It was pitch black and eerily quiet as we made our way along the winding misty lane. An impenetrable canopy of trees loomed overhead, while a wisp of smoke from a lone chimney was the only sign of life along this desolate track just off the M23. Not a single vehicle crossed our path in 20 minutes as we ventured deeper into darkness, and we began to wonder whether anyone else even knew about this thing. But on driving through the torch-lit, gargoyle-adorned gates and struggling to find a space in a car park the size of Glastonbury, it soon became apparent that half of England clearly did.
Held on Tulley’s Farm since 2008, Shocktober Fest will officially go down in history as one of the most frightening experiences of my life. It’s right up there with being led through the shadowy alleyways of Marrakech at 4am by a toothless vagrant who promised us he knew the way to the riad; and that time in Lisbon when a ‘friend’ offered me up as a doggy snack by throwing me at the baying jaws of a slobbering Dobermann before sprinting in the opposite direction (you know who you are). I screamed my way through the Halloween extravaganza until I lost my voice, and had to use sign language and Post-It notes for the next four days. You’ve been warned.
The event consists of eight ‘haunts’ (Coven of 13, PanDEMONium’s 3D Carnival, Chop Shop, The Cellar, Hellements, Horrorwood Hayride, Creepy Cottage, The Colony) – haunted houses, if you will. Only upgraded. These things were like film sets, filled with actors – there was even a ghost-train-style tractor ride through the forest reminiscent of the studio lot tour at Universal Studios, with zombies and fireballs and bodies twitching as they swung from the gallows. Unlike your typical roller-coaster rush – which involves a mere three minutes of spine-tingling fear, rendering the brief dice with death rather enjoyable – these long, uncomfortable experiences seemed to last an eternity.
We decided to kick things off nice and slow with The Cellar, expecting a few rubber spiders, a bit of spray-can webbing and a skeleton or two. However, after the first five nerve-shredding minutes, we soon realised we’d vastly underestimated the fear factor of this place. Walls seemed to be closing in, creatures were jumping out at every turn, and with all the running and ducking I soon began to overheat. Hyperventilating, I battled against inflatable hallways, sinking floors and the undead until I stumbled out into the cold fresh air. My head was pounding, my specs were steamed up and I could barely breathe. I had to sit down. And we still had seven more ‘haunts’ to go.
Now I love horror films and scary rides, but this was next-level terror, even for me. And we weren’t ready. Have you ever been chased through a blood-spattered abattoir by a chainsaw-wielding maniac? Well I have. And I can reliably inform you that all talk of sticking together with no man left behind goes straight out the window under those circumstances. You will soon find yourself merrily trampling your loved ones and leaving the injured for dead as you elbow your way to the exit.