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Dead zone is pretty well done, and I have every confidence that they will only continue to meet and exceed our expectations in the future. There were a couple of pieces that didn’t quite fit as nicely as I might have preferred, like a jigsaw puzzle piece jammed into the wrong position, but with a little bit of fine tuning, this will be one of the best productions around, and it’ll be nice to have something like it represented in the South Denver area.
Dead zone invites its guests to participate in a “mission” to the Other Side. The story goes that Spirit Tech, the worst scientific research organization since Aperture Science and the Umbrella Corporation, decided to test a portal to the spirit world out in a remote location. After a huge release of psionic energy, a hole in the universe opened up. Naturally the authorities did what any socially responsible governing body would do – they slapped a couple of orange safety cones around it and went on about their day. But scientists never pass up an opportunity to poke at weird stuff that could end the universe with a stick, so Spirit Tech did what anyone would do when confronted with a quantum space hole. They dressed a few guys in containment suits, gave them a snappy callsign like “Alpha Team”, and sent them through the portal.
They never returned, and Spirit Tech can’t risk any more scientists, so it falls to you, a relative nobody, to venture where nobody has gone before. Bet you wish you’d paid attention in biology class now, huh? You could be working with dolphins, you know, and now you’re about to dive into a trip to the Other Side as a volunteer. Why do I keep agreeing to these things anyway?
The actor up front engaged us with the backstory and some incredible techno-bable, going toe to toe with me, and keeping up with all of my questions. Diving through the “portal” (made of garden-variety claustrophobia bags), I was immediately struck when I exited the other side of how well they had created a sense of the “Other” of the place. The lighting, sound, and everything are all different, and it immediately put me in the mood for what was to come.
I was pleased to see the acting doing as well as it was. In addition the to the front gate operator, there was also a creepy clown who did some of the best interaction with the team that I’ve seen all season. The rest of the actors out in the corn were more of your standard-issue scares, popping out from different locations in the corn field and then disappearing again into the night. There was one particularly outstanding moment when we heard the sound of something absolutely massive coming at us through the corn, but it never materialized, and that allowed our imaginations to run away with us. Making people think something is super scary is often a lot better than trying to come up with something to terrify the masses, operating as a corollary to the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling (not to be confused with “don’t ask don’t tell” which is a whole different kettle of unsavory fish).
The sets that were done were really good, especially the room overrun by spiders, the hillbilly nightmare, and the beginning portal itself, but some of the others were lacking. For example one façade we entered promised us that we were entering a mine shaft, but as soon as we stepped through the doors in there, the area seemed to be over already, and we were back to the corn. There’s a certainly lack of continuity to some of the ideas, like they started out really amazingly but never quite got there. These are the pieces I was mentioning that don’t seem to fit exactly. Another is the story. This is a greatly detailed backstory and I want to love it so much… in fact I already do love it. But once you step through the portal it pretty much collapses. It’s such a good story, but it just isn’t congruent with the setting, and I sort of think that this particular story might be better suited to an indoor haunt where they can control the surroundings better. Finally, one gripe is that the story seems to have been totally forgotten by the end, with a startle scare to induce running leading right towards the exit, but no mention at all of how we got back from the Other Side – there’s no return portal trip to bookend your journey.
None of these things are deal breaking and I am sure that the staff will continue to make things better every year – based on the dedication we saw, I am sure this place is going to continue to improve with each passing season. Definitely worth a look.
Pros: Great acting, creative and new effects, cool story
Cons: Actors are a little sparsely populated for as much space as there is, Sets in the corn are too short, Story starts great but fizzles out
Mary Gallegos – Guest Critic
I was asked to be a guest reviewer and was happy to join the team for the evening. This was a haunted corn maze and was fun. There also was a laser light show in the corn which was awesome to see.
Our group entered via a portal to try to reach the “other side” and enter the spirit world. We traveled through a claustrophobia bag which was an interesting experience since I had never seen this type of thing. I had no problem maneuvering through it but could see where someone very sensitive to closed in spaces could be panicked. This was an unexpected entry for me. My thinking was that in a corn maze everything would be out in the open and feeling spacious.
After we got through the portal, I was a little disappointed that the premise we started with was not carried through as well as it could have been. We saw what I imagine are standard haunt characters – people jumping out at us, scary wells and bridges, but not much that I would have expected to complete the scientific theme. For instance: a display with checklists or signs indicating several stages of what to expect when experiencing the “other side”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the actors. Sometimes I heard rustling through the corn so I was “expecting it” when the spirits jumped at me. Other times I heard nothing and the “spirit” was just there. Some of the spirits were of animals and the actors were believable in the animal noises they made.
I was a little disappointed that the event ended without a real finish. I would have liked to have another portal or explanation of something that needed to be done to get me back to the present day and time, possibly even going so far as to warn me to be careful not to bring any piggy-back spirits with me when I left the other side.
Pros: The length of the haunt itself (good value and I didn’t feel like we were being rushed through). The laser lights in the corn. The actors.
Cons: The length of the haunt – there was a long walk to get to the start of the haunt and it was a long walk through the event. For someone with arthritic difficulties with both knees and hips that was hard for me. A couple of strategically placed bales of hay to sit on for a minute or two would have helped that tremendously and would make it easier for a wider demographic of people to be able to attend and enjoy the event.
Rob Sanchez – Alumni Critic
Dead Zone has one of the best back stories I’ve heard in a while: Spirit Tech, a fictitious, Denver-based paranormal research group, has located a hotbed of haunted energy in the middle of a cornfield. They’ve opened the area to the public, allowing them to search for their own evidence of paranormal activity.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m generally not a huge fan of corn maze haunts. However, with such a great story to set up this haunt, I was excited to see how Dead Zone would take this ordinarily lackluster paradigm and turn it into something new and exciting.
The Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield has featured a cornfield maze for years, but if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that they’ve ever brought in a crew to create a nighttime attraction as well. This is an excellent idea. Not only that, but I learned that this crew was headed up by some of the same people behind Frightmare (a lifelong favorite of mine) and Underworld. These guys have demonstrated for years that they know their craft very well, so I headed out with high hopes.
It’s worth mentioning that, to enter the Dead Zone, you must first navigate your way through the Glow Maze. It’s not simply the Chatfield corn maze in the dark; they’ve added a phenomenal laser-light projection system that creates a visually stunning (and intentionally disorienting) experience while navigating the maze.
Upon reaching the entrance to the Dead Zone, the physical appearance was completely in line with the backstory. Chain link fences and massive pylons gave a very legitimate feeling of a research facility set up in the middle of nowhere. Spirit Tech crew members patrolling the entrance looked both scientific and industrial with chemical suits, hard hats, rubber gloves – everything to visually sell us on the premise of a paranormal investigation site.
The man at the gate was a perfect balance of strange and comical, providing the backstory once again while giving the obligatory explanation of the rules. Adding one final level of detail to the performance was a corporate executive, who occasionally corrected or reminded the doorman of the officially sanctioned verbiage he was purportedly trained to deliver. It was a brilliant setup, possibly the best I’ve seen in years.
Our group passed between two pylons, squeezed our way through a claustrophobia tunnel (a well-placed and logical choice for this theme), and found ourselves inside the haunted corn maze.
Unfortunately, that was where the theme itself began to disintegrate. A cluster of loudspeakers provided a soundtrack that began well with some ghoulish, echoing moans. But it suddenly and awkwardly transitioned to a bizarre, dubstep-inspired rhythm that distracted from the theme rather than enhancing it. It would have been perfect for a Halloween party at Skrillex’s house, but for a paranormal cornfield, I don’t think it had the intended effect.
We made our way through some twists and turns within the cornfield, occasionally punctuated by a handful of actors hiding in the corn who offered a quick growl, roar, or scream as we passed.
As we approached a scene, I was intrigued by old-fashioned signage boasting various sideshow acts, the type you’d find in a traveling carnival from centuries past. When we reached the scene itself, the scares were delivered by a demented clown. There’s nothing even the slightest bit scary to me about clowns, but I realize that for a small handful of people, this particular scare formula seems to work well. What really sold me on this scene was the way that the clown messed with our minds as we searched for the exit. Despite the ridiculous costume, the actor was excellent and creepy.
Since our visit, I’ve tried to understand how a scary clown in a carnival fits into a theme of paranormal activity. As best I can surmise, the scene must have been intended as a paranormal apparition from the past. I’m still not sure if this is the case. In the moment, though, it felt as if the haunt had suddenly scrapped its original theme as it began to rapidly devolve into a smattering of tired, overused haunted house clichés.
We passed through more corn, lots of dead space, the occasional startle from a couple of hidden actors, more corn, more dead space, and finally (thankfully) we saw another scene ahead.
And at this point, we discovered a completely new theme that would continue throughout the rest of the haunt: Facades which, from a distance, looked creepy enough, but up close were pretty sparse – and worse, which contained no actual scare moments. We went through a mine shaft entrance and waited for a scare, but instead found ourselves back in more corn and more dead space the moment we stepped through the facade. We later approached a house topped by some distractingly one-dimensional gargoyles, squeezed our way through, looked for a scare, and instead found ourselves back in the corn again.
Eventually, one of these far-too-brief scenes managed to walk us through a few twists and turns, and even contained some actors. A hillbilly inside a cabin ushered us quickly through his house with no real scare moment, then hurried us out the back door, where we wormed our way through a tangle of wooden animal pens and crates. An actor playing a pig inside one of the pens delivered a quick scare, but my overwhelming sensation was one of wasted potential.
We finally approached an old truck, from behind which came another cliché, the chainsaw-wielding maniac. I realize that this is a tried-and-true gag for pretty much every haunted house in the past forty years, and that your average haunt-goer will be disappointed if there isn’t one. But once again, I found myself a bit disappointed as it simply didn’t fit the original theme of the haunt. The actor himself was great, as far as chainsaw-wielders go, but even he wasn’t enough to save this scene from feeling terribly out-of-place.
And then the haunt ended. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, as we headed back to our car, that the biggest problem plaguing Dead Zone is that, despite its potential, it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. The excellent theme disintegrated as soon as we got inside. And even if it had intended to be nothing more than a generic haunt with the usual components, compared to the other local haunts following this same formula, Dead Zone wouldn’t really stack up.
I gave Dead Zone a Scare Factor of 7, due to a few genuine startles in the corn and a legitimately creepy experience with the clown. Acting received an 8, which is the net result of all the acting combined. The front-gate actors were a definite 10, the clown was a 9 or a 10, and the chainsaw man was a 9. Every other actor in the haunt was a 5 or 6 at best. Set Design received the lowest score from me (6) because everything looked and felt like it had been constructed hurriedly, cheaply, and without inspiration or creativity. Length got the highest marks from me (9) because it was plenty long and took a while to navigate. But with the scares so few and far between, even a significant length wasn’t much of an asset.
Ultimately, in the Dead Zone, I saw a lot of unused potential. In the future, I would hope to see them invest more heavily in higher-quality and more heavily-detailed scenes that reinforce the brilliant backstory they’ve created, and to ditch the clichés in favor of something new and original. If the rest of the haunt could be as amazing as the entrance, Dead Zone would easily become a major contender in the Denver haunt scene.
|8500 West Deer Creek Canyon Road
Littleton, CO 80128
Friday & Saturday, October 3, 4, 10 & 11
|-Denver Botanic Gardens Presents:
“GLOW MAZE”On this mission, travel through the corn maze with just a glow stick to light your way. Dont let the shadows of the night play tricks on you as you try to escape the labrynth. Enjoy spectacular lighting effects on your journey. (NO ACTORS IN MAZE)-DEAD ZONE:On this mission, Journey into the Dead Zone, a newly discoverd alternate dimension housing the spirit realm, and encounter true fear. (HAUNTED CORN MAZE)
|Hoping to finally discover the secrets to the other side, “Spirit Tech” a paranormal research team has decided to test their new device in a remote location. The spirit portal device known as Project Dead Zone”, allows researchers to step through a portal leaving our world and entering the spirit world. Unfortunately the researchers are too valuable to the scientific community to risk for field work, so volunteers are needed for this monumental scientific expedition. As a volunteer you will journey into the supernatural in hopes to discover the secrets to the other side.|