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Spinoff reviews New Zealand #47: Our first ever horror festival

We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Alex Casey reviews Halloween night at Horrorfest NZ.

Say what you will about Freddy Krueger, but the man is very well-situated to point out a toilet at a crowded event. Our gazes followed his long, sharpened knife finger all the way to the window above the loo, frosted for modesty. “Over theeeerrrre” he hissed in a vague American accent, punctuated perfectly with a loud toilet flush. ‘Twas Hallows Eve at Hell’s Horror Fest NZ, a celebration of all things splatter and spooky. Nearby, a man began strumming an acoustic guitar, arguably the most frightening scene of all.

Taking place in the ASB Showgrounds, the event is part haunted maze, part drive-in movie, mostly all a terrifying shambles. Taking place in the wake of costumed-to-the-eyeballs pop culture extravaganza Armageddon, Horror Fest doesn’t look like much when you first arrive. There’s some free Demon Energy up for grabs, a shonky Jigsaw cackling on a trike and an Annabelle doll shrieking with laughter and occasionally telling people where to park. This nun bloke was the scariest, especially when channelling the spirit of John Key via this ponytail stroke caught on camera.

the moment i realised i had made a huge mistake

After a security briefing (no punching the actors, no running, the safeword is ‘pumpkin’) we were let loose into the maze with a small group of boys hyped-up on complimentary Demon. The maze has been built into that big silver shed towards the end of the Showgrounds, maybe best known for equally bone-chilling bargain bin makeup sales, and felt very lengthy. This ain’t no MOTAT mirror maze, put it that way. We hung back as the boys ran ahead, my partner frozen and mewing in fear as his eyes adjusted to the dark. I don’t want to spoil too much about what happened next, but the maze was incredibly fun and genuinely quite terrifying. 

Freddy got papped

Here are some of my cool maze tips.

  1. Max out on frights by hanging back a tiny bit and let the people in front of you charge ahead, so all the scares don’t get spoiled.
  2. There is clambering and kneeling and shimmying required to get through things at times, accessibility options feel limited.
  3. Keep eyes in the back of your head as well – you never know when a ghost be ghosting.
  4. Prepare for there to be touching, prepare to be bear-hugged by Jigsaw and dragged into some kind of haunted cupboard shrieking “go on without me”.
  5. Take your time and look around. Yes, there are screeds of halls lined with foil curtains that feel like a futuristic car wash, but there’s some impressive detail along the way. Take a peep into the toilet early on, for example. 

After the maze, we were left loitering around, making small talk with a zombie wench with an inexplicable French accent. The film playing at the drive-in was Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, they aren’t animals) and scheduled to start at 8.30pm. This didn’t come remotely close to happening. About an hour later, people were still lining up and ordering pizza – one tiny truck serving what must have been a couple hundred hungry Halloweeners. We ate all the gum in the car trying to pass the time despite laxative warnings. Even the organiser’s laptop was about to throw in the towel. 

Tfw battery about to run out

With hundreds of people getting restless in their cars – now completely boxed-in for the drive-in viewing experience – things started to get pretty Mad Max real quick. The radio frequencies weren’t working for some, an intermission very deep into the film apologetically begged everyone to promptly leave their cars and grab their incredibly late (snack size, not included in the ticket price) pizzas. People were yelling, honking their horns and flashing their lights. About two minutes later, the movie started again sans sound and sans half the audience.

Look, it was opening night of a pretty ambitious event and I don’t doubt that things will be ironed out for the rest of the week (Horror Fest runs till Saturday night). But for $100 per car (any more than 2 passengers must pay $30 extra) I’d honestly be expecting Leatherface to give me a free manicure and a glass of champagne at the very least. Alas, here are some tips for surviving the drive-in cinema if you are heading along later this week. 

  1. Maybe think about bringing your own dinner, but get snacks at the very least. Bring more than you think you are capable of eating – cars, just like airports and movie theatres, open up secret stomachs you never knew you had. 
  2. Watching a movie in a car is cool, but the novelty wears off fast. Bring pillows and blankets to make the car seat comfier or prepare to wriggle a lot.
  3. Beware of the ghouls that sneak between cars and boo at your window (could have done with more of this).
  4. Check your radio beforehand, there are a few different frequency options for the movie sound and it pays to know what you are dealing with.
  5. Make sure you don’t have too early of a start the next day, less because of nightmares and more because the movie may finish five years later than you had anticipated.

Verdict: Horror Fest is fine for the die-hard horror fans who also have a lot of patience, but I can’t help but think they should bust open the maze as a separate, cheaper attraction for those of us too chicken/lazy to drive out to Spookers.

Good or bad: The maze was good, the movie would have been good if it started on time, the food situation was scary bad (and not in a good way).


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