"After 12 years of giving you nightmares, Fright Nights get darker than ever in its 13th year..."
"2013 set a pretty high bar in Thorpe's Fright Nights history - a new partnership with Lionsgate, 3 new mazes and a whole host of new add-ons, including braving the mazes alone and staying overnight for extra thrills. Needless to say, we were impressed. The increase in quality in 2013 clearly had a knock-on impact on enthusiasm for this year's event, too - for most of the October Half Term week, the Park was "at capacity" and were shutting the gates by lunchtime. The event was even extended by an extra day to Monday 3rd November because of its popularity. On the weekend we visited, queues for the mazes were at 3 hours +, with the queue for Fastrack tickets itself stretching over 45 minutes - the Park was stretched to say the least. From a business perspective though, for the Park to be getting such fantastic attendance figures in October vs. say the warmest August summer holiday day, must be great to see.
But would the 2014 event match the 2013 offering in terms of quality? For us, the short answer is "not quite", largely as a result of the decision to scrap the excellent "Asylum" maze for an inferior alternative: "Studio 13". More on the new attraction later in this review.
It was pleasing to see that the Park held their 10pm closing time from last year (2012 saw the Park cut hours to 9pm), and that the "movie studio" Park-wide theme had been continued: entertaining video monologues from the "Director" circulated on social media before the event, and each ride's dispatching announcement had been changed to a sinister "lights, camera, action"-style voiceover. The extra offerings also remained, with "Face It Alone" available on all the mazes for an extra £15, and the Director's "Extra Cut" available for those staying over at the Thorpe Shark Hotel - an experience which runs through to 3am, involving an intense backstage tour of the mazes from the Director, and a kidnapping in the early hours - including having a bag forced over your head and being bundled into the back of a van. Lovely! The Park Map also received a makeover - see more in the photos below.
On the downside, there was still no sign of any Park-wide themeing: indeed, outside of the mazes and apart from the changed ride music, you would struggle to know an event was on. Thorpe could look across the pond to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights to see how effective this can be in creating atmosphere even for those too wimpy to try the Halloween attractions! The event again got more expensive at £49.99 on-the-door entry too, although discounted tickets as low as £25.99 were available on the website if booked far enough in advance. Fastrack also rose in price: Blair Witch was now included, but the "Director's Cut" 5 maze Fastrack stood at £25 (up from £18.50 for 4 mazes the year prior). Clearly the price rise was not a problem for the hoards snapping it up, making the standby queues almost unbearably long. Lastly, the Park failed to put on any sort of Halloween show - although with the 4D Theatre now operational again with Angry Birds 4D, perhaps it became trickier to find a stage venue. In the Park's defence on entertainment, there was a noticable increase in roaming actors this year - whole troops of red-hooded monsters staring at guests in unison, and the Director himself using his megaphone to startle guests around the Park. More of this in future, please!
So, on with the show: we tried all 5 of the Park's mazes this year (SAW Alive is reviewed in the Park Guide), and here's our verdict:
The Cabin in the Woods
(Located at the back of the X building)
We were big fans of The Cabin in the Woods when it debuted last year - and it seems we were not alone, with the maze having since picked up the award for Best Halloween Scare Attraction from the ScareCON Annual Recognition Awards. It's easy to see why the maze picked up the gong: it's innovative by allowing guests to walk freely through the maze (rather than in a conga line) and giving guests a choice as to which route to take - the very first room presents guests with 4 doors to choose from! It's also varied, with a whole host of "monsters" and rooms contained within. Favourites include the cackling, in-your-face clowns, and the white-masked / black clothed actor with a white-masked puppet face on each hand; very effective indeed. The maze also offers the chance to "find" the control room, where guests can control the experiences of other guests going through the maze (mirroring the set-up of the film).
The Cabin in the Woods remained a well-presented attraction, with a good deal of actors in there in very different roles and characters. The many corners and "black spaces" in the maze also provide plenty of opportunity for jump scares, as evidenced by the easily-scared groups we were with! What Cabin does well is to break up large groups into smaller groups of up to 6, meaning a more personal and lonely expereince. We also liked the use of confined spaces, with tunnels to crawl through and low ceilings/inclined floors to navigate. That said, Cabin in the Woods is not however a particularly intense or frantic maze - there is some downtime between each actor/scene, and itsuffers from a relatively weak ending: some come out of the attraction wondering if that was it, or there was any more to come. Overall, though, for a highly entertaining experience, we can't recommend Cabin in the Woods enough - and with The Asylum out of the picture, it stands as the best maze on Park for 2014.
My Bloody Valentine
(Located in shipping containers in the Arena)
My Bloody Valentine continued to be a surprising and jumpy maze, in the vein of its 2013 debut, with guests this time asked to ditch the "conga line" and walk through without holding on to other members of the group. The maze places guests in the heart of Tunnel Number 5, where crazed Harry Warden lurks to slash at unsuspecting visitors with his trademark pickaxe. Scenes in the maze include the mines themselves, a hospital, and towards the end, a forest scene.
We had a good run through My Bloody Valentine, with highlights including the multiple dark dead-ends in the mine scenes, a very low inflatable ceiling that had to be crawled under, and a highly enthusiastic "monster" in the wooded scene, who nigh-on jumped on me, separated me from my group, and took me to the ground. Thorpe Park give their standard "the actors may touch you but they won't hurt you" spiel at the start of every maze, but this was probably the most aggressive contact from an actor I've ever had inside a Thorpe maze..! Nevertheless, I wasn't hurt in the slightest, but definitely more than a little startled at the whole thing.
On the downside, the introduction/backstory to the maze in the first scene was a little more rushed this year vs. last, and we still think that there is too much dark space. Moreso than any other maze, My Bloody Valentine contains a lot of unlit sections, which is a shame in many ways as much of the themeing is missed! It's a good attraction though, and whilst it still doesn't contain the same intensity and isolation as the superb 2011 Experiment 10, is a solid maze in the Thorpe lineup.
(Located in the building next to Nemesis Inferno)
It had to happen some day. After nearly 10 years in operation, The Asylum was retired to make way for a new attraction in the show building next to Nemesis Inferno. Word on the grapevine claimed that the decision to retire the maze was not as a result of the intense media furore generated during last year's event, but rather was part of a longer-term plan to move the attraction out. So, how would the new kid on the block, Studio 13, compare?
It's certainly a very different attraction to its predecessor. The story goes that in the 13th year of Thorpe's Fright Nights, the Director has invited all guests to a backstage look at his new snuff movie, being filmed in Studio 13. However, all is not what it seems as guests soon realise that they themselves are due to be the stars of the show... and far from being a movie, everything has suddenly become very real...
The tour starts with an actress guiding the group - again not required to walk in a conga line - through to the reception, introducing the tour whilst (with the help of another actor) getting unnervingly close to guests faces. The group is then motioned through to the "Studios" themselves, where scenes include the make-up department, props department, and an "on set" bedroom. Following the "on set" bedroom scene, the final corridor features walls plastered with posters of the Dirctor's previous "films" (including Experiment 10, Dead End Scare Zone, The Curse, and others). Having walked halfway down this corridor, an actor with a chainsaw jumps out behind the group with a chainsaw and chases everyone out - a not-so-subtle nod to the ending of The Asylum.
Except that's where comparisons to The Asylum end. The maze is nowhere near as intense or disorientating as its predecessor. Where before there were wailing sirens, now there is less threatening ambient music, where before there were strong flashing strobes, there is now steady dim lighting. It's also less inventive than Cabin in the Woods, and less jumpy than My Bloody Valentine. There seemed to be fewer actors in this maze vs. others, which meant many spots of downtime (not helped by some sparse themeing at points), and after the clear reception scene set-up, there was a lack of a narrative or storyline - how does the final corridor fit in with the studio tour? Who is the guy with the chainsaw?
The few scares there were were concentrated very much at the front of the group, meaning those towards the back had a pretty mild experience. This is a shame: the Park have clearly tried hard to come up with something new and in-keeping with the Park-wide theme. But for us the experience fell more than a little flat, with the result that Studio 13 now stands behind the other 4 mazes in terms of scares and overall satisfaction.
Blair Witch Project Scare Zone
(Located at the old Canada Creek Railway entrance)
The return of Blair Witch to the Park attraction lineup is a good thing: the walkthrough offers something genuinely different, being an outdoor scare zone rather than an indoor maze. Pleasingly, the attraction improved somewhat this year, with new speakers being installed along the whole route, meaning eery music accompanied us right the way through the forest, rather than just dead silence (and faint screaming from those on Nemesis Inferno...). There were also more actors along the route this year, and all played very well to the darkness, jumping out or running alongside us from seemingly nowhere.
Special mention should also be made to the actor in the final "shed" scene, who generated a very effective scare through using a lot of smoke and lurching at us through a hidden gap in what looked like a solid wall. It resulted in the whole group running out of the exit to the attraction - something which couldn't be said for any of the other 4 mazes this year. Blair Witch Project is not as full-on as the other attractions on Park, but deserves more than its 2/5 "scare" rating the Park has chosen to give it: it's quite an unnerving experience, with potential for some very jumpy moments. "Most improved attraction" from last year, certainly.
The Bottom Line
Fright Nights 2014 was again a high-quality event with some impressive Halloween attractions - the Lionsgate IP continues to be a great ideas base for the Park to work with, and the large crowds this year show that the Park is clearly doing something right! Pound for pound, we feel the Park didn't quite match the success of the 2013 event due to the big loss of The Asylum, but Thorpe can still boast a solid set of scare mazes nonetheless. The Park should also be commended for continuing to not up-charge for any of the core attractions, unlike sister Alton Towers. Next year we'd (again) like to see more effort made with Park-wide themeing and the return of a Fright Nights show. Hopefully too the Park will be looking at ways to improve on Studio 13; the idea is a good one, but ultimately was let down in its execution."