Haunted Attraction Reviewed: Haunted Orchards at Demarest Farm
Location of Attraction: Hillsdale New Jersey
Date of Review: Saturday October 26th 2019
Total Number of Attractions Available: ONE
Overall Haunted Attraction Rating: 5/10
Entertainment and Food Rating: 5.5/10
Atmosphere Rating: 6/10
Overall Costume and Make Up Rating: 5/10
Overall Cast and Crew Rating: 5/10
Overall Props, Animatronics and Set Design Rating: 4.5/10
Overall Scare/Thrill Factor Rating: 4/10
Overall Feedback: Last Saturday, to warm up our two-haunt night, we started the evening with a visit to Haunted Orchards at Demarest Farm. By day, this attraction serves as a beautiful country market with fresh apple cider, baked pies, local preserves, seasonal holiday pumpkins and a pick-your-own apple experience. It is there, in that grove of apple trees, where the the haunt comes to life when night falls. Demarest Farm understands their customers. Their target audience is the same crowd of local families who enjoy their delicious daytime food offerings and visit to select the perfect holiday pumpkins. In the winter, they host a holiday Christmas light experience. This is a child-friendly haunt — and we think the ideal targeted ages are between 8-14 years old — so no touching, cursing, frightening chainsaw chases or graphic depictions of realistic gore are seen. (There is “gore,” but it is minimally spread mostly between two scenes and is depicted with less realism than other adult-oriented haunts). Depending on your pace through the Orchards, the full experience including the hay wagon ride lasts between 25-35 minutes.
Parking at Haunted Orchards is easy, well-lit, and is split between two locations. The night began with a ride on a hay wagon with comfortable bench-style seating with bricks of display hay in the center. You aren’t piled into a wagon at floor level, or seated with your legs folded up or pressed up tightly together with other guests. This is great for those with allergies, and families with shorter children who typically have limited viewing. The hayride takes you through a dimly lit farm scene with pastoral views, and then crosses a street into the haunt zone. A few actors playfully jumped at the wagon and gave us a few laughs and spooks for a brief moment before the wagon stopped, and passengers were unloaded into the access area to the Orchard queue line.
Since the hay wagon was mostly a transportation ride, rather than a haunt activity, we feel that we need to mention this distinction. A typical “haunted hayride”involves sets, scenery, staged sequences with actors and sometimes barns that you pass through or engage with. None of this happens on this hayride, except for the playfully energetic actors we mentioned at the very end of the ride . We understand that logistically the hayride acts as a transportation vehicle to safely convey guests to the main attraction rather than an intense part one of a two part experience; we just want to make this clear to readers that this is not a typical “haunt” hayride so they aren’t entering with traditional “hayride” expectations. It is simply a wagon ride with a small surprise at the end.
Once you offload from the wagon, you have the option to make a restroom stop with your family (the portables are extremely clean, as are the entire grounds of this location) or, line up along the single story entrance to what appears to be a barn. Low lighting and dense fog awaits you as you move closer to the barn doors. Stepping through them, you are met with a dense layer of fog that temporarily disorients you and primes you for a jump scare.
Walk a few steps forward, and you realize that the “barn” is just a façade. The true haunt is a walking trail that winds through the beautiful, eerie, dense rows of apple trees. The sweet, sharp, slightly fermented scent of apple hits you immediately and you realize that you are deep in the groves of a low-lit orchard. Demarest Farm now challenges you to find your way out!
Along the trail, you will find several small buildings — these are mostly small wooden structures that fit 4-6 people and an actor into them. For younger kids, there are several scenes that contain graphic images (a half-consumed corpse and a furry assailant as well as human heads hanging from the rafters in another area). For a touch of humor, Glow-Schtick-Grandpa, who is part old man and part glow light creature, will pause your group to warn you to proceed through the remainder of the haunt at your own risk. Rather than scary, he has a spooktacular presence and charming wit. He will tell you a brief “dad joke” before letting you pass through into the next section. A true haunt professional lies in wait, posed frozen from a distance in a brightly lit room, in another “house.” Her form is contorted, arms dangling in an unusual fashion. She is a true doll — working with startling strobe lights and shifting movements that really got under the skin of some of our crew. The haunt had a few clever props —a spider animatronic was simple, but reset quickly, allowing multiple “attacks” on our group as they entered one house.
Between these small haunt-shacks, you are met time and again with the prospect of walking the full length of the apple orchard. Through the dark paths, apple trees and scarecrows stand vigil. Haunt actors use this space to weave in and out of the brush with startle scares. A relatively minimal staff cover an incredible amount of ground here. Enthusiastic actors run from one side of the orchard to the other, jumping out at you and giving you a quick “boo” scare or a “stare-by,” throwing a quick pair of threatening eyes at you while you try to slink past them.
The experience could be heightened by encouraging the actors to add more creative dialogue and sounds to really play with their role. A lot of our interactions received short phrases and “boo” style attempts at jump scares, and some guests can become immune to this. The fields are large enough that after a while, we almost came to expect someone to pop out at us. And they did! What were probably 6-8 actors in the field felt like they were a (literal) running staff of 20. One actor in the fields utilized line of perspective in their hiding, and adding more of this would be fantastic. Typically, guests look straight ahead at eye level as they move through a haunt. Positioning an actor above or below eye level adds a level of intensity, builds fear, and keeps eyes searching for the next spook. The Orchards are a beautiful, naturally creepy environment with many areas that are underutilized for this scare tactic.
As we navigated the fields, the directions for paths to take were marked with bright white signs with red arrows. Although this made it easy to figure out which way to go, we’d love to see a bit more creativity with signage next year. A dark sign with reflective glow paint, a few solar charged lanterns with dim yellow or red lighting, or even hand painted signs with “blood drip” effects would be more in line with the haunt theming.
The Haunted Orchards at Demarest Farm has a tough challenge, functioning as a pick-your-own apple adventure by day, and a haunt by night. Consequently, the buildings and staging for haunted walkthrough experiences had to be minimized logistically and placed only on each end of the field. While they did a great job trying to utilize the long walkthrough space between these small “houses,” a few more creative pop-up rooms, lighting tricks, fog machines, or optical illusions that work with the environment would add a great deal to this experience. There were a few too many “cool down” periods between the built rooms while walking through the orchard that allowed us to regroup and relax from the performances of the actors in the houses. The haunt ends with a small graveyard and a second hayride trip on the wagon back to the pick-up location.
Overall, we had a positive experience here, keeping in mind what the haunt is. In only their second performance year, this haunt is still one of the babies of the haunt world. They are trying to cultivate a fun, family friendly experience for the same local families who come to visit their farmer’s market. This haunt is still in its infancy, and when you pair that with managing the logistics of running a fully functional farm during the day, and respectfully utilizing your farmland for entertainment at night — the Haunted Orchards at Demarest Farm is a fun, upbeat, spooky place to visit. Because this haunt is intentionally more child friendly, we would consider this haunted experience a “spook and giggle” haunt. If you are hardcore haunt enthusiasts, you may be too jaded to appreciate the charm and energy of this location. If you are interested in a location that offers family-friendly spooks, but no terror scares, this is a great “first haunt” for families.
Ticket prices run for $25 online or $30 at the door. We personally feel these prices are a bit steep for the experience received and believe they’d be more suitable at $5-10 less a ticket. The experience is a family friendly one and ticket prices should reflect that. Adding a ticket price for the younger visitors may not be a bad idea either.
Since we have many types of haunt-goers who follow our reviews, we feel that it is important to categorize this haunt and several of our other haunt experiences (Halls of Horror “Blood Experience,” we’re talking to you!) so that followers of our page find the right haunt fit for them. If you are seeking a high-impact, intense, “adults-only” haunt in the NYC/NJ area, Demarest Farms is not it. However, if you are looking for a jump-and-laugh spooktacular adventure to enjoy with your family — with a small group of lively actors and great, positive enthusiasm — The Haunted Orchards at Demarest Farm is a worthwhile haunt to keep an eye on next season as they build from their current sets and add new additions to fill out the “body” of the framework of the haunt they have created. This is a great way to “test” your children (or some of our less brave adult fans!) to see how they will respond to the world of haunts. We consider it a mild haunt, and it has the potential to fill a current void in the market for family-friendly attractions for the Halloween season in the haunt world. We can’t wait to see how they grow over the next year!