Luray Virginia is the home of one of the scariest haunted houses in America called DarkWood Manor. Virginia has many incredible haunted houses and Hauntworld rates and reviews the best haunted attractions in America. Hauntworld can help you find hundreds of haunted houses in Virginia and America .
Absolutely nothing comes close to a cool, October evening in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Walking outside one can see flickering lights from jack-o'-lanterns causing eerie shadows to dance across neighborhood porches. It’s in that moment when things finally seem back in their right place. No wonder Virginia happens to be the birthplace of Halloween in America.
If you travel up the twisted spine of Virginia, otherwise known as the Shenandoah Valley, you’ll discover a haunted attraction that takes the basic concept of evoking scares and nightmares, and approaches it from a more artistic perspective. Tucked inside the rural mountain town of Luray, home of the world famous Luray Caverns & the Shenandoah National Park, there sits an ultimate fear provoking haunted house attraction called DarkWood Manor. This haunt has been making a name for itself as one of the top haunted attractions in the state.
Since 2001, Louis and Wendy Brown, the creators of DarkWood Manor, constantly seek new ways to transport their audiences into another world. By applying artistic disciplines to the design of DarkWood Manor, they’ve created an interactive and theatrical show that absolutely captivates their haunted house patrons. The attention to detail and artistic design principle does not stop at DarkWood Manor's sets. It’s also carried over into the make-up and costume elements of the attraction.
The journey began in the late 1990’s, after Louis, an art school graduate, started investigating what haunted attractions had become since his last experience with them decades earlier. He realized modern haunted attractions could be more than black plastic and strobe lights with people jumping out to yell “BOO.” After Louis realized what incredibly immersive, interactive, theatrical experiences could be created within a haunt, he jumped into the industry eager to bring his artistic perspective to the design of his own attraction.
"I feel the goal of most art work is to elicit an emotional response from its audience and that’s exactly what haunted attractions seek to do as well. That’s how I approach the creation of DarkWood, as an installation art piece designed to evoke a specific set of emotions. Coming up with new and interesting ways to do this is at the heart of any artistic endeavor."
The Browns along with the entire haunt crew behind DarkWood Manor have grown the attraction over the last 13 years while always maintaining their theatrical principles of great acting, realistic make-up, amazing costumes, highly detailed sets, and a strong backstory. I asked Louis how his artistic approach influenced the average haunt customer's experience.
“I definitely think it heightens the experience for the audience. The artistic drive to pull the audience into the work by creating an immersive environment makes a haunted attraction entertaining on many levels. Screams are our primary goal, but if we can get laughter and amazement, then we are also doing our job at making the experience a great one for our customers.”
As many haunts around the country fail to recognize their patrons' desire for a more unique group experience, the artists behind DarkWood Manor are continuously pushing the boundaries of their vision to bring their customers a unique haunting experience. This esoteric thought process is the reason why they’ve been able to create a loyal fan base that visits every October. Inside the walls of DarkWood Manor, you’ll find inspirations ranging from HP Lovecraft and classic gothic horror to Doctor Who and David Lynch. The DarkWood crew makes it a point not to fill the hallways and rooms with run-of-the-mill cliché horror monsters. All creatures roaming the attraction are unique to the haunt, and many times only used for one season. All masks, props, costumes, and sets are custom made to fit that season’s storyline. Louis describes DarkWood Manor as an “ever changing canvas,” with each season’s design process starting with a new theme and then evolving out of that initial idea.
“Our base style is to tell stories and create dark vignettes that can scare the crap out of people. However, we do change our theme and sets every year. Being the scariest and most unique has always gotten us lots of business, maybe not in the first couple of years we were open, but over time our following has skyrocketed in growth.”
Artists thrive by listening to their intuition. An overly imaginative mind, especially one dedicated to the craft of haunting, can think of some truly terrorizing ideas. For Louis, the trick to growing a haunt is in experience and being dedicated to always seeing how far one can push their artistic abilities.
“The hardest part is coming up with that initial idea that makes me go ‘WOW!... I’ve got to create that!’ Once I have the idea that really drives me to create, then the rest is fun. There have been lots of trials and error over the years. Now, I can run a scene in my head and pretty much know if it will work or not. Sometimes I can still get it wrong, but that’s one of the great things about the DarkWood Manor actors. They have the talent, and I give them the freedom, to change what happens in a scene if it isn't playing well or getting the scare we want. I don't try to hold every scene and character to a rigid concept. I have seen actors take characters and scenes far beyond what I had originally imagined. That’s a reason that drives me to keep haunting. I can't wait to see what amazing things evolve next!”
One of the greatest aspects of The Scare, whether it’s in a horror movie or a haunted attraction, is the idea of suspense. It’s the subtle build-up of dread that tugs at your emotions and causes your pulse to race. DarkWood Manor thrives at subtleties through their use of these old school principles. For DarkWood, the devil is in the details.
“DarkWood is full of intricate haunted details. Our scenes are designed, built, and then layered with details. Some of those are small and generally undetectable by the casual observer. However, those details are the hidden blood and guts of DarkWood. A customer may not pick up on all of them consciously, but their sub-conscious does, and that really pulls them into our haunted world.”
After 13 years, Louis doesn’t see DarkWood Manor slowing down, not one bit. “There are always more stories to tell, and always more monsters to create.” The big question is where does DarkWood Manor go from here?
“We just want to keep getting bigger and better and to continue to out do ourselves on different levels every year. Each season we always end up with a handful of ideas that we can't do or pull off, but I have noticed that none of those ideas ever die. They just come back in later years when we can better conceptualize and pull them off. That is just another aspect that fires me up to keep it going.”
Haunters are definitely a special breed. To be part of a haunt like this is like being thrown inside a meat grinder. It can spit you out in pieces. After speaking with Louis, I’ve realized haunting requires 2 important aspects… love and passion. This is what haunted house customer’s find when they visit DarkWood Manor…A haunt crew that puts everything they have into their artistic vision and refuses to compromise, and all of it done with the goal of sending customers screaming out into the night on a few of those cool, October evenings in Virginia.
“To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I got into the business of haunting. I just jumped into it because it looked like fun, and I was right. It has been a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but it has been worth it. I feel I have met my basic goal by doing what I'm passionate about. No one can ask for more than that, and I hope people continue to SCREAM at the ongoing results of that passion.”