One of the real pleasures of running this ‘Halloween Horror Visits’ series over the past six years has been to watch the continuing explosion of the Scare industry across the UK, and, by extension, the Halloween as a whole. Long gone are the days of such scare experiences being scoffed at as Americana Obscura on the likes of BBC’s Dragons' Den, with the Season of the Witch now commanding almost as much retail prime estate as Christmas, Easter and Valentines.

It posits stalwarts such as Screamfest, at Burton’s National Forest Adventure Farm, in a curious position. One one hand, they have built a loyal and returning fan base owing to the quality of scares and attractions coupled with having been one of the earliest establishment to buy in to the scare maze craze, but on the other hand being so ‘established’ always poses the risk of pesky newcomers coming in offering shinier scares - particularly as the competition becomes so crowded and widespread.

Screamfest, like most of its peers, tackles this problem by regularly introducing new themed mazes to replace older instalments, with 2018 seeing the Most Haunted-esque Soul Seekers of yesteryear replaced with the descent into a child’s nightmare of Insomnia (more on which later).

Of the returning mazes, Freak Out once again takes visitors on a winding, multiple-choice journey through a twisted Circus populated with all manner of clownish foes, including some genuinely terrifying new additions that shan’t be spoiled here. Love Hurts pitches itself initially as a singles night at a bar that would certainly fail a half-decent health and safety inspection, before spiralling into a series of Sewer-bound traps and challenges more befitting an instalment of Saw. 

Last year’s newest mazes, Demonica and Dia De Los Muertos return, and whilst Demonica is probably the least thrilling of all five mazes on offer, with the least clarity in its theming and narrative, there’s been a notable improvement in some of the makeup and masks worn by its denizens - with some of the demonic entities prowling throughout genuinely quite terrifying in aesthetic and design. Turning a corner to find a robed creature that looked to consist of little more than an enormous, sharp-toothed mouth was the stuff of nightmares.

Dia De Los Muertos once again takes those who dare to venture out into the Adventure Farms’ corn fields on the back of a tractor wagon, spiritedly inviting you to participate in the eponymous Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations. Screamfest’s ‘corn field’ maze has become a staple over the years, and routinely one of the event’s most ambitious and expansive offerings, and Muertos is no exception. From a fantastic, highly committed hostess (who confidently and admirably silenced a group of noisy teenagers on our visit) setting the scene on board the spooky, ominous initial wagon trip, the festivities were soon interrupted with the news - and sight - of a convicted murderer and gangster escaping from an armed convoy.

And whilst, once again, we shan’t spoil what is confidently one of Burton’s best mazes with specifics, there are some fraught, genuinely intense additions to Muertos this year round, including what is probably the most manic and panic-inducing moment of any scare maze this year so far, anywhere.

Screamfest as an attraction has always been built around its venue’s central hub, peppered with side attractions such as Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Paintball Smash, a zombie-themed shooting range, a main stage home to various ‘Extreme Performers’ including contortionists, magicians and other curios, and a healthy smattering of food and drinks stands. 2018 is no different and, if anything, the event’s layout and side features have been tightened up so everything (including maze entrances) are in a far more immediate, confined and themed space, which works perfectly. Extra touches and measures taken to add extra unity and polish can be seen throughout, such as a repurposed and themed queueing area for Love Hurts

Which leaves newcomer Insomnia. Whilst it is sad, as mentioned, to see the excellent Hotel horrors of Soul Seekers go, its replacement, a terrifying descent into a child’s dreamscape where she is tormented by Babadook-like entity ‘CrackerJack’, more than makes up for it. 

Watch the trailer for 'Insomnia' - Screamfest's brand new maze for 2018.

In fact, with its fantastic and wonderfully diverse theming, beginning in the eerie familiarity of the young girl’s ‘white house with a red roof’ bedroom before rapidly degrading into a hellish descent into pure nightmare territory, and it’s multiple inspired and terrifying interpretations of the CrackerJack character (which, again, shan’t be spoilt here), Insomnia confidently ousts even Muertos and Hurts as Burton’s best and most complete scare experience. The set design alone, including the likes of an unsettling child-like idyll that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Teletubbies, a twisted forest of mirrors and an extended hallway that you better pray you’re not at the front for, reminds that half of a good scare maze’s work can be done before you even put any actors in.

That being said, the actors present in Insomnia in particular were excellent on the evening reviewed. A ‘pre-show’ involving the tormented young girl and her frustrated mother not only showcase some solid acting, but actually at one point even saw the actors remaining in character when there were no queuing visitors around (spotted courtesy of a sneaky peak between panels). Elsewhere, the numerous actors who portray the various incarnations of ‘CrackerJack’ did wonderfully wicked and malevolent jobs.

There’s always plenty to enjoy and recommend when it comes to assessing our ‘Halloween Horror Visits’, and weighing up the options for a good night of scares and screams across the UK. Screamfest Burton has always come as a very easy recommendation; with characterful, well-realised and brilliantly themed maze experiences and always offering up something new. Bar a late, disorienting strobe-lit sequence, Demonica remains the least impressive and defined of Burton’s line-up, but the others are all top-quality, frequently frightening experiences, and newcomer Insomnia one of the best new mazes of the year anywhere. 

With the actors across-the-board not permitted to touch or grab you, Burton makes a strong case for being a touch more accessible to the less ardent and grizzled of Halloween enthusiasts, but don’t let it fool you into thinking this is a walk in the park (farm): Screamfest is - once again - a scary, intense and essential visit, and, in Insomnia, quite literally brings a whole new level of nightmare to those who dare to visit one of the UK’s most established and quintessential scare maze attractions.

SCREAMFEST 2018 runs at the National Forest Adventure Farm on select evenings until Saturday 3 November 2018.

To book your tickets, head on over to the official website by clicking HERE.

Press tickets to Screamfest were provided courtesy of the National Forest Adventure Farm directly. The author gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.