With storm Agnus nearly blowing the windows off every building in Dublin, sp00ky szn has well and truly commenced
The weather is getting colder, the leaves are turning brown, and the PSL has made its return to Starbucks which can only mean one thing - Halloween is just around the corner, and with it, the Nightmare Realm returns.
Last year it moved on from its old stomping ground in the RDS, and has taken up residence in the historic Dublin City Market just off Mary Street - ideal if you want to grab a few scoops to stave off the nerves beforehand (we won’t judge). The attraction was named ‘Best Scream Park in Europe’ earlier in the year - and with celebrity guests like Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox giving it their seal of approval, my expectations for this attraction were high.
I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to be invited to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the event. While the event takes a whole year to plan, it’s all put together within a short three-week timeframe. The building was still not complete, so we were allowed a sneak peek at the secret rooms - and if the rest of the experience is even half as good, then you’re in for a treat.
When we first entered the building, we were kindly greeted by Karl and Sylvia O’Connor, the acclaimed couple who were behind the screams. They kindly asked us to put thick black hoods over our heads, so that we wouldn’t be able to see where exactly the secret rooms were hidden.
Now, “what is a secret room ?” I hear you ask - well, they are rooms that are hidden inside each haunted maze. They are unique to the Nightmare Realm, and a completely original concept that only a select few will get to experience. There are 5 in total - one in each haunted maze - and visitors may or may not come across them when they are walking (or running) through each maze. For avid Nightmare Realm goers, the secret rooms are considered a sort of rite of passage. Many spend their time going through the event searching for them, akin to Captain Ahab on the hunt for the Moby Dick. Each room involves audience participation, whether it’s helping to exorcise a demon from a young girl, playing the Ouija board, or summoning vengeful spirits.
The beauty of the secret room was that it gave us a sort of respite from the rest of the scares. You could focus on the task at hand, and sometimes you even get a chance to rest your weary legs (I always love a good sit down). My sit down eventually came to an end when an actor emerged from their hiding place in a clever trap door.
The event (some spoilers below)
They led us to the centre of Halloweentown, where we were able to take off our hoods and choose 1 of 4 toys - whatever toy you selected determined which rooms you would go to first and which ghoul would lead you around. I chose the smallest little baby doll, thinking that good things come in small packages - I was very wrong. We were instructed to then put our hoods back on, and were led by two of the lovely monsters - I got led by Trick or Treater, a demonic little girl, and Hugh (of Joe.ie square-glasses fame) got led by No Name, a very scary clown.
After plenty of zig-zagging, crawling, and bending, we were brought to the first room. Fans of the exorcist are in for a real treat, as this room was an ode to the film. A vomit-covered priest insisted that we help lead him through the exorcism of a demonic-looking young girl. We had to chant Latin prayers and throw holy water, with the girl shaking vigorously and screaming. The effects were very impressive, so much so she even levitated off of the bed.
Next, we were led to a dark room occupied by a wailing witch, who asked us if we could help summon her dead daughter which we were forced to oblige. She led us through an incantation, which accidentally summoned the wrong spirit. As you can imagine, chaos ensued.
The third room was set in a dining room, where a young woman told us the story of Bloody Mary. She asked us to help conjure the spirit, and we chanted her name in front of a scary-looking mirror. The room went dark, and we got far more than we bargained for.
The fourth and final room held a very scary™ looking swamp witch, who forced us to help her use an Ouija board. This set was incredibly impressive, and the whole room shook when the spell was cast.
The costuming and special effects makeup were incredible, with a high level of detail going into each character- each role had a backstory, and this was reflected in their outfit and makeup. Seeing each character up close and (very) personal, I got the chance to really admire the work and care taken that made each character convincing.
I was also blown away by the special effects and set design. At one point, a whole room shook after we helped a witch cast her spell. There was also levitating, flashing lights, and projections to add to the fear factor. The level of detail in each room was so impressive, with even the smallest prop included to really convince visitors of the experience.
However, most impressive were the actors who played the characters - their commitment to their parts throughout the experience made the whole night feel real, and they are what separates the Nightmare Realm as a top scare attraction. As I was led around by one of the actors, she remained fully in character and would answer questions and maintain a conversation fully in her role. It’s obvious that they care so much about making the experience the best it can be.
The exhibition does use flashing lights, which may trigger or irritate those with epilepsy. The lights and music would also likely be uncomfortable for those with sensory processing needs. Due to the frightening nature of the attractions, the age recommendation is 13+.
How long is it running for?
The Nightmare Realm opens on the 6th of October and runs for 24 selected nights until the 3rd of November.
Where is it again?
The City Market is at Mary’s Lane, Dublin 7 and is easily accessible - just a one-minute walk from the Four Courts Luas stop or a two-minute walk from Henry Street.
Tickets, which are priced from €22 to €36 (depending on the ticket type and day) include all 5 mazes and entry to Halloween Town
I genuinely loved this experience - the level of detail and care, along with the impressive acting and well-thought-out set designs make it clear why Nightmare Realm is considered the best scream park in Europe. Whether you’re screaming or laughing (or a little bit of both), you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience.