Deep within the twisted woods of Westford lurks a witches' coven that meets in secret every October to practice dark sorcery, releasing tortured ghouls seeking helpless prey to drag away into the cool, crisp night.
For much of the year, it's simply the quaint Nashoba Valley Ski Area and Outlook Restaurant and Lounge. But from late September through Halloween, Witch's Woods come alive with dark magic, and the undead roam freely.
Enter these haunted grounds at your own risk. And don't linger too long, lest you be forced to stay and join the cursed souls forever trapped within their bounds.
The Frights, in order of spooktacularity
I volunteered myself and my oldest childhood friend, Tiffany Benoit, to become Witch's Woods victims last Friday night. We had a screamingly good time taking in its frights and deliciously spooky delights. Here's how we ranked them.
1. Keeper's Crypt 3-D: "The Wilson Brothers Traveling Circus"
Don your 3-D glasses and enter the winding halls of Keeper's Crypt for a trippy circus experience in a funhouse gone awry. The brightly colored patterns on the walls will jump out at you -- along with the crazed clowns who blend in among them. Their maniacal laughter is enough to make anyone go mad.
2. Nightmare Mansion: "The Abandoned Victorian Mansion"
The screams of the mad doctor's unwitting test subjects ring out from every twisting, blood-spattered hallway. Listen carefully -- you may hear your own name as they call out for help, beckoning you deeper and deeper into the old mansion. Will you heed their call? Or just try to get out as quickly as you can so you don't end up as the next victim strapped to a table? Almost everyone makes it out ...
3. Castle Morbid: "The Castle of Torture"
The castle's tortured inhabitants scream at you to "Get out!" as you wander through its dark halls, at times unable to see where the next turn goes. The evil sorceress who rules over the castle has trapped their souls here for eternity, and yours is in danger of staying forever, too. When you come upon the large feast, don't be fooled by her tricks and charms. She wants to invite you to dinner -- to be the meal, that is ...
4. Haunted Hayride: "The Mystic Shadow"
Be forewarned as you enter their territory: The witches of these woods want their evil book of spells back -- and they will do anything to get it. The illuminated witches' circle, creepy hovels and graveyard set the scene. You may think you're safe on the back of the truck, but the chain-saw-wielding undead lumberjacks and lurching zombies they send are coming for you.
5. Vampire Passage: "Where the Night has Fangs"
Now in its third season, Vampire Passage is unlike any other haunt we've experienced -- and Halloween is Tiffany's favorite thing, so we've been to A LOT of them over the years. This is a truly scary and creepy experience best saved for last -- if you make it that long.
Upon entering the woods on foot, one hears the warnings of the legendary female vampire whose remains, in a box tightly wrapped in chains, were carried deep into the dark forest by 13 heavily armed men intent on destroying her and ending her reign of terror. But when the sun rose, only pieces of the box and chains -- and the men -- were found. Her fanged minions still roam the twisting, turning passage that gets creepier and creepier the deeper into the dark wood you wander.
Beware the bridge guarded by the snarling vampire -- you must cross it no matter what. When you see the standing coffins lining both sides of the path, get ready to run -- but that only brings you closer to the vampire den and the horrors within ...
Free and not-so-scary attractions
If you want to have a spooky good time without the expense or are too much of a scaredy-cat to go roaming through the woods or horror houses, there's still plenty to entertain you and the kids at Witch's Woods.
Jack O'Lantern Jamboree: Features professionally carved and illuminated pumpkins with images ranging from horror-movie icons like Freddy Krueger and the "Saw" puppet to Disney characters and past presidents -- whom we suppose are scary in their own ways. ...
Horrorwood Chamber of Chills: Take a peek at these life-size shadowbox scenes paying tribute to horror icons from Frankenstein to Count Dracula, with some spooky narration to set the mood. Don't forget to take a picture with the towering, skeletal grim reaper. Wait, did he just move in a bit closer? We swear it only feels that way. ...
Carnival rides and games: Unlimited carnival rides are included with every paid admission, so be sure to put that free-ride wristband to use!
Live/interactive performances, etc.: Get in on the ghoulish dance moves in the "Thriller" contest, show off your best air jam with the "Air Guitar Monster Band" or watch the dazzling fire performers with flaming hoops, whips and more.
Also, be sure to say hello to wandering characters like Sweet Tooth the Clown, whose creepy song will send chills down your spine, and Dr. Manglemore Payne, who has teeth for eyes and a penchant for fresh blood.
Head up to the Outlook for more live music. For those old enough to partake, there are a plethora of deliciously creepy cocktails, from the fruity Autumn Sangria to the Pumpkin Pie Martini. Or, try a captivatingly sweet Witch's Brew or a scary red Dracatini.
Annual Halloween Bash and Costume Contest, Saturday, Oct. 27: Put on your most creative Halloween costume and head to the Outlook looking your best for the ghoulish judges who will roam the room. Live entertainment starts at 8 p.m., followed by fireworks at 10. Judging for the costume contest (21 and older only) begins shortly after the clock strikes midnight.
Witch's Woods runs each weekend Thursday through Sunday as well as the full week leading up through Halloween, Wednesday, Oct. 31. Remaining dates are as follows: Oct. 18-21 and Oct. 25-31. The ticket window is open 6:30-10:30 p.m., and the park stays open until everyone gets through. Tickets are $38 per person; discounted group tickets are available online at www.witchswoods.com or call 978-692-3033.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.