Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: The Haunting of Sleepy Hollow

Last night I went on the haunted hayride in Sleepy Hollow, NY. I went with high hopes, though I'm typically not a fan of hayrides. Usually it's a bunch of chainsaw wielding people trying to scare you, which it doesn't, but that's why I had high hopes for "The Haunting of Sleepy Hollow." It would follow the supposed last run of Ichabod Crane as he was chased by the Headless Horseman. As that's always been a favorite tale of mine I thought it might be interesting to see how they adapted it.

The attraction starts at the town's high school, and the organizers had actors in period costume entertaining the crowd. Period costume, yes, but zombified! Certainly within keeping of the Halloween flavor, though the four zombie girls dancing in the center of the gymnasium was interesting. They didn't actually dance, but danced as zombies might. So it was a little bizzare to say the least. They also had a tall witch on stilts who took pictures with those in line.

So let's talk about the line. The attraction opened at 6:00 p.m. but you were forewarned that the hayrides wouldn't begin till 7:00 p.m. We arrived at around 6:50 and while there was a good crowd already there our position on line was about the length of the high school's basketball court. On the way there we had seen about six haywagons roll buy with about 10-15 people in each so I figured we'd have to wait about a half hour to go. Not ideal, but not terrible.

Well it wasn't ideal and it was terrible. We ended up standing in line for a good hour and a half! It seemed to go in spurts. After the first half hour of going nowhere or only inching forward, we suddenly surged ahead and got to about mid-court. I figured we'd be going soon, but that's where things bogged down. We didn't move more than 10 feet for the next hour. Even the VIP line (or RIP line as they called it) was going nowhere. I don't know what the delay was but it became interminable. It was really a horrible time and the music they played was either too loud or had the bass too high because the tunes played were barely discernible. Loud, static-y, bass-filled music while waiting on a line that didn't move for an hour and a half was not my idea of fun. I pitied the people who arrived at around that time as the line had wrapped around the basketball court and was now at the entrance to the gym. I can only imagine how long they'd be there.

Just as we were second or third in line to go next, order seemed to break down. The guy at the door allowed a group of 16 to go through then three people (two adults and a small child) that had been trying to creep ahead all along somehow got in front with a "We're with them" line and was allowed to go ahead. That didn't sit well with my wife or the woman behind us and they started complaining to the doorman who I sort of felt sorry for. He looked like he genuinely didn't know what to do. But then he left his spot at the door and went outside. So now the line started pressing up against the door and it looked like it would just be a mad dash for the exits with everyone elbowing their way to the front.

My wife went outside and complained again to the doorman who was talking with another event organizer. They ended up calling a police officer over who agreed those three line jumpers wouldn't be going ahead of anyone at which time I was allowed to jump ahead along with the woman and her family behind us. They squeezed us all into a wagon (with the group of 16) and the three who tried to go in front we delayed. They had been outside but I think the officer must have escorted them back in because they weren't on any of the wagons.

It was bound to get ugly because there wasn't enough space inside, the police line tapes they had set up to corral everyone was too flimsy and when one kid stepped on one the whol thing fell down. I wish I oculd have seen the mess that resulted in the aftermath.

Spolier alert!
Once on the haywagon, cramped as we were, I was willing to immerse myself in the haunt, even with the light rain that had begun falling. It was a ride of a few minutes to get to the old cemetary and it was then that I noticed a creepy woman sitting in costume right across from me holding a book. She said nothing until we approached the cemetary and then turned on a speaker that played haunting background music. She began reading what was the background story for this ride.

I really wasn't prepared for their interpretation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. They did say it was a "unique" and "twisted adaptation." I should have been forewarned. Vam-pirates? Really? The story had to do with how some vampire pirates had landed in Sleepy Hollow, cut off some heads (including the Hessian horseman's), took a necklace from his wife (I think) after beheading her, but somehow lost it. It was only found later by Ichabod Crane who ended up giving it to Katrina Van Tassel. That apparently irked the now-Headless Horseman who pursued Ichabod.

Okay, that was bad enough, but despite a ride through the cemetary no landmarks were pointed out. This was supposedly the same route that Ichabod Crane had run in the story, but at no time was that highlighted during the ride. Further, because we were driving through an actual cemetary, proper respect for those buried there was otherwise maintained. Which meant no props or lights were visible. Interesting, but since you could barely make out even the headstones, it was just like we were taking a ride in the dark (in the rain) with a woman reading us a preposterous story.

At some point we cross a bridge. Now even though I believe the original bridge Crane was said to have crossed no longer exists, they could have made some reference to the bridge. Heck, most people probably wouldn't have even known it wasn't the real one. It would have made the trip at least more relevant to the whole legend.

After cross the bridge we must have exited the cemetery proper because I could see lighted props ahead. Well, I could see until the pickup truck towing us stepped on the brakes every few seconds and then I was blinded. It was tough to see anything. The set was then various Halloween type torture props with actors in period costumes (again zombified) jumping out here and there yelling "Yaaah!"

Some of the props looked cool and a few of the tombstones they had set up and lit looked really good. I did notice a large gargoyle which I thought would look pretty cool in my own graveyard and there was a PumpkinRot-type character walking around. The leering pumpkin head was actually pretty cool, and standing about 8' or 9' tall was scary for some of the kids on the ride. I liked the effect until the actor turned and in the lights of the trailer I could see it the facade that had set it up: he was wearing a football helmet and had some sort of PVC structure underneath. It ruined the effect.

At the very end you finally got to see the Headless Horseman. Barely. He was sitting in the woods and eventually made it up to the road after the wagon had passed but it was so dark and he was all in black it was all you could do to see the (unlit) pumpkin he held in his hands. And then it was over. We pulled out into a residential street.

The funniest part was that one house along the road we now traveled on was decorated for Halloween and the owner dressed in a witches costume and stood on her porch as we road by and called out to us in a witchy voice while stirring a cauldron. Nice that at least one resident got into the spirit of the season and the event. I'm sure she was part of the official show.

In all, it wasn't worth the time or money ($20 a ticket) spent. The wait was too long, the backstory created was ridiculous -- I mean we're in Sleepy Hollow, hew to the damn storyline; you've got a town made for this! -- the part of the ride intended to build suspense didn't because it was simply pitch black, and the sets used were simply mundane Halloween ones. Even the big payoff, the Headless Horseman, was a disappointment.

It was all just too much to be able to recommend this haunt to anyone. Certainly not for $20 a ticket. Had it been half the cost it would have been fine and I might have even tolerated the long wait to go. But when you're paying high prices and forced to cool your heels for interminable periods, it was unacceptable for the level of haunting they brought.

I won't go back, I can assure you, and next year will go a little further up the Hudson River to another "Sleepy Hollow" haunt that holds the promise of a whole haunted village. At $30 Ulster Park, NY's, Headless Horseman Hayride doesn't sound cheap, but it seems to offer a far more immersive experience.

In short, avoid Sleepy Hollow as if the Headless Horseman still roamed the hills there.



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