08/10/2017 – Alton Towers: Scarefest

I’ve been a huge fan of Alton Towers’ Scarefest since I first went a few years back when The Sanctuary was still running – the set, story, and effects really dragged me into the experience and whilst it wasn’t inherently scary, it really had the atmosphere and creepiness necessary for a haunt to work for me: since then I’ve always made an effort to trek up to Stoke-On-Trent to drop in, and with Alton Towers boasting a brand new haunt as a pre-cursor to SW8, it would have been rude to not drop by this year!

 

Upon arrival, it was clear that Alton had really gone all out again: all signs had Scarefest branded signs, Main Street had been decked out with pumpkins, hearses, a huge Scarefest sign, and their signature children’s show characters performing on a stage right at the base.

 

Our first haunt, or rather, attraction, was House of Monsters. I’ve deliberately not called it a haunt as it is so much more than that: it’s immersive theatre, pantomime, escape room, magic show, and haunt all rolled into one – it’s easy to see why House of Monsters got such rave reviews from others last year! The characters are extremely engrossing and animated, making puns and (intended or not) double entendres throughout that had us absolutely doubled over at points! As you make your way through the attraction, you interact greatly with the characters who get you to do one or two tasks in order to get you to escape, which ends up in a fun little haunt with some scares that we really weren’t expecting (and definitely made all of us jump!); don’t worry though, it’s not an intense scare – the haunt part is very comical and very Scooby-Doo in nature (if you imagine Shaggy and Scooby being chased about by the bad guys in and out of rooms in corridors). I absolutely loved this attraction, so much that we bought an extra ticket and went through again! It’s definitely not the scariest attraction at Alton, but it definitely surpassed my expectations!

 

Our first haunt at Scarefest was Sub Species: The End Games. I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this last year, so I was excited to get back down into the labyrinthine haunt hidden deep in the basement of the towers. It very much started out the same as last year with a creepy introduction swiftly followed by actors grabbing you and dragging you through the maze; unfortunately, this year didn’t seem as chaotic as I remember it – it felt like there was a lack of actors in the labyrinth which definitely detracted from the chaos (but make no mistake, it was still insanity trying to find the exit without an actor pushing you in the right direction). Once you’re through the labyrinth, you’re treated to some incredible scenery and a corridor that’s pitch black before finally being chased out the exit. Still a strong haunt despite the lack of actors.

 

Our second haunt was Terror of the Towers, a gothic vampire haunt that snakes its way through the towers themselves. Whilst not the strongest attraction for scares, it definitely leaves its mark with theming, use of smells, and creepy actors: the strongest element was the strobe maze, as there were a number of lights working with each other to disorientate you as much as possible; having said that, the haunt requires everyone to go in a conga line and all the scares seem to happen to the front of the queue – I’d love to see the conga line scrapped seeing as it’s the least intense haunt at Scarefest and the only haunt there to actually implement it. Definitely a good introduction to haunts if you’ve not been to one before.

 

Our third haunt is Altonville Mine Tours which has received a more memorable name than last year, though it’s still very much the same attraction, albeit with an extra added scene. Out of all the “adult” haunts at Scarefest, this was definitely my favourite: everything had improved since last year and the run at ScareCon! The helmet this year had much better effects programmed into it, making some parts much more intense as the light bouncing off the fog really limited how much vision you actually got. Alongside this, the incredible detail to the theming both visually and aurally complimented each other perfectly to create an unpleasant atmosphere at times. The actors themselves were on top form too, as some jibbered on about nothing, whilst others said things to you early on in the haunt and actually remembered what they said when you met them again later! Another brilliant thing the actors did is completely invade your personal space to add to the creepiness that resides within. Unfortunately, I’m still not entirely sold on the finale: it’s a clever twist and I can appreciate that, but there’s nothing grand to it that says “this is the finale” and leads you on to think that there’s still more to come, when you actually find yourself outside. Definitely my favourite haunt at Alton Towers this year.

 

Our fourth and final haunt was the anticipated The Welcoming: Be Chosen. We had our tickets booked for as late as we could reasonably do before we travelled home at stupid o’clock, so it was nice and dark when we went through (for those that don’t know, it’s an outside attraction which means natural lighting may or may not affect the experience). All I can say is: wow! Whilst at an intensity level of maybe a smidge above Terror of the Towers, the theming is just incredible. From the moment you step into the haunt, you’re transported to a medieval celebration of Halloween, where paganistic characters dance and swoop as they celebrate: I loved the scarecrow beings (for want of a better description) and the person that dropped to the floor and started inscribing runes onto the ground in front of us, partially blocking the way – a great touch to add to the creepiness! I wasn’t a big fan of the hooded section as I’m not entirely sure what they were trying to portray here and the finale, however everything else felt like walking through a cinematic piece – definitely worth doing once it gets dark!

 

Alongside these attractions, there was also the Freak Show scarezone, which was rife with creepy takes on the classic circus shows (ringmaster, bearded lady, strong man, etc), all of whom use the billowing clouds of smoke to their complete advantage to hide and scare unsuspecting victims – definitely a great laugh when you’re making your way through!

 

Alton Towers have created another fantastic Scarefest, despite the few gripes I had with the attractions – I’m definitely glad that we added it to our lineup this year, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back again next year!

 

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08/10/2017 – Alton Towers: Scarefest

30/07/2016 – Hide and Shriek’s Alien Escape

After the fantastic time I had at Hide and Shriek‘s Dead Centre where they had an entire shopping centre completely heaving with zombies, we headed back to Southend on Sea to see what they had in store with Alien Escape, the UK’s largest escape room!

 

We arrived at Hide and Shriek’s headquarters in the Victoria shopping centre where we met the rest of the team – seven of us in total. We were guided through an almost pitch black corridor before being left there. A fantastically cheesy and very quick witted usher leaped out from the darkness before leading us into a mini cinema theatre where we were treated to a Hide and Shriek style safety instructions (which we absolutely love!)

 

After leaving our stuff in the cinema (which is 100% secure and something I’d totally do ‘cos you’re not gunna want to be lugging around your bags everywhere) we were lead into the Spacebase – the first room of the event: the countdown was on!

 

We all instantly started scrambling for anything that could be part of a puzzle or a clue to something – there were some puzzles that were really easy and that we cracked within minutes, but a handful that took upwards of 20 minutes – there was a point where we were so stuck on a clue that it took us almost half an hour to crack it! We found ourselves running, crawling, and generally throwing anything that could be hiding clues out of the way, including a pair of soiled underwear from a previous group!

 

We flew through the rest of the escape room, and managed to escape with 8 minutes to spare!

 

 

As far as horror themed escape rooms go, this was by far my favourite – whilst zombies are fun monsters, the prospect of being on a doomed spaceship being chased by an alien creature really piqued my interest to begin with, and hearing from our competition winners who went through last Saturday only excited us more! Hide and Shriek managed to deliver a very well themed escape room that pays homage to some of the best alien horror/thriller movies out there, and a terrifying alien to boot!

 

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30/07/2016 – Hide and Shriek’s Alien Escape

09/04/2016 – Goosebumps Alive!

Viewer beware… You’re in for a scare…

 

That’s what I’m told as I load up the print-at-home ticket Saturday morning. I must admit, there was no way I could be scared of this. Sure, A Night at Terror Tower and Escape From the Carnival of Horrors terrified me as a kid, but 20 years on I had learned that the monsters we believe in are all in our head: these monsters were all trapped in the magnificent R. L. Stine’s.

 

Until yesterday.

 

So, I arrive in London with 20 minutes to find the notoriously difficult to find The Vaults under Waterloo. I use Google Maps to try and find my way, but they led me to this strange hand car wash that was extremely busy for 20:00. I ask someone where it is and they point me through the car wash, after eyeing up what I’m wearing and asking if I’m here for “the meet”.

 

I can understand why I was asked. I was in my cyberpunk gear: top and trousers from Cyberdog, a hoodie from Resistanz and leather jacket over the top, and my beautiful Demonia’s that look like biker boots, only with spikes and bullets attached.

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It was hardly a surprise that they ask me. The more surprising bit was I said “yeah,” automatically, “but I need to find The Vaults first”, which kinda made me feel like a character from Borderlands for a brief moment. The car wash attendant pointed me down the car wash and said “that way” so I tentatively walked backwards through it (avoiding getting wet!) past a load of high end, souped up cars with windows tinted darker than whats legal and neon strips beneath them. It was mad!

 

I exited the car wash and the cars continued to queue, one of them rigged up to a sound system that was blasting out hip hop and everyone was standing around admiring each others rides – it was genuinely like walking onto the set of The Fast and the Furious! I kept my head down as to not draw attention to myself (the clothes were already doing enough for me) and I see a family walk into the arches, so I tactfully follow them.

 

A little down the road, past a load of people playing football with a tennis ball, skateboarding, biking, and graffiti-ing (is that even a word?) I see a lone sign labeled “The Vaults” with an arrow pointing to the entrance. There was a guy sat outside playing with a smoke machine and a green spotlight they had obviously planned on using, but the smoke machine wasn’t working. A shame – I hoped this wasn’t a precursor to how the event would run.

 

I flash the person my ticket and they hand me a card with a silhouette of a crow on a purple background, then point me into the experience.

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I enter the venue and take a look around. We’re in a bar, lit by a mixture of flickering lightbulbs and LED strips splashing a camp yet slightly unnerving series of greens, reds and ultraviolet light across the walls. The bar serves themed food (Say Cheese and Die Toastie) and drinks (Monster Slime), as well as some adverts about the creators of the masks within the show. I order myself a coke and wander around, looking at the masks while listening to an array of head-nodding rock, trip hop and pop – anything from The Kooks to The Gorillaz was played in the 20 minutes I was in there.

Soon enough, we’re moved to another room. We flash our tickets and the announcer smiles creepily at us, counting us audibly as we go through whilst warning us that any photography beyond this point will get us escorted off premises. It’s another, more themed bar: the famous Goosebumps drips adorn 3 of the 4 walls as well as the bar, while green LED lights shine down the walls behind them, giving off the famous Goosebumps vibe. The fourth wall is a mural to one of the purple goo characters from the books that I can’t quite remember the name of. It stands maybe 10ft high and 20ft wide – it was a real sight to behold, and simply added more fuel to my excitement.

I wander in and make my way over to the corner. I’m doing this alone (as I like to do sometimes – how people react in these kinds of events can really show their true character and I quite like watching this transformation), so I take a seat at a table on my own and continue drinking my coke. I notice, as I scan the room, that there were placards hanging from the lighting rig, each one lit up by a lone spotlight from the other side of the room, each showing a symbol from the card. I look at the table and noticed the symbol on the table too – it was then I read this creepy message on the back of my ticket, and realised that I had inadvertently done what I was expected to do.

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The lighting suddenly changed, and the experience began. I’ll not go into too much detail and will avoid any mentions of scares because where’s the fun in knowing what to expect, right?

The first scene begins with everyone in the room. Someone in the audience goes crazy and begins telling his story. Using some incredible surround sound and story telling, he made us all live through what he was going through. The room goes dark, and television screens flicker to life around the room, playing the infamous TV show introduction.

Silent, hooded characters then came to collect each of the four groups one by one. We all get the gist of what they want, and in we go.

This first bit was very very clever and almost executed perfectly. All four groups were split up and taken to different rooms within the vaults, the corridors between each room painted in an off-kilter manner that slowly change to match the story you’re about to be told.

There were 4 in total stories themselves were about 10 minutes long, and were basically a condensed version/adaptation of one of the many books; most well known, but a few that were completely new that went down a similar vein of the Goosebumps stories – each had a mixture of absolutely fantastic storytelling with no more than three characters who all made it incredibly easy to get sucked into the story  (and all had fantastic improv skills – kudos to the Cuckoo Clock guy!), and some jumpscares that even I didn’t predict – one of them even got me to yelp and jump back in surprise!

Between these stories, we got put in what could only be described as a holding pen. It was dark and cramped, and there was no obvious way out – it was impossible to turn everyone back too, as we had just descended a good 7 feet: the longer we waited, the more the nerves started to kick in. I was fortunately at the front so knew what was going on, but the guys at the back had no idea, and started to panic more (even though we told them there was no way forward).

All four groups are reintroduced after these five experiences for a handful more experiences, a few of which continued on the story from the very beginning, but all of which were very creepy and interactive at the same time: there was a lot of nervous laughter as we, the audience, became the actors in one of the scenes. In another we’re forced to watch from a number of different angles, which I had never experienced in immersive theatre before. No matter what the scene was, the actors were absolutely amazing and were easy to believe, though one of the scenes made it feel like we were in this strange 1950s pantomime (though that didn’t detract from the experience at all).

The last scene is absolutely amazing. The masks, the props, the sounds, the lighting, the story were all on point, and not even I predicted how it’d end! As I said earlier, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

 

 

What did I think of it? I honestly had an absolute blast. The actors all did an absolutely fantastic job and really made the characters we were interacting with believable, especially in the heat they were dealing with and never broke character (check your coats in at the cloakroom – it gets extremely hot in those vaults!).

The way it works is absolutely incredible too – I won’t give the game away, but the actors in each scene control their entire environment. They’ve really pushed the way that theatre, especially immersive theatre, works!

The stories that were told were Goosebumps to a T. It was easy to tell which story the scene was from (though remembering the name of the book was impossible after 20 years) and it had the camp yet creepy atmosphere all the way through, even between the scenes.

Goosebumps Alive is billed as a 16+ event on the website, but I feel that 14 year olds that can handle a good quick jump scare or two would absolutely love the show – just make sure that they are ready for it before going, as it’s not nice for the child or the rest of the group to be dragged through something they don’t like. Once you leave, you’re out for good.

 

I will definitely be on the look out for more tickets to this show, and I’ll definitely be dragging some friends along too!

09/04/2016 – Goosebumps Alive!