Editor’s note: Throughout October, Josh Shaffer is reviewing some of the Triangle’s haunted attractions. This is the fourth: Darkside Haunted Estates in Middlesex.
Nothing adds to a frightening experience quite like being in the middle of nowhere, preferably on a run-down farm with rickety barns, abundant sharp tools and cornfields too isolated for effective screaming.
The horror is heightened in a rural setting because we know its rustic citizens already slaughter pigs, cows and chickens as a routine, and the jump to cutting up humans requires only the stress of a dry spell or a bad pumpkin harvest.
Anyone familiar with “Psycho” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” knows that backwoods lunatics operate with years of impunity before anyone investigates the old barn with a badge and a flashlight.
Darkside Haunted Estates in Middlesex follows this blueprint. Included on this agrarian fright tour is a windmill, a rusted old junker, pig parts mixed with people parts and an encouragement to eat more possum.
The slaughterhouse smells exactly like my great-aunt’s house in Pennsylvania, its air thick with mustiness of age. Inside, one of the resident ghouls warned, “Aw, you woke up Granny! She’ll be up all night talking to dead people.”
Even the road to this Nash County haunt is dark and spooky, sparsely populated and not-often traveled. Points to Darkside for providing some authentic country fear, complete with gun blasts and beards.
The scare score
Darkside Haunted Estates earns 3.5 of 5 hockey masks. I spent the night surrounded by middle school girls who ordered their father chaperone to stay well behind them for the sake of coolness. Expect shrieks and surprises, but nothing requiring therapy. The hayride offers some loud gunshots, and the staff will brandish plenty of blade-free chainsaws. But compared to other haunted spots I’ve seen, this one offers PG-rated fright.
The vexation value
Darkside’s $20 ticket falls well short of several of its competitors, earning it bargain points. Also, on the Friday night I visited, the park’s lines were mercifully short. Darkside also offers a courtyard with picnic benches for adrenaline junkies needing a breather and a hot dog. While I cooled off there, a dancer performed on a stage with what appeared to be flaming hoops.
Too creepy for kids?
I wouldn’t bring a toddler or anyone with an aversion to clowns – this year’s go-to monster. But if your kids can handle the dementors and giant spiders in Harry Potter, they’ll likely survive Darkside Haunted Estates. If your family tree bends toward the more rural patches of the country, as does mine, some of these fiends in overalls may look familiar.
Darkside Haunted Estates
Location: Darkside Haunted Estates is at 11875 N.C. 222 W in Middlesex, about 30 minutes east of Raleigh off U.S. 264. Not far from the Carolina Mudcats stadium.
Cost: Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for children 10 and under. VIP passes and skip-the-line tickets cost more, and group rates are available. Parking is $2.
Hours: Open 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday before Halloween, and the same hours apply on Halloween.
Josh’s tips: Arrive early for a shorter line and easier parking. Take your time strolling through the fright trail. This haunted park isn’t as scary as most others, so kids are more likely to enjoy themselves.