Less than a week after visiting Thorpe Park for Fright Nights, we made our way north to check out Merlin’s other main theme park Halloween event, Scarefest at Alton Towers. Last Halloween, we felt that Scarefest was the stronger event of the two despite feeling a lot smaller. Our opinion hasn’t changed after attending this year’s event with the Scarefest mazes just feeling more fleshed out. Our suspicion before visiting was that the Alton mazes, though fewer in quantity, were noticeably longer; this was borne out after we recorded the amount of time we were in each attraction. Therefore, we think the number of attractions is largely irrelevant – we got about two minutes more of total ‘haunt time’ in Alton’s maze offerings than Thorpe’s (we’re not including Fright Nights’ Containment or Scarefest’s House of Monsters in this). So ultimately, it comes down to what it should; quality.
The Welcoming: Be Chosen
Time in queue: 20:11
Time in attraction: 9:25
The Welcoming was probably the most frustrating experience that we’ve had in an attraction in recent memory. As far as we were concerned, it did everything right in the first third. The music forged an eerie atmosphere that perfectly complemented what we were about to witness. Despite the opening scene taking place in a very open village courtyard, it somehow still managed to feel threatening, aided by the bizarre imagery on display. There was a very cool, unearthly focal point in this space that lent an air of unpredictability to the proceedings. And it wasn’t the only oddity that we’d encounter during our visit!
Sadly, this then gave way to a long hooded section and, to be honest, we’ve never enjoyed these. Hide and Shriek’s No Strings Attached is by far the best application of this style that we’ve experienced. In that, they played with what you felt and the hood was removed at various points to present you with extremely disorienting imagery. The Welcoming felt more akin to Hellements at Shocktoberfest; a long walkthrough where you might hear certain things but that’s about it. I guess it depends where you fall on being hooded/blindfolded – we just don’t find it scary and can’t shake the notion that it gives designers a ‘get out of jail free card’ to skimp on the set dressing.
The final third, however, ended things on a better note – we’d now been ‘chosen’ and the actors became a lot more aggressive and were more elaborately costumed with things such as pagan-style masks. We then witnessed a very gruesome act and came face to face with the aftermath! This particular scene was staged fantastically and made our situation feel increasingly dire! We wonder if they might’ve missed a trick here however by not producing a finale more akin to what the Paradise Foundation pulled off at last year’s Screamland. Because the final moments here were us just walking out of the closing scene.
All in all, we got massive Living Nightmare vibes from this maze. It wasn’t really ever scary and was more about presenting us with this creepy religious town and their machinations. It was good but definitely not £8 good!
Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within
Time in queue: 28:35
Time in attraction: 10:07
You can’t deny that Terror of the Towers is perfectly themed given that it takes place within the Towers themselves. For that reason, there’s definitely a unique atmosphere to this vampire-infested haunt because nothing within it comes close to looking like flimsy, painted MDF. The setting is by far the biggest selling point here and the pacing is perfect with the tension building towards that strobe maze finale.
The big downside to this one is the ‘hands on shoulders’ approach. Especially when there’s a moment or two where you’re ascending/descending! It can spoil the experience and it was definitely the case this time where we were either being pulled back or dragged along at top speed because we were at the mercy of people either side of us. We’d like to know the reason why it’s in play here and in no other haunts at Scarefest…
Sub Species: The End Games
Time in queue: 4:06
Time in attraction: 6:19 (although one of us was kept in an additional 2 mins and 21 seconds)
Our favourite from last year and it remains that way for 2017. There’s a lot to love about this maze. From the multiple routes to its full contact nature, Sub Species delivers a completely rounded experience. The plot is fun; you’re thrown into a game of survival where people are taking bets on your success and the first minute or two sets this narrative up brilliantly.
*** Slight spoilers follow ***
After a video introduction, your group is led into a room where there are three doors. You’re lined up along the wall with some unfortunates being positioned directly in front of each door. The lights cut out for a long second and when they flicker back on, one of the group is gone. The lights drop again and another person is gone. It’s a great theatrical moment and a member of the Scare Addicts group ended up being one of those taken (and, consequently, was two and a half mins longer in the tunnels than the rest of us!) which added to the fun! Now, this was something I, unfortunately, missed out on last year as I was the first person to be ‘abducted’ so didn’t get to experience the escalating panic of the survivors as the group gets whittled down. It’s a brilliant little scene and set us up nicely for what followed.
*** End of spoilers ***
The maze itself consists of multiple routes and you have relative freedom to try and escape these sewers. And you’re obviously not the only people down there with a bunch of aggressive characters hindering your progress throughout. The actors are very hands on and not the sort that you want to spend too much time in the company of! From a slightly sadistic point of view, this would be our favourite just for the fact that it splits everyone up. You wander this area witnessing people desperately searching for their friends and totally freaking out with each new encounter with a sewer denizen. It would be the perfect maze for spectators as there’s no hiding in the middle of the group here!
Our main issue with Sub Species was that we were in this one for the shortest time of all the mazes, as though the multiple routes come at the expense of the length of the total experience. It’s a trade-off that we’re happy to make but we were totally ready for more! And given the fact that one of us was in there considerably longer than everyone else, we’re not sure its entirely the fault of the maze.
Altonville Mine Tours
Time in queue: 39:12
Time in attraction: 9:29
Opening with a brilliant actor-led actor intro, Altonville Mine Tours does what it says on the tin. What’s kept fairly hushed by the character greeting us is the fact that the mines are the domain of a cannibal clan and so we unwittingly walk ourselves to the dinner table!
This haunt takes full advantage of its setting with lots of tight spaces and winding tunnels that obscure the next scare. It was incredibly easy to believe that we were actually exploring a mine! Though the actors spent a lot of time with us compared to the other mazes, they weren’t as rough as they were last year – this was definitely a bit disappointing! The ending really didn’t work for us at all, especially given how hands-on the actors were with it last year, really making us feel as though we weren’t going to get out! Now, there’s a very witty joke in the form of the final set but that was it, the characters in this scene kept their distance, making for a limp finale. We absolutely cannot fault the theming and the way that you’re forced to interact with the environment however – just bring back the old ending!
House of Monsters
Time in queue (timed entry): 0:00
Time in attraction: 19:59
After enjoying this attraction last year, we just had to get ourselves booked in when we saw that it was returning for 2017! It’s not really a scare attraction, more of a Merlin-esque theatrical show (think Dungeons and Shrek’s Adventure) and definitely aimed at children but entertaining all the same. As we noted last year, they tend to seek the audience participation from the kids here (we find Dungeons to be terrifying for the prospect of being picked on in a scene!) so adults are relatively safe.
The storyline entails you following a vlogger into a haunted house in an effort to prove the existence of monsters. After a few calamities, we manage to invoke a curse and trap ourselves in the building. Our only hope for escape is to enamour ourselves with the various beastly residents, collecting items from them that ‘Frankie’ can use to free us in the finale. On our trip we meet a skeleton, vampire, mummy, werewolf and finally Frankie – no prizes for guessing what lore he originates from! Each monster requires something from us before it’ll hand over the necessary object and this provides the backbone for each scene.
It works. Its fun, cheesy and slickly presented. And, had we not attended in the previous season, we would not have picked up on the change that absolutely devastated us. Last year, Gorgel the mummy was the shining star of the show. Being a mummy, he was old and cantankerous (constantly calling a mother ‘Dirty’ and her daughter ‘David’ for starters); you got the impression that this particular character really didn’t want us in his space but was tolerating it as best as he could. This year, he had none of that character, almost coming across as a bit of a ‘geezer’. We’ve no idea why this change was made (was Gorgel’s previous manifestation considered a bit too offensive for families?) but it dropped the show a few points in our estimation – especially as I’d mentioned to others in our group to keep an eye out for the mummy! If House of Monsters returns for 2018, please, please, please restore Gorgel to the glory of his former self!! I should add that this is no slight to the actor playing the character this year – it wasn’t that the performance was lacking but the fact that the character had fundamentally changed. We did drop the rating by half a star because of Gorgel but totally appreciate that you’d be none the wiser if you weren’t familiar with the event prior to your visit. In that case, just add the half star back!
Freak Show Scare Zone
There was only one scare zone at Scarefest this year with Dark Apocalypse being dropped. Rather than review this, we’ll provide a video of the walkthrough that we captured. Given the space that was available to them, they did a good job with the theming though we didn’t find it very scary!
One thing that we couldn’t help but notice was that the tickets weren’t specifically timed this year. We’re sure we had a slot for each maze last year! Either way, with the absence of fast track and having to pay for maze entry, this system didn’t work as well as it could have done. We found that, across the four events, we’d queued for over an hour and a half in total. Considering that we paid for entry, this felt poorly managed as surely allocating each maze with a specific time slot would cut down on the amount of queueing?
And our comments from last year regarding the sky ride and 9pm close still stand!
All that aside, we loved our time at Scarefest!! The mazes are all varied in style and of a decent length. They’re also generally more interactive than most haunts which is something that we really appreciate!
Alton did really well with the amount of theming throughout the park.
House of Monsters: Even though this was for the younger audience, the story and acting were great. The second half even had a few cheeky jump scares!
Terror of the Towers: Great theming, good smells and a brilliant storyline.
Altonville Mine Tours: A little more hands-on than Towers, loved the acting in this one although I felt there could have been more scares.
Sub Species: A great albeit terrifying start to this one, seeing my mate dragged off into the darkness! The free-roaming element was appreciated and the actors were very rough in parts (in a good way!).
The Welcoming: Loved the acting, theming and beginning and tried to walk as slow as possible to work out the clues for the new ride, SW8. Before long though, the second half started which spoilt this one for me as my route was enforced.
Overall a great scare night at Alton, liked each maze for different reasons. Not sure why but Towers stood out for me.
Scarefest (2017) Alton Towers
+ Fantastic portfolio of haunts with no below average attractions
- Gorgel's change in House of Monsters
- Poor queue management
You can't go wrong with a visit to Scarefest - with four varied and decent mazes plus rides in the dark, Alton Towers have put on an event worth making the effort to attend!
Ticket Price: £20.00 for three maze ticket, entry not included. House of Monsters was an additional £5. The Welcoming: Be Chosen was an additional £8
Address: Alton Towers, Farley Ln, Alton ST10 4DB