Normally the scariest thing about West Sussex is the prospect of a delay at Gatwick but all that changes in Autumn as Tulleys Farm open their world famous scream park for Shocktober Fest. They've been delivering scares, thrills and chills for 10 years with their Haunted Hayride and walk through mazes full of scare-actors to create a thrilling, horrifying and exciting night out.
The USA has long been the undisputed king of Halloween. A few years back I attended Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights, the crown jewel in the scare yourself silly for money market. Universal's theme park is taken over by monsters and over 13 mazes threaten to scare the bejesus out of you. It is a phenomenon, one that you used to have to cross the Atlantic for but I can honestly say I had as much fun and was as frightened at Tulleys Shocktober Fest.
I last visited around four years ago and it's clear to see they have gone from strength to strength, growing in size and can confidently say they are the best scare park in Britain. Sprawling over their farm site they have six haunted attractions, a live music stage, fun-fair, food wagons, a firework festival, street scares, Cirque Du Shock circus and a red cross bar to settle your nerves once it's all ended. There's a thought that us Brit's don't quite go all out for Halloween, that everything is a little shonky, under-done and let's face it, a bit rubbish. Yet Tulley's Shocktober Fest flies in the face of this assumption, creating unique mazes, highly themed and cleverly designed to create an atmosphere of tension, fights but above all excitement.
Chris Cox getting up close and personal with something scary. Photo by Stephen Candy.
If you've never been in a haunted maze before you are in for a treat, there's nothing like your first time. Sweaty palms and dry mouths are quickly joined by a sense of dread and increase heart rate as in a small group you grab hold of each others shoulders and start slowing shuffling into a maze whose sole purpose is to scare the crap out of you. Before you know it you find yourself at the end, shoulders tight from tensing and jumping, voice sore from screaming but above all you find yourself left with an overwhelming feeling of being alive. The rush and high from a haunted attraction is like no other, it helps remind us we're not dead yet and one visit is never enough. You'll find yourself craving more and more scare based highs.
The problem with being scared is when someone has jumped out on you and said boo once it can quickly become repetitive and the law of diminishing returns hits in. The good news is Tulleys Shocktober Fest manage to deliver completely different scares in each of their attractions. Yes there's a lot of people jumping out at you, but along the way you'll find yourself running from a man with a chainsaw, having scary clowns distort the world around you and nervously walk through pitch darkness. There's not a single attraction which failed to make me jump out of my skin, hug the walls in fear or enter a room and quietly swear under my breathe before nervously groaning and trying to get through it; but you know what? I loved every single second.
Chris Cox finds out that having a chainsaw in his face is pretty scary. Photo by Stephen Candy.
If you want to ease yourself into the scares then start at Creepy Cottage, a genuine 16th century barn which has a few animatronics and actors ready to give you fun scares, once you're feeling braver the Twisted Maze might remind you just how being scared feels as the clowns take over, large rooms seem small and jumps are plentiful. After that you'll want a sit-down so The Haunted Hayride might seem like the perfect rest place, but once the tractor starts delving deeper into the woods and the monsters take hold you'll realise you've made a mistake. Wood Shock (Rottin' since '69) takes you through a cornfield music festival site, where terrifying zombie groupies hide amongst the corn, the long drop toilets become more horrifying than ever and prolonged periods of darkness will really start to get to your deepest fears. The Cellar Haunted House seems to never end, scare after scare come thick and fast and a section with claustrophobic whispering walls is genuinely one of the most unsettling things I've ever been through, which leads us to Hell-ements a UK first and an experience I've never had before. A hood is placed over your head robbing you of any vision, a rope is placed in your left hand your job is simple, follow the rope while all of your senses are tested to the extreme. To say anymore would ruin what's inside but like every attraction in the park the attention to detail is second to none and inventiveness of the scares will test even the hardest of visitors.
Chris Cox finds that sometimes being scared can be fun at Tulleys Shocktober Fest. Photo by Stephen Candy.
Alongside the high production values are a troupe of immensely talented actors both in the mazes and roaming around who can put the willies up you quicker than you can realise that phrase is an innuendo. Esmerelda the hag stays deep in character to create fun but fear filling character who looks after the creatures in the Cellar and the Doctor & Nurse duo near the Aftershock Bar will give you actual LOLZ (with a z) as they offer some sage medical advice on how to deal with fear.
Tulleys Shocktober Fest epitomises everything that's great about Halloween, you'll be shocked, scared, laugh, shriek and scream but above all have a brilliant time. Located between Crawley and East Grinstead it's a short jaunt down the M23 or a quick 45 minutes by train from London to Three Bridges or Crawley. Go give the ghouls a visit and prepare for the shock of a lifetime.
Tulleys Shocktober Fest runs till November 2nd 2013. Times and dates vary. Tickets start at £9.95 with discounts for buying online. For further details and to book in advance visit http://www.halloweenattractions.co.uk/shocktoberfest/
Chris Cox finds that Esmeralda is one scary lady. Photo by Stephen Candy.