Arx Mortis Halloween Haunted House Attraction

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

All photos by Tonya of When It Was Cool.

On Saturday September 24, 2016 the When It Was Cool family visited our first Halloween Haunted House Attraction of the 2016 season.  Arx Mortis is located at the abandoned Uncle Charlie's Flea Market in the wonderfully named Killen, Alabama north of Florence / Muscle Shoals and near the Tennessee state line.  The former flea market has hosted a haunted attraction for a number of years originally marketed as Greystone Manor.  The flea market has been physically converted into the haunted attraction complete with permanent renovation to the front of the old market structure.

A tremendous job on the outside gives the old flea market a truly great look.

A tremendous job on the outside gives the old flea market a truly great look.

The attraction is pretty much in line with most of the haunted attractions we have seen over the last few years complete with gift shop (which had some really cool masks, T-Shirts, but no caps) and staging area after you have bought your tickets.  Like many modern attractions, they are using a color coded ticket system which allows some freedom to move around without losing your place in line.  There are also some actors roaming the area for photo opportunities and to work the crowd before you enter the attraction.  This year they have included a laser tag area though we did not buy a ticket to that part.

As you probably know from listening to our podcasts we are in it for the atmosphere and effects.  Jump scares aren't going to impress us and if all you have to offer are Zombies then we probably aren't going to like your show.  Arx Mortis has a wide variety of scenes and many of the actor's make up was quite good.  Jump scares were used throughout the attraction but thankfully they did not over use them.

The Good

  • The scenery was fantastic.  Whoever is involved in building the sets has a great amount of talent.  The outside of the building looks fantastic and using the existing flea market structure really gave them a wonderful base to build upon.  They did a wonderful job incorporating both outside and inside areas into the attraction.
  • There are a few really stand-out sets.  There are multiple themes used in the attraction including a mental hospital, a swamp / backwoods area, clown-carnival area, and a funeral parlor and crematorium.  A couple of the really outstanding sets include an old abandoned library area which really captured a creepy, eerie feeling and there were some actors in that area but they didn't rush you through with jump scare over-use which allowed you time to really absorb the environment.  One of the best set uses I've ever seen at a haunted attraction was an outdoor swamp scene where you walked under a covered walkway with simulated rain falling.  It was really well done and the environment was perfectly laid out.
  • There were a couple of really good animitronics including a giant demon positioned over your head at one point and a couple really great looking dog-zombie creatures.  More on the animitronics later.
  • Finally, there were some really good actors with fantastic make-up through-out the attraction.  You could see they really put a lot of time, effort, and thought into their costuming.
Outstanding set design is the strength of this haunted house attraction.

Outstanding set design is the strength of this haunted house attraction.

The Bad

  • There were a few negatives.  I give credit to this haunted attraction for not over using Zombies (thankfully) but there was a little too much reliance on animitronics and some of them were not very good.  There were a few great ones like the giant demon, the electric chair, the demon dogs or whatever they were, but there was an abundance of bad ones.  At the very start you are introduced to the haunt by a comical skulled headed, horned demon who is hard to understand and honestly pretty hokey to look at.  There were a couple that really took you out of the experience.  There was a skeleton that came out of a wooden coffin at one point with all his mechanics exposed and it looked really bad.  There were a lot of animitronics used and I'm sure at great expense.  I personally would have liked them to have saved some of the money spent on the sillier ones.
  • A bit of a rush job.  The attraction was pretty long and we felt like we got our money's worth out of it ($20 per ticket which about standard for the haunts we've been to) but we were with a group of young people who literally ran through the scenes.  We barely had time to appreciate some of the elaborate and wonderful sets and soak in the scares.  It would be helpful to have some locked doors which have to be triggered along the way to slow down those people who run through the sets.  I know we missed a lot of cool stuff just by being with a group that wouldn't slow down.

After we left we discussed the attraction on our way home (this is one of the closest attraction we will go to this year at about an hours drive) and both agreed this was about a C+ or 3 star attraction.  I wish we could go higher because the scenery and set design was outstanding and the actors very good (I would give the set designs an A and the actors an A).  We also really liked the variety of scenery but the over reliance on animitronics (many of which were pretty bad) really took us out of the experience.  Also the lack of slow-down spots caused us to have to rush though and not really have the opportunity to be "scared" which was disappointing.

If you are in the north Alabama, northeast Mississippi, or West Tennessee area I would recommend Arx Mortis.  It's worth the $20 per ticket.  Parking is plentiful and free.  There aren't good bathroom facilities with only portable toilet's being used in a completely unlit area.  I also should note that we were there on opening night so some of these negatives might be addressed as the season progresses though I'm sure the animitronics will remain through-out the season.

Next up on our agenda was my favorite haunted attraction last year in Courtland, Alabama (again about an hour drive away).  Last year they had a tremendous grasp of set design and atmosphere and we will find out if it holds up this year. 

Lots of funeral home props were used here.

Lots of funeral home props were used here.