Hide and Shriek, who brought you The I’Scream Factory, Alien Escape, and Dead Centre scare attractions in Southend-on-Sea, have outdone themselves yet again.

The experience begins as their previous attractions in this location – first floor of The Victoria Shopping Centre. The idea is that the experiences are presented as live action cinema, in which you and your friends star. You arrive at the cinema foyer to “check in” with your group at the desk. There’s a waiting area for you to sit if you’re a little early, an out-of-tune piano, and a TV screen that was showing an amusing Twilight Zone inspired clip. There was some confusion early on, as the clip was continuously encouraging us to walk through the door. And so eventually we did. However, this was apparently not the intention of the video, so we may have spoilt the entrance for ourselves…

Hide and Shriek Cinema

It’s unbelievable to think that this house is inside the Victoria Shopping Centre. Upon entering through the front garden, it immediately sets the tone for the experience. Though I did find it odd that a long-abandoned house would still have clothes blowing on the clothes line… But the aesthetic of the windblown sheets did help to create the sinister atmosphere, and can be seen from the window once you’re inside. (If you can get past the fact that the bicycle and sheets would probably have been removed by Southend council or, more likely, nicked by local opportunists in reality.)

Hide and Shriek Seance House

With the thunder outside echoing throughout the house, and the sporadic lightning effects flashing through the windows, you’re already a little on edge as you wander through the rooms. Even before you’ve encountered any “paranormal activity”, there’s an unsettling feeling lingering in the air. Incredible attention to detail throughout each room. It didn’t feel as if you were walking onto a staged set; it felt like someone’s house. Beneath the thick layer of grot, the interior still carried all the realistic signs that this was once a cosy family home – complete with family portraits on the walls. The staircase has collapsed, allowing no upstairs exploration, so you walk down the hall, then through the kitchen and the living room before entering the dining room.

Hide and Shriek The Seance Sink

The dining room is where you get comfortable, taking your place around the dining table… In the corner is a TV linked up to cameras around the house. You are guided through the séance by the voice of the investigation’s organiser, who is supposedly sat outside recording. Removing the presence of anyone who isn’t part of your personal group contributes to that sense of isolation and abandonment you’ll feel later…

They will familiarise you with the history of this house, and why some believe the property to be haunted, inspired by the story of the Ashburnham Road hauntings in Southend. We are informed where the panic buttons are in each room of the house, should it all get too much and feel we’re in need of a rescuing. It’s an amusing thought, but the necessity for this becomes apparent later on in the experience. (We were later shown photos of a couple who were obviously not paying attention to the button locations, and were photographed cowering in the corner for the duration of the séance. A completely understandable reaction, to be honest!)

The séance itself begins with a couple of simple activities to make contact with those on the other side, including establishing the role of the medium amongst you to represent your group and attempting to connect emotionally with the spirits. We were told to keep our palms down on the table and not to break the circle, as we leave ourselves open to possession. This was all quite fun, and the four of us, still sceptical, were giggling at this stage. But the mood turns very quickly… Things start going very wrong, and that anxious feeling in your stomach is similar to being on a roller coaster, when you’re approaching the top and the carriage comes to a complete halt. You lose communication with the voice coming through the speakers as the electricity keeps going out. Yep, including the lights.

Hide and Shriek Seance Living Room

All in all, it’s certainly a memorable experience that I would highly recommend. Though the occurrences are somewhat predictable, that in itself is quite typical of the majority of haunted house movies. Unlike other scare attractions which have you physically move around to explore the environment around you or solve puzzles, Hide and Shriek’s The Séance is something that, for the most part, you sit and actually experience from your seat. No puzzle-solving required! Most of the fear is spurred on from things you anticipate to happen but then never do, rather than things that are actually happening, causing your imagination to terrorise your rational mind. This is far more terrifying than simply orchestrating a series of unconvincing, cheesy effects. The subtle way in which effects were used proved to be very effective! Hide and Shriek hijack your senses, preying on your vulnerability as you sit motionless in the pitch black with nothing but the eerie presence closing in on you. The composition of the room also means that where you sit around the table will dictate the way in which you experience the happenings, unique to your friends.

From beginning to end, the whole thing lasts about thirty minutes. Doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but I found this to be the perfect duration of time. By the end of those thirty minutes, you’re going to be wanting to get the hell out of there. Brilliantly designed from start to finish.

After you come out of the house, you’ll be shown your photos on the TV and will have the opportunity to purchase a key ring or a print as a reasonably priced souvenir (cheaper than photos at Adventure Island) in a presentation frame.

Hide and Seek: The Seance Souvenir

Tickets start at £12 per person.

At the same price as a cinema ticket from next door, you won’t regret trying something new.
The Séance will be available at Hide and Shriek all year.