by Grant Duvall
While 2020 has definitely removed the wind out of the sails of most people and corporations, a few companies, such as THE HAUNTED ROAD, have found a way to make lemonade out of the biggest lemons out there. THE HAUNTED ROAD, located in a rural part of Orlando, is a truly immersive experience. This is a drive-through haunted attraction. I struggle to use the phrase "haunt" as it's more of an immersive theatrical experience than a traditional haunt. Around 7:30, I arrived at the location and could not wait to see where my journey would take me.
THE HAUNTED ROAD is located at an equestrian center and ranch, complete with a corn maze and other family-friendly attractions. That being said, THE HAUNTED ROAD is extremely rough and muddy, which was fine in my wife's SUV, but I saw some of the potholes on the dirt road and immediately was glad that I did not bring my sedan. As soon as I arrived, I was informed that I was the one to be leading the pack of cars as I was the first one to go through!
As I snaked my way around the ranch, many guards were around to help direct traffic as I went from scene to scene. There are signs that tell you what radio station to tune to, as each scene is on a different station. Unfortunately, some signs were too hard to see so I went through two scenes without being able to hear, and one of the scenes had some audio glitches. Fortunately, there was audio pumped into the scenes so I could faintly hear the plot.
The way that this works is if you have your windows down (of course I had mine down), everyone in the vehicle must wear masks. This is because the actors do indeed come to your car! As the leader car, leading 7 or 8 more vehicles, I had to maneuver my way through the ranch until I hit a stop sign. At this point, I had to put my car in park and then turn my headlights off. As soon as everyone gets parked, you wait for the scene to begin. This is where there was a strange issue that took me out of the experience. I could hear people from the next scene over loudly talking about their personal lives, including how drunk they got last night. While I totally get needing to unwind, it kind of takes you out of it when you hear tons of swearing and personal stories as the scenes are kind of stacked on top of each other. When each scene is over, you hear a very ominous "drive" and then that's the signal to turn on your headlights and proceed down the path.
The story involved from what I was gathering was Rapunzel goes on a quest through demented fairy tales to rescue her prince. This was a great idea as it allowed for different scenes with a common plot. There were some really great effects in some scenes such as a Wolf tearing a door off of a car and murdering the driver. That really caught me off guard, especially when scare actors approached the passenger side window! At this moment I realized that there would be legitimate jump scares, and I, who goes through many haunts a year, was actually scared at some points! Here lies a little problem in being the lead car though. Some scenes were hard to fully see what was going on without contorting my body. A small handful of scenes, such as a scene based on the Wizard of Oz, were difficult to see how everything played out. With at least 10 3-minute scenes, I wanted to see how the whole thing played out.
The sets were incredible. Each scene had a very specific set-piece, as well as lighting effects. My personal favorite was one that took place in a swamp where they blew a lot of smoke off of a throne set-piece, then had a laser effect so it looked like the car was in water. You couldn't see below the windows, which allowed scare actors to lurk below the smoke and pop out. I had never seen that before and laughed so hard every time I was spooked! The actors gave it their all. The main actors are on piped-in audio whereas the scare actors can improvise. The actors are all wearing face masks as well, so when they get near the car, there is less worry about Covid. I got a little confused as to what time period the plot took place in, as the characters were dressed in medieval clothes while wearing Apple watches. Some set pieces also looked modern, as did some of the costume design, so I went with a variation on steampunk.
This lasted a surprisingly long time, maybe 50 minutes or so. The ending scene was a little hard to see, but the audio clued me in. I then heard an ominous "thank you for visiting THE HAUNTED ROAD" and it was over. I drove past a haunted shed that said "Beyond the Road" which is an extra scene for $79 more a vehicle, but it also includes a surprise gift and a photo. I have no idea what that scene includes, so I can't speak on it, but it did look like drivers drive into a barn and a scene plays out there. I drove by a gift shop, but I wasn't able to get out as I couldn't find a spot to park and when you have a train of cars following you in the dark, I didn't want to veer off the road.
Overall, this was a great experience. The scares were great and the actors gave it their all. It also allowed for work for scare actors who are not able to normally work at the bigger events. This would be fine for younger kids who like scary stuff, as there was relatively little gore except in one scene, although there was some swearing in the opening scene. This is a truly immersive experience. During the day they do the road but as happy fairy tale characters making that an all-ages show. November 5-7th, there is going to be a more intense version that has warnings on the website. I'm guessing it'll have more gore as the set pieces will no longer be needed so they can go hog wild. Other than some sightline/audio issues, I greatly enjoyed myself, and hope that this continues even in non-Covid years. This is a one of a kind experience that needs to be seen, and could eventually become a Halloween staple for the Florida crowd!