Ah, the Dark Side, how we love thee, let us count the ways.
Set at an actual farm, the haunt is spread out over what looks like acres and acres of land, and made up of at least four different segments, an abandoned mine (with one heckuva cool, disorienting spiral staircase/vortex thingie), a hayride with an accompanying soundtrack, a haunted forest with some elaborate setups, and a haunted corn maze that kind of speaks for itself; by the end you may feel almost entertained-out. We loved the mine and the forest, but the hayride was kind of short on ghouls; perhaps H1N1 is hitting the ghoul community hard.
Don't expect an over-arching theme or anything art-y or anything like that, but these guys are serious about what they're doing and they do it well. There's some clever set-ups, for instance, with distracting you into looking at something that's slightly lit (what's that little fire over there about?), and then dazzling you with blazing flames (Fire Bad!), so your little retinas are overwhelmed and non-operational for a minute, and then a ghoul lurches out of the dark and slams his powersaw into the side of your haywagon, sending up sparks (yes, sparks!) and everyone screams, etc etc. Is it wrong to think of this as fun? Whatev.
It does look like a lot of effort goes into this haunt, and it takes a long long time to get through, so give yourself an hour or more, at the very least, and savor the terror. And it's all for just the one reasonable admission fee, so kudos to them.
Signage / Visibility / Location
Well, it's pretty easy to find, but it's more north of Ixonia than one might think for having an Ixonia address; Google worked great, though be aware that if you're coming from the west on 19, there is a detour around Watertown that takes you down to 94 or something and back up. Once you get near the place, they have a lit-up sign off the main county highway that points you in the right direction, and it's pretty clear it's the farm with all the cars parked on the lawn with all the screams and weird lights emanating from it, anyway.
Wait Area / Line Entertainment
We honestly had very little wait, probably because it was so freaking cold on Saturday night; it looks like they have a covered barn area, and there are multiple outbuildings you could check out and portapotties for the gentlemen to enjoy and the ladies to recoil from.
I think they sold little treats and stuff at the main building, but we were kind of rushing in. Anyways, you line up on a hill and wait to get the high-sign from some ghouls to approach the entrance to the mine; when you reach the entrance, there's a witch who tells you the "Story of Glacier Rock Farms and Its Mad Owner." I think the story has changed a bit since I was last there, but that's how legends grow, I suppose. Actually, the waiting on the hill is kind of cool, with the stars all lit up behind the mine and over the ridge and farm as you look down over the whole place.... Some random ghouls kind of wander around, too, but my favorite part is that you still line up next to a real cow pasture, and so cows wander in and out of the scene, and they're kind of spooky, at least to city slickers like us, but I don't think they're vampire cows like the ones featured in the commercials for that Little Vampire movie (it came out in 2000, god help us, look it up on imdb if you're confused), although that would be interesting, I suppose, as long as I didn't have to have any kind of contact with that horrible gel-haired Jonathan Lipnicki kid. Sorry, accidentally tapped into the decades-old rivalry between me and Jonathan Lipnicki there. Curse you, Lipnicki!
Anyway, the wait is nice and pleasant and suitably atmospheric.
Well, not a lot of characterization here, but that's fine, it doesn't appear to be one of those haunts where one depends on actors acting out scenes and interacting with guests too much, it's more of a scary chase-you-down-and-menace-you kind of thing. I do love the witch at the bonfire at the entrance to the haunted forest, though, who uses the screaming of other guests to time her allowing your group into the forest. She's pretty hilarious, too.
Sets Scenes / Props / FX
Sets look quite good, there's an impressive cemetery scene and an abandoned cabin, and the mine is quite convincing at points, with it really feeling like you're going down into a mine and now you're underground and the walls are starting to close in. Some cool outdoor fire effects, and love the lights blinking off and on in the cornfield, all it needed was Mel Gibson's kids running around in their little tinfoil hats.
Took us about one hour (or more) to get through all the different areas; this is one thing they do so well, you get a whole lot of hauntin' for your tiny little entrance fee. Also, just so you don't get completely worn out, there are breaks between segments, with each being broken up by a bonfire you can stand around while you wait to be allowed into the next phase; this is a good time to eavesdrop on other guests and then make fun of them later amongst your group. Just sayin'.
Again, we had no wait, so -- terrific! Actually, beyond the initial entrance, they had multiple strategies for spacing groups out, which really worked well; we never ran into anyone else, and felt like we had the haunts to ourselves most of the time. There is some waiting in between different phases of the haunt, as above, but there's always a campfire and some form of ghoul to entertain you or keep the peace.
Most Memorable Moment
1) Companion getting beaned in her "nether regions" by a fast-pitched corncob flung from the depths of the corn maze by some unnamed ghoul, who was lucky she didn't catch him, as his ghoulish ass would have been seriously kicked. If one has a goalie or catcher's uniform, one might be advised to wear it; gentlemen, pack your jockstraps or codpieces. (Actually, to be fair, I think the ghoul was aiming for a metal tub and missed; I guess it did add an element of danger to the proceedings in the end).
2) When you enter the abandoned cabin, give the bed a wide berth...that's a pun, sorry.
3) Oh boy, if you can't stand enclosed spaces, you're going to have a hard time in one part of the mine. It felt like we were being forced into a cattle slaughtering pen...seriously disturbing.
The Dark Side is a great "spooky working farm on a crisp fall night" haunt, with a varied approach and a whole lotta heart and energy. The people working (both ghouls and staff) seem to be having a good time, and the whole thing has a very pleasant and chilling Wisconsin atmosphere to it. It's really an evening's entertainment, and if you only have time, inclination, or fundage to go to one haunt this year, this would be well worth your investment. Viva La Dark Side!
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