Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights Halloween events are back for 2011, with the park promising that its line-up of temporary attractions will terrify and delight guests in equal measure. With the park’s marketing department never shy about generating hype, do this year’s horror mazes really offer anything new? Theme Park Tourist headed to the opening weekend to find out.
With the events now in their 10th year, Fright Nights 2011 appears to be as popular as ever. Despite a clash with the England vs. France Rugby World Cup game, huge crowds descended on the park for the first Saturday of the Halloween season. This is no surprise, with Thorpe Park having firmly placed itself on the radar of horror enthusiasts with the additions of SAW – The Ride and the year-round SAW Alive Horror Maze in the past few years.
Tickets for Fright Nights 2011 are priced at £42 for adults, which is slightly more expensive than a standard Thorpe Park entrance ticket. Annual Passholders must also pay a £5 surcharge to visit during the events. Overall, we think this is good value considering the extended opening hours (the park remains open until 10pm) and the fact that all four temporary horror mazes are included with admission. This contrasts with sister park Alton Towers, which bundles just one free horror maze with admission to its Scarefest events and charges £12 to experience two others. Those booking in advance via Thorpe Park’s website can also make big savings.
Fright Nights 2011 features a total of four temporary horror mazes, including the all-new Experiment 10. The other three – Se7en, The Asylum and The Curse – all return from previous years, while last year’s Dead End Terror Zone is dropped (if you read our review of Fright Nights 2010, you’ll know that is no great loss). Rounding off the line-up is the SAW Alive Horror Maze, which draws larger crowds during Halloween but is otherwise unchanged from its standard operations.
For an extra £17, guests can buy a Fastrack pass which allows them to skip the queues for the four temporary mazes. We despise these paid-for queue jumping schemes. However, we will admit that for those who are attending with scaredy-cats who don’t wish to experience the horror attractions, they can help to avoid spending too much time apart.
As Fright Nights 2011’s only brand new horror maze, Experiment 10 has some high hopes to live up to. Located in the park’s arena (where Se7en was situated last year), the experience takes place in a number of portable container crates. These are designed to represent a government test laboratory, where an experiment has taken a turn for the worse.
Unlike most of the other mazes at Fright Nights 2011, Experiment 10 does actually place guests at the centre of something resembling a plot. After being greeted to their “tour” of the laboratory by a suitably creepy “scientist”, they are then ushered through into another room. It’s at this point that events spiral seriously out of control. We were left dazed, confused, and a little frightened – but also giggling uncontrollably. This doesn’t apply to everyone: at least one of our group was cuddled into her boyfriend’s arms literally begging to be let out of the maze.
So what exactly happens? We don’t want to give away too many spoilers in this review, but be warned that this is not a maze in which you can hang onto the shoulders of the person in front for comfort. Anyone who suffers from serious claustrophobia, or who does not like to be alone, should avoid Experiment 10. For everyone else it comes highly recommended – even if the second half (a more traditional walkthrough of the lab) lacks the excitement of the first.
Fun rating: 4/5 Scare rating: 5/5
Relocated into the drained-out swimming pool in Neptune’s Kingdom, Se7en invites guests to “repent” as they face the horror of the seven deadly sins. The maze is built around seven distinct set-pieces, although you may be hard-pressed to link each to a specific sin. No real plot ties the scenes together, but the overall theme is suitably creepy.
Last year’s highlight, a gluttony room featuring a hugely bloated corpse, once again stands out as a stinky masterpiece. Improvements include a impressive cosmetic surgery scene, a room full of fake doors (our group circled around this for at least a minute before finding its way out), and a section at the end in which the mischievous scare actors literally trapped us in the maze with a series of metal gates.
Overall, we think this year’s Se7en is an improvement on the 2010 version. It relies less on the standard “shock” scares that are the usual fare of Thorpe Park’s mazes, focussing instead on inventive and humorous elements. Of all the mazes, this is the one you are most likely to emerge from with a giant grin on your face.
Fun rating: 5/5 Scare rating: 3/5
Located in its usual position at the back of Thorpe Park, The Asylum once again sees brave guests attempting to break out of a mental hospital in meltdown. It is packed with murderously psychotic patients, many of whom were quite happy to grab us or, in one case, flick us repeatedly with a blanket.
The main challenge in The Asylum is finding your way out of the maze, which features various dead ends and intensive strobe lighting. This makes it immeasurably more fun if you are located at the front of your group, even if walking headlong into mirrors can be a little painful. For others, the disorientation is less pronounced and the experience is less exciting a result.
We’re still fans of The Asylum, particularly its returning chainsaw finale. However, we were hoping that Thorpe Park would have freshened up the maze slightly for Fright Nights 2011. In the event, it’s still great fun, but those who experienced it last year may find it a little samey.
Fun rating: 3/5 Scare rating: 4/5
We sighed a little when we saw that The Curse was still in the line-up for Fright Nights 2011, even if we strongly agreed with Thorpe Park’s decision to remove the badly ageing Hellgate. As we predicted in our preview, it is by far the weakest attraction at this year’s events.
While it is claimed to be themed around a “wrecked ship”, The Curse is in fact set inside a temporary marquee in the Amity Cove area. While it features an occasional piece of nautical theming, it feels like exactly what it is – a stroll through a darkened tent. Even the ever-willing scare actors failed to illicit much more than a whimper from our group, who were more bored than scared by the entire experience.
We understand that two new mazes in a single year was probably too much to ask from Thorpe Park. Nevertheless, The Curse has to be first on the chopping block for 2012’s Halloween celebrations. We recommend that you give this one a miss – the queue is a more effective horror maze than The Curse itself.
Fun rating: 1/5 Scare rating: 1/5
We confess to being a little fatigued with Thorpe Park’s year-round horror maze, having reviewed Saw Alive in-depth when it first opened and again during last year’s Fright Nights events. For those wondering if the attraction offers anything different during the Halloween period, wonder no more. It’s exactly the same.
If you haven’t experienced it before, SAW Alive is still worth a look. Fans of the Saw movies will recognise several scenes, including the infamous bathroom from the first film. Sadly, this is where the connection ends. Although it ostensibly features a plot based around “escaping” from one of Jigsaw’s lairs, in reality the maze is a fairly standard walkthrough, with a few zombie-like actors occasionally jumping out at you.
We still wish that Thorpe Park would upgrade SAW Alive to add some interactive elements, or at the very least to make it seem like the scare actors are actually imperilled by Jigsaw rather than just wandering randomly through the building. A third straight season unchanged may be a stretch too far, even for an attraction based on a series of no fewer than seven movies.
Fun rating: 2/5 Scare rating: 3/5
Even for those who don’t enjoy horror mazes, the experience of visiting Thorpe Park during Fright Nights is worthwhile. There’s an electric atmosphere, with painted faces and giggling groups to be seen all over the park. Most importantly, though, there’s the opportunity to ride some of the best rollercoasters in the country (SAW - The Ride, Nemesis Inferno, Stealth and Colossus) in the dark. Don’t miss it.
While Alton Towers goes all out to dress itself up for the Halloween season, Thorpe Park has never really put too much effort into this. A few hangman’s nooses randomly distributed around the park is about as far as it goes. While the overall theme of the Frights Nights events doesn’t really fit with pumpkins and scarecrows, it would still be nice to see a few more seasonal elements in place. As in previous years, the permanent SAW area is by far the creepiest.
One welcome new addition for Fright Nights 2011 is a troupe of roaming scare actors, who add a touch of humour without seeming overly threatening. We were a little unsure why they were dressed as clowns, though, when none of this year’s mazes are based around a circus. Perhaps free-roaming mental patients and government scientists would have been a little too bizarre.
As always, the quality of your own experience at Fright Nights 2011 will depend on the enthusiasm and number of scare actors in action in each maze when you visit. Overall, though, we think there’s been a step up in quality from last year’s events. Experiment 10 is a massive improvement over Hellgate, the level of humour and inventiveness has been upped on Se7en and The Asylum continues to be a solid and popular attraction. Only The Curse looks past its sell-by-date, and desperately in need of replacement.
While we wish that Thorpe Park would put more effort into its overall Halloween theming, Fright Nights 2011 offers excellent value for money. Whether you are a horror film buff or just want to ride Nemesis Inferno in the dark, it’s an event not to be missed.
Did you you attend Fright Nights 2011? What did you think of this year's horror mazes? Let us know using the comments section below.