Merlin Entertainments’ decision to add one of its Dungeon walk-through scare attractions to Alton Towers was a divisive one.
And when the news emerged that it would attract an additional charge on top of theme park admission – including for annual pass holders – more questions came.
Entry is by pre-bookable time-slot only, and costs £7.50 on the day, or £5 when booked online in advance.
This comes as a surprise to some guests, who could be heard asking the non-character staff members at the entrance about the admission procedure.
From the outside, the Dungeon’s facade – replacing the former Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride – is a little more impressive than early images suggested.
Alton Towers’ long-term plan for the Dungeon is unknown, but a smattering of barrels, boxes and freestanding flame torches do give a somewhat temporary feel
This review contains some descriptions which can be considered spoilers, but it by no means describes every aspect of the Dungeon’s content.
As you enter, the now familiar Merlin formula of a chargeable photograph opportunity is provided for against some lonely stocks, with no props offered as at the UK’s other Dungeon attractions.
The holding area is small, and the character-led pre-talk warnings of the no mobile phones (talky boxes) policy lacks heart, and it is without any attempt at making guests jump.
The first scene is the Dungeon staple courtroom, in this case semi-themed around the local Bishop of Stafford who is today played by a female actress.
The room is small and the Bishop is virtually level in height with guests. Disappointingly it neither resembles a court of law or something more religious in nature.
Random guests are called to take the stand and face trail for their apparent crimes. The dock is also at virtually level height, lacking the drama of the judge towering above the group.
There is also no additional actor to provide the comical rapport with the judge. The script however is ‘classic Dungeon’ and is now desperately in need of refreshment – and crucially, variety – between sister attractions.
Down the river
You are then ushered through to the Black River – the boat ride system which is now in its fourth incarnation following the former Around the World in 80 Days, Toyland Tours and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory attractions.
The layout is unchanged, and while it is a highlight of the Dungeon experience, it certainly lives up to its name with its large areas of complete darkness, and their obvious lack of theme.
There are sporadic animatronics and projection-type scenes, some of which are at the more graphic end of the Dungeons’ modern “laugh and scream” approach.
There is some atmosphere and eeriness, but overall it is a missed opportunity to provide a real showpiece ride within the attraction.
After a brief actor-led preamble after you disembark, next up is the torturer, another familiar Dungeon resident.
This time the actor is both impressive and expressive in his interaction with the group.
The Welsh Harp Inn provides for the next scene – the Highwayman – in which Dick Turpin’s story is introduced by the landlady, whose establishment is one of the most well-themed scenes.
Turpin is introduced and eventually arrives amid darkness
The interactive seats provide suspense and nervous anticipation as an impressive sound system and physical effects unnerve many in the group.
The plague doctor serves as the penultimate room, where the familiar vivid descriptions of the black death are both described and practically demonstrated.
Those sitting near the front should watch out for the ‘full bladder’ that is removed from the corpse and practically introduced to the group.
Finally, you are seated in what is described as an abandoned cottage and the local Staffordshiure legend of the Burslem witch, Molly Leigh, is described by the actress in some detail.
But she is not alone in this scene, and while moments of darkness and character movements are yet another familiar Dungeon trick, they remain effective, suspense-creating and potentially rather scary.
The Haunting is capable of being a frightening climax if you are (un)lucky enough to be sitting in the right place, and as the experience concludes, you remain just about satisfied either way.
It’s unclear how long the Alton Towers Dungeon is likely to be retained on the initial model as it is presented this opening weekend.
But as the park’s primary new addition for 2019, it is an interesting diversion worthy of a visit and the entrance fee is just about warranted.