Haunted House Review of Trail Of Fear Haunted House Screampark - Oklahoma City Oklahoma
Haunted House Review of Trail Of Fear Haunted Scream – Lawton, Oklahoma
By Hauntworld Magazine
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The Trail of Fear is well known as Oklahoma’s largest and most terrifying haunted attraction, and it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this October with some of its most hair-raising scares yet. In its two decades of screams, frights and chills, this successful haunted house has unnerved tens of thousands of souls brave enough to step foot on the haunted grounds in Lawton, Oklahoma just outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Today, the Trail of Fear is synonymous with that creeping dread as it crawls up the back of your neck when entering one of the haunted attractions. Twenty years ago, that dread was felt by father- and-son Robert Wright Sr. and Bob Wright Jr. as they were about to undertake a new venture. “We never thought we would be as big as we are. It just wasn’t something that was even in our minds at that time.”
Before father-and-son were in the business of scaring people senseless, Wright Sr. was trying to conceive and construct, with a group of fellow science teachers, a science discovery center in Lawton. Wright Jr. was working at a seasonal Halloween store in a local mall at the time. Wright Sr. raised the idea to open a Halloween store of their own to help raise funds for the science discovery center. But after a couple months of research, he proposed a different path to his son.
“My dad comes home one day and says, ‘Son, you love haunted houses, right?’ I said, yes, of course,” admits Bob Wright Jr. “Great!’...he tells me, because I just bought 40 acres. Let’s make this happen.”
That 40 acres, subsequently and aptly labeled the Trail of Fear, would, over the years, become the largest and highest rated haunted attraction in Oklahoma, but that first year was not nearly as special or as spooky recalls Wright Jr, “Our first year in 1998 we had a small hay maze and a 2400 sq ft tent. We just had one small attraction, and we sold maybe 300 to 400 tickets.”
The Wrights were onto something though, because word began to spread rapidly. More people showed up the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Five years into their venture,father-and-son knew they were onto something big.
“In 2003 or 2004 we realized, holy crap, what did we get into here?” Wright Jr. said. They had tapped into a growing cultural zeitgeist. “People want to be scared and they’re willing to pay top dollar and travel as far as they need to experience that anxiety and racing pulse. Most area haunted attractions were unassuming affairs with hobbies and pastimes for Halloween enthusiasts, but my dad and I approached it differently.
We’re literally put on an interactive theater show that people go on a horrific journey through,” Wright Jr. said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful on putting together such good shows. Our cast is top notch and we wouldn’t be much without them!” That philosophy led to the Trail of Fear’s dominance, not only Oklahoma, but throughout the region, as the must-see haunt.
For the last decade, it’s been named the largest and highest rated haunt in Oklahoma. In 2012, it was ranked one of the top 31 haunted attractions in the entire United States. In 2015, the Trail of Fear Haunted Scream Parks, including both Lawton and Thunderbird Trail of Fear, were ranked the third Most Extreme Scream Parks in the U.S.
After dominating the haunt scene in Southwest Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Wright Jr. could only see one future…EXPANSION! In 2013, he partnered with husband-and-wife duo Matthew and Elizabeth Achemire to open The Thunderbird Trail of Fear in Noble, Okla. “Matt and I have been friends for many years,” Bob Jr. said. “We had talked about expanding the Trail of Fear for some time. He had some acreage, so we finally decided…let’s do this!” Matt decided he was in a place in his life where he wanted another creative outlet, and Bob was ready to grow The Trail of Fear into a brand to be reckoned with in the Haunted Attraction Industry. “Brand awareness and brand growth are a couple of my main areas of focus,” Bob Jr. said. “The Trail of Fear is no longer just a haunted attraction. It’s now a brand that we’re growing.”
Hauntworld continues to watch Trail of Fear grow in success and progression. In 2012, it was ranked on the Top 31 list of ALL haunted attractions in the entire US. In 2015, both Trail of Fear Haunted Scream Park in Lawton and Thunderbird Trail of Fear in Noble were ranked third on Hauntworld’s Most Extreme Scream Parks list.
The Wrights and the Achemires knew the Thunderbird location needed an attraction that would hook people as soon as they stepped foot through its entrance…an attraction that would not only send them screaming back to their vehicles, but would compel them to tell family and friends. Over some wings and beer they brainstormed ideas for the theme of the new attraction, but it was Elizabeth who shouted, "Hillbillies! Cannibal hillbillies!" Bob Jr. knew just the attraction to build.
For years, the most popular experience at the Lawton Trail of Fear was the Hackensaw Haunted Hayride. Visitors wandered into the path of a cannibalistic family of inbred hillbillies with a taste for flesh and a penchant for striking fear into the hearts of their victims before they devoured their bodies. It was the single most popular haunted attraction in all of Oklahoma, and it was moving to Thunderbird as a brand new walkthrough attraction of pure terror with new characters, scenes and props. Renamed the Hackensaw Haunted Hill, the cannibal family was packing its bags and its spare body parts and moving north. The Thunderbird team felt it would be a great fit there, and they were right. “We started out with that single attraction and it has been a success for us ever since,” said Wright Jr.
The brand was growing. The Trail of Fear was no longer a regional haunt in Southwest Oklahoma. Word had spread to Oklahoma City. There was something terrifying, perhaps even evil, growing just outside the city. The dead are walking and crave the taste of human flesh. Unlike their inbred hillbilly counterparts, their taste cannot besated. “In 2015, we expanded to a second attraction called, The Rotting Dead Reckoning,” Wright Jr. Said. “It’s a ride through a zombie-infested area where you get to shoot at our Rotters.” That’s what we call them because zombie is a bad word here. We want to keep that word out of our vocabulary.
The undead plague continued to spread, spurred by the success of the Thunderbird Trail of Fear and the flagship Trail of Fear location. For the first time in Trail of Fear history, Thunderbird location surpassed the original as the highest rated haunted attraction in Oklahoma in 2015, with the original location ranked a close second. Wright Jr. knew his partners at Thunderbird were doing it right, so expansion was on his mind yet again. “The expansions are a significant part of growing the Trail of Fear brand,” he said. “It happened with the Thunderbird location, and it happened again in 2015, when I opened our third location, the NEW Dead Woods Trail of Fear in Luther, Okla.”
As ambitious as ever, Wright Jr. wanted to try something never done before, to his knowledge. The Dead Woods location’s The Rotting Dead experience ties in with Thunderbird’s The Rotting Dead: Reckoning as a two-part scream experience.
“In the opening attraction at Dead Woods, we have the rotting dead with a twist on all of the zombie apocalypse stuff going on,” Wright Jr. said. “We have this complete and unique storyline where this could be a safe haven in the woods from the rotting dead. If they make it to, or if they’ve gone through Thunderbird, they see the rotting dead outbreak. They come here to Dead Woods and they think they’re safe in a place that might not be safe. We may be the only haunted attraction in the U.S. that has two different locations with a tie-in with two attractions at those locations.”
After two years in Luther, Dead Woods Trail of Fear will move this year to the Adventure District in Oklahoma City, near the Oklahoma City Zoo and Remington Park. Along with the move comes a new business partner for the Dead Woods location, Adam Stephens. Stephens is new to the Trail of Fear family but has been friends with Wright Jr. for more than a decade. Stephens said, “I am happy to join the Trail of Fear team and looking forward to continued success as we bring a new level of excitement to the Oklahoma City metro area.” The new location will retain the tie-in with the Thunderbird Trail of Fear and could experience tremendous growth with a more centralized locale and perhaps the addition of a second haunted attraction this year.
“We’re very excited about moving Dead Woods Trail of Fear inside the Oklahoma City limits, to the Adventure District no ess,” Wright Jr. said. “It’s going to help grow the Trail of Fear brand and enable us to scare more people, which is what this is all about. Scare one. Scare all.”
Character is an important emphasis for the cast of each Trail of Fear location which is why The Trail of Fear locations lean heavily on their cast to give their best performances each night. They bring in directors and coaches to help the cast adapt to the style needed to work in a haunted attraction. Wright Jr. believes there’s much more to their jobs than running at people and screaming insanity. “There’s a lot more improv involved in scary acting than one might think,” he said. “Each actor really must get into the character and think on their feet when dealing with crowds.” Once the nature and setting of the story is established, the actors are encouraged to come up with their own individual characters and justifications for the haunt. Some actors become veryinvolved in the creation of their character which can really have a positive impact on their performance each night. “Very few outside the haunt will ever know their backstories,” Wright Jr. said, “but by engrossing themselves in that character, it helps each individual put on a fantastic show. I have worked with a lot of casts over the years and the system we have created seems to work really well. Without the efforts of our awesome cast we really would not be where we are today.” Many cast members at each location volunteer numerous hours, blood, sweat and tears into making the shows and characters happen.
The idea of having a story behind each attraction is one that father and son adhered to in the early days of the Trail of Fear’s formation. Many haunts don’t focus on storyline but the Wrights always wanted to have an ongoing reason for what the people are experiencing.“In the beginning, it was mostly my dad and I coming up with this stuff ourselves,” said Wright Jr. “As we’ve grown, we put together creative teams made up of people from each attraction consisting of managers and people who volunteer a heck of a lot of time. That’s how we come up with the unique and original storylines. We don’t copy movies. Our characters will never be found in film. We create all new experiences and each one is unique to its specific location. I am really proud of our cast and crew at all three locations. They really pull together to create a fantastic show for our patrons.”
Those experiences often rotate out after a while, ensuring the Trail of Fear is constantly fresh and constantly scary no matter how many years one returns. Even after two decades, the Trail of Fear is as frightening as ever and it’s going to be even more spooky this year to celebrate itsmilestone anniversary in Lawton. In addition to the Cirque de Morte and The Experiment, two long- standing experiences that have left thousands shaken, the Lawton Trail of Fear is upping the intensity with a new attraction…Psychotic Nightmare. “It’s going to bring everything in your nightmares to life,” he said.
The Lawton Trail of Fear will also introducing a new, reservations-only Escape Room experience. More details will be forthcoming. Tickets will go on sale in September. The Wrights promise a unique experience that you won’t want to miss. Following the Trail of Fear season, the escape room experience will become a permanent, year-round fixture. This year will also see the introduction of a new interactive theater experience, Surviving the Apocalypse. The comedy-infused interactive production will host a minimum of two nightly shows each evening the Lawton Trail of Fear is open.
The show can be considered a humorous take (or guide if you will) on how to survive the apocalypse. The Haunted Midway with our carnival games and inflatable rides for children and families will also make a return, but Wright Jr. described this year asthe year the Trail of Fear brand is going back to its roots. For the 2017 season, its mission is to put a serious level of fear into the Trail of Fear. Now more than ever, Lawton Trail of Fear, Thunderbird Trail of Fear, and Dead Woods Trail of Fear won’t be for the faint of heart. “We’ll still have things for families and kids that aren’t scary,” said Wright Jr, “but we’re absolutely going back to our roots and doing whatever we can to raise the level of anxiety, uneasiness and terror in each of our haunted attractions.That’s what makes us number one.”
Even with the focus on fear and terror, the Wrights never forgot why they undertook this venture 20 years ago. They always held onto the desire to be good stewards within the community and to offer residents a fun, interactive experience they couldn’t find anywhere else. That they have not only endured but thrived throughout the last 20 years and have expanded into a brand makes Wright Jr. even more thankful for how far he’s come, especially with his father at his side. “It makes me feel great,” he said. “I’m so grateful to have been able to do all of this with my dad. What I value most is knowing that this is something that we did together not only as business partners but as father and son. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything. Now, if only I could get my daughter involved.”
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