review by Iman Qureshi

For our spooky Halloween thrill this year, my friends and I checked out a haunted festival, DARK, that takes place at Fort Edmonton Park annually, and is now in its sixth year. We went on October 27th, catching it during its last weekend running.

It delivered frights as promised with intricate props, set ups, and live actors, along with fun food trucks and spooky cocktails, and other fun things to check out throughout the night! 

We arrived at 6:30 PM, half an hour before the gates opened, equipped with our matching cat ears – which ended up being a hit. Costumes weren’t allowed, so this ended up being our attempt at keeping things festive. This gave us time to purchase food and drink tickets before heading in (this was a little surprise we didn’t know about. Food trucks and bars didn’t actually take money) and checking out the café plus gift shop. They had a whole section of DARK themed hoodies and toques – I was surprised they had merch but quickly realized this was catered to those underdressed for the weather. 

Arriving early did have its perks. The gates opened a little early, and we got to completely skip lines for two out of three of the haunts. Each haunt had its own theme and mini storyline.

The first one we went into was called ‘3 AM,’ which was apparently the most popular, so coming early saved us the time. This was just your standard haunted house, but super-elevated with all the rooms, décor, and actors. Because this was my first one, I didn’t know what to expect, and my eyes were closed for a large portion of it.

You start in what looks like an abandoned, dark living room with a TV playing static in the corner, and move through the house, coming across what looks like a beautiful woman getting ready at her vanity. But as she turns to face you, you see that her face is all mangled and bloody. As you stare at her, a creature with red eyes jumps out at you from the corner and you keep moving. This was where I let out the first of many screams of the night.

As you go through the washroom, there was a putrid odour making it smell like a well-used washroom. To get to the next room, you had to cross through the bathtub, and I was absolutely sure something would be hiding behind the curtains. Bracing ourselves, we pulled them back and luckily there wasn’t anything hiding behind them, other than an entrance to the next room. More of the red eyed shadow creatures crawled out and grabbed at your feet from under beds and through walls, and you’d never see them coming. Eventually we made it out of the house. 

There was the ‘Bloodshed Passage,’ which was the most story heavy. It simulated a disease-ridden town overrun by zombies. You start walking into a village and going through a church, a house, and a lot of fenced outside areas that had zombies reaching at you through the slats. Villagers stood encouraging you to fight back, making it feel like a video game where you’re the main character trying to save the town from the plague. As you get deeper into the town, the zombie population becomes more dense and they start attacking, and along with this comes the smells. The smoky, pungent smell captured the scent of decay and disease pretty well, but I also don’t know how that would smell in a real situation.

‘Under The Big Top’ was the last one we attended, and because we went later in the night, the line ended up taking a little over an hour. It was your standard scary clown-haunted circus. Walking into it through the hallway with all the freaky pictures of circus actors was probably the highlight of this haunt – it was a little underwhelming and didn’t really look like a circus once inside. There was a mirror maze with clowns standing in corners. At one point I saw one grin at me from the end of the hall and I screamed “NO” out loud and took the other path, which the clown noticed. Turns out they all lead you to the clown anyway and it made sure to get right in my face and follow me out of the maze, to which I reacted by cowering further into my jacket and laughing out of nervousness. They also try to split up groups in this one by cornering people at what looks like a dead end, then separating you down different halls. I held onto my friends and refused, this is where I got called a scaredy cat by a clown – not sure if this was motivated by the ears…

My experience was full of screaming, and my hands were either over my ears or my face. It turns out, the louder you scream, the more this entices the actors to follow you, so you can imagine I was a really good target. I got chased every single time, with at least one actor breathing down my neck.

To get through from one side of the event to the other, you have to cross through a corn maze full of haunted props such as a mannequin that would keep getting beheaded by a rake, and broken down, rusty trucks, along with crossing the creatures of the corn maze. I can’t describe exactly how it was set up, or if there was even another path to take, because everything was so confusing and disorienting in the dark, though this seemed to add to the experience. One side of this maze ended with a masked man chasing us out with a chainsaw and I think a part of my soul left me that night. 

Aside from these, there were other fun festivities to check out. There was a spooky dance floor with a live DJ where you could take a break and dance your heart out, but beware of the undead hockey boys that lurked by the giant graveyard! The Capitol Theatre was open and being used to play old black and white horror films, none of which I recognized. I thought it was funny that these had the theatre giggling instead of spooked.

The food trucks were familiar ones like Mr. Waffle, YEG Onion Cake, and Spaghetti Cone, among many others – there were seven in total. We ended up trying only the Strawberry Shortcake Gourmet Mini Donuts from Jackie O’s. These were regular cinnamon sugar donuts coated with whipped cream and strawberry jam. I love mini donuts, and felt coating them like this took away from the taste of the donut way too much, so I was a little disappointed. 

They also had quite a few mini bars set up around the place. They advertised spooky cocktails, and we were hoping for fun beverages with maybe a gummy eyeball or candy fingers, but they were only regular cocktails with spooky names. Another fun option was to buy coffee from the café and they’d put a shot in it for you.

As the night started getting chillier, there were designated areas with bonfires you could sit around, to warm up. Though the scares (and the alcohol) kept us warm throughout the night, our feet were frozen by the end of it. So we ended our time warming up around the fire pit, as the volunteer would come by every so often to tend to the fire and the hockey boys would reappear trying to encourage us all to get back on the dance floor.  

Fort Edmonton Park
October 6 to 29, 2023
Tickets: $45

from the Archive:
A 2021 review of DARK at Fort Edmonton