Fear the Dead, Beware the Dark

By Michelle McShane

With my heart pounding I took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold of the door with the words “Don’t open, dead inside” scrawled across them. The sounds of screams filled the air. I turned the corner, and a ghoulish butcher came at me wielding a blood splattered butcher knife. It was just a typical Friday night in October at Fort Henry. I’d been meaning to check out Fort Fright for years, but hadn’t the courage until now.
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Fort Fright has been running Thursday through Saturday evenings from 7-10pm starting at the beginning of October, and nightly in the week leading to Halloween since 2008. With the Fort’s already haunted past, and spooky feel, especially after dark, it was only natural to develop the haunted program to the Fort’s other existing programming. Scaring over 20,000 people annually since it started, employing up to 50 “scare actors” each season, and adding new frightening scenes every year, Fort Fright has been on the top 100 Festivals & Events in Ontario 6 times running.

Tickets are $15/person; give yourself about 45 minutes for the experience, more if you dare to try the coffin ride. You actually get put inside a closed coffin and are drawn by horse and buggy to the graveyard and buried….alive!

This year’s theme, Dead Dark: Fear the Dead, Beware the Dark, had us enter a gate that was guarded by the un-dead. We wandered through the ditch surrounding the fort, walking through a variety of scenes, including a haunted farm, a graveyard and a maze. As we cautiously followed the trail, a zombie or other creature of the night would jump out and scream at us, or even more unnerving simply walk up to us, stare and follow closely on our heels or at our side. The trail eventually led us into the parade grounds and into a variety of rooms inside the fort. Without sharing too much, I was struck by the attention to details, down to the jars of eyeballs in Kannibal Kyle’s lair, the smell in the air, and the abandoned toys in Annabelle’s Playroom. And the scare actors (many of them Queen’s drama students) had the discipline of the Fort Henry guards….we couldn’t crack them.

We were welcomed a the gate by the Grim Reaper
We were welcomed a the gate by the Grim Reaper

None of the entrances into the maze were welcoming
None of the entrances into the maze were welcoming

The Butcher
The Butcher

This guy had a lot to say….but don’t get too close!
This guy had a lot to say….but don’t get too close!

Kannibal Kyle’s stew pot
Kannibal Kyle’s stew pot

While I don’t think that my sons (aged 7 & 9) would have enjoyed the evening, there were many children (the youngest I saw was probably about 5, he came in costume) along with their families. New this year, you can purchase a “protection amulet”, which wards off the ghouls; think of it as the equivalent of keeping holy water or garlic in your pocket! While wearing the flashing amulet, it lets the scare actors know not to frighten you, who by the way are not allowed to touch you, nor you them. I don’t think I saw any children wearing the amulet, but I sure saw it on a number of adults!
If attending Fort Fright is on your list of things to check out, I urge you to go for it! If you head over early in the evening (between 7 and 8:30) be prepared for kids and young teens, their screams are piercing! If you are not attending with kids in tow, I’d head over later (the last ticket is sold at 9:30) but keep in mind the lineup can be long.
We’ll visit Fort Fright again next year, and probably make it an annual tour. Eventually we’ll bring the kids, but I don’t think we’ll ever opt for the sleep over option.
Send in the Clowns!
Send in the Clowns!