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Last weekend, Alton Towers began its annual Scarefest Halloween celebration, and TPT was lucky enough to be in attendance. As our first trip to a Scarefest event, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Would the park simply scatter a few pumpkins around and dim the lights, or would it go all out to scare guests silly? Read on to find out.
Alton Towers first introduced Scarefest in 2007, as it looked to improve attendance during the late season. It imported the concept from American theme parks such as Universal Studios, where Halloween events have been a longstanding tradition. There may have been a danger that it wouldn't catch on in the UK (where Halloween is not celebrated to the same degree as in the US) – but Scarefest has proven to be wildly popular and the first day of this year’s event was extremely well attended with queues forming long before the park’s official opening time.
Scarefest 2009 includes three dedicated Scare Zones (Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within, The Boiler House and Field of 1000 Screams). All three are returning from previous years, with some updates to keep them fresh. Terror of the Towers is included with admission, while The Boiler House and Field of 1000 Screams require a separate entry fee of £6 (or £9 for a combined ticket). None of the scare zones are suitable for kids – you'll need to be aged at least 12 to go in any of them, and 14 for the extra-scary Boiler House.
Also included with standard park entry are an updated version of the Duel haunted house ride (Duel: Live!), plus an array of minor events such as character meet-and-greets and "Trick or Treat Doors" for young children. Perhaps the biggest bonus is that the park’s ride remain open until 9pm – giving guests a rare opportunity to experience classics such as Nemesis and Oblivion in the dark.
Alton Towers is blessed with a perfect setting for a Halloween event. How many other theme parks boast a huge, empty, gothic mansion which seems like the perfect home for all manner of ghoulish beings, along with expansive grounds and acres of dark, gloomy forest? There's almost no need for the park to invest in Halloween decorations.
Nevertheless, Alton Towers has done a great job of dressing the park up for the season. On entering, we were greeted with a Towers Street that was peppered with pumpkins and spooky characters, which combined with the spectacular Towers in the background to put us in the Halloween mood straight away.
As well as the special Halloween decorations, the park seems to have spruced up a number of attractions in preparation for Scarefest. The “blood” flowing around Nemesis was dark red and flowing at a faster rate than we’ve seen in some time, while the mist at the bottom of Oblivion’s pit seemed denser than ever.
In our opinion, it is worth attending Scarefest just to take advantage of the late opening hours. The park itself looks stunning in the dark, and the Towers look great under the glow of the green uplighters installed for the event. The biggest draw though, is the opportunity to ride Nemesis and Oblivion after dark – and it’s worth it, as the change of lighting really affects the ride experience. Plus, the need to spend your day sprinting around the park to cram in as many rides as possible is greatly reduced due to the extra time available. With the Skyride still out of action, that's a real boost.
Duel, Alton Towers' interactive haunted house ride, has been made-over for the Halloween season. A new plot has been introduced, with guests being “invited” to tour the von Duel’s mansion. A ghostly butler welcomes you into the ride’s queuing area, before you board trains in groups of 2 or 3.
The ride’s guns are switched off, so it’s now a passive experience – but actors in period costume are scattered around the interior to leap out and surprise you. Alton Towers rates the attraction as "3 pumpkins out of 5" on the scare scale, and that’s probably about right. While you will leap out of your skin on a couple of occasions, there’s no real menace to the characters. Even TPT’s Natalie, who is scared of her own shadow, wasn’t too traumatised.
Duel: Live! seems surprisingly long without the distraction of the gun game, although with many of the automated characters switched off it can seem a bit sparsely populated at times. Overall though, Alton Towers has done a good job of making Duel seem like a new attraction for the Halloween period. We recommend you start with this attraction, as a way of building up to the Scare Zones.
Scare rating: 3/5Fun rating: 3/5
Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within
Located close to Hex within the actual Alton Towers building, Terror of the Towers is a long, dark scare maze. As the main free attraction at Scarefest, it is extremely popular and it is advisable to get in line as soon as it opens at 12. The queue proceeds very slowly as only a limited number of guests can be accommodated in the maze at any one time.
On entering the towers (which look suitably spooky and abandoned), you join a group of around 10 others. Placing your hands on the shoulders of the person in front, you march into the first room where an actor explains the plot – that you are exploring the inside of the mansion in search of the rest of your "team". Then it's off into the maze itself.
Once inside, you are forced to squeeze through a number of tiny corridors, with shrouded actors emerging to scare you behind seemingly every turn. Be warned that although the actors are not supposed to touch you, in reality they almost unavoidably do due to the lack of space within the maze.
Although we were suitably terrified by the Terror of the Towers (which seems to go on forever – at least 10 minutes), we had a hard time following what was meant to be going on. There are some great set pieces – the demon-like, caged characters towards the end in particular – but no real sense of why anything is happening. With the Towers having such a rich history, it’s a bit disappointing that the park has gone for generic "jump"-style scares. We felt like we could have been walking round any darkened warehouse, rather than such an atmospheric period building.
As a free bonus attraction, it’s hard to knock the Terror of the Towers too much. But if you’re really after the full Scarefest experience, make sure you pick up tickets for the Boiler House and Field of 1000 Screams before they sell out.
Scare rating: 4/5Fun rating: 3/5
The Boiler House
Located outside the park in the grounds of the Alton Towers Resort, the plot of The Boiler House is revealed during the queue. An abandoned news van (from the fictional station "Alton News 24") runs a video on a continuous loop, explaining that the deadly Hamble brothers – responsible for a series of gruesome murders at the Boiler House 10 years ago – have escaped and are on the loose.
Once inside The Boiler House, all hell breaks loose. Characters are met, and quickly murdered by the Hamble brothers – who look truly grotesque and carry huge knives which are waved at terrified guests. Again proceeding around in groups with an arm on the shoulder of the guest in front, we found ourselves practically sprinting at times – particularly as Nick was located at the very back of the group and constantly within range of the Hamble brothers’ knives.
Perhaps due to the sprinting, it was all over very quickly. But with an excellent plot and a genuinely creepy atmosphere reminiscent of 70s slasher movies, The Boiler House is well worth seeing. Try and head there late to add to the atmosphere – both paid-for Scare Zones are open until 11pm.
Scare rating: 5/5Fun rating: 4/5
Field of 1000 Screams
Viewed during daylight, Field of 1000 Screams would appear to be an unthreatening stack of hay bails piled in the grass outside the Alton Towers hotel. However, on a cold October evening, in the pitch black, it plays on basic human instinct. Who wants to walk into a scary field in the middle of the night, with zero visibility? Especially when loud screams are emanating from the field every few seconds.
The plot of the Field revolves around an army experiment gone wrong, which has caused the dead to rise and eat the living. While wandering around the maze (again in a group – and yet again, we were at the back), you encounter a number of characters who fill in the backstory, building up the tension for a final confrontation with the undead on-board a bus.
As fans of zombie movies, we loved Field of 1000 Screams. Although there are fewer zombies than we'd hoped for (we only counted 2 before the final bus set-piece), the encounters along the way build up the plot and create a real sense of suspense. And being on-board the bus genuinely feels like being part of a Romero movie. The only potential downside is that you are exposed to the elements – in pouring rain, knock a couple of marks off the "fun" rating.
Scare rating: 4/5Fun rating: 5/5
SW6 / Surrender construction
This isn't really part of Scarefest, but we can’t resist mentioning SW6, Alton Towers' new rollercoaster (potentially to be called Surrender). Posters for the new ride were dotted around the park, and the building site is clearly on display while queuing for Rita.
The coaster's station track and lift hill are both in place, with the structure of a building hinting at a dark ride section. At this stage, there's no real sign of the "world first" element that is stressed in Alton Towers' marketing, so we’ll have to wait until the ride opens next March to find out if rumours that the ride's track will suddenly drop down to another level in the middle of the indoor section are true.
We can think of few better places to celebrate Halloween than Alton Towers. The authentic atmosphere of the Towers and grounds, combined with the excellent work of the park's management, combines to create a truly unique atmosphere. While not on the same scale as events such as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, there's plenty to entertain adults and kids alike. If you're not a fan of Halloween, head to the park anyway to take advantage of the extended opening hours. If you're a horror lover, though, get ready for a true Scarefest.
Did you you attend Scarefest 2009? What did you think of it? Let us know using the comments section below.