Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scott + Carol Present: Kennywood's Phantom Fright Nights 2008

Editor's Note: Scott and Carol Holmes are back with a wonderful review of Kennywood's Phantom Fright Nights 2008. The event looks great this year! Read on to see what I mean...

Kennywood has been thrilling patrons for 110 years. Located in the Pittsburgh metro area, the locals have become very discerning about what they like, and very vocal about what they don’t. So being successful for so long, the park has to be doing something right. As a National Historical Landmark, they have high standards to maintain. It has remained in the same two families for three generations, until being sold to Parques Renuidos earlier this year. But the mission remains the same, to provide thrills in the way they always have through the years. For the seventh year, Phantom Fright Nights combines “terror with taste,” in the inimitable Kennywood tradition. The Phantom greets you outside the gate, to welcome you to his Kennywood. Artfully staged, he presents a foreboding invite to the mayhem of the dark.

The planning starts in February, but construction ramps up when daily operations ceased for the season. The big new haunted attraction for 2008, Voodoo Bayou, is the brain child of Matt Eames. As the creative director, he says, “I’m living my dream – taking the bizarre ideas that gush from my head and coaxing them to life.”

Phantom Fright Nights is a big undertaking, and it requires a temporary expansion of the “scare force.” Three hundred monsters of all types are hired, trained, and prepared for duty. According to Jeff Filicko, “We have a priority system for makeup, where the more detailed characters move forward in the line. It’s always a rush, but our dedicated team makes it all come together.” Many of them appear in the bayou, whispering warnings that are unheeded, echoing throughout the shrunken heads.

For long time park regulars, the giant spider from the retired Gold Rusher makes an appearance. A long complicated experience filled with skulls, snakes, and rotting carcasses, some with inside jokes. One of the dead is met their untimely demise wearing a Kennywood shirt. If you dare, try to avoid becoming another shrunken head.

Kennywood’s new for 2008 is Ghostwood Estate, an interactive dark ride that changes every time guests ride it. Featuring spectacular three dimensional theming, guests challenge each other to drive away the ghosts that have taken over the place.

For those who would rather sit back and watch the scenes, there are digital displays disguised as pictures that constantly change, props that move when particular targets are hit, and a track-less vehicle that starts, stops and turns with no visible means of control. For others who want to fire away, there are around 200 targets, most of which reward your marksmanship with a trick as well as points. Whether you play the game or just enjoy the scenery, it’s always a good time. One last warning, be very observant near the giant cake. Make sure you hit that target.

Changing the mood of the park takes many man hours. Every light bulb is changed on the carousel, a job that takes two maintenance workers at entire week. Almost every other light in the park is also changed in some form or another. According to the park, that’s 10,479 different bulbs. Fifty strobe lights are added, along with between two and three thousand square feet of colored gels, for adding just the right touch of atmosphere.

But the scares are different here at Kennywood. They use surprise and loud noises, instead of merely gore. A wonderful change from having people just yell in your face, Phantom Fright Night participants find themselves misdirected into looking away, and then seeing the frightening apparitions right next to them.

If you brave the Villa of the Vampire, you are offered a “bite”, and directed past a coffin “just for you.” Enough coffins to fill a mortician’s warehouse, and more bats and werewolves than you have silver bullets. Beware of what lurks in the fog, it’s really you they’re after. As you enter the Dark Shadows Maze, is the wall really closing in? With all the fog, minimal lighting, and a deep subsonic pulsing beat, until they touch you you’ll never know. You fell like something bad is about to happen, but will it?

Parkside Café has been transformed into Mortem Manor. What was once beautiful has now become macabre? The unearthly zombies make you wish this is one pageant you passed by. With lots of places to move through the walls and approach you from unforeseen directions, the screams of the guests provide all the sound track this maze needs.

If you like 3-d chromatography, don’t miss Captain Skully’s Curse. With pirates waiting around every corner, the black lit backdrops hide many things, and they are all waiting for you. Don’t try to take their treasure; they’ll take you prisoner instead. Pretty wenches beware; a pirate wants to be your best friend.

The roller coasters are open, as well as most of the big rides. Many rides are on standby, available for quick use when larger crowds gather. If you wander the park enjoying the darkness, you see some of the scenes the creative team has set up for your enjoyment.

The Kennyville Cemetery with the glowing fountain and ghostly apparition show the park in a different light. Walking through Gory Park, the realization that no one is picking up trash in that area strikes a disquieting chord. The park is not usually like this.

As you leave, grabbing a bite at Potato Patch Fries on the way out, the fond memories of the best scares fill your head. The members of your group have varying opinions about what was best, and that’s alright; Kennywood means many different things to many different people. The best memories are your own experiences of your visit, and they should provide pleasant recollections throughout the cold winter.


Heather said...

I hope you have a chance to come back this year! It's as amazing and scary as ever. Some new haunts have been added since 2008. I believe the new one this year is called "Biofear." Naturally, you'll want to stop by the classics!

PS: That lovely lady in the black and red dress, holding the goblet of blood? That would be my mother. She is back at the Villa this year in her usual place, and I will be there also! Unless things change, you should find my accomplice and I in the blue, foggy room just before the room before the Lycans (Werewolves,) so watch out! ;)