Spoiler level: No major revelations but a few details that could be perceived as spoilers. Be aware, as some of these attractions may return in the same format next year.
Scarefest returns to Alton Towers, as the atmospheric ruins are once again populated with scareactors, special effects, and the sound of petrified screams. In addition to these vital components, this year I saw AN ACTUAL BAT flying around entrance to Terror of the Towers. He was really selling it, and I admired his enthusiasm. Bats aside, the most exciting element of Scarefest 2017 for me was the inclusion a brand new maze: The Welcoming, created as a tie-in to SW8, the new wooden coaster due to open at the start of the 2018 season. We decided to save this till last, booking in at 9pm, to ensure maximum darkness and residual adrenaline jitters from the first three…
Now in its third year, the shine on Sub Species is gradually wearing off for me. This year I was treated to one alien encounter which I had to wait patiently for, as though I were queuing for a chocolate bar in a newsagents. In the first year, the ‘doors’ scene was a pure adrenaline accelerator, with scareactors baiting us and stirring up a little competition to get us going. Unfortunately, that exciting dynamic has not since been recreated, and the maze itself felt sparse and underpopulated. However, the finale surpassed last year. Not so chilling but definitely thrilling; I was caught in a group that were terrified to their core, and the scareactor jumped on this opportunity without hesitation, cornering and intimidating the more distressed individuals and violently swinging his chainsaw. He was also brightly backlit which added a touch more drama to his performance. It was quite a sight, even if you’re over chainsaws.
Terror of the Towers
I’ve always been a huge fan of this classic maze, and while I would welcome a new intro, I’m still more than happy to tread through the same sets – themed to dark, theatrical perfection – whilst soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of pure immersive gothic horror. This year, the cast were poised and ready to deliver effective impact scares at every opportunity, whilst mixing in some sinister interaction to draw us deeper into their environment. Last year I said the finale was lacking, but this year it was back up to high gear, with some new demons bursting out from behind the fences, their grotesque horror makeup lit sporadically by the intensely disorienting strobe. In the past I’ve questioned how on earth the group leader ever manages to navigate the end scene, and that I was yet to try. Well, this year I tried. I succeeded. And I screamed my goddamn lungs out.
Skin Snatchers blew me away last year, so I was beyond excited to get back in there. I even swapped places in the queue so I could get a Haunted Lantern hardhat this time. The intro was as engaging as before, brilliantly acted with great use of dark humour. We ventured into the dark, winding passages of the mine, and soon enough I was ambushed with a full contact scare that I won’t forget in a hurry – something which never materialised in Sub Species. The character restrained me and whispered that I was now alone, and that I’d be dealt with before the group would even notice my absence. The combination of the scareactor contact and immersive maze layout was alarming, and the hardhat really added an extra dimension of fear – particularly the strobing effect, with instantly threw me off my stride. The finale this year fell flat compared to last year’s explosive ending; we ambled towards the exit in silence. Despite this, Skin Snatchers is still selling pure Buffalo-Gein terror, and I hope to buy more next year.
Last year I’d have said that Skin Snatchers’ cinematic quality couldn’t be topped, in terms of aesthetic and narrative. I never imagined that The Welcoming would present such a show, especially after the hoods & rope revelation. My expectations were relatively low. This, coupled with fact that the modest intro room gave very little away, meant my entry through the curtain was all the more breathtaking. I wasn’t quite sure how the theming would come together in terms of the SW8 tie-in, but after a nanosecond of adjusting my eyes to my surroundings, I got it, I bought it, and completely fell in love with it. Intricate sets are one thing, but this was its own little world, with a dreamlike quality created by clever lighting and the intensity of the actors. The hooded segment didn’t add anything so I assume its inclusion was perfunctory, but others in my group received more contact scares than I did at this point. Was I chosen? Well, I was very excited to discover a pink clothes peg attached to my back after exiting the maze. However, after our newest contributor Mitch emerged from the maze with dirt makeup daubed on his face, I’m starting to doubt the significance of said peg.
Unbelievably, just as we missed the scare zones last year, we missed Freak Show this year too. What should have been a comfortable gap between our maze bookings was eaten up by a 90+ minute queue to get into Skin Snatchers. Extremely disappointing, and a major oversight in terms of park operations. We’re just hoping it’ll return next year!