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Fright Nights

Fright Nights 2012

Here's our review and photos of Thorpe's 2012 Fright Fest:

TTP Review:

"Fright Nights is Thorpe Park's busiest time of the year; the event has rightly gained such a reputation that thousands flock to the Park with high expectations of being scared witless both on the coasters and in the live-action horror mazes. 2012 saw some sizable changes to last year's 10th birthday event - let's start with the positives.

New maze The Passing, replacing Se7en, puts a refreshing spin on the standard walkthrough maze concept; much more on this in our review below. The Curse was also a hugely improved experience, with more smoke and greater scare opportunities than ever before. I liked the efforts that went into giving the event a theme - the official website heavily advertised the "Thorpe Park Penitentiary" and posters around the Park warned of dangerous criminals wanted for heinous crimes. The on-park actors made a welcome return to bring this story alive. The Park-wide audio was also impressively synchronised and like last year played eerie Halloween tunes instead of the usual more-upbeat ride themes.

Unfortunately for us, there were more negative changes than positive vs. last year. The event was - predictably - the most expensive yet, with the gate price increased to £45.60 (+£2.40), car parking increased to £4 (+£1), Annual Pass fee remaining at £5 and maze fastrack increased to £19 for 4 mazes (+£2). Fastrack aside, new maze "The Passing" was the first upcharge maze since Fright Nights began - a step in the wrong direction, we think. Park-wide themeing was mostly absent this year, aside from the Penitentiary posters dotted on bins around the place. Barry & Stuart, the magic duo, didn't make a return this year, meaning the Park had no show to offer for 2012. The biggest disappointment however was the reduced Park opening hours, with closing moved from 10pm to 9pm. This now makes it difficult to experience the mazes after dusk and fit in some night riding, particularly on the dates where the clocks have yet to go back. The change smacks of cost-cutting, which given the increased prices means a pretty bad deal for guests.

All this said, Fright Nights is fundamentally about the mazes - so here's a detailed look at them all:

The Passing
(Located at the back of the X:\ No Way Out building)

The Passing is the first upcharge maze attraction at Fright Nights since the event began, and so expectations were naturally high. If the Park feel justified in charging specifically for this maze, there must be something quite special about it, right?

I'm not sure it was anything that special. It was, however, rather unique. Guests walk in to the old Hellgate entrance corridor and are told by a Prison Officer why they are there and the crimes for which they are being sentenced to death. Good character acting here, making people generally uncomfortable and generating some nervous laughter from the group. Guests then walk through to a second section where black bags with see-through mesh fronts are placed on everyone's heads. These bags have crimes such as "Arson", "Murder" and "Adultery" written on the front. Walking through to the next scene, guests see a slideshow of a person's life flashing before their eyes - it's time to die.

"Death" happens by being made to crawl through one of two pitch-black claustrophobic tunnels, which aren't flat the whole way through, making for some uncomfortable navigation. Guests have now passed to the other side, and the rest of the maze is taken in more of a traditional Thorpe-style conga line, with the novelty of having restricted vision. This second half of the maze felt very similar to the old Hellgate (which closed in 2010), with the same spinning tunnel and jail-cell scenes as before. The walls had new writing scrawled on them, calling guests "sick" and "scum". There were actors dotted around the walkthrough, but with little audio and no haze, there were little scare opportunities. The restricted vision from the bags did contribute to a general uneasiness about the experience, but one can't help but feel that this wasn't exploited enough.

The ending was a nice touch - members of staff in Thorpe Park uniform asked guests to remove the bags from their heads, congratulated them on making it to the end, and gave them a finishing certificate. Guests are pointed to the direction of the exit, which leads to a white room with a locked door. It is in fact not the end, as the lights go out and the door opens, leading guests into a claustrophobic corridor filled with black blinds and actors reaching out to grab guests shoulders/legs/necks etc before guests reach the exit.

Thorpe Park must be applauded for trying something new, as they did with Experiment 10 just last year. The bag-on-the-head idea is a novel one and could contribute to a really nerve-racking experience. However, the lack of actors, smoke and audio made the experience just a disconcerting one, and not a scary one. At times the maze felt a little empty. Overall, I would put The Passing below Experiment 10 and The Asylum on scariness level. Indeed, the real scary thing about The Passing was its £3 fee. The Passing was a nice idea, mediocrely executed.

Experiment 10
(Located in shipping containers in the Arena)

Experiment 10 was a triumph when it debuted last year and continued its success for its second time around. The themeing and storyline are both strong, and setting the maze in shipping containers rather than temporary marquees makes it all the more real and believable. The acting was still strong too - the actors in this maze are not afraid to get in your face and push you around.

Last year this website commented on Thorpe not making the most of the solitary confinement section - this time around I had far more scares here, with loud bangs and creepy voices ("release the spiders...") both increasing the discomfort in the pitch-black cells. I also commented last year on the weak ending compared to the rest of the maze - again, this year Experiment 10 was advertised as "with a new twist", and this too served to improve the attraction. The ending this year featured a large TV panel on the wall showing a doctor operating on a patient in the Experiment 10 facility. With the doctor's back turned, the patient gets up from the operating table and hits the doctor around the head with some surgical equipment. The doctor's blood splatters across the screen and water squirts at the conga line of guests. The patient then uses a circular saw to "saw" through the TV screen and escape into the room, running through the nearby door and chasing everyone out of the maze. This is a much stronger ending to the maze than last year's incarnation, and actually got people running out of the exit. Not as intense as Asylum, granted, but a definite improvement, if a little similar to Asylum. Another great year, Experiment 10 certainly deserves its place in the Fright Nights lineup.

The Asylum
(Located in the building next to Nemesis Inferno)

I still have a soft spot for Asylum - over its many years of service it has generated the most reliable and intense scares of all the Fright Nights mazes. It's still intense. This year, however, there was a noticeable lack of smoke in the whole maze compared to previous years. It meant that actors could no longer surprise by appearing out of nowhere to the same degree as they had previously, and the maze had a less intense feel. I could see the structure of the maze and the tops of the mesh fencing above me much more this year which reduced the trapped/out of control feel of the experience.

The Chainsaw-man finish was still impressively executed and the strobes are still disorienting, but with less smoke, fewer air-hammer bangs and slightly quieter audio, this was not Asylum's finest year.

The Curse
(Located in marquees on Neptune's Kingdom beach)

Conversely, The Curse this year re-established itself as a worthwhile attraction in the Fright Nights lineup. Often criticised (by this website, for one) for feeling too temporary, too cheap, too gimmicky, this year The Curse introduced an excess of smoke (borrowed from The Asylum, perhaps?) and a rather lively cast to great effect. For the first time ever, it was hard to see your way around The Curse, which created many new scare opportunities from the cast jumping out of nowhere in your face. The actors also made better use of the many portholes placed around the set as places to jump out of or lean through and scare guests unexpectedly.

The Curse still needs a showstopper ending, but to its credit generated more scares this year than any other. Can we have abundant smoke in both Asylum and Curse next year, though?

The Bottom Line

Following a superb event in 2011, Fright Nights 2012 put in a solid performance, but not a standout one. The event still doesn't feel like an event until the mazes open at 3pm - the Park could learn from Alton Towers on how to theme a Park for a Halloween event. The price keeps on rising, but the quality of the mazes and the Halloween offering (with no show this year) overall didn't. The idea of a Park-wide theme is to be welcomed, but this seemed like a missed opportunity, with little visible realisation of it on-Park. In sum, not a bad year by any means, but going forward it'd be good to see the Park visibly put customer experience before profits and really push the boat out."

Ben Case

Photos:

Event flyer
Entrance
Graveyard
Dangerous criminals
Asylum entrance
Experiment 10
Experiment 10 entrance
SAW Alive
Asylum at night
Asylum entrance
The Curse
On-Park actor
Scaring the crowds
The Passing
Passing Certificate
SAW at night
Slammer back up and running
The Swarm
Park at night
Graveyard at night
THORPE BREAKS
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