Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Haunted Overload – An Imaginative, Captivating, Haunting World

Halloween New England visits Haunted Overload _ Carved Pumpkin
One of Haunted Overload's
iconic giant carved pumpkins
With designer and artist Eric Lowther at the helm, a visit to Haunted Overload in Lee, NH is truly an original experience both in its artistry and its presentation. Eric’s stage manager Tom Sadowski was gracious enough to take time out to give Halloween New England a behind-the-scenes preview of the upcoming season. As anyone who has visited Haunted Overload can attest, words are sure to fall short in trying to accurately convey this mesmerizing haunted trail but I will try my best.

Haunted Overload is situated deep in the woods on the DeMerritt Hill Farm property in what is a busy PYO apple orchard for families during the fall replete with hayrides and a pumpkin patch. It’s almost funny to consider how the family-focused daytime farm activities and the Overload nighttime activities land on entirely different ends of the spectrum.

For one, I didn’t arrive during daylight hours so by the time I’d pulled into the pitch black parking lot the farm was closed and the minivans were long gone. I’d never been here before so although I was unsure exactly where to go but I simply followed the ominous sound of working chainsaws to know where Haunted Overload was. (Yes, I realize in horror movies, when you follow the sound of chainsaws into the woods nothing good ever happens). As it turns out, once I saw the scale and size that Eric works in, I couldn’t help imagining that the screaming wail of chainsaws must impart a kind of soundtrack to their building season. Chainsaws are what are needed to carry out the ambitious structures that Eric and his crew build here—nothing less would accomplish the task.

My visit was in September so the construction and detail for the season was in full swing. Tom’s tour took place at night which brought its own kind of spookiness—no crowds of customers, no scene lighting, no environmental music, save for the aforementioned chainsaw. Just Tom and me walking the trail and, had it not been for the flashlight, we’d be in complete darkness in the NH woods. Credit to Tom for keeping the flashlight on the whole time as I would have been an easy mark—the thought of being in the woods in the pure darkness even for 5 seconds would have terrified me!

Tom shared the history of Haunted Overload including details about the year they moved their entire attraction to the current property at DeMerritt Hill Farm—no easy feat when you see how gigantic many of these scenic pieces are. He discussed their current approach to the new season, which changes they were implementing, and showed me how they were adjusting many sections of the trail to reverse the customer flow for a new feel. Haunted Overload is primarily an outdoor haunted attraction but there are several small buildings, thematic tent structures, and huts that you either walk through or are brief scenes. However, Eric is an artist who doesn’t think small—he approaches design in terms of scale, using proportion to his advantage to create a specific atmosphere—so most of what makes Overload stand out can’t really fit inside a building at all. 

Halloween New England visits Haunted Overload _ Tree Top Ghost
Ethereal scarecrow-like ghost
creatures are tall as the treetops
Perhaps it’s Eric’s commitment to using as much organic building material as possible—reclaimed wood from fallen trees, strapping scraps from a NH lumber yard, the texture of the leaves and trees all around--that allow the various creatures to paradoxically feel both of the earth and yet not of this world.

Whether it is the enormous imposing skull staring you down as you wait in the queue or the towering ghostly scarecrow-like creations that hover twenty feet above your head as you walk through the trail, the magic of Haunted Overload is how very, very small you feel. It’s clear you have entered in another world where nothing is human-sized and these magnificent, ethereal creatures are the ones who inhabit this fantastical land. 
Halloween New England visits Haunted Overload _ Pumpkin Scarecrow
This pumpkin-headed sculpture
exemplifies Eric Lowther's love of
texture and use of organic materials. 

The artistry of the various props, creatures, giant carved pumpkins, ghostly skeletons are completely custom built for this event—these are not props or animatronics that can be bought which allows the customers to have a wholly unique experience—they have never seen these types of things anywhere else—and why Haunted Overload is a destination with a devoted return customer base. 
As colleague Mike “Tattoo” Krausert of 13th Floor Entertainment Group explained “there is just nobody in the haunted attraction industry doing what Eric is doing. He is a true artist with a one-of-a-kind vision.”   
Halloween New England visits Haunted Overload _ Chainsaw Skull
It only seems fitting to be greeted
by a chainsaw-wielding maniac!

When I returned to Haunted Overload for the live experience, everything was ratcheted up to a whole new level. This time, there were actors and customers who brought an energy and life to the night and yes, there were still the sound of chainsaws (judiciously used I might add). Right from the start the customers are immersed into this phenomenal world of rich colors, stylized sinister pumpkins, and scarecrow-like ghosts glaring down at you from the tree-tops. My fellow patrons stood agape looking up and craning their heads, taking it all in. The secondary queue line serves a useful purpose to allow the customers to acclimate to the new, almost magical environment before heading out on the trail. This also is the only area where photos are permitted and Eric has smartly created an impressive wooden skull centerpiece flanked by a pair of giant wooden cow skulls for the photo ops.  On the misty night I attended there was a haunting layer of natural fog suspended in all corners of the woods which certainly added to the special atmosphere.

Halloween New England visits Haunted Overload _ Giant Skull
This photo doesn't convey the enormity
of the 3-story tall skull at the trail head.
The groups enter the trail and the experience is self-guided--there are bridges and graveyards and plenty of small shacks where actors could be hiding (or are they?) which certainly add to the thrills and tension. There seem to be plenty of ways for actors to cover some ground—being able to surprise or stalk multiple groups in a short period of time.
I felt lucky that the group I tagged along with didn’t race through the event too quickly since I was eager to progress slowly so I could thoroughly observe the careful detail of the creatures and the enchanting scenic design. Eric’s trail design takes everything into consideration—I particularly appreciated how the back-side of a scene or a giant creature was seamlessly contributed to a scene in a different part of the trail--something difficult to accomplish in a conventional, indoor, walled attraction.


This is a well-organized event with a dedicated group of volunteers supporting the event from taking tickets taking to conveying emergency exit procedures. Eric’s association with The Cocheco Valley Humane Society is an important one as the CVHS as Haunted Overload contributes a portion of their proceeds each year to support the great work these folks are doing. In 2013 alone, Haunted Overload raised $16,000 for the CVHS which is a very impressive and impactful kind support.

Haunted Overload opens for the 2014 haunting season on October 17th this year and you can buy tickets for ten night events (full show), twelve daytime events (no scares/actors, photos permitted), and one Fright Lite Night on Oct 23rd (no scares/actors, photos permitted on this night only).

There is an additional private show on Saturday November 8th for ticket holders to the Legendary Haunt Tour event (the general public may purchase tickets to the Tour here).
Find details about Haunted Overload, links to online ticketing, a slideshow of their trail, watch their video, find contact info, map with directions, and more here.

Ten Tips for Visiting Haunted Overload this October
  • Buy your tickets in advance. Their night shows regularly sell out and there are a very limited number of tickets sold at the door.
  • The event has timed ticketing which means you purchase your ticket for a particular entrance time. This doesn’t mean you won’t have a brief wait in the queue but it does mean you need to arrive in advance of your scheduled time. Your timed arrival has as much to do with managing the parking lot flow as it does the crowds so be considerate and arrive early!
  • The trail itself takes about 45 minutes depending on the pace of your group and those in front of you. Factor in a little extra time for waiting in the queue and for parking.
  • A nice perk of this event is the ability to plan your night—the timed ticketing allows you to have an idea about how much time you will spend there which very helpful if you are making plans before or after.
  • This show has a recommendation of 12y + but as always, parents should exercise their own best judgment as to what their child finds scary or frightening. There are definitely surprises, as well as creepy and scary moments. I don’t recall seeing any gore.
  • Haunted Overload offers a Fright Night Lite which is the full night show minus the actors and scares. This is also the only night show where photos are permitted throughout the event. Check their schedule for details. 
  • Those looking to really soak up the artistry and scenic detail of Haunted Overload are encouraged to return for one of the daytime shows where photos are allowed and the walk-through pace is more relaxed to allow you to really appreciate the trail in full daylight. The daytime events are actor- and scare-free.
  • This is an outdoor event that takes place rain or shine (except in the case of extreme weather) so dress appropriately for nighttime weather in NH, including rain and cold temps. Be sure to wear shoes that are safe and suitable for walking on an outdoor trail.
  • There are light refreshments at the farm stand near the parking lot—hot cider, etc.
  • Haunted Overload has made the effort to be wheelchair accessible but there are some uneven trails. They can accommodate you with some trail adjustments if needed but it is appreciated if you call ahead to let them know you’re coming.