September 29, 2008

Field Of Screams Is A Scream

By James Buescher


By James Buescher / Sunday News Correspondent

There's a section within the Frightmare Asylum at the Field of Screams attraction in Mountville in which nothing much happens ... and it's absolutely terrifying.

It's just a long hallway filled with discarded junk, the attic space of an insane person. And yet, as you creep through the darkness, you can't help thinking that every step closer to the exit could just as easily be taking you closer to a big scare.

Under different ownership, this cramped space might be overloaded with gimmicks: flesh-eating zombies, fledgling vampires and enough explosions and bangs to rival a war zone. But brothers Gene and Jim Schopf understand that the key to a successful haunted attraction is balance, and that far more frightening than the actual scare is the long, drawn-out anticipation of what might be lurking around the next corner, or the next corner, or the one after that.

Which isn't to say the 2008 version of Field of Screams skimps in any way on costumes, monsters, makeup, gore or special effects - far from it. In fact, this year's shriekfest has plenty of new horrors to thrill and terrify, including a family of redneck hillbillies, a doctor with an unhealthy fascination with needles and a gigantic machine that manufactures its own lightning.

Started on a shoestring budget in the fall of 1993 with, as co- owner Gene Schopf puts it, "just me, my wife and a chain saw," what was once a small local hayride has evolved into a special-effects extravaganza complete with a three-story horror barn, a haunted hayride, live entertainment, games, fair food, a battle of the bands and, yes, all the anticipated corpses, crazed inmates and crawling cockroaches, along with a gross-out bathroom, which one ticket holder from Reading described on opening weekend as "horrendous."

So many of these cleverly thought-out vignettes get inside your head and stay with you long after the car ride home. One tableau, for instance, features a patient injected with what looks like dozens of syringes who is jerking uncontrollably beneath a mad doctor's unskilled hands. Another takes on the issue of the death penalty and shows an inmate being electrocuted for the amusement of a screaming prison warden who has lost his mind.

Then, of course, there are the rednecks. Everybody loves a good deranged redneck, and this year it's the banjo music floating through the trees that first warns patrons that they're arriving at Dirty Dan's Moonshine Still on the Haunted Hayride. Blame the prevailing American culture or recent movies such as "The Hills Have Eyes" and "The Devil's Rejects" if you like, but it would seem that wild-eyed farm boys with knives are to this decade what monsters and space aliens were to previous generations.

The owners might want to think about slowing down the hayride a bit so patrons have more time to enjoy vignettes like the Toxic Waste Dump, and some ticket holders seriously freaked out (not in a good way) when they felt the ooze dripping down on them from the skins Dirty Dan was "curing" on his clothesline above. But these are small complaints about a very big - and utterly frightening - Halloween extravaganza, one that has been a central Pennsylvania tradition for more than a decade.

For some, the idea of swamp monsters, eerily empty hallways and murderous clowns just seems downright silly; for others, these scenarios induce fits of terror. It's the Schopfs' understanding of what scares folks and a sense of balance in creating their vignettes that keeps people coming back for more ghoulish fun.

Field of Screams runs Friday through Sunday through Nov. 2. For ticket information and hours of operation, visit or call 285-7748.

Originally published by James Buescher, Correspondent.

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