Out of the five mazes, Freddy and I were torn on which was the best. It was a dead heat (no pun intended) between the Zombie Wasteland and Carnevil Clown Maze. I preferred the zombies, despite my overall zombie fatigue. The actors in this one were really, really on point. Some incredible energy and performances going on over there. The outdoor setting fit the haunt perfectly and gave the zombies plenty of room to work.
Freddy preferred the clowns, partially because of the performers (who I agree are excellent) and partly because of the format. Carnevil is a true maze. It’s free form. Theming is limited, the scares come solely from the clowns roving the maze. You could theoretically wander around in there for hours. We honestly had a hard time finding our way out, and the constant interference of the clowns (THE CLOWNS LIE) didn’t help. We saw groups just getting nailed in Carnevil by the clowns. Not literally. I think. But absolutely terrified, intentionally split up into smaller groups to enhance the terror, working the environment to hit the same group again and again, just some fine haunt work. I’ve been a spook, and these folks knew their stuff.
The Castle Of The Doomed and Hotel Of Horror were in the middle. Castle has the best setting of all the haunts: an actual castle, complete with huge fire plumes at the entrance. It’s the most traditional of the haunts, is mostly indoors, and has some excellent decor. However, maybe due to when we went or the time we passed through, the whole thing seemed a little sparsely populated. We definitely didn’t get the energy we saw in the first two mazes. This is also an extremely horny maze (you’re welcome, Steve) with loud horns going off throughout. I get that it matches the war-based theme of the maze, but it was more annoying than unnerving.
Hotel is also mostly indoors, but suffers from a little confusion in theme. It’s the Hotel of Horrors, but really seemed more themed to a restaurant than a hotel other than a bed here or there. There’s a definitely Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe here, and your host out front is a mad chef. This just reinforces the twisted cannibal theme as opposed to a hotel. The back third of the house or so is a little odd as well. After 2/3 of heavily themed, high energy haunt, the back third is really just a black maze with some music. A bit puzzling.
Both of those mazes, however, are a good time, don’t get me wrong. They could be better, but they’re certainly a hoot. The Castle’s theming and sets make it a worthy stop, and Hotel’s gruesome intensity adds a nice touch of gore to the other less-bloody mazes.
The only real dud of the set is Pirates of Peril Point, the 3D maze. If you haven’t been through a 3D haunt, they’re painted in specific day-glow colors and you’re given polarized glasses. This makes some colors jump out in 3D, leading to a weird, psychadelic effect. They’re used often, everywhere from Knott’s Scary Farm to DFW’s own Thrillvania. Here, to be honest, the effect isn’t used that well. The 3D is never spectacular, and they don’t use many of the tactics 3D gives you, such as “blackout” costumes with 3D elements allowing a spook to completely disappear into a background for perfect scare opportunities. The maze is small and tight, leading to the musky funk I mentioned earlier, but it also doesn’t give the actors much room to work. While they appeared in all mazes, Pirates featured just an awful lot of what Freddy termed the “blowsplosions”: air cannons that go off as you pass with a loud noise, usually near your feet. They’re a fine effect, but overused here.
Pirates needs a rethink, but it’s still worth one pass through. That’s the beauty of Screams: if you don’t like an attraction, move on to the next, or do your favorite multiple times. The problem with traditional haunts is that if you don’t dig it, oh well, that was that. It’s not the case here; have a beverage, take a break, and head back to your favorite maze three or four more times before they close things up.
It also must be said that the acting throughout the park is top notch. These guys and gals put it all out there and do a great job.
That’s something else well worth mentioning: Screams is brought to you by the same people that bring you Scarborough, so much of the same food and drink service is available. It’s rare you find a haunt with a full bar, or sausage on a stick. (And if they do, you don’t want the sausage…I’m looking at you, Carl Cleaver.) They also have a full service (?!?) bar and restaurant, the Full Moon Cafe. Freddy and I took a snack break there. We got the Stuffed Potato Kegs, huge tater tots with baked potato toppings built right in. They were very good, reasonably priced, and went down great with our hard ciders poured cold from the tap. Sandwiches and other pub grub are available. The service was also excellent thanks to the lovely and talented future vendor of costumery, Myranda.
That’s really the feel of Screams and the entire selling point: it’s a ren faire from hell. Take all the fun stuff from a ren fest, replace the knights and jousting with killer clowns and haunts, and put it after dark. Voila, instant fun. Karaoke contests, rock climbing walls, games of skill, shops and vendors, and yes, even an electric chair that will give you the buzz for a $3 fee.
This will sound like an insult, but it isn’t: Screams is the Wal-Mart of haunts. Everything under one roof for a really great price. There’s nothing wrong with that and everything great about it. Even trucking along at a good pace and skipping most of the extra entertainment, we were still there for nearly four hours. That’s a hell of a bargain at $30 a ticket.
Screams is open Fridays and Saturdays between now and October 28th. Tickets are available via their website now, including Fast Pass and Group packages!