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Halloween Haunted Forest is not scary enough

Neewollah's Haunted Forest
Weekly Thursday through Sunday
Through Oct. 31.
6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Rocking M Ranch
Charlton, Mass.

By Joshua M. Andresen
Associate Arts Editor

You enter the forest and slowly creep along the trail through the woods. Suddenly, from nowhere, out leaps Neewollah, stealer of souls, the king of slime and slush. He snatches your soul and retreats into the darkness.

This is the scene at Neewollah's Haunted Forest, a somewhat non-standard Halloween theme park. The format of the adventure is a guided tour through the forest taking you through eighteen outdoor scenes and then through ten indoor exhibits in Neewollah's castle. Along the way you meet big-name nasties like Freddy (from the Nightmare on Elm Street series), Jason (from the Friday the 13th series), and the Terminator (from the Terminator series), as well as the standard horror fare, including mummies, witches, and mad doctors.

Groups of 25 are taken on the tour by guides who are given the task of leading the group safely through Neewollah's forest. At each scene, the leader and the one or two members of the scene exchange a few lines in an act that unfortunately is not usually very well written. The scenes lack coherence and the dialogue is unoriginal.

In one scene, Freddy accuses the tour guide, "It was you who did this. You are responsible." The guide replies, "No, it wasn't me."

"Yes, yes, it was you who did this."

"No, it wasn't me. It was Neewollah."

"No, it was you. It was you."

This goes on for a while before the group is led onward.

Each scene does include a surprise of some sort, however. In most cases, this is realized by someone jumping out screaming from a concealed hiding spot once the group has gathered around a scene. Although repetitive, this tactic works well, and elicits appropriate screams from the audience. Several variations on this theme are also implemented. Jason, for example, comes out screaming and revving a chain saw. In addition, the direction of the attack is varied, and always comes from where it is least expected.

The path through the forest provides a most appropriate backdrop for the thrills of the first part of the tour. The half-bare trees overhead and the fallen leaves underfoot provide an excellent ambiance for the thrills of the evening. The Rocking M Ranch is far enough from downtown that the city smells are gone and the stars are visible overhead on a cloudless night: in all ways an ideal setting. The one technical flaw of the forest tour is the use of flashlights, which are too bright and often annoying. The less focused, dimmer light of a lantern would be much more suitable.

The indoor tour of Neewollah's castle is much like the outdoor portion, except the scenes are behind plexiglass and for the most part are merely narrated by the leader. The surprises are still in place, however, and in some cases are remarkably well performed. The group size of 25 is a bit cramped for the indoor tour, though, and some members complained about not being able to see very well.

The final scene pits the champion of the people against one of Neewollah's demons in a battle for the souls of the poor tour members' souls, which were taken at some point in the forest. The ensuing sword fight determines whether everyone walks out with souls intact or whether Neewollah (a rather imposing figure) keeps them to feast upon.

Overall, I found the thrills to be less than exciting. The romp through the forest was nice, but I found the various scenes interesting at best. This was certainly not a universal sentiment, however, as screams abounded. Those who are not easily scared should perhaps consider bringing along someone who is not as courageous to keep them amused.

Neewollah's Haunted Forest is not recommended for children under five or for people with heart conditions. Tickets are $12 for adults and $9 for children under 11. Call (508) 248-7075 for more information and directions. Group rates and discount coupons are available.