October. What a great time of the year. Summer has been and gone. The nights are drawing in. The weather is getting cooler. But most importantly it’s almost Halloween, which means that theme parks and attractions across the land are opening their doors in the evenings to scare people witless at their scare events.
There has been a growing trend over the years where scare attractions seem to be popping up here, there and everywhere. Some build on their popularity year on year, others dwindle and disappear like ghosts in the night (see what I did there)!
There are some UK attractions in particular which have built on their successes over the years and these are the ones that we are going to focus on here. Scarefest at Alton Towers and Shocktober Fest at Tulleys Farm. (I was also intending to report on Fright Nights at Thorpe Park, but due to visiting on a very busy day I wasn’t able to review most of the attractions. Maybe next year).
It’s worth noting that without intending to be too spoilery, there will be reference to some of the content of the scare mazes. Step away now if you don’t want to know anything at all!
Alton Towers, one the UK’s most popular theme parks, has been running scare events for many years. Scarefest in it’s current format debuted in 2007 with attractions across the park and resort hotels. All of these attractions are now based within the theme park itself, some returning and some brand new for this year.
The entrance to the park down through Towers Street is nicely themed, with the perfect backdrop of the Towers themselves.
On to the attractions, the event this year features four (over 15 year old entry) scare mazes (Sub Species, Altonville Mine Tours, Terror of the Towers and The Welcoming), a family friendly scare maze (House of Monsters), one scare zone (Freak Show) ,various family orientated shows and roaming actors around the park.
Three of the four mazes are set within the ruins of the Towers themselves. What better setting for scare mazes than in the dark halls and corridors of an old Gothic stately home eh?
Mazes have to be booked separately to your entrance ticket, and are timed to make it easier to plan the day. All mazes in the Towers are open between 1pm – 9pm, with The Welcoming maze opening at 5.30pm.
I am going to review the mazes in my order of preference. This wasn’t by any means the opinion of some of the rest of my group. The thing about scare mazes is that they are so subjective. No two run-through’s are the same and no two people have the same fears or personality. What scares one person may not scare the next person at all.
The Welcoming: Be Chosen
This is a brand new scare maze for 2017, located very near to the site of a new attraction for 2018 (code named SW8) and following a similarly ‘wooden’ theme.
The maze takes you into a village where a mysterious group of people are celebrating their own interpretation of Halloween. Encouraging you to take part in the pagan festival rituals as you wander through the village, firstly there is a party like atmosphere before things get much more chaotic and sinister.
The theming in this maze was fantastic. Great attention to detail, great sets, theatrical effects and plenty of actors. A section of the maze really plays on some of your senses, some sections make you jump and it builds up to a great finale. I also loved the soundtrack music and really hope this features on the park next year.
As a side note, whilst the name and theme of next years new rollercoaster has not been officially announced yet, teaser logos have been appearing online and around the park during Scarefest including with The Welcoming, so it would seem that this maze is setting the scene on what kind of theme to expect for the new attraction.
Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the legend of the Skin Snatchers
Beauty is only skin deep.
This maze starts with a briefing at the entrance to an old mine shaft. The Altonville mines have been reopened for public tours. These mines have something of a shady history though – it’s rumoured they were home to a family of outcasts knows as the ‘Skin Snatchers’.
Once again this maze is heavily themed with great sets and atmosphere, a lot of ‘interesting’ characters and plenty of jumps along the way. There are some fairly claustrophobic sections adding to that feeling that you really are underground in a mine.
Sub Species: The End Games
Sub Species returns for it’s third year and is by far the most full-on scare attraction that Alton Towers have featured.
The story is based around a post apocalyptic sewer dwelling community which have been infested by species from another world. This community take great pleasure in feeding innocent people from the surface to these creatures.
Unlike all of the other mazes, the actors will touch you. Very quickly you realise that you may not end up making your way through the maze with the rest of your group, trying to find your way around the dark sewers alone while the sewer dwellers hunt you down.
Chaotic and definitely unnerving, this maze is very intense with a great finale which also doubles as a great spectacle for park guests watching from outside.
Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within
Terror of the Towers has been a staple of the Scarefest event and was the headline attraction for years. I think I had my first run through in it’s current incarnation of ‘What Lies Within’ in 2009. It was fantastic. Set within the Towers (obviously), it uses the corridors of the old Gothic building perfectly – barely needing any theming (although there is plenty) to create a dark and musty atmosphere. Over the years the route of the maze has changed but the content and story remains largely the same.
With rumours of vampires residing in the old ruins, two urban explorers decided to investigate ‘what lies within’. They never returned, but some shoddy video footage was found and now as part of a team, you must enter to find out what happened to them.
This maze has a lot of different scenes, plenty of actors, some very unnervingly tense rooms and corridors building up to a really a dramatic and clever final scene.
There were a few scenes missing from years gone by and the route changes don’t make for such a climactic ending, but it is still a good solid attraction. I think it may be time for a change though, as for those of us who have been going to the event for years, we do yearn for the earlier days where it was fresh and new.
That covers all of the four adult mazes. The Freak Show scare zone is definitely worth a walk through There are a lot of actors that do their very best to catch you out, and if you are not a fan of clowns then it’s likely to be pretty scary.
One of the greatest things about Scarefest is having the opportunity to ride the coasters in the dark. By coaster, really I mean Nemesis in the dark! One of the best rides in the world, 23 years old and still packing the same punch.
After three years away from Scarefest, I am already looking forward to returning next year. You can find tickets here.
Tulleys Farm is located in the Sussex countryside, on the outskirts of Crawley and has been running Halloween events in some form or another since 1995, when The Pumpkin Festival was held and welcomed around 400 visitors. The annual events grew in popularity and developed in stature over the years and in 2009, Shocktober Fest Scream Park debuted. Since then the park has expanded and added new attractions, welcoming in excess of 60,000 visitors a year (this figure was from 2014). Staggering numbers don’t you think for an event on a farm, which began as a pumpkin carving festival all those years go?
Well, the reason for this is clear – this event is superb!
I first visited the event in 2011 making this year my fourth visit to date. 2017 sees two new haunted attractions making a total of eight haunts, along with street theatre, 3D Cinema, two music stages, licensed bars, fairground rides, escape rooms and a paintball gallery. Plenty to keep you busy for an evening!
From the moment you enter through the gates, it’s clear that the atmosphere is going to be chaotic with the roaming actors chasing and tormenting screaming guests. Not five minutes passes before the next screaming group are being chased by evil clowns or a host of other unusual characters. It’s quite unnerving and hilarious in equal measures.
The distant sound of chainsaws give you some idea of what is to come during the evening, but wandering around the park it’s clear to see that a lot of effort has gone into theming the of the park. The are some very elaborate facades for the haunts, with a great deal of attention to detail.
There are a variety of tickets on offer, ranging from entry only into the park through to unlimited access to all haunts.
Onto the main attractions, once again I am going to review the haunts in my order of preference.
The Chop Shop
Once you go scrap, you don’t never go back.
The Chop Shop takes you into Billy-Bob’s garage where he and his slightly terrifying family welcome you in. As you wander through the garage meeting various characters there are a few jumps but nothing will really prepare you for when you enter the chop shop. The second half of this haunt is possibly the most chaotic section of maze I have done to date. There are strobes. There are chainsaws. There are lots of blood spattered walls. And there are lots of screams.
The Chop Shop sits somewhere near the top of my list of mazes I have been through at any park. Fantastic stuff.
They survived the apocalypse, will you?
The Colony is the longest maze I have experienced, it took us at least 15 mins to walk through if not more. This is definitely one to experience once darkness falls as much of the action takes place outside. Fantastically themed with lots of indoor and outdoor sections, even though it was lacking with actors in some areas there was a constant element of suspense throughout, with some fairly claustrophobic sections.
The Cellar was one of my favourite mazes from past experiences. I think this was helped in part by the welcome from the host, Esmerelda, who was sadly missing this year.
The Cellar takes you into an old abandoned farm house – well, abandoned apart from the feral creatures that now reside. This is a classic scare maze, with lots of great theming inside, lots of twists, turns and distractions giving plenty of opportunity for those creatures to scare you over and over again. The actors are fantastic in here, keeping you on edge throughout the haunt.
There did seem be less actors than in previous years but that could have been only during our run through.
The Coven of 13
Based around a coven of witches, this haunt is another that should be entered once it’s dark, as there is a large outdoor section.
Without giving anything away, the first indoor section of this haunt has a lighting effect which creates one of the most effective scenes I have ever seen in a haunted attraction, also giving the opportunity for some great, in-your-face scares. So impressed. The second half takes you outdoors into the village among the witches with some great sets and some quite terrifying performances from the actors. A decent length and solid attraction, I was really impressed with this.
Twisted Clowns 3D
Firstly, I should say that I am not really a fan of 3D effects in scare attractions. I usually find them ineffective and distracting, taking away from the actual content of the mazes. Twisted Clowns 3D is a new and updated haunt for 2017, building on their previous incarnations of clown based scares.
I am pleased to say that the 3D effects on this, whilst fairly basic, did not detract from the experience but enhanced it and created some very disorientating moments and rooms. The actors work really well in here, creating a very chaotic feel. Plenty of jumps along the way.
The Horrorwood Haunted Hayride
Very different to the other haunts, this one takes you on a tractor & trailer ride through the woods and the backlot of the Horrorwood Studios. Along the way, you encounter many different sets and some interesting characters who join you on the trailer, some scary and some more amusing.
In previous visits, this would have been rated much higher on the list. It very much depends on the group of people you are sharing your trailer with as to the intensity of the ride. We had a fairly quiet bunch and although the actors did a sterling job, it wasn’t quite as chaotic as some previous visits.
The Creepy Cottage
The Creepy Cottage is the original haunted house attraction that debuted at Tulleys Farm in 1997. Still standing strong 20 years later, it is definitely the most tame of all the haunts, but still provides a great walk through with some great theming and some scares along the way. We were lucky to walk through with a group of fairly jumpy ladies – their terror and screams enhanced the experience hugely!
Sitting at the bottom of the list purely for personal preferences, VIXI is another new for 2017 attraction. This is a revamped version of the previous haunt Hell-ements – a hooded maze where you have to follow a rope to find your way through. Blinded by the hood, it puts all of your other senses into overdrive and relies heavily on scares by sound or special effects. I find that I am most scared by visual things, so this format doesn’t really work so much for me, although it gives the actors great scope to suddenly turn up right next to you and the sounds of ‘something’ scuttling around on the gravel around you can be quite unnerving.
All in all, a great selection of haunts this year. Having been to scare attractions in the UK, Europe and the US, Shocktober Fest stands out as a solid attraction that gets better and better each time I visit.
The park definitely comes into it’s own once darkness falls. The lighting and smoke affects around the park add some great atmosphere.
We had such a great time that we purchased our tickets to return next year before we left. It’s most definitely a Halloween event everyone should get to if you haven’t been. I hear over and over again from friends who love these kinds of attractions saying that once they visit, they have no idea why they left it so long.
So grab yourself a ticket here, there is a still a week to go! My top tip would be to bring some sensible footwear – this is a farm in England, in October. It can get quite muddy in parts!