For the month of October, the Scarborough Renaissance Festival morphs into its creepy doppelganger, SCREAMS Halloween Theme Park. Situated off I-35 in Waxahachie, the park boasts five haunted attractions: 3D Pirates of Peril Point, Arcane Asylum, Unkel Koy's Klown Maze, Castle of Darkness and the Ghoulish Graveyard.
SCREAMS deserves a four out of five vigorous bone rattles for pure entertainment value. The one minus is admission, $24.99 for those six and over. That can get pricey for a family, but groups of 15 or more can buy tickets ahead of time for $19.99 each. For the money, there's a lot to do, from the novelty of a 3D haunted house to a movie area for beleaguered parents to relax with an icy adult beverage while their progeny scamper around the grounds.
A piece of advice: watch your back, or grow eyes in the back of your head. Actors in elaborate costumes -- a midget wind-up doll, a winged Mothman on stilts -- circulate inside and outside the gates, sneaking up behind unsuspecting park-goers in line to buy tickets. These actors take what they do seriously, and don't tend to break character.
The showpiece of the park is 3D Pirates of Peril Point. Before entering, we (myself and boyfriend Zack, who gamely came along at my request) were given 3D glasses. Keep them on and you'll be treated to an experience Albert Hoffman, the papa of LSD, would've approved of.
Splatters of neon paint -- flamingo pink, electric yellow and sherbert orange -- jumped off the walls of the narrow corridor and skulls hidden behind trap doors. Though I knew better, I tried to touch the floating flecks. "Good thing we didn't drink before we got here," Zack said.
An actor dressed as a decomposing pirate took this as a cue to announce his presence inches from my face. "Gimme your gold!" he shouted. It startled the hell out of me. People are easy prey when they're distracted by pretty, floating colors. Plus, I made the rookie mistake of being the second person in the group. The first person passes unmolested, then bam! A deranged clown or guy wielding a shrieking chainsaw jumps out from a dark, unseen corner.
A spinning vortex, dotted with more electric 3D paint, is a trip. It feels like you're being pushed to one side, but it's an illusion. I agreed with the little girl who told her mom, "I wanna go again!"
Next, we moved on to Unkel Koy's Klown Maze. To his credit, the carny character (perhaps Unkel Koy himself?) manning the front wasn't fazed when when a gaggle of teenage girls burst out of the entrance because they couldn't find the way out. They were suitably scorned by the hundred or so people in line. A feeble "Shut up!" from one of the girls only egged it on. Suckers.
The maze, populated by overgrown clowns and illuminated by strobe lights, made me slightly ill from motion sickness. It goes without saying (but I'll do it anyway) that those who suffer from coulrophobia, the fancy name for fear of clowns, should skip this one. For the record, we managed to find our way to the end, which leads out to a paintball range. Take out that clownish rage with a few potshots.
My second favorite haunt, after the 3D extravaganza, was the Arcane Asylum, a mental institution gone very, very bad. Incoherent scribbles covered a wall near a floating body a la The Exorcist. Discarded pill bottles littered the floor. "No one ever leaves," we were told as we entered, and by the end, we half believed it. "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah," a girl screamed, as she loomed above our heads. There's no touching at SCREAMS. The actors keep their hands off you, and you keep your hands off them. Everybody's happy.
There are touches of the Renaissance festival here and there, like fortune telling and a psychic, but it doesn't take away from the overall Halloween theme. SCREAMS also offers "Zombie" or "Necromancer" wedding packages for brides and grooms, complete with a costumed officiant. No knots have been tied so far this year, says marketing director Laurie Mosley. But there's still time, ladies! Send an invite to the Observer.
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A few other pieces of advice: wear closed toe shoes, because you'll be walking on open ground. Also, some spots in the indoor attractions are difficult to navigate in the dark. SCREAMS also offers a fast pass that allows you to skip to the head of the line. It's an extra $15, but I highly recommend spending the extra cash to avoid 30 to 60 minute waits, or if your group wants to visit each attraction multiple times.
The park is open Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. until October 29, then one last time 7:30 - 11 p.m., Sunday, October 30.