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‘Nightmare Alley’

Area’s first haunted drive-through features an unlucky number of scares

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Nightmare Alley Workhouse Arts :Center 2020

Morgan Prescott awaits the next vehicle in the wicked lair of Scratch the clown, during "Nightmare Alley" at Workhouse Arts Center, on Oct. 10. 

Zombies. Swamp creatures. Creepy clowns. And scary dolls.

Those are just a few of the nightmares in 13 - yes, 13! - different scenes that visitors will encounter (from the safety of their cars) at Northern Virginia’s first haunted drive-through, at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton.

This is the seventh year Workhouse Arts has hosted such an event, which is an extension of its performing arts program, allowing local youth to practice their set production and theatrical skills. Of course, because of coronavirus concerns, this year the event is in a drive-through format.

Joseph Wallen, the center’s director of performing arts, said the drive-through, called “Nightmare Alley,” is the first immersive, completely contactless drive-through Halloween experience in the region.

“Of course, we did research, for safety precautions for our guests and performers, but we also have moving vehicles. We’ve got technicians everywhere with radios; we’ve got people with glowing wands to help guide traffic,” Wallen said. “When you pull up to a scene, there’s a traffic light and the vehicle has to stop and turn off its engine before anything happens, and then we engage with the vehicle.

“In an early scene, we have conjurers, and they’re creating all sorts of nightmares, and bringing them to life. As you go through, each scene is a different nightmare that a person could potentially have. So each scene does tap into common phobias. It’s a good variety going through – and it’s about half outdoor and half indoor.”

Kyla Taylor, who drove down from Reston with her husband and daughter for the event Saturday night, said it was satisfying.

“We didn’t get to do an outdoor haunted trail, so we figured this would be the next best thing. Everybody’s done such a great job on all of their scenes. I was scared a couple times, so that’s always good,” Taylor said.

Caroline Blanco, vice chair of the Workhouse Board of Directors and chair of the Workhouse haunted attraction design team, said about 60 actors and technicians are involved in the project.

“Building on last year’s Haunted Trail production of “Breakout,” we found a way to create a hair-raising haunted attraction that is both terrifying and completely safe,” she added. “The drive-through design of ‘Nightmare Alley’ will allow visitors to enjoy the Halloween season despite COVID-19.”

That sentiment seemed to be shared by Byrd Fitzgerald, who drove his family down from Laurel, Md., for the experience, noting he is quite aware of the history of Workhouse as a former prison.

“I’m a fanatic for stuff like this. This is money well spent,” Fitzgerald said. “Just knowing where we are is creepy enough. It’s fantastic.” Fitzgerald said he was most impressed with the swamp scene. “That was intense!”


(1) comment


There is no where to review this year's event, so I will comment here. It was awful! I paid $65 for me and my 10 year old to drive through. We love Halloween and were really excited that we could still enjoy an event this year. I got cash out to try out the food trucks as well. There was one dirty food truck that sold hot dogs and hamburgers, that was bot even open! Then an ice cream truck where the guy wouldn't get off the phone, and a stand with reheated grocery store apple cider and some cookies for $9. I did not even get one jump, neither did my 10 year old. We drove through in 10 minutes. All of the people are visible and the costumes and props are so bad. It was humorous at how bad the event was. My daughter is very jumpy, and wouldn't even wait in the food line at field of screams and laughed hysterically at the scenes. It is definitely not worth over $10.

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