Todd - A recent article I stumbled upon stated that in this day in age, if a haunt didn't have deep pockets or corporate backing they were dead. It's evident that writer has never visited the hidden gem in New Albany - Literally, A Haunted House at Culbertson Mansion.
Creativity and passion are super concentrated within the small carriage house that houses this haunt each year. The result - an intimate and engaging experience that is more memorable than some of its big box counterparts. Rather than relying on expensive props, high-tech lighting and over-the-top thrills, Culbertson's haunt entertains and scares with its gifted actors and clever construction.
Each year, Culbertson is revamped to bring you a new theme and story line - something that is important here. Most haunts have a back story but it's not always presented to you on-site. At Culbertson, it's hard to miss. This year's theme was about demonic presence. Right away, the first actor explains the strange goings-on that have been experienced recently so you know what you're in for. The theme is strongly carried throughout the entire haunt and executed in a variety of ways until you ultimately meet the beast itself.
The actors are arguably the best I've experienced in the industry. Their delivery is so strong that it's hard to comprehend how they can keep it up for hours on end each night. Many of them have come back season after season for years in order to be a part of this special attraction; their dedication is purely evident. We learned that one couple actually drives from 2 or 3 states away every weekend just so they can continue to contribute to the haunt they love being a part of.
Even haunts with the deepest of pockets can't buy smart, clever execution. Culbertson runs circles around other haunts in the art of misdirection. No spoilers here, but they are masters at getting your attention fixed at one thing, while overtaking you with surprise with something else you didn't even see coming. It's even more impressive how well this is pulled off given how close-quarters the haunt is. Also as in years past, Culbertson has shown immense creativity with their scares. I see things being done here that I never see anywhere else.
As I say every year, I just wished it was at least four times longer. It's so good that we just want more and more. Since the property is historical, it cannot be modified. With that being said, there was one addition at the end that was seamlessly "bolted on" to an exit, creating a new room. I had no idea until we were out that it wasn't part of the original building.
Many haunts give you enormous amounts of eye candy but the experience may fall flat due to sub-par execution, overuse of triggered props and inexperienced actors. Culbertson is quite the opposite. They don't have the biggest budget or the fanciest decorations. Their largest asset is the people themselves who are vested in this haunt, making it unique. If that could be quantified with money, they'd be incredibly rich.
Paul - This is fairly easily the best example I've seen of doing a phenomenal haunt with a small budget, as the folks at the Culbertson continually have one of the most impressive haunts I've ever been to.
The Culbertson Mansion in New Albany, IN is a historic building that was constructed in the 1860s that is now owned by the state. Over 30 years ago, they started running a haunted attraction there and it's been going ever since. The haunt is constructed in the carriage house behind the mansion, and it uses most of that building plus an outdoor area to terrify the people of Southern Indiana every fall. The haunt crew changes up the entire theme of the haunt on a regular basis. Not just one or two areas, but the entire theme. It's not a tiny building by any means, and with the limited budget they have, I'm blown away by the results every year. This year the theme is "A House Possessed" so more than ever it lives up to the term: Haunted House.
When it's your turn to face the evils of the Culbertson, (The actual name of the haunt is "Literally, A Haunted House at the Culbertson Mansion") you start out with a walk through a graveyard on your way to the stairs leading you into the building. From there you walk through all kinds of creepy scenes, with some really messed up games, some exorcist-style possessions, a foul kitchen, and the lair of some people you probably don't want to meet.
So lots of haunts have sets that sound a lot like these, what makes The Culbertson different?
The actors here are the best of any haunt I've been to. Ever. Their passion for what they do is obvious from the moment you meet your first roaming actor on the grounds and it doesn't let up the entire way through. They take rooms with sets that are fairly low-budget and transform them into unforgettable nightmares! If a few of these sets were in other haunts you wouldn't think twice about them, but here they're so overshadowed by the actors they work perfectly. And it isn't to say the sets were bad, as they're actually pretty good... It's just that the actors make them unforgettable. In the last month I've been through close to 20 different haunt attractions and this is the only one where I can remember almost every single scene. The guys in the cemetery, the woman with the Ouija board, the exorcist people, the people in the bathroom, the latticework guy, the priest (shocking!), the winged goat-devil (awesome costume), the roamers outside, and so many others... Just an amazing job.
The Culbertson just isn't like anything else we visit. There are very few store-bought props or costumes, there aren't any crazy light or sound shows, and if you just happened to be driving by while passing through town you might not even know it was there. But if you're reading this and you are in the greater Louisville area or can get there easily, you seriously owe it to yourself to go through the haunt at the Culbertson Mansion! Tell them Haunted House Tour sent you!
Teresa - The Culbertson is one of my favorite haunts every year, mainly because it uses old-fashioned creativity to craft its scares. In today’s world, where there are more and more big-dollar haunted house mega-plexes, where everything is bought from the same suppliers (so there are few surprises), it is refreshing to see a place built by low-budget hard work and the ingenuity of volunteers. It changes theme every year, so every year there is a new story and new scenes. The actors and designers are all “family” and they vote on the theme and select their characters and scenes. This year, it went very dark, with a Satanic cult theme. They’ve been posting videos on social media of some of the terrifying events occurring as they’ve built the haunt this year, so I thought I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. Although with this place, you never really know...
We got there right at opening, before it was even completely dark. We found a parking lot behind the property, just past the railroad tracks. There was a short line of excited people waiting under a tent to be admitted. A creepy character paced around the tent, sneaking up behind those who weren’t paying attention, eliciting screams. A priest was there as well, with an evil-looking skull, marked with strange carvings. Do NOT touch it, unless you want to be cursed. When it was our turn, we walked through a foggy cemetery where there were cult members who declared we were “unclean”. Then we were told to climb the stairs into the haunted carriage house, to see what awaited us inside. I was not disappointed. It was phenomenally horrific! I don’t want to give away all the details, but the scenes were super-creepy, the actors’ performances chilling, and the props surprising. They start you off with a Ouija session gone wrong, and each room gets darker from there. Oh, and by the way, they will touch you at this haunt. A character may grab your arm or leg, or saw your legs off with a chainsaw (okay...pretend to), but it doesn’t get too much more aggressive than that. I can’t explain how good the haunt is this year. Even the simple props were carried out to perfection. And the actors play their roles with real enthusiasm! One girl didn’t even have to make any noise, just the inhuman way she moved was enough to give you nightmares. The costumes and makeup were appropriate and unique. They are masters of diversion here, too, so when you’re looking at one thing, something totally unexpected will happen. Be prepared for a shock. Each room got progressively more disturbing, with secret passages, people possessed, exorcists, demons, and hell. And the laser-fog room had people sprinting out the exit, just to find it wasn’t even safe outside!
Don't let the non-profit status and low ticket prices make you think this place isn't as scary as the others out there. The people who work here are creative, talented, and they love scaring you. Some come from hours away to volunteer here every year, and all the money they make goes to maintain the mansion, which is definitely worth touring, by the way (ask them about the ghosts!). This haunt is theatrical and so fun! I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Gayle - This haunt is absolutely wonderful! The walk through the boneyard before approaching the house is creepy and very well done. The smoke, the imagery, and the actors lent itself to the whole spooky theme that followed right through to inside the mansion. This is a top-notch traditional haunt, with so much appeal. The actors were passionate and engaging, the costumes were amazing...especially the winged demon. There were some unique visuals here that played along with this year's theme, and were spot on and creepy. I loved every spooky second! I can't wait to go back.