Spoiler level: No specific details of what happens in each attraction, but some general description which could be perceived as spoilers.
After saying goodbye to Terror of the Towers, we knew our visit to Scarefest this year would be bittersweet; there was the sadness of knowing we wouldn’t be venturing into the gothic ruins, tinged with the excitement of knowing we had a brand new experience ahead of us: Project 42, the new addition to the lineup. With all other mazes returning, we were keen to see how they compared with previous years. After experiencing a few of our favourite rides and enjoying a brilliant performance by the Alton Ancestors, we readied ourselves for the onslaught of scares, fortified by cheesy chips and warm doughnuts.
Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers
For me, Skin Snatchers is an attraction which could easily rest on the laurels of the glorious, manic insanity of its previous years. Or so I thought. Sadly, this time it felt more akin to a second year Sub Species; a phoned in, toned down, sterile scare experience. Scareactors appeared, disappeared, then reappeared in an almost mechanical manner. Gone are the days of being mercilessly pursued through the tunnel, or being dragged away from my friend whilst screaming and laughing hysterically. There are certainly elements of this maze which continue to impress, such as the cinematic theming and accumulative sensory assault via the superb effects. We did get a little more attention than usual in the suit corridor, which is one of my favourite scenes irrespective of a scareactor presence; I love the claustrophobic sensation of squeezing through them while being stared at by the dead eyes in the masks. It is also worth mentioning that the two scareactors we encountered prior to entry were some of the best I’ve seen – they nailed the incestuous hillbilly vibe with gusto. Nevertheless, the experience this year lacked the audacity and energy which made previous years so exciting; I’ve come to expect more from Skin Snatchers than a few jump scares. If this maze returns for 2019, I sincerely hope they crank up the crazy – I know it can go up and higher.
Sub Species: The End Games
In 2014 I asked whether Sub Species is worth the roll of the dice for the chance of a crazy experience. Scares are largely subjective in any attraction, and are dependent on disposition and state of mind (although I believe a good attraction can override this). Sub Species is dependent on these elements too, but the content of the maze itself also depends on many other factors, and thus varies from person to person. The route you’re taken on, how lost you get, who you’re thrown in with (literally) and for how long – many random combinations which add to the chaos and thrill of this maze. My experience this time around was a huge improvement on last year – is this the roll of the dice, or perhaps the addition of more scareactors? Hard to say, but I’d lean towards the latter. The attraction still feels toned down compared to its inaugural year, especially in the scene with the numbered doors, but beyond that, I got some pretty memorable moments this year. I unintentionally did some of the scaring myself, and that was fine by me. The reactions of the younger guests upon being separated from their friends are always entertaining. I spent a good portion of the maze alone, which is a huge plus, and received some pretty intense target scares as I hopelessly scrambled around in the darkness. Sub Species was a laugh & scream out loud experience this year; hopefully it wasn’t just luck.
Following the removal of Terror of the Towers, I had high hopes for Project 42. The attraction is housed inside the disused Sub Terra building, which features existing theming and a built-in maze layout. In the years that Sub Terra has been non-operational, it seemed a great shame to me that such an atmospheric space was hidden from view, so I was thrilled to see it being repurposed. During the intro we learned of the Project 42 backstory (very 28 Days Later), and were told of certain mission objectives. The exterior theming featured a military style tent, tarpaulin and webbing; Phalanx had been deployed in the midst of a crisis and these elements proficiently conveyed that. As we made our way inside, I was pumped to see this attraction burst into action. I waited for this. And waited. Then, after a period of waiting, the attraction was over.
It’s advisable to keep one’s expectations in check; perhaps I was foolish to be expecting something more than a few scareactors poking their heads out of various crevices and directing noise in our general direction. The live elements were sparse. One or two scareactors landed effective scares, but the remaining interactions were perfunctory, as though certain scareactors were simply waiting for an opportunity to be seen. One or two setpieces were so detailed, they seemed like ideal opportunities to utilise misdirection and deliver a scare from the other side, but sadly there were no such features here (perhaps due to the constraints of the space). I’m a huge fan of interactive elements, so I was confused and disappointed to see the mission objectives fizzle into irrelevance.
The real disappointment came at the end. Prior to our experience, I’d heard a snippet of the finale from outside the building. It sounded intense, like a mixture of scares and Phalanx operatives shouting in peoples’ faces, à la the Sub Terra intro & outro. Sadly, upon entering this scene, there was no one in my face (I assume the shouting was part of the soundtrack), and the figures positioned on the clever multi-level platforms were static; I don’t see the point of this setup without multiple scareactors utilising it to scare from different angles. One scareactor on the platform limply reached towards us as we ambled through, without even a hint of panic.
The Welcoming: Be Chosen
The Welcoming was a highlight for me last year. Confident in its intricate visual presentation, this attraction utilises a plethora of beautifully details props and scenes to take guests on a journey. The only real downside for me last year was a hooded follow-the-rope segment, which thankfully has now been abolished. Once again, I was blown away by the aesthetics of the village from the moment we entered. Scareactors were sparse initially, but our encounters in the final scenes certainly made up for this. We started off in a fairly large group, and yet somehow exited as a two, which allowed for a lot of attention from the inhabitants. This really elevated the experience for me. At certain points I was genuinely worried that we might have been screwing up their throughput, such was the duration of our stay in the village. They were all over us; fascinated by our modern garb, and refusing to let us leave. The finale of the maze was hugely enjoyable, and set the stage perfectly for our nighttime ride on Wicker Man. If major scares are your top priority, then I can see how The Welcoming would disappoint – it is a richly theatrical walk-through experience with themes of folkloric horror, with the goal of transporting you rather than terrifying you.