But how about this? Subtlety.
It may seem weird, using the term “subtlety” in association with entertainment that involves the aforementioned clowns with chainsaws. But when I visited Bloodshed Farms Haunted Fear Fest in Columbus, N.J., I discovered that a little bit of subtlety can go a long way in driving home the scares.
Too many haunted attractions rely almost exclusively on “jump scares.” Actors trying to startle you with some variation of jumping out and yelling “Boo!” Sure, jump scares are important. But when you have too many in succession, they get repetitive and lose their effectiveness — becoming more annoying than scary.
Bloodshed Farms isn’t the biggest or most elaborate haunted attraction I’ve ever been too, but it’s easily one of the best. A lot of that comes down to excellent acting and staging. And the relatively subtle touches that get under your skin.
Prime example. You have to walk through a short trail in a cornfield to get to the main site. I saw a guy in a mask lurking around in there, and figured he was going to jump out and try to startle me. He didn’t. He quietly stepped out and started following me, saying nothing. Much more disturbing. Another example. A deranged clown walking around and interacting with visitors, who goes by the name “Cuddles McSpanky.” Consider how disturbing that name is on so many levels.
In all likelihood, one of the reasons Bloodshed Farms is so good is that it isn’t really a business, so much as a collective of people who just love this shit.
Managers Clark Bish, Jim Reed and Kenny O’Ranger were kind enough to sit down and talk to me.
This is the first year for Bloodshed Farms, but the crew had been running the Haunted Prison attraction at the Burlington County Prison Museum in Mount Holly, N.J., for the past nine years.
Clark said they outgrew the Prison Museum. People started showing up by the thousands, resulting in two-hour waits.
According to Clark, the group that puts it on consists largely of “home haunters.” Those are the people who go all out with the Halloween decorations, turning their houses into mini attractions. Many of the props at Bloodshed Farms came from such home displays. The participants approach Bloodshed Farms as a labor of love, and most of the profits will go into buying more stuff for next year.
“We just want the money to play with it more,” Jim said.
The attraction now consists of an open, central area with a DJ and concessions. Visitors have a choice of the Funhouse of Fear, Hellsgate Prison, Necropolis Cemetery and the Trail of Terror.
Unique to Bloodshed Farms is an attraction actually called “The Blood Shed.” But expect variations on the concept to crop up soon at other haunted attractions, because it’s a winner.
Clark said the idea came from movies like “Saw” and “Hostel.” What happens is that you pay money to enter the shed, and get strapped into a chair. They give you a buzzer to hit when you can’t take any more. Then a demented ghoul enters and menaces you with a number of torture implements. As an added bonus, your friends get to watch on a TV outside, and laugh at your torment.
Sound sick and twisted? It is. Hey, if you’re a horror fan, “sick” and “twisted” aren’t necessarily pejorative terms. It’s also a blast. I’d highly recommend it.
Clark said their ultimate goal is for annual visitors to feel just as invested in Bloodshed Farms as the organizers and actors.
“We want it to be like a tradition to come here,” Clark said.
Bloodshed Farms Fear Fest is located at Columbus Farmer’s Market, 2919 U.S. 206, Columbus, N.J. Tickets are available from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween. See more here.