On a week that marked the 4th anniversary of this ‘Halloween Horror Visits’ series, which has seen us travel across the Nation checking out some of the finest and most intense Scare industry experiences the UK has to offer from the dank depths of London to the terrifying twin lakes of Leicester, one couldn’t help but slightly yearn for those naive, innocent days of first stepping foot in our very first scare attraction.

We’ve been treated to some stunning new mazes, experiences and still-excellent old favourites in 2018, but as is practically a rule of (dismembered) thumb when it comes to frights and scare parks, it’s the first time that always leaves the biggest impact.

Enter Zombie Infection: ‘The Centre’.

Made of the very stuff of a thousand social media shares and comment tags, the Romero/Mikami-esque premise of surviving in an abandoned shopping mall filled with the not-so-shuffling undead is a familiar concept to many, but the (slightly obviously-named) Zombie Infection have not only made it a reality, but indeed a success.

Commercially, their intense, themed scare adventures have seen them set up shop in no less than 8 distinctive locations around the Country, and design the experience specifically for that venue, from an abandoned orphanage in Liverpool presenting ‘The Asylum’, to their most recent acquisition, abandoned TSS Duke of Lancaster in Holywell, which will be playing host to ‘The Ship’ in 2019.

So they’re certainly selling, but are they any good?

The answer is a resounding, heart-pounding yes. And then some.

Two to two-and-a-half hours of rigorous, intense, oft-terrifying and utterly immersive horror that sees you navigating the bowels of an abandoned shopping mall - often in the dark - where you will be hiding, running from and even shooting at hordes of zombies and all manner of creatures as you attempt to follow the tale of what happened, and how you may be able to survive it.

‘The Centre’ pitches a special cadet training centre established by guerrilla military force ‘Harvertech’ in post-zombie-apocalyptic Britain, set up to counter the recent pesky plague of the Undead, caused here by the outbreak of the ‘Progenitor virus’ (fans of the Resident Evil videogames will find that amongst several Easter Eggs and references to the series).

To say too much more about the narrative, structure or activities of ‘The Centre’ would spoil a great deal of how effective and fantastic an experience it is. And whilst, sadly, this particular event and venue may be taking its final bow in 2018, with a return in 2019 yet to be confirmed, there are doubtless elements here that will likely carry through to other Zombie Infection experiences, so we shan’t spoil it with too much anecdote or specificity.

Needless to say though, if you are a fan of the Scare industry, and would like something that little bit more intense and immersive than the standard maze parks, Zombie Infection’s offerings come extremely recommended. From early ‘simulation’ tests which tested actual shooting accuracy, to the rigorous drills of ‘clearing’ a room and setting up a formation firing line, the military aspects of ‘The Centre’ were some of its most unexpected yet consistent joys, and by placing a weapon in your hand and giving you that call to action, you somehow feel even more exposed and vulnerable than when you are a mere bystander.

Everything here is meticulously planned and perfectly pitched. Just as the ‘on-rails’ element of the experience (where your actions are led and overseen by a ‘Lieutenant’ guiding your merry band of survivors) threatened to tire, we were suddenly thrust out into the 100,000 square feet of corridors, side-rooms, zombies (and worse!) alone, unaided, and completely exposed. Beginning a hunt for essential items (key cards, medi-packs) in our efforts to escape, but without that former helping hand, and only a handful of flickering signs, dim lights and the distant sound of moans and noises there to guide us, ‘The Centre’ flipped the table and had us yearning for the (relative) protection of our trusty Lieutenant.

Enormous credit has to go the actors involved in ‘The Centre’, who were excellent across-the-board. Such events live or die by the quality of those depicting not just the ghosts and ghouls giving you the jumps, but also those portraying the handful of still-human characters littered across the experience, and here ‘The Centre’ really showed its clout. It certainly helped that you got the sense some of those ‘performing’ had been pivotal parts in developing and crafting the experience as a whole.

There was also a particular extended encounter with one of the actors which I am just dying to gush about, but cannot bring myself to spoil. It was the kind of genius inclusion that only a longer, more intimate experience as this could accommodate.

In fact, ‘The Centre’ as a whole trod a masterful balance between feeling like a real passion project (not least of all with the handful of references to its inspirations) whilst still being more expansive and full-on its approach than any ‘maze’ you could hope to do. The actors never broke character (be they living or undead), the occasional video productions were slick, polished and professional, and the lighting and sound design was superb throughout. 

And Zombie Infection deserve all the plaudits in the world for, at the very least, not being slavishly bound by Health and Safety protocol… you sign a disclosure form at the outset, and there are rooms of almost pitch black here (some of the most scary and thrilling moments of exploration!) and you will be running up and down staircases, dropping to your knees etc.

Perhaps the biggest testimony to how well designed and executed ‘The Centre’ is, though, is how it enables the creation of a thousand mini-stories, moments and anecdotes all of your own making. At one point, my guest and I broke off from the main group during the free exploring section and came across a previously-unexplored boiler room full of hanging bodies cast in almost pitch black, one that we had to rely on the occasional blip of an amber wall light to navigate through because neither of us had acquired a torch ‘upgrade’.

Elsewhere, we encountered and teamed up with a lone survivor to backtrack to an earlier area of the mall in the hopes of finding an elusive set of keys, only to be chased down by a chainsaw-wielding maniac and the three of us having to literally barricade ourselves in a small side room and decide which of the two entrances we would dare to try and sneak back out through.

None of this was scripted or pre-planned, just the perfect kind of horror movie set piece that Zombie Infection's event facilitates so perfectly.

‘The Centre’ is your own personal zombie horror movie and Resident Evil-style survival horror experience rolled into one. With a finite number of guests allowed per booking (around 20 for the slot we reviewed, which was then split into 2 smaller groups within the narrative of the experience) it’s very easy for personalities to come forward and everyone to really get a chance to shine and be involved in the various activities and mini-narratives that develop. Sure, your experience may be heavily defined by any strangers you may share it with, but that’s no different to any scare experience, and actually makes an even stronger argument for why Zombie Infection may be one of the best group/team outings you could hope to do.

Intense, immersive, perfectly-pitched, impressively themed and, for the quality and length of event you get, very modestly priced, it isn’t difficult to see why Zombie Infection continue to expand to new venues and experiences across the UK.

With experiences this good, this terrifying and this balls-to-the-wall brilliant, this particular horror veteran hopes they continue to spread faster than the Progenitor virus, and is already itching to pay a visit to their other offerings.

Literally itching.

… I hope it’s nothing contagious.

For information on THE CENTRE and all of ZOMBIE INFECTION's experiences, including booking dates for 2018/19, head on over to their official website www.zombieinfection.co.uk.

Press tickets to 'The Centre' were provided courtesy of Zombie Infection directly. The author gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.