Akron, Ohio's Haunted School and Lab are one of those attractions that started from a grass roots home haunt, and, with time, creativity, and a genuine love for Halloween, have evolved into something truly special.
My wife and I have seen spectacular haunts all over the country, but this one in particular has a such wonderful atmosphere to it - mix equal parts of the best of the Universal Monsters, 1970's haunt nostalgia, tons of imaginative and beautifully executed sets and costumes, a darker edged dose of Disney's Haunted Mansion, and a commitment to quality and originality and you've got this place.
The Haunted Schoolhouse has been going since 1974 and the Laboratory since 1981, so, as whole, that's thirty-nine years of professional experience scaring the living daylights out of people...I can name only one other haunt that has run longer, and that's only by a year or two and they've moved a few times - this place has been in the same spot all these years.
One the key elements to their continued success is that it's a community event when they open their doors - Akron, Ohio, while not exactly a huge city, has it's fair share of places to go, things to do, and sights to see...this place has a warmth and charm that is sorely lacking from a lot of attractions...in spite of what a lot of people may think, the old adage of making the customer feel welcome applies here as well.
I've been to a few haunts where the owners and staff are only in it for the money, and it shows! You can have the best props, effects and location in the world, but if you your people are an insufferable buttholes, it's all for naught.
Not true here - on our first visit in 2008, we arrived particularly early, and a young man was already made up and stalking the premises - we had a really good conversation with him, he took a few pictures with us and of us, and welcomed us to come back again some time - turns out, this guy's name is Ryan Haidet, and he handles all the PR for the School and Lab...you could say that's extreme self-interest (and a lot of the time I wouldn't argue with you), but we made a second sojourn that year, and he saw us right in the front of the line. He gave us one of the warmest and sincere "glad to see you again!" greetings we've ever had....he also helped us snag a couple of t-shirts..all I can say is our gratitude to him extends to today!
This warmth translate to the entire working staff, btw - as I said earlier, this is a big community event...it's also very grass roots and one of the prides of the Akron community. Everyone here is a joy to talk to and always affable and accommodating to every question. That's one of *biggest* reasons it's so special.
In terms of the sets - wow, I mean, just WOW!
I said this on my HAUNTCAST segment, and I'll repeat it here - this is the place to see if you're looking for inspiration for your own attraction or (in particular) home haunt.
All the technological advances are nice flourishes to add spice on an attraction, but, you have to have a solid foundation first. Modern audiences are far more sophisticated, and all that pizzazz is great eye candy, true, but, as they say, "Where's the Beef?"
The beauty of this one is simple - they've constructed (and reconstructed) the majority of their sets and props, and, with forty years of experience, have developed a unique and remarkable haunt with substance and character.
There's nothing like doing it yourself, is there?
The quality and detail here is U N R E A L...it genuinely rivals the pros with all their technical wizardry...dare I say it, the folks behind all this could make a killing selling props of their own!
My wife and I have our own home - or rather, apartment - haunt, and overall, we build our own props...coming to this place just blew us away and really pushed us to step up our game.
I can't say this enough - when going through the attractions, take an extra moment or two to take it all in - the quality, sophistication and detailing on the place is unlike anything you'll see in a scratch built haunt.
That level of fine detailing applies to the costumes here as well - there are so many unique and well constructed monsters, it's a testament to the imagination of their creators - of course, Freddy, Michael, Jason, and a few other notables all put in appearances, but, quite frankly, it's the home spun horrors that make the place.
Highlights? That's a tough one! One of the *best* - and I don't say that lightly - Castle Dracula sets in the country - check their website's photo section for a look at it. This is something you really need to stop and take a closer look at - there's also a terrific Frankenstein's lab - and take a really close look at Frankie, too...terrific stuff...also worth looking over is a massive cemetery that's been around, tweaked and perfected, for who-knows-how-long...oh, and say "hello" to George who just seems to take forever in the bathroom....
Remember, as I mentioned at the top of this article, this is along the lines of a darker version of Disney's Haunted Mansion - it's best to err on the side of caution in regards to younger children - I consider this one semi-kid friendly...about eight or nine years of age being the cut off...truthfully, most of the younger kids we've seen there tend to dig it, so, draw your own conclusions!
...also, when they advertise seven levels of terror, they aren't kidding - and it's *all* by stairs! My family and I are in reasonable shape, and those things just about killed us! Please take that into consideration if you come here, there are NO access elevators!
Their website is www.hshlab.com, and is loaded with pictures, lore and information.
I really can't add too much more to that - aside from adding that if you are interested in checking this one out, drop me a line and my wife and I will be delighted to meet you there...
Next time around, we'll be heading to Columbus, Ohio, to visit one of the wildest and goriest haunts in the Buckeye state - Dead Acres, a.k.a. "The Haunted Hoochie", the notorious "Black Sheep of the Haunting Industry", a reputation well-earned, I might add...
Our Godkids, Bonnie and Shaun Fontanne of Rockford, Illinois, mugging it up for me....