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Field of Screams opened their 2020 season Friday evening in Mountville, Lancaster County. Guests leave one of the hunted houses running and screaming as they are chased by a chain saw wielding ghoul. The crowds in attendance wore a different kind of mask from the actors as they took precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic. Mountville, Lancaster County, Friday September 11, 2020.

After a steady six months and counting of pandemic-related news, it’s hard to imagine anyone excited to voluntarily put themselves in a position of terror. 

Yet there we all were, in a long twisting line to enter Field of Screams’ opening night on Friday. Entering its 27th season this year, the Mountville attraction is opening its creaky, dilapidated doors to an outside world that looks a little bleaker than normal.

If you thought that perhaps roving gangs of cretinous killers were going to let you proceed without a mask, turn back now – Field of Screams has its own version of the now-customary COVID-19 guidelines.

Before you purchase a ticket this season, you’ll have to schedule a timeslot between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., as the attraction is cutting attendance to 50% each night.

On the waiver you must sign when purchasing a ticket, there’s a new section for COVID-19. By signing, you release Field of Screams from any liability should you get exposure to, or contract, COVID-19 unless there is “conduct that is found to constitute gross negligence or intentional conduct.”

I thought about that paragraph as I stood in line to get in, watching the cycle of costumed creepers scaring inattentive bystanders, before said group would inevitably ask for a close-up selfie.

If you’re not familiar with Field of Screams, picture a carnival filled with a host of people whose job it is to make you uncomfortable, and you pay for that experience. It’s a place made for large groups to dare each other into facing their fears, whether they think they’re ready or not.

Because of the space, most groups were able to naturally distance themselves from each other. 

On this night, singer/songwriter Justin Angelo played from the stage as actors doing their best impression of Leatherface at the end of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” chased guests with their unwieldy chain saws. The smooth, mellow acoustic guitar playing, mixed with revved up chainsaws and screams, created a cacophony that I can’t imagine any of the performers were all that psyched about.

But it was fascinating to watch.

Experiencing the terror

As dusk fell and grey clouds blacked out the sky above, people began making their way to one of the four main attractions at Field of Screams: The Haunted Hayride, Frightmare Asylum, Den of Darkness and Nocturnal Wasteland.

Last season, I worked for a night in the Den of Darkness to write a story about what an average night looked like for a volunteer.

What I remember is hours of crouching, jumping and yelling in a tightly compacted space, and not really wanting to repeat that experience again from either side of the chainsaw. 

I chose to experience Nocturnal Wasteland because it’s an outside attraction, and fresh air can occasionally be in short supply in the other attractions. Staff put each group in individual lines, releasing each a minute or two apart to make sure there's some space.

The Nocturnal Wasteland is sort of like those self-guided Christmas light tours, only the technicolor reindeer were bloodied corpses and the candy canes were scare points with actors ready to pounce. Groups walk through a bizarre path that takes them through an old school bus, large pipes and other dimly-lit walkways. 

The groups in front and behind me were pretty good with keeping space for the first five minutes of the walk before what can only be described as the “haunted house jam up.” This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that I didn’t even consider until my night on the crew last season; in the tight confines of a haunted attraction, different groups will typically move at different speeds, but you can almost guarantee that there will be a hold up at some point. 

For the actors, this meant cycling through different lines to keep people enthralled in the illusion (“Stay with us!” cried one mutated Wasteland denizen as another one nearby almost began saying the same line during a slowdown. “St-you’re never gonna leave!”)

But for guests, and particularly anyone mindful of COVID-19, that means any social distancing set in place at the start is going to get obliterated by a “jam up.” I felt the guy behind me step on the back of my sneaker twice before we were even halfway through. On the second time, I asked him to slow down a little, because the group of preteens in front of me was nervously peeking behind every corner at a snail’s pace.  

The stranger obliged, though it was difficult to tell in the darkness whether his eyes rolled or not. 

It’s fairly easy to walk through the entire attraction without touching anything outside of a few dangling pieces of clothing hanging from certain walls. Which, by the way, what is it about old, dirty clothes that is so creepy? I suppose that is a topic for another time. 

The final stretch of the Nocturnal Wasteland is a narrow, fenced area that leads you back to where you started. As I walked towards salvation, I heard screaming coming from behind me – two girls being chased by, you guessed it, more chainsaw-wielding dudes. The girls were trying to run through the tight space to escape their certain not-deaths, and pushed past a good dozen people, including myself, to get away long after the actors had given up chase. 

Personally, my favorite part of a good haunted attraction is the end, when you can see the once proud and too cool red-faced and somewhat humbled.

Some dropped their masks to let tears of terror flow, and it was hard to blame them. 

Halloween is inevitably going to look different this year, but Field of Screams seems to be more or less chugging along through the pandemic, and perhaps in spite of it. The schedule on the website lists weekend dates up through November 14. 

Whether you need some extra dread in your life between now and then, simulated or otherwise, is for you to decide.

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