Local Haunts: DEAD END HAYRIDE Offers Slick Visuals & Fast Scares
It looks innocent enough from the outside. An innocuous old farm along the side of the highway. I thought maybe I’d arrived at the wrong location as I made my way into the green forestry of Pinehaven Farm; the site of the Dead End Hayride. By night’s end, I’d learn that Wyoming, Minnesota’s harmless looking farm was anything but the innocent haven it appeared. Located just north of the Twin Cities, I found more than a little evil in my brief visit to the site – a very good thing, indeed.
Full disclosure, when Dead End challenged me to come check out their attraction I was more than happy to oblige. Local haunts like this one are part of what make the Halloween season my favorite time of year. As a seasoned lover of horror films I set aside time every year to make it to as many of these as I can. For one reason or another, Dead End had never made my list.
But as I joined other patrons in grabbing a seat on the trailer ready to take us in, immediately I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’m not an easy mark but it helps when I’m surrounded by so many terrified visitors. As we’re waiting for more guests to load and the tractor to rev up, ghoulish creatures are already terrorizing us. Grabbing and pawing (never violently, just enough to jolt) in topnotch make-up and latex masks. Even before starting along on my 50-minute journey, a high production value was evident.
What followed was easily the best attraction I’ve visited in quite some time. The Dead End Hayride isn’t a ride so much as a terrifyingly fun nightmare ordeal; one filled with dedicated actors, eye-popping effects and exactly the sort of atmosphere you’d want in visiting a Halloween scare site. To give it all away would be criminal, but in the 30+ scenes spread out over three different attractions (the Hayride, asylum/graveyard Departed Oaks, and corn maze Site 66) I came across all manner of chainsaw maniacs, murderous hillbillies, psycho clowns, obsessive living doll girls and loads of other depraved cretins that made my visit both terrifying and memorable.
Behind the scenes I came across a vast array of costumes for the performers that included several thousand-dollar latex masks. Those without masks find themselves in local make-up artist Jacquie “Lantern” Winiecki’s make-up chair before heading out and scaring up the customers. What struck me on my first run-through, there’s nothing recognizable in the Dead End Hayride. It manages the slick production values and tension-building hysteria of a fine horror film without replicating those films or resorting to putting teens in Freddy and Jason masks.
“That’s a little bit purposeful,” owner and operator Jeremy Hastings informed me. “There was a push eight or nine years back in the industry to get away from the slasher movie characters.” Hastings is as interesting a character as the ones in his attraction. Sporting an earpiece and a mustache that can only be described as “handlebar by way of Salvador Dali,” Hastings oversees the many facets of Dead End in real time. So engrossed is he in delivering a meaningful haunt to his guests, he manages to coordinate orders into his headset even during out interview.
There’s a sort of “student of the game” mentality to Hastings’ approach that I found admirable. He takes his staff to visit attractions not only in Minnesota but throughout the country. He references HauntWorld magazine which, I’m told, is a publication dedicated solely to purveyors of terror looking to up their craft.
And it’s that very same craftsmanship that shines throughout many of his team’s “scenes.” Being dragged through an Old Western town that’s clearly seen better days, I found my senses assaulted by the sheer amount of production value and pyrotechnic display. Whether in the trailer or on foot, I was never at a loss for an effect to admire or a terrorizer to run from.
It’s a give and take, one that extends to the staff’s overall mentality. “That’s the philosophy I have,” Hasting’s concluded. “Our actor’s love popping out and scaring the people; and the customers get an adrenaline rush from being scared. It goes both ways.”