Alton Towers’ Scarefest returned this year on the back of a disastrous trading period since the Smiler accident.
The two-week Halloween event was cited by Merlin Entertainments boss Nick Varney as being a likely period of upturn due to its popularity with returning visitors.
Indeed, the event has seen the park at its busiest since June’s crash, but by the final day – which was when we visited – the biggest queue was less than 40 minutes.
Compare that with the day before, Halloween itself, where queues hit up to two hours.
Below we offer an insight into the scare mazes and zones offered at this year’s event.
Terror of the Towers
The once free showpiece event continues to attract some of the largest queues during Scarefest.
Layout changes that would be significant changes only to the most hardened enthusiast neither improve or nor hamper this classic experience.
The strobe finale has been reduced to too small a size, yet the overall atmosphere of this maze and its natural setting make it a UK Halloween highlight.
It remains the most atmospheric and absorbing maze ahead of the two new additions for 2015 below.
Sub Species: The End Games
Incredibly hyped as being the scariest maze of all time anywhere in the world, this new addition was always destined to disappoint.
While it is the most intense maze ever to have featured at Alton Towers’s Halloween offerings, it remains some way behind the walkthrough attractions at the dedicated Halloween events elsewhere.
That said, the tendency for the actors to make considerable physical contact, break groups up and leave people on their own wandering through complete darkness for prolonged periods is unnerving.
The chainsaw finale is somewhat bizarre and out of character for a network of sewer-dwelling mutants, but the physical contact the actor makes with the – soft – scares many.
The Haunting of Molly Crowe
A superb concept, like countless others, based around the 1970s Exorcist film and the second new maze addition for this year’s Scarefest.
Execution is the biggest weakness here, but if it is a maze that is going to return in future years, the potential for tweaking is huge.
The Victorian theming is well executed, from the queue line to introductory actors and their costumes.
From then on you are instructed to place a black cloth hood over your head, through which you can breathe.
You then traverse a through the building holding onto a guide rope with your left hand.
Actors then touch, speak and scratch you – but this is surprisingly not very scary.
The most unsettling part is the traversing of an unknown space in complete darkness and the fear that you are going to lose the rope as you briefly have to break contact at each support.
You finally reach the end – the possessed Molly’s bedroom – and are instructed to remove your hoods by a priest.
The room then plunges into darkness and the girl then lunges into the faces of the group under strobe lightning.
That final part is a great scene, but would benefit from better execution. Half of our group were not lunged at and were almost watching from a far.
The priest meets his demise and is thrown into a wall on the side of the room, which makes it almost less noticeable than if he were to collapse against the bed or to the floor more centrally.
Some more inventive, dramatic and sudden effects are needed in the hooded section – synthesised demonic voices in ears, wrapping string around a leg perhaps – and an improvement on choreography in the final would really improve this maze.
The park introduced two ‘free’ scare zones this year in the form of the Dark Forest’s Nox:Infernus and Dark Apocalypse in Forbidden Valley.
The dedicated area of the retired Zombies! Was more atmospheric, scary and better themed.
However, these new zones have the advantage of being situated on busy routes, which mean that many members of the unsuspecting public are inadvertently drawn into a live action feature.
Nox:Infernus is small, confined and featuring of smoke which obscures your view.
Dark Apocalyspe is bigger but draws more people in, with actors literally running after people. There’s also accompanying audio and warning messages which are good touches.
The atmosphere of Alton Towers at night will always be an extremely special pulling point, and rides in the dark as much so.
Scarefest remains a highly recommended event and the instruction of so many new scare mazes and zones is a positive step forward in the face of a disappointing summer.
The park should be applauded for the effort it has put in, and the commitment of the actors and staff is a testament to a motivated workforce – many of whom know that in a week’s time they will be out of work until at least next year.
Execution is a little weak in places, but the foundations for an even stronger event next year have been well and truly laid.
And as the Smiler lay eerily closed and silent, it will undoubtedly form part of an improved 2016 season – from which Scarefest 2015 will be seen as springboard.