Portland's FRIGHT TOWN
If you're a regular reader of my Halloween content, then you may know how I've always felt about seasonal "haunt" attractions. The last time I found one was worthy of review, it was due to a maze of beautifully monstrous paintings and just a couple of inventively weird props, which constituted practically the best haunt I had ever been to and still felt more like just a step towards my ideal.
It's style, imagination, atmosphere and character I crave to see the most, especially considering I just don't startle when I know I'm entering a place where a lot of people are going to yell at me from holes in the wall. I realize jump scares work on a lot of people and that's what drives most of the business to these things, but this goes right back to what I was saying about 2017's IT: you can't rely solely on the jumps. A good haunt, just like a good horror movie, should have something to interest even the people who don't scare all that easily. Stuff that's just plain cool.
And after all these years...we found it. For real this time. It only took moving all the way from the East coast to Portland, but what I'm about to share with you is the real deal.
We definitely saw Fright Town advertised when we moved here last year, but there was so much to take in around our new home, so much to do and so much money already spent on so much else that I guess it just plain slipped our minds, and I'm actually kind of glad, because there otherwise wouldn't have been a whole lot standing out about 2017's Halloween season.
Am I spending too much time on the buildup here? Let me show you why Fright Town is such a big deal in just a single image:
This is an older promotional shot from the official website, but already you can see this is about more than just fog machines and jump scares. Moreso than any other haunt I've seen, these people are performers playing original characters, and they care as much if not more about pure aesthetic than they do about, well, yelling at people from holes in the wall.
Did I mention that the whole thing technically takes place underground? In a huge lower-level arena beneath Portland's Rose City sports dome?
Several monster characters wandered this central arena on a seemingly rotational basis, having a grand old time of sneaking up on people and having their photographs taken, not the least of which was Marcus the Carcass here, a hunch-backed hulk with a cow-skull head strongly reminiscent of the work of Gore Galore and seemingly cast as some sort of "big boss" demon of Fright Town.
A big boss who, during our visit at least, spent a great deal of its time dancing merrily around and occasionally doing jazz hands.
Other monsters included the blood-soaked "Crimson Woman," a man with a teddy bear for a head, a stilt-legged spider-themed gentleman and many more, but all would be hard pressed to outdo the sheer charm of.....
LUMP!!! A raggy blob with lobster claws and a giant eyeball for a head, Lump is the kind of simple thrown-together monster design still far more memorable and whimsical than anything I'm accustomed to seeing at these places and the perfect example of the fun and invention so many are so sorely missing. Lump has seemingly even continued to mutate since his first appearance, with older photographs revealing human hands and a relatively smaller eye. Could he evolve still more in the coming years?
All this, and we still haven't gone on to the haunts yet.
This year offered three different houses, four if you count the only minimally haunted darkness maze. Grimthorne Manor here was perhaps their most traditional, a lavishly decorated spooky manor featuring Victorian-era ghosts, spooky circus folk and even a mad scientist, though this haunt discouraged visitor photography, and while fantastically put together, you can kind of guess much of its content from what I've just summarized; all the classic spookery you could want in one fast-paced micro-adventure.
Another haunt, their all-new Sector XIII, went for more modern and visceral horror, taking visitors through a government laboratory contaminated by an alien virus and slobbering, meaty mutations. In this case, a lot of my pictures and videos - actually encouraged this time! - just plain failed to come out, but I'd really rather not spoil all the content of the whole attraction anyway. Suffice to say, Sector 13 had everything from raving scientists with half-infected faces to fully tentacled flesh beasts bursting forth from foggy specimen tanks.
This brings us to Fright Town's "star" attraction, themed around a creepy circus and museum of curiosities, and for once, a haunt outright encourages visitors to slow down at points to take in the sights...though Baron Von Goolo's Museum of Horrors had so many sights, I couldn't possibly fit even half of them into an article of any reasonable length...
Just look at this wonderful artwork keeping everybody company while they wait in line! There were several of these retro-style paintings, but the spider is clearly the coolest.
One of the very first things greeting you in the museum is a hilariously sad, cartoonish canary that somehow grew to fill its bird cage, a weird, comical and pitiful visual I never thought to associate with a "house of horrors," but I can't possibly say it doesn't qualify as such...though I'm sure most of you first zeroed in on that guy in the foreground. What's up with that guy?
This is what's up with that guy. his entire head and body are mostly one huge, long, horn-like spike, with a bony demon face and delightfully stunted limbs stuffed into the most darling little suit. This is not some obscure, store-bought prop or film memorabilia; this and countless things to come are completely original, one-of-a-kind creations as professionally sculpted and detailed as any Hollywood movie monster...at least back when those were still made out of real materials, anyway.
Just across from the horn-man was another elongated weirdo with fancy fashion sense; a giant, pink hand and arm with goofy eyeballs in its palm, a frilly dress and cute little shoes. This is quite possibly my favorite thing in the room.
Did I mention we're still IN the first room? Hiding in a busted-out chunk of wall was a many-eyed mutant crab, illuminated in eerie blue light! Every corner of this place had something new!
Countless other oddities decked the walls of just this introductory chamber. There was a real, genuine Jenny Haniver, a collection of both original and simply very rare (trust me, I know my stuff) Halloween masks customized into "taxidermy heads" and all manner of spooky gag paintings, including a life-like portrait of Count Chocula...but, again, there are things I just don't feel right spoiling and things that just plain wouldn't photograph. Suffice to say, I could have spent all day long hanging out in this room alone, but I think we were already starting to annoy the poor character actor in charge of watching over it.
Just a little deeper inside, and I'm cheating with one of their photos again, this mesmerizingly animated robo-corpse occupied its own alcove, its mannequin hands hypnotically buzzing and rotating.
After a walk through a hallway of dangling octopus tentacles, you get to meet this "taxidermied" Abominable snowman delightfully combining both definitions of "snowman" in an obvious way I still can't recall seeing before.
Perhaps far more abominable was this pugman, which sure does highlight how messed up pugs really are. They are heartbreakingly cute and hilarious to me as they are to the internet at large, but they sure would probably be happier as virtually any other kind of dog. Maybe even any other kind of animal, even a geoduck.
Further in, a darkened "greenhouse" room houses some of the only killer pitcher plants I've ever seen in one of these places, and you can unfortunately barely see it, but there's a baby crammed headlong into the first one.
These beautiful one-eyed fly-traps, meanwhile, hid an entire animatronic plant-man impossible to film in the dark. Sorry you keep having to take my word for this stuff, but I'm already enthused enough about these static plant critters, and I hope you're enjoying them too. Look at that beautiful ribbing between their teeth!
Next, we had this largely unseen giant with a fully moving eyeball, and you can let all the goatse jokes out of your system if you want. Whether this is a one-eyed monster or a multi-eyed monster peering in on us with one eye is uncertain. Personally, I think it's more fun to assume a giant eye is probably a monster's only eye until we're proven otherwise, and if we do assume it has more, we should assume it has far more than only two.
Another, smaller room of "taxidermy" had a lot of killer props and statues to take in, but I'm just going to show you this skinless horse creature with a candy bar lure on its head. Somehow, the thought of an anglerhorse never crossed my mind. Maybe it was simply too terrifying for even me to fathom.
Around the corner, we come to the inevitable clown-themed sector of every Halloween haunt out there, but leaps and bounds the snazziest and coolest I have ever witnessed. Just look at this cartoon-eyed, neon-fanged goofball, another animatronic that bursts out of a closet on a timed cycle! I mentioned in my IT review that I'm not usually a fan of fangly killer clowns, but the elements of Tex Avery zaniness here demonstrate exactly the right way to pull it off.
This larger, gorgeously detailed mutant clown only moved back and forth near the ceiling, but its very design communicates an illusion of movement. Together with the ever-shifting shadows cast by the string lights, you can almost see those three eyes darting around and gummy throat pulsing.
An actual, living clown present in this chamber also informed us that this was her "daddy," and I'd like to thank Tumblr for irreparably ruining that statement for me.
None of these goofs could have prepared me for the sheer majesty of the very largest clown in the haunt, a spider-clown with a dozen eyes and fangs I couldn't possibly have designed better myself, gangly arms stretching clear across the ceiling with an outfit seemingly patched together from multiple human-sized costumes!
,br> Clown girl let us know that this one was her "mommy," so I'm going to go with the literal, innocent interpretation of her previous statement.
They have the most beautiful family that I have ever seen.
Next was a room featuring precisely three things: an angry farmer actor with a shotgun, a life-sized statue of a cow, and this hovering U.F.O. occupied by the most wonderful little brain-headed alien visitors. Unlike most "hillbilly" style Haunt characters, the shotgun wasn't even meant to scare us visitors; he just threatened and blasted at these little guys as the entire cow lifted into the air. Now that's what I'm talking about. A haunt that really puts on little "shows" more than it seeks to startle people the easy way.
Speaking of classic startles, though, you gotta love an attraction that pours so much grotesque artistry into every display only to spring a maze of old-fasioned sheet ghosts on us at the very last minute, some of which, of course, had actual people inside them.
By now, I hope I've at least demonstrated just how much love and care went into Fright Town compared to your usual haunt, because I've just about expended every photograph clear enough to actually share with you, and even with my desire to avoid total spoilers...this still isn't half the stuff I might have wanted to review in more detail.
A pumpkin demon easily ten feet tall told jokes at the arena entryway. The giant voodoo doll above burst screaming from its hiding place, and the Museum of Horrors exited into a fully convincing "back room" full of spare costumes, broken props and half-finished decorations...until a life sized dinosaur head burst from behind a clothes rack.
Like anybody else, there's obviously a whole lot of things I would do if I had access to positively limitless money...but one of those things, after the laundry list of scientific projects, public art installations and an underground dungeon house with a giant skull for a door, would be to give Fright Town enough funds to expand a hundredfold, across the nation, in easy visiting distance of every single last person who in any way appreciates Halloween. It's just that good.
I would love to get to know more about what went into all of this. I'd love to know who actually conceived of some of these costumes and props, what kind of designs might have been left in a sketchbook, what kind of plans they might have for the future...what kind of personal names and storylines they might imagine for some of these monsters, because as a monster-drawler myself, I'm pretty sure nobody can come up with all this stuff and not have far, far more in mind than just what we can see.