We’ve been attending Thorpe Park’s annual Halloween event for a fair few years now, we figured we weren’t going to break with tradition this year!
SAW Alive: This was the very first scare attraction that we went through and the haunt that we’ve been through the most. We’ve seen it have good days and bad – last year was a standout to us. This year it wasn’t as good. It wasn’t particularly bad but felt a lot less populated than it was in previous runs. We didn’t encounter anyone at all in pendulum room and with the pendulum itself not moving, this part felt pointless. It’s still a decent maze; the vibrating, electric floors from the second film for example are always cool. The theme is a bit ‘off’ though with the victims providing the vast majority of the scares. It just doesn’t make too much sense in the context of the film. Whilst we enjoyed it, it was one of the tamer experiences we’ve had in this haunt. ***
Cabin in the Woods: After a bit of a disastrous time last year, we spent a bit more time in here this year! Last time around we got a bit too ‘into’ it and saw a window in one of the rooms as the exit point. It wasn’t and we ended up in the backstage area for all of two seconds before we found ourselves at the exit of the attraction. What you’d call a haunt speed run!
Dare we say that the sheen is starting to wear off with this maze? It’s still an awesome, almost unprecedented concept in its free flow route but all its tricks are out there now and it could do with a refresh. We love the idea of being able to choose your route but we’ve now been enough years to know the layout which takes some of the fun out of it. And it’s looking a bit worse for wear.
Much to our joy, we finally got into the control room after being aware of it for years! It’s a nice idea but we couldn’t really see what effect it was having on the other guests. Plus, one of the three buttons was very visibly broken. As for the rest of the haunt, we found the actors in the cabin section to be a bit more subdued, erring more towards creepy than full-on scary. This changed once we left the cabin, here the actors were a lot more interactive. They jumped up onto parts of the scenery and aggressively (in a good way!) blocked our way out. It’s a great maze but having run for four years now, we feel that the time has come to retire it. ***
The Big Top: Being very different from last year’s incarnation, ‘The Big Top’ really delivered this year. The best part of this haunt was the strobe maze. With multiple routes, this was an actual maze and we found it amusing to see people get hopelessly lost. Some were even walking towards us, clearly having looped back on themselves. We heard other people saying things like ‘where are you?’ – it all felt brilliantly chaotic. As with ‘Cabin’, we have respect for Thorpe putting an element like this into their mazes when it can obviously threaten throughput. We didn’t observe that the queue times were particularly long for this haunt compared to the others but we imagine that the strobe maze section has to have some impact. It’s just an awesome feature to see an attraction embrace. Especially with events like ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ focusing more on throughput than providing a memorable experience. In moments like these, we think that UK theme parks may have the edge over their glitzy US counterparts.
Elsewhere, we loved the ending, it was amazingly disorienting with the combo of smoke, bright lights, and (of course) chainsaw. The downside to this attraction was that after the strobe maze, there was a real lull in the following rooms. We didn’t encounter that many actors and, when we did, they didn’t interact with us to the level that we expected. As mentioned though, it picked up in time for the ending! ****
Blair Witch: We went into this reluctantly as it’s never been any good in previous years. The premise is strong – a maze based on a film that’s set in the woods in an actual wooded area. It makes perfect sense but the reality has always betrayed the potential. This is because every single year to date it’s simply been a long walk through a very open area where maybe one or two actors jump out at you before an end that sounds good but doesn’t come close to emulating the ending of the movie.
However, this year we were extremely impressed. The most noticeable difference is that the walk feels a lot more enclosed. It’s unclear whether the area has overgrown or if plants were filling it out but you can no longer see most of the route from the entrance. Whilst it feels like there were more actors in here than in previous years, the tight nature of the path may have disguised that. This is because it’s not as easy to spot where the actors can appear from now. As for the publicised new scenes, we didn’t notice much that was new other than trees with the iconic stick figures hanging from them. It’s taken four years but we think that Blair Witch is finally living up to the potential of its licence. ****
Platform 15: Fright Nights’ new maze although we’d class ‘The Big Top’ as new for the dramatic changes that have been made to it. This haunt is a bit of an oddity; it begins in the same area as ‘Blair Witch’ does and is extremely similar in that it’s a long outdoor walk, just in the opposite direction. Probably realising that wide-open spaces aren’t conducive to scare attractions, Thorpe have injected some theatricality into this trail. There’s a long actor led intro and it’s the only haunt where they made it super clear that there was a story and what that story was. This did help as the first two-thirds of the trail weren’t overly exciting. ‘Blair Witch’ had the benefit of foliage to obscure some of the path; ‘Platform 15’ has absolutely nothing so it’s very easy to spot what’s ahead in the first section. The second section afforded the actors some hiding spaces but the visibility was still a hindrance. The final third was where it got interesting. Being train themed, at the end you enter a train tunnel after holding a quick séance. What we loved about this tunnel was its ridiculous length. It was almost completely straight but felt like it took about two minutes to traverse. And, if you went through it after dark, it was pitch black inside. There are no lights inside this tunnel with only the moonlight offering scant illumination from the gaps in the construction. The length may have seemed like a cheap trick but we found it to be a brilliant way of building tension as other people in our group were inadvertently scaring each other, reacting to any noise inside. That said, it does mask the fact that nothing is actually happening… We’re not sure about it, it feels like two outdoor haunts are too many and we’d rather see something a bit more elaborate take its place next year. **
Then there was ‘Containment’. This upcharge attraction blends a traditional haunt with an escape room. You spend a few minutes each in the four rooms where the objective is to uncover the passcode needed to move into the next room. You have to figure out the code or you ‘lose’ that room (but still proceed onto the next). We’d been through this last year and even though the rooms are the same, the puzzles had been changed so there was no advantage to be had in being repeat players. The acting was very good in here, especially in the last room where the guy was quite hands on and would get up close with you – it was a good tactic to distract you from solving the puzzle in the room! ****
The strobe maze in ‘The Big Top’ and free flow nature of ‘Cabin’ are both features that we’d like to see utilised more often. They add a level of immersion that typical haunts rarely achieve and we wish Thorpe would pursue these innovative features instead of ‘filler’ attractions like ‘Platform 15’.
We appreciated that when things broke down, there was a concerted effort to get things back up and running and the staff remained upbeat despite how aggravated some guests were becoming.
Somehow, ‘Platform 15’ managed to break down and was out of action for most of the night which had a knock-on effect elsewhere.
It’s worth mentioning that we wouldn’t even bother attending ‘Fright Nights’ without fast track tickets. The queues for haunts were breaking the 100 min mark throughout the night. With five haunts, that’s a lot of queueing!
There was also a noticeable lack of roaming actors; we’d really like to see Thorpe take a leaf out of Alton Towers’ book and introduce dedicated scare zones. Because that’s another thing that ‘Fright Nights’ is missing – the feeling of a Halloween event. Other than the haunts themselves and costumed guests, it doesn’t give off much of a Halloween vibe.
We thought the event was fun but we’d like to see Thorpe spend a bit more consideration on the haunts. ‘Platform 15’ was a poor replacement for ‘My Bloody Valentine’ and in general, ‘Fright Nights’ doesn’t feel like an ‘event’. It’s also in need of a refresh at this point being half in, half out of the Lionsgate licence. In an ideal world, ‘Platform 15’ would be dropped (we can’t see how a ‘Big Top’ style rejuvenation can save this one) and replaced with something bolder like Thorpe have proven they can do.
Rating: *** (Out of 5) – Flawed but worth checking out
Ticket Price: £29.99 to £34.99 (adv) depending on day attended. Containment was an additional £10.
Address: THORPE PARK Resort, Staines Road, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8PN