Todd - Our first-time stop at Blood Prison was close to last-minute. We decided to detour through Mansfield on the way to Akron, get there early and wait in line to check it out. I'm glad we did.
Everyone has seen The Shawshank Redemption. If you haven't, you should stop reading this and go do so. The now inmate-free building of the Ohio State Reformatory was used for many scenes of the classic movie. Throughout most of the year, you can take a tour of his historical location, see lots of Shawshank-related memorabilia and even go on a Ghost Hunt (yes, it's widely rumored to be haunted). However, every fall this former prison transforms into Blood Prison - one long, impressive haunt.
Going in, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I imagined that this haunt was in a section of the building specifically designated for the attraction, solely to take advantage of the unused space. WRONG. The haunt flows through almost the entire footprint of the building; it's huge.
Blood Prison has a backstory, although it's not really introduced on the haunt itself. In short, all the prison escapees around the country have settled within Blood Prison and you now to get to experience what their exclusive society is like. Given that, I found that from a story perspective, the different segments didn't really make sense. Like many other haunts, this one too attempts to cram all of the conventional haunt themes inside without much interconnection between them.
You'll find yourself in some areas that make sense - a medical clinic or a chapel for example. Prisons have these, but then you're in a clown area set up like a carnival produced by hobos. I couldn't understand why there would be clowns or a shanty carnival in a prison, but the actors were entertaining regardless.
The haunt really shines when it can take advantage of its natural surroundings. In a number of areas, you'll find yourself walking down a pitch black cell block pumped with fog. Every cell is open so every ten feet or so, you'll find yourself wondering if someone or something is about to jump out at you...and there are a LOT of cells you walk by. However, other areas also reside in cell blocks - like the chapel. As you walk down the aisle past the pews, there are still cells right there, visible. Another area that comes to mind is the zombie area where you'll surely get thrown around (if you opt in for the touch add-on). The zombies were cool and pretty aggressive, however, in this section there were a few cars and steel barrels. I was a little confused whether this was supposed to be an outdoor scene or if we are to assume the prisoners somehow got the cars inside. ::shrug:: Either way, just about everywhere you go, there are cells despite the theme of the area. After all, this is a prison. I just question whether some of these sections should have walled off the cells to create a more authentic setting. To be fair, I believe the majority of this haunt is removed after the season for tours and such so the addition of walls may be more work than its worth.
A few stretches of the haunt flow through the long corridors of the building's winged cell blocks. While every other room was clearly separated by a doorway covering, I was disappointed to find that three separate sections in one of these cell blocks had no divider between them, which allowed us to clearly see everything that was ahead of us. This ruined any element of surprise in that stretch.
Blood Prison fortunately offers more positives to offset these arguably minor gripes of mine. First off, the pacing is absolutely world-class. Unlike many high-volume haunts, Blood Prison sacrifices shorter wait times by giving each group a good lead way before admitting the next. To combat the "conga line" effect which is sure to happen in a space so vast, queues are placed in multiple areas of the haunt to reset the pacing, ensuring you get the best experience as possible. It was effective and efficient - I wish more haunts adopted this approach!
The actors certainly deserve recognition as well. They were highly interactive and extremely entertaining. While some are staged specifically to scare, many are placed to engage. Rather than delivering memorized lines, most were great at reacting to what we said or did, making for a very humorous encounter. Then again, we are the kind of people who love having an axe held to our throats. Perhaps other may have a slightly different reaction.
Blood Prison thoroughly impressed me. Unlike other haunts set in unique locals, this one could stand on its own even if it were in a conventional building. Having the fortune of residing in a creepy, abandoned prison just adds all the more to the ambiance. Some things to note for future visitors would be:
First - The website states gates open at 6pm, however the haunt does not start until 7pm. If you do not want to wait in a long line (and I do mean LONG), I'd still recommend getting there at 6 or even earlier. You'll have to stand in line until 7, but the line grows by the minute so if you wait even until 7pm to get there, you probably would still wait an hour before getting in.
Second - Opt in for the full contact. They'll give you a glow bracelet so the actors know they can touch you. It's not for everyone but it sure changes the experience. There's a little extra excitement when you're walking down a pitch black hallway knowing that not only can someone jump out of a cell, but they can grab you too. Most of the contact was wrist or ankle grabbing, however as a group we also experienced hair pulling and being slammed into walls..not too hard though.
Third - Don't make plans. As I said the lines can be unpredictably long and the haunt itself was much longer than we anticipated. I didn't clock our time but it sure seems it took about an hour to get through.
I would certainly return next year, hopefully by invitation of the operating group, so we may talk with them about the production and execution of this great haunt.
Paul - About 4 years ago I took a trip to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH with my wife. We had heard the movie Shawshank Redemption was filmed there and that you could tour the building, so we took a trip to visit. During the tour (which was phenomenal BTW) we occasionally saw Halloween props hiding behind corners and we weren't really sure why. We eventually learned during the tour that they set up a haunted event in the former prison every fall and we happened to visit on the last operating day of the year before they closed up to start building the haunt. Since they weren't very good props, we just kind of laughed them off and didn't think much more of it.
So over the last couple of years when we kept hearing that the Escape From Blood Prison haunt at the Reformatory was a must-see, we were really skeptical. I kept thinking about the terrible props we saw tucked away into corners of the prison, and how there was no way they could have made a world-class haunt out of those tired old things. When we planned a trip up to Northeastern Ohio to visit some haunts up there, I figured we'd squeeze Blood Prison in on the way to the others to see just what the hype was about.
The hype is real.
We pulled up to OSR about a half-hour before the gate opened and found a line of about a dozen cars already waiting to get in. We hung out and waited, the whole time noticing the enormous amount of staff they had working. Just for the parking and crowd-handling there were more people working than the entire staff of a lot of haunts we visit. Once the gates opened at 6PM,there must have been around 50 cars there full of people waiting to get in. We pulled into the free parking lot, bought our tickets with the Touch Pass add-on, and jumped into line with only a few dozen people in front of us. Here is where we encountered the most annoying part of our visit. We were in line by about 10 minutes after 6, but they didn't actually let people into the building until 7. We had a fairly tight schedule to keep that night so this was a bit frustrating. I still don't know if they wait for the sun to set every night, or if 7PM is just the magic time. We haven't found an answer yet.
Three minutes after we walked through the door, I forgot all about the wait. This building is a perfect place for a haunt! The patina in the old prison just wouldn't be able to be replicated anywhere else, and the next 40 minutes would be one of the best haunted house experiences I've had. Scene after scene of highly-detailed sets, excellent actors, great scares, and I didn't see a single one of the uninspiring props that I saw 4 years ago. Some of the more memorable sets included the Gothic/church area, the Dr's office, the zombie/apocalypse zone, the laboratory, the butcher, and CarnEvil. They had such great lighting, believable acting, and realistic props that I'm still in a bit of awe over it all. The laser fog room was great, the air tunnels were the tightest ones I've ever had to fight my way through, and this is probably the only time I've ever gotten dizzy in a vortex tunnel. Plus, I have become a huge fan of touch-haunts and once these folks see that you opted in for the touch via the glowing wristband, you're getting touched. I was dragged around, thrown against walls, and moved in ways I never expected someone to be able to fling my 6'3" 240lb body around. Blood Prison is easily in my top 3 as far as best use of touch.
The jump-scare actors all made good use of their hiding places, the interactive actors did very well, and the make-up/costuming was on-point. There were several areas where there would be a single actor in with a bunch of props and it was really hard to tell which one was going to start moving and jump at you. And I'm still trying to figure out how they pulled off the legless wheelchair girl in the Dr's area. Is she really missing her legs?
On top of the fantastic implementation of the things I just mentioned, they also have some of the best crowd-control I've ever experienced at a haunt. We never once ran into the group in front of us, and were never caught by the group behind us. There were several places along the way where everyone files into holding areas that they use to build up the split between groups again and it worked remarkably well. Best crowd control I've seen at a haunted attraction by a huge margin.
I can't even explain how glad I am that we visited Escape From Blood Prison in Mansfield. It honestly started as "I think we can squeeze this one in on Saturday night" and wound up being one of the best we've visited. They have on-site concessions, free parking, and since the whole thing (minus the queue) is indoors, they're open in just about any weather conditions. Almost every aspect of this haunt was top-of-the-heap, and I can't wait to go through again!
Teresa - This was my first time going to Escape From Blood Prison, and I have to say I was very impressed! I've done a historical tour of the prison (also known as the Ohio State Reformatory) in the past, and it is creepy enough without being "dressed" in its Halloween costume. It is a giant, Romanesque building built between 1886 and 1910, and it was a state prison until 1990 when it closed. By the way, for those of you who don't know, this is where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed. Now it is slowly decaying into the bones of its former self. The paint is peeling; it is enormous, dank, dark, and echo-y. Because it has such an ominous presence, I had the notion that the haunt wouldn't need to work too hard and expected it to be run-of-the-mill. I was mistaken.
We got there before the gates opened at 6 pm, got our tickets, and were some of the first people in line. They offer general admission, speed passes, and lightning passes. You can find information on their website, explaining each of these. Also, for an extra $5, you can upgrade to a "touch" pass, which means they give you a glow bracelet to wear, so the evil inmates know they can physically terrorize you. Naturally, the three of us all happily paid the extra for the touch pass. Just a note, the bracelets are kind of small, so you may want to have a way to attach them to your shirt, hat, or something to make sure they are visible. We waited for a while, watching the sun set on the prison, because they don't start letting people in until dark. They did a good job of breaking us into groups and spacing us out, and had little staging areas throughout the haunt, to re-form the groups and re-space them, which was really great. It makes it so much scarier when you're not in one continuous conga line of people trampling each others' heels.
The story of the Blood Prison is that the most deranged inmates from all over the country have escaped from their respective prisons, and now make the Ohio State Reformatory their home. Inside, you will find psychopaths of all sorts: doctors, zombies, butchers, morticians, janitors, homicidal maniacs, clowns, Satanists, crazed priests, werewolves, and all kinds of other things. There are some really cool scenes and sets. I really enjoyed the haunted house facade at the beginning and the carnival section. The props were excellent, and some were so real, it was hard to tell which were props and which were actors. There was an enormous angel prop that really got my attention. And I was completely unnerved when what I thought was a prop turned out to be this completely ghoulish-looking girl. I want to go through again just to get a better look! The lighting was impressive and appropriate, with some fun fog/light effects and lasers. There is a wonderful vortex tunnel and some of the tightest squeeze tunnels I've ever squirmed through. The costumes and actors were fantastic, and did they a good job of making sure we got the full "touch" experience. Some touch haunts will grab your hand and pull you, or tap you on the arm, or maybe pat your head or caress your cheek. This place went well beyond that. Lots of them messed up my hair, which is long and easy to grab. Some grabbed it tightly, pulling my head back and holding me, so I couldn't move. Others chopped at us with "axes", or slammed us against walls (they are padded, so it isn't as bad as it sounds). Some are friendly in an evil way, putting an arm around you conspiratorially. Others grab your arm with a vice-like grip and drag you with them. The one that really got me was the one that chased me into the squeeze tunnel, tickling my sides for what felt like minutes, but was probably only 5 or 10 seconds. There's no escape when you're stuck in a tunnel! The actors all had well-developed characters, and many would interact. One let me take her hammer and beat on the metal basin she was carrying. They really include you in the fun. The dialog was menacing, hilarious, and disturbing. The touch aspect was aggressive, but not overly so. I thought they did a great job with it. And the people in our group who didn't get the touch pass seemed to really enjoy seeing us get manhandled. This is a pretty long haunt. You get little breaks throughout, where you wait for them to re-space the groups while you catch your breath and maybe catch a few minutes of a movie or chat with friends. Then you're back at it, climbing up and down stairs, circling the prison block, again and again. How can this place be so big?!
When we finally escaped, we walked through the gift shop, then went outside to snap some photos. We caught up with some of the people who walked through with us and they said they had a fantastic time, and I know I did! I am so glad we got to visit (and escape from) Blood Prison this year! I am definitely looking forward to returning to this one again!