The sun had been up for a good few hours, slowly starting to warm our soaked and chilled bones. Behind us, an idyllic sight, hills of luscious green grass, a couple of horses staring at us in disinterest. The few of us staggered our way toward civilization. Covered in mud from head to toe, war stripes on our cheeks, wearing shirts that had been spray-painted, drawn upon and ravaged – unrecognizable from the pristine white state they had been some ten hours ago. Our Uber driver pulled up – a miracle he even found us at all. His face said it all.
This was the aftermath of Scream Camp – a ten-hour horror camping experience in Oldham, about thirty minutes from Manchester, UK. Created by a team that earned their stripes in a variety of UK-based horror attractions – including Ghoulies Haunted House, Xtreme Scream Park, Snuffhouse and a fair number of Faceless Ventures productions – this overnight, full-contact (but not extreme) event puts guests at the mercy of a band of psychotic murderers, all while playing campfire games and roasting the biggest marshmallows I had ever seen. Those marshmallows are provided too – the event only requires you to bring a sleeping bag, although in all honesty, the majority of our group never really saw any sleep at all. Scream Camp starts just in time to give you a glimpse of how beautiful your surroundings really are, but soon enough, the sun sets, enveloping guests in darkness, the campfire your only remaining source of light and warmth. And at that point, the fun and games don’t cease until the sun rises again.
Upon arrival, guests are split into two teams, each with a camp counselor to take the lead. Out of the two counselors, Tracy is clearly the more responsible one, keeping things organized and on schedule. Her younger sister, Lola, is more chaotic, head in the clouds, and ever-so-stricken by those handsome murderers. Anything you do in Scream Camp has the potential to gain you points for your team, from getting the upper hand in a wide variety of campfire games, to more sinister events orchestrated by the gang of murderers, lurking in the dark. It creates a fun little rivalry between the two groups, a reason to cheer for your team members, and to try and put a stick in the wheels of your rivals.
And there’s plenty of things that go bump in the night. Between playing a plethora of campfire games, including Chinese whispers, Charades and word-association games, I endured multiple chainsaw attacks. I saw a tent containing the most steady sleeper in the goddamn world being flipped upside down as the rest of us were saran-wrapped together in a giant ball of people. Yes, I had fireside snacks, but I also was buried alive inside a metal box along with a murderer, and forced to listen to a disturbing soundscape as a strangely furry figure gauged my reaction. We kept feeding the fire, because if it went out – that would be the end of us all. Oh, and I also danced to the chorus of “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, happily sung by the rest of my group.
It’s this barrage of random events that makes it fairly easy to criticize Scream Camp – but bear with me. Its ideas aren’t cohesive, and the bit of story that is set up quickly falls apart. Its tension arc is set up in a weird way, and the show lacks a proper finale – ending with only a beautiful sunrise and the slow realization that our tormentors would not come back this time. There was no resolution, and nothing had changed but the cleanliness of our clothes. But, strangely enough, none of that really mattered to me. The entire night is lighthearted and filled with fun, never taking itself too seriously. The highest praise I can give Scream Camp is that it was able to evoke some pretty authentic nostalgia of actually going to a summer camp with your friends and playing games that would last all night. The camp leaders and murderers all seem to be in on the joke, occasionally breaking character and bantering with each other – like they were a bunch of friends, play pretending a night of horror for a bunch of summer camp kids. Same with the team rivalry and the points you gain, there is no ulterior purpose – it’s all just a big overnight game. So yeah, the story and the feel are jumpy and incoherent, but in part, the chaos is by design. There’s an undeniable charm to the whole, a passion project of a team that just wants their guests to have a blast. It’s the weirdest thing to review. In the classical sense, this was not necessarily a great “show” – and the fact that their promotional campaign gave an appearance that narrative would be of more importance raised expectations that didn’t quite gel with the actual show. But, importantly, what the event lacked in commitment to story, it made up in other ways. It had a clear identity of its own – feeling right and very authentic. More like an extensive, chaotic game night that goes wrong in all the right ways, diving head first into random pandemonium.
Something I need to commend the team on – they worked in crazy difficult conditions and still managed to pull off a show. Evidently, the entire event is outdoors – and it had been raining for two weeks. No huge surprise there, it kinda is what the weather in the UK tends to do every now and then. Luckily, the majority of our night did remain dry, but the terrain was covered in layers upon layers of mud, locations and props that were used in previous shows had been completely flooded, scenes needed to be relocated, and next to that the team had to deal with the absence of a few crew members. They really impressed with their ability to think on their feet and absolutely worked their asses off, herding our group from situation to situation for hours on end, with a tormentor team that was half of what it had been during previous nights – something we only learnt afterward, because it never felt like they were a single man short.
You gotta keep in mind here – this only was the third time Scream Camp was executed. We saw scenes that were performed for the first time, other moments had been scrapped, some out of necessity, some because the team is trying out new things and figuring stuff out. Seeing pictures from the following two shows, again they had added several new ideas and even a completely new location. I have the impression this show will develop into something truly, truly good – there’s bucket-loads of potential. If they would polish the story a little bit and add a finale that gives a bit more closure, the continuity and narrative of the show would already be improved a lot. Alternatively, they could really embrace that ‘it really is a summer camp and we are just playing around’ feeling and exaggerate the meta feel of it all even further – both definitely would have their own charm. One way or the other, Scream Camp has strong potential to grow into a summer horror gem. I really am looking forward to coming back next year and seeing what they have been working on.
For now, Scream Camp is an absolute blast, albeit a bit chaotic and unpolished. It is a very weird show at times, but in a good way. We emerged from the night with so many hilarious memories, some of them truly make me giggle to this day. Scream Camp definitely is worth a visit, especially considering the value for money. It manages to occupy a very specific spot in the wide range of horror attractions, giving an audience used to haunted houses a stepping stone toward more immersive and/or full-contact events. The team will touch and grab you throughout the night, gently dipping their toes into the more extreme end of the spectrum, but never really going there. The goal clearly was to remain fun and lighthearted, intended for a broader range of guests. I do recommend that you experience Scream Camp with a few friends – it is not the event I would like to turn up to just by myself. The team does its best to involve everyone and gives you plenty of chances for interaction – but this being such a long event, there is some unavoidable downtime. At least part of the reason those moments never stopped being fun was the fact that we came in a group that knew each other fairly well. So, round up a bunch of your bravest friends and join in around the fire – you can be sure you’re in for a night you won’t soon forget.
As a side note, Scream Camp has recently announced their next endeavour. For two nights only in October, Scream Camp will be “Unleashed”. Dubbed The Ritual, this incarnation ditches the campfire games and the marshmallows to bring a 4 hour, full contact show – meant to be a whole lot darker than the summertime campout they are delivering right now.
Scream Camp is sold out for this season – but is set to return next year. Next to that, on Oct. 25th-26th, guests can experience Scream Camp UNLEASHED: The Ritual. These dates have sold out as well. Stay tuned for potential additional dates, or maybe for a later return of the Unleashed format. For more info, visit their website, Facebook page or Instagram account.
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