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ATTRACTION REVIEW

Review: Fright Nights (2017) – Thorpe Park

With two new mazes, what did we think of Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights this year?


Ticket Price: £32.99 to £42.99 (adv) depending on day attended.


Address: THORPE PARK Resort, Staines Road, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8PN


Website: https://www.thorpepark.com/

One thing we have to say right off the bat – we’re loving how Halloween events are extending their runs with some now opening in September. It feels like every year the season gets a little bit longer and its fantastic for us because it means we can get over to more places! We chose Fright Nights to kick off October as we didn’t want to waste that ‘prime’ final week in October so opted to fill that week with events that had shorter runs.

Obviously, the key change this year was the addition of the two Walking Dead mazes; they varied wildly in quality as we’ll get to in a minute. It was also surprising just how much The Big Top has changed again – it is now completely unrecognisable from its initial incarnation and felt about 50% changed from last year. Platform 15 also had a substantial upgrade leaving only SAW Alive performing the same tricks it has for umpteenth years now.

A quick note on queue and attraction times – we’re trialling this as it might be useful info to some people – if you like the idea, let us know and we’ll definitely continue it and maybe even expand upon it. 

As far as this event specifically goes, we visited on the first Sunday of the run so it was quieter than usual. We also had fast track tickets (£44pp) but we’re certain that the further into the run you get, the greater those queue times will become. We didn’t record the main queue lengths as, to be honest, we wouldn’t have had the time. We’ll always state which tickets our queue times relate to.

The Walking Dead: Living Nightmare 

Time in queue (Fast Track): 4:08

Time in attraction: 5:31

Taking place in the space that The Cabin in the Woods used to occupy, Living Nightmare was a much needed replacement for that maze. Cabin was definitely showing its age with broken parts and duct tape covering some damage caused by guests. And even when Cabin was operating at its peak, it still didn’t meet its full potential with none of the more fantastical creatures from the movie making physical appearances.

You can tell that the majority of the budget went into Living Nightmare, the theming is absolutely on par with its Halloween Horror Nights equivalent, the stand out being the Governor’s collection of zombie heads – they weren’t stickers on a wall a la Cabin’s monsters but actual prosthetic heads in fish tanks. It makes all the difference!

The maze begins with that iconic opening scene from season seven where Negan chooses which unlucky guest is going to get some one-on-one time with Lucille. It’s a brilliant idea as that scene is undoubtedly the most memorable moment from the entire run of the series and putting the guests in that moment is a touch of genius – it also doubles up as a photo op with the picture being taken just as Negan takes his swing! We have to mention the actor portraying Negan here – he had it spot on; his accent, his movements – he completely sold that moment!

From there, the rest of the maze becomes a ‘greatest hits’ of the show taking you through the most prominent locales of the series, saving one particular place which Sanctum focuses on.

Now, one thing about this haunt which is undeniable; it isn’t really all that scary. It’s more about transporting you into the show and having you inhabit that world. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some good interactions with the actors – at one point, a zombie reached out through a hole in a wall, grabbed me and tried to pull me back towards it. So there are definitely some fun moments but, as with the Negan opening, it’s all about immersing you in the Walking Dead universe. For me personally, that totally worked, hence the rating.

The final thing that we’ll mention here – we’ve had a bit of a debate recently over how we rate attractions in relation to other similar events that we visit – do we compare? Or review them in a bubble? Ultimately, we feel that it’s unfair to bring in comparisons for any number of reasons including things like budget/resources. But here, we have to mention how we think this maze stands up to its Halloween Horror Nights counterpart that we went through last year. It’s cut and dry for us – with the level of theming equal to HHN, the interactions and free-flowing nature of Living Nightmare make it a far better experience. Who would’ve thought that you’d get the better experience at Fright Nights?

But this is the thing that’s worth pointing out very clearly – Thorpe have demonstrated here that they’re absolutely capable of rivalling what is considered to be the premium mainstream Halloween event – if they apply the effort that’s on display here across their entire offerings, they’d have a world class event.

The Walking Dead: Sanctum 

Time in queue (Fast Track): 6:18

Time in attraction: 4:28

Where do we start with Sanctum? We really don’t know why it exists. Everything that was good about Living Nightmare is totally absent here. It felt as though Thorpe just needed to offer five mazes as with last year, as if a drop in numbers would be perceived negatively value-wise. To us, the money should’ve just been put elsewhere, either in polishing the other four mazes further or creating a little scare zone or two. Anything would’ve been better than this haphazard rush job.

The premise of this haunt is that you’ve found your way to Terminus, the cannibalistic community from the show and, naturally, their eyes are on you being next on the menu.

Don’t get us wrong, we could see what Thorpe’s intentions were with Sanctum. Living Nightmare was the glossy tour throughout the show whereas Sanctum was you on the ground level. Here the actors engaged a lot more, the idea being that this was way more focused on narrative than the clip show nature of Living Nightmare. Conceptually, it works and is actually a savvy idea – offering two very different experiences from the same property. It just unfortunately felt cheap as… The theming was that sort of, ‘it’s post apocalyptic so let’s just chuck stuff that we’ve got sitting backstage all over the place’. We debated if that fitted the theme of the haunt but ultimately decided that there’s a fine line between making stuff look deliberately scavenged and thrown together and actually just throwing stuff together. Sanctum doesn’t toe that line very well. Would we be more forgiving of this at a smaller farm haunt? Possibly but even then, we’ve seen places show greater attention to detail. It obviously doesn’t help Sanctum that Living Nightmare also exists but regardless, this is just a walk through a rubbish-strewn area.

What we do have to point out in its defense is that whilst the theming was diabolical, it still offers a more engaging experience than Walking Dead did at HHN last year. And other people in our batch were absolutely terrified by some of the hands-on actors who were actually very on the ball here. There was one particular moment where a group could see a zombie ambling towards them so asked me to go ahead. I did but the actor clearly knew what was going on so allowed me to pass unhindered, leaving them to face him again! The acting is the only reason we didn’t give this one star…

Platform 15 

Time in queue (Fast Track): 6:04

Time in attraction: 10:34

We have to start by saying fair play to Thorpe for attempting to improve upon this maze for 2017 as it was undoubtedly the weak link last year. They’ve revamped the walk to the finale tunnel by building a few ‘houses’ that you pass through on the route. This cleverly deals with one of the main issues from last year – the long, unobstructed walk that meant that you could see the actors coming from a great distance away. As a result, its a slightly scarier experience this time around.

That said it is still a maze containing two long walks where nothing is happening. And, worse than that, we may have caught it in the reset but we didn’t see the conductor finale. We were definitely expecting to see it as the character introducing us to the experience made specific mention of him. So this time around, we reached the end of the tunnel and just walked out. It was that uneventful.

Though Thorpe have tried to beef it up, we think this one just has to go. Ultimately, it’s a facet of the space that it occupies. That end tunnel is way too narrow to do anything interesting with and the long walk is a necessity to get guests back into the public area of the park. So we can’t really see what else Thorpe can do to fix this one; it’s akin to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They tried, it didn’t really work, best to just retire it and move on.

SAW: Alive 

Time in queue (Fast Track): 1:26

Time in attraction: 5:40

We know this one is likely to stick around year on year but we really wish Thorpe would do something with it – it hasn’t changed at all apart from the atmospherics – it was considerably brighter this year; we always remember the shotgun carousel room being slightly disorienting owing to a lack of light. This year we navigated that section with ease.

A comment that we noted last year was even more glaring this year. The SAW property doesn’t really lend itself well to a scare attraction as you’re just witnessing other people in traps. The victims are mostly providing the scares which is at odds with the theme. This year, they went one step further – the SWAT team member who dispatches you into the attraction was now sending us in there to be ‘tested’. I know it’s a minor detail in the scheme of things but that person should be protecting us, not setting us up! It’s just not that clever and reduces the haunt to a generic slasher level – at which point why bother calling it SAW? With an IP house, there should be a concerted effort to bring that property to life – not just bung a few recognisable props in a room and then have generic characters elicit boo scares. Every year it seems to move further and further away from the source material.

That being said, the sets are nice and detailed, bringing the key scenes from the movies to life and the scares are mostly successful, even if they’re not entirely appropriate! It just feels a bit like Thorpe don’t really care about this one anymore given that the franchise has fallen out of relevance, even if a new entry is finally on the way.

It gets the job done though and if you don’t care that it doesn’t make a lick of sense, there’s fun to be had in here.

The Big Top 

Time in queue (Fast Track): 0:55

Time in attraction: 7:57

The Big Top’s an odd one as, although it’s in its third year now, it has never been the same attraction and with each new iteration, it just keeps on improving. Beginning with that wonderfully disorienting strobe maze where the actors really messed with us, The Big Top then threw in a bit of Cabin’s multiple route shenanigans. There was one very well concealed detour and then later we were presented with a choice of doors to step through – we love little touches like this! We’d say that its about half new from last year and a clear improvement on its previous incarnations. The only problem that we had with it was that the actors were largely listless with only our strobe encounter being all that memorable. And keep an eye out for the Walking Dead joke – it fitted the mischevious clown theme perfectly!!

That said, we’re a bit sad that a clown maze won the highest rating of the night from us as its a trope that’s been done to death!

Containment 

Time in queue: 0 mins (timed entry)

Time in attraction: 17 mins

Containment is Fright Nights’ upcharge attraction costing £8 for annual passholders or £10 if you’re not. It’s a blend of haunt and escape room made up of four rooms based on the fear of numbers, time, dentistry and blood. Each room consists of a single puzzle that, once solved, allows you to move onto the next room. You have five minutes in each room and if you fail you still progress to the next space. In its opening year, you were given a red or green wristband at the end of the event with the colour denoting whether you failed or succeeded.

The actors were very lively in here and the mini escape room format is a nice break from straight up haunts. However, there was one real drawback this year. We’ve been through Containment three years now and this time around at least some of the puzzles were unchanged from its previous incarnation. Last year they had been remixed which made sense. Luckily, we’d forgotten the solutions until we cracked them again and then the deja vu hit us! Given the mixed group nature of this attraction, if you happened to be in there with someone who had done it last year, there’s the potential for your experience to be ruined.

The Final Cut Cinema

Time in queue: 0 mins (runs every half hour)

Time in attraction: 12 mins

This was just an abridged recap of seasons one to seven of The Walking Dead coupled with some extended previews of season eight. It’s worth doing just to give the legs a quick rest before another bout of queuing but don’t expect anything other than some Walking Dead clips.

Overall Thoughts

We enjoyed our time at Fright Nights but just wish that the quality of the haunts was more consistent. As it is, there’s two that we’d love to re-enter, one that we’re indifferent about and two that were sub par. We get the sense that Thorpe are just one good attraction away from knocking it out of the park but this year falls ever so slightly short.

One slightly concerning observation – within the first hour, two of the mazes had temporarily closed owing to ‘aggressive guests’. If that kind of thing is happening this early on in the season, they’re going to have a real problem on their hands the closer we get to Halloween. Maybe it’s time that they moved to Alton Towers’ system of selling entry to the mazes as you would hope that people might be discouraged from being idiots if they’re paying to go through these attractions. We believe Thorpe has a duty to try and curb this behaviour somehow as it negatively affects the experience for other guests – it threw our entire plan for the evening out of sync! People could potentially miss out on going through mazes if they have to leave by a certain time etc. I know you can’t control people once they’re inside but some thought should be given as to how it’s prevented from ever becoming an issue.

We also feel like the fast track tickets were overpriced this year. £44 is equivalent to park entry and they’ve always been at the £25 mark in the years prior. We’re not sure why the sudden massive hike but the nearer you are to Halloween, the more that we’ve found these things to be essential.

Liked:

Living Nightmare’s theming

Disliked:

Fast track prices

Guest incidents


Second Opinion


SAW Alive: This maze would be a lot better if we could walk through it freely, not having our hands on the shoulders of the person in front. The scare factor should be heightened considering that this is based on the SAW franchise.


The Big Top: This was my favourite maze of the evening as I really loved the freedom to walk about. The strobe section is effective and builds the tension brilliantly. I also loved that we had a choice of which door to walk through towards the end.


Living Nightmare: Being a Walking Dead fan, I was super excited for this one. The acting and theming were excellent, however the ending let it down as there was no epic finale.


Sanctum: This was a pointless maze and the worst of the night. It felt lacking in cast and they let me walk past them all without any scares – they missed a trick here, they should have jumped out and intimidated considering where we were supposed to be.


Platform 15: The build up to this maze is too long; the majority of the experience is walking down a path without any actor interaction. I did however love the addition of smells towards the end of the tunnel as this added to the tension of what was lurking ahead. Sadly the finale was missed if you blinked at the wrong time!

Fright Nights (2017) - Thorpe Park
  • Originality
  • Scare Factor
  • Staff
  • Execution
  • Value for Money
3

Summary

Fright Nights offers a dependable if slightly uneven experience. There's a lot of potential here though and we're very interested to see if they build on this for next year.

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