FRIGHT NIGHTS 2020 is now underway at Thorpe Park Resort, and is this year host to a ‘FEARSTIVAL’ of attractions. With two scare mazes, five scare zones, roaming scarecrows, and a cinema experience, fear has crept into every dark corner of the Island. Attraction Source was invited to the preview event on Thursday 8th October to experience everything this year’s event has to offer.
New for 2020 is Roots of Evil, a primarily outdoor scare maze that takes guests through a forsaken forest, encountering terrifying abominations. The maze begins with a briefing in the Jungle Escape building before guests are quickly directed on their mission by military-type personnel along the pathway most recently occupied by Blair Witch. The attraction makes good use of the darkness of its setting to make it difficult to anticipate scares and to build tension, with it not initially clear what is growling and moving amongst the undergrowth, although there were some sections that felt lacking in actors. We did feel the experience was an improvement on Blair Witch, helped by a stronger start to the maze.
Returning for a fifth year, PLATFORM 15 provides another opportunity to discover the unfortunate fate of the Sleeper Express. The direction of travel through the maze has, however, been reversed this year, with guests now entering the maze’s queue-line between Saw: The Ride and Samurai, which is routed through the tunnel which has previously formed the final section of the maze. As a result, there is an impressive new entrance facade at the start of the queue-line. The storyline broadly seems similar to last year, although some additional theming features have been installed along the route to help facilitate jump-scares from the actors. Another notable change is that the front carriage of what was formerly the Canada Creek Railway has been tipped on its side, however the fire effect still features in a new location. The maze has also received a new finale, which is perhaps the most surprising and ‘unexpected’ yet…
This year’s event places a greater emphasis on scare zones, which are spread across the theme park. Located in The Dock Yard, and led by the notorious Compère, The Fearstival Arena is home to a mysterious menagerie of characters. This new scare zone features a range of theming features and central stage, with periodic ‘shows’ taking place which incorporate lighting and pyrotechnic effects. There was an impressive volume of actors in this area, with a variety of different characters seeking to ‘interact’ with guests.
Over in Old Town, the Freaks of the Creek have hacked their way out of the Creek Woods Saw Mill and are wreaking havoc in new scare zone, Creek Freaks: Unchained. Building on the success of last year’s new scare maze, Creek Freak Massacre, this scare zone is operated as a one-way, mini walk-through with different scenes set-up along the route, which makes for lots of interaction with the Buckwheat Family! Upon exiting PLATFORM 15, guests will also find that they have no choice but to venture through this area, and hope that they can avoid the axes and chainsaws! We were impressed with the non-stop action throughout the scare zone, with the highlight being a brief stop at an eerie kitchen to learn about the Buckwheat Family’s Moonshine recipe.
The Swarm: Invasion is a new scare zone that brings to life the desolation and carnage of Swarm Island, adding a new and welcome level of immersion to the area! As you make your way through, operatives approach and scan guests for processing, seemingly identifying what elements The Swarm can harvest. Other inhabitants of the area seek to warn guests of the danger and that the end is nigh, whilst trying to avoid being spotted – something of which they aren’t always successful. The operatives costumes are very impressive, consisting of a cross between futuristic armour and a sinister alien limb.
The final new scare zone for 2020 is The Howling of LycanThorpe High, over which there is a full moon and the students are on the hunt for new recruits. Located in Lost City, on the area that was home to The Walking Dead: Do or Die last year, the area features a school bus that accommodates a DJ and an American Football pitch. This attraction complements returning scare zone Terror at Amity High, where the high schoolers have developed a taste for fresh young blood, stalking the Stealth plaza for prey. The show has been adapted to feature a dance-off between the vampires of Amity and the werewolves of LycanThorpe.
A final new addition for this year’s event are The Crows, who roam the theme park and appear at various mystery locations, although the groups of crosses that have been erected throughout the park, including at the entrance bridge, opposite Tidal Wave, and next to the Lakeview Marquee, provide a hint at where these creepy creatures may be found. We encountered them a number of times throughout the evening, even being surrounded by them on one occasion, when they did little else but stare and point. Not intimidating at all…
Given the ongoing situation with COVID-19, the Resort have been required to adapt this year’s offering to ensure it can be enjoyed in a way that is safe as possible for guests and actors. The capacity of the scare mazes has therefore been reduced to allow for social-distancing between different groups, and so it is understandable that the Resort have been required to introduce an additional charge. With this being £10pp (or £9 for annual passholders), this puts them at a higher price point than the scare mazes at Alton Towers’ Scarefest where they are £8pp (with further discounts for annual passholders and combined tickets). When making this comparison, Alton Towers’ mazes are arguably better value for money, especially for guests seeking a more theatrical experience.
Further measures include all guests being required to sanitise their hands before entering and wear a mask throughout the two scare mazes. Scare actors across all attractions also wear masks, and there is no physical contact between actors and guests this year, although it seems there remains scope for relatively close-proximity scares. We were however surprised to see duck-down sections feature in both mazes, which can encourage guests to reach out and touch the sides of the tunnels to maintain balance. Roots of Evil also features sections of reasonably dense ‘forest’, which it seems likely guests will make contact with as they navigate the maze, and potentially move branches out of the way to continue on.
Nonetheless, the circumstances have led to the addition of the new scare zones which are arguably the highlight of FRIGHT NIGHTS 2020, covering a good variety of different themes, and being well-spread around the theme park, helping to enhance the Halloween atmosphere. This year’s event is also notable for not featuring any IP-based attractions, something which hasn’t been the case since 2008, with SAW – The Ride then opening in 2009 and featuring as part of that year’s event. Despite this, the quality of the attractions has still been maintained, and the absence of the IPs has given the Resort’s Entertainments team full creative flexibility over the line-up, which seems to have paid off.
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