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CURSED: The Inside Story of Thirteen – The Biggest Coaster Let-Down EVER

During the fall of 2009, Alton Towers' marketing around the new project began ramping up. This "Secret Weapon 6" – officially, the first "Secret Weapon" since 2002's Air – had big shoes to fill if it were to live up to the "Secret Weapon" name and be worthy of replacing the beloved and classic Corkscrew. Still, aside from "Ride the Demon of the Dark Forest" and recurring images of cloaked and hooded "wraiths" on the ride's dedicated web page, precious little was known about the coaster.

Thirteen construction image

Image: Alton Towers

That's exactly how Alton Towers wanted it.

In December 2009, Alton Towers finally broke their silence. "Secret Weapon 6" would officially be called TH13TEEN – a stylized way of naming the ride after the "unlucky" number.

The mystique surrounding the new ride grew as self-made promises of Alton Tower's next headliner likewise inflated in the minds of fans and roller coaster enthusiasts around the globe. The notion of a cutting-edge roller coaster racing through the dense forests around Alton Towers – and with a secret, world's first moment hidden deep in those woods – was writing an awfully big check... Could the park cash it?

To hear them describe it, yes.

Throughout the fall, Alton Tower's sales and marketing director Morwenna Angove embarked on a cross-country press tour, stating: "This new ride will be a shocking, never-experienced-before rollercoaster and we're excited that once again the Alton Towers Resort is able to offer visitors the chance to experience something unavailable in any other part of the world.

"However, just as we take physical health and safety very seriously, Thirteen demands that we also consider our visitors' emotional health, and as such we're not afraid of introducing necessary measures to ensure riders are fully prepared and healthy enough to brave Thirteen."

Promised as "the scariest ride in the U.K.," Thirteen was soon said to have as many "world's-first" restrictions as it had "world's-first" elements: Merlin began to claim that they may limit guests to one ride per day and only allow those aged 16-55 to ride, saying that the age restriction may be deemed necessary due to the combination of physical and psychological terror. After all, Thirteen would be billed as the world's first "psychoaster."

Image: Alton Towers

Then came the official story... According to Alton Towers, Thirteen would take place in unexplored woodland where an ancient darkness (remember those hooded wraiths?) had been unleashed. Ug Land would become the Dark Forest, with Thirteen acting as the last outpost for those brave enough to set out into the woods. Their destination? An ancient, undisturbed crypt deep in the woods where something lies in wait...

Concept art produced for the attraction only added to the hype. Just imagine an extreme, terrain-hugging coaster launching guests into the bleak and foreboding Dark Forest, dodging trees, diving into gnarled roots, and plunging into the forgotten ruins of ancient cathedrals and crypts being overtaken by sinister vines... 

The cherry on top was a high production value television marketing campaign (an Alton Towers favorite, having produced some truly legendary commercials) that was deemed so intense, it could only be shown post-watershed, after 9:00 PM. That campaign produced memorable images of vines entombing a young girl as she begs, "If you go down to the woods today... You'd better not go... alone..."

Did you watch carefully? If so, hopefully you're okay with spoilers... After all, with more than a year of build-up, increasing public interest, and an actually-successful marketing campaign around the ride's oh-so-secret, world's-first manuever under their belt, you saw exactly what you thought you saw. Thirteen's commercial itself reveals – in a flash – the ride's signature, hidden element. And just in case you missed it, don't worry – Alton Towers invited the media to the park before the ride's opening, inviting GMTV to film the ride's secret... in night-vision! 

Okay, so maybe the ride's secret is spoiled. But after that campaign, the rest of the ride must be astounding! Are you brave enough to climb aboard Thirteen? In this case, it couldn't hurt to try.

The Dark Forest

If you've been drawn to Alton Towers by the marketing campaign and the mystery surrounding this new Thirteen (and managed to avoid spoilers that Alton Towers itself is all too proud to share?), you'll likely be impressed by what's become of the old Ug Land. Certainly, there's no sense that Corkscrew existed here whatsoever. And even if the land is currently lacking in... y'know... a forest, there's still plenty of time for trees to fill in the formerly prehistoric parcel.

And to Merlin's credit, each of the land's retail and dining locations has been reskinned in ancient stone and moss, with decaying wraith statues and vine-encrusted pillars scattered about the wrought-iron land.

Image: Joel A. Rogers, CoasterGallery.com. Used with permission.

Rita didn't make much sense in Ug Land, and to be fair, it doesn't really fit in the Dark Forest, either. But phenomenally, the ride has become part of the new land's story. Rita's track – formerly cherry red – was repainted in dull, oxidized brown; its trains have been reimagined from metallic dragsters to old, rusted cars; its audio was changed from high-energy dragster to a desperate attempt to outrun the encroaching forest...

And – most strikingly – the entire ride is being consumed by vines. They've encased the mossy tire that serves as an updated entrance, and have grown up across the ride's station, now made of decaying wood and menacingly labeled simply "CONTROL."

But you're not here for Rita... 

Are you ready to step aboard? We'll journey into the Dark Forest on the next page...

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Wikimedia Commons (license)

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