Screamfest - the annual Halloween scare park offering from The National Forest Adventure Farm at Burton-on-Trent - is the longest-running event in my ‘Halloween Horror Visits’ series. 


Entering Screamfest’s world of mazes, mayhem and spooky chaos for another year - complete with now-iconic hearse and stringed lantern decor upon arrival - has thus almost become a thing of almost comforting familiarity. 


It’s certainly the perfect candidate to kickstart this year’s series of horror-slanted adventures.


A little drizzle and the tease of Autumnal chill in the air certainly wasn’t enough to dampen spirits, as wristbands were strapped on, distant whirs of chainsaws punctured the excitement, and another year of running from the undead and other monstrosities began.


One always pauses to take a moment to balance this being now my sixth year at the park against those who may in 2019 be experiencing its thrills and chills for the first time.


Irrespective of whether you’re a Burton veteran or wary, unsuspecting newcomer, though, one thing remains true.


2019 is the best Screamfest yet.


The only middling maze (last year’s somewhat pedestrian Daemonica) is gone, replaced by a fantastic, characterful and even occasionally-hilarious newcomer (more on which later), whilst old favourites have been re-invigorated and injected with new twists, traps and turns that cement this as once again an essential Halloween visit for fans of the season (not to mention a good jump scare!).


Theming, scope and ambition have been the real credos behind Burton’s offerings over the past few years in particular. Dia De Los Muertos, one of the park’s signature mazes which capitalises on its location by sending guests off on a tractor trip out into an expansive, winding corn field, originally took a year or two to fully form (originally being the slightly less inventive Children of the Corn). Since 2017, the creatives at Screamfest have wrapped the maze - one of their real USPs and hallmark - in an imaginative, Mexican ‘Day of the Day’ siesta styling, complete with Nacho Libra-esque chainsaw wielding lunatics, an escape gangland subplot, and sassy flamenco dancers and excited señoritas, whose early encouragement and enthusiasm for a 'PARTYYY' only heighten the dread of what horrors are to inevitably follow.


Love Hurts has also dug its deranged, dirty heels in for a few years now, and once again a fantastic concept and some brilliant realisation of theming and aesthetic make it another standout experience, as the lure of a singles night at a dingy bar takes a trip - quite literally - into the sewers. Sure, if you’ve been through it several times some of the initial surprise and shocks may be less impacting, but that's par for the course in any scare maze, and it’s still an exquisitely - at times disgustingly - distinctive maze experience (I will never tire of its gloriously gross entry method, for instance).


Freak Out is back, too, giving the Coulrophobes plenty to be terrified about, with its mischievous cast of sinister clowns more engaged with their victims than ever before.


Last year’s Babadook-esque Insomnia - so good I proudly declared it ‘one of the best new mazes of 2018, anywhere’ in my review - also returns, and, as a twisted journey into the nightmares of young girl come true, is as inventive, unhinged and brilliant as at its debut. 


And finally, new for ‘nineteen, Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Zoo is as madcap and marvellous as Screamfest gets. A long, expansive and tonally screwball journey into the titular Texan’s (one can but assume) undead attraction, Zoo swerves and swings - often suddenly - from laugh-out-loud hijinks (a par of warring redneck sisters, an encounter with ‘Clucks’ the undead chicken zombie) to high-concept surreality (wall-climbing zombie cheerleaders and Zombie Santa say hi) to outright terror. Make no mistake, for all of its Podunk wackiness, Zoo doesn’t fall short on the tension or thrills, either. In fact, coupled with some superb design work and art direction, and a crop of top-tier scare performers - shout out to the unimpressed store owner who called one of our party ‘a disgustin' piece o’ no-good trash’ for not buying any of her ‘goods’, and the shotgun-tooting ‘Meemaw’ who insisted we begged for entrance to her ‘back passage’ - Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Zoo is another testimony to the level of ambition, expansion and creativity that Burton continues to reach with its new mazes. It’s a rollickin’, rootin’ toootin’ romperoo of a maze that’ll have you laughing, screaming and maybe even clucking, the whole way through.


By excising the only passable offering from last year, and replacing it with a bold, characterful and distinctive newcomer, Screamfest presents its biggest, boldest line-up to date. Five fantastic, brilliantly realised mazes based around at-times quite superb theming and storytelling. It doesn’t get more original or unique than Insomnia, more balls-to-the-wall than Hillbilly Joe, whilst the journey out into the corn mazes for Dia De Los Muertos should by now be a staple of every self-respecting scare fan’s Halloween season. And even in slightly older offerings such as Freak Out, there was a notable effort to spice things up for regulars; for instance, being hilariously driven round in circles by a villainous clown as we blithely went through the same doorways over and over at their behest.


The essentials are covered, too, with a regular offering of stage shows, wandering scare performers, plenty of stalls and places to grab food and drink, and, on the night reviewed at least, a really fantastic standard of customer service and attention across the attraction. From the food vendors, maze ushers and photo booth attendees, it was one of the most welcoming, high-spirited and friendly teams you could hope for.


Which, when you’re about to spend 20 minutes being chased by deranged hillbilly’s with chainsaws, daemonic manifestations of childhood nightmares or the most sinister clowns this side of Bianca Del Rio, is pretty important.


Every year, Screamfest delivers the goods, ups the ante and always provides at least one fantastic new scare maze opportunity to make it a wholehearted recommendation for the season.


2019 is not only no exception but, with its strongest line-up of mazes yet, which continue to reach new levels of ambition, uniqueness and execution, it’s the best that this twisted farm of horror, hijinks and hilarity has been yet.


Book your tickets and head on down now.


...Meemaw is waiting.


SCREAMFEST 2019 runs at the National Forest Adventure Farm on select evenings until Saturday 2 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. 

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Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here