Miamians tend to be a bit jaded when it comes to Halloween, perhaps due in part to the fact that we see so many sexy cops, sexy nurses, sexy witches, and, well, just plain sex all year round. The Festival of Souls at Gulfstream Park is the perfect place to get back to your creepy, heebie jeebie, thrills and chills, Halloweenie roots.
First we went through the Demon Mansion, which is 8,000 square feet of sheer awesomeness. The production value is high and both the sets and the costumes make it easy to suspend disbelief as you make your way through the confusing maze. Be advised -- it is not a short walk through. Some haunted houses last only 3-5 minutes, and although we were too scared to time our walk through Demon Mansion, there was no 'oh God, that's it?' feeling when you walk through the exit of smaller haunted houses. Each scene was, ahem, killer, and certain scenes lingered afterwards. Demon Mansion is almost on par with Universal Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses. (Pro tip: Beware of the toilet.)
The Zombie Safari was next and it was also a ton of fun, but we think a few tweaks would make it even better. Twenty "hunters" are loaded on a trailer hitched to a huge pickup truck. Each hunter is assigned a paintball gun to help ward off the impending zombie invasion. You're then driven through a vast field containing a few strategically located and atmosphere enhancing wrecks, such as a broken down car or trailer. Then it's Call of Duty time! The zombies come out and Pop! Pop! Pop!
These are real, live actors, not cheesy animatronic puppets. You're warned to not shoot below the waist, as three zombies have been hospitalized from nut shot wounds. However, you are encouraged to shoot them in the face, and any gamer knows, headshots are where it's at. We'd recommend more zombies.
The lines are extremely long and we strongly recommend the express pass. Fortunately, the "Resident Evil DJ" of Festival of Souls, Maximus 3000 (Miami Beach Pride, WMC), is stationed outdoors at the apex of both attractions, mixing beats and projecting a montage of mayhem made up of scenes from music videos and horror flicks. So even though both the Demon Mansion and the Zombie Safari have huge waits, you get to jam (and drink) while you make your way through the line.
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We give the Festival of Souls a severed thumbs up.
Festival of Souls is open Thursday to Sunday starting at 7 p.m. through October 31. Tickets cost $15-$45 for single tickets; group rates are available. Visit festivalofsouls.com.