When Is Something So Bad It's Good?


Following my Guilty Pleasure Coasters post I got thinking - why do some of us choose to love things we know we shouldn't and on the back of that, when is something so bad that it actually becomes enjoyable? It's a subject that has been well explored when it comes to the medium of film, but I'd argue that the same can easily be applied to the theme park world - especially when you take a look at the many weird and wonderful dark rides of the world.

Random-as-fuck dark rides with decaying animatronics that are the stuff of nightmare fuel, coasters that threaten to fall apart as they bumble along the track and narratives that DEFINITELY ARE NOT RIPPING OFF DISNEY OK WHERE DID YOU GET THAT IDEA. All of these things have elements of what I would say it takes to shift over to the So Bad It's Good category as opposed to being just outright shite.

So let's have a look at what those elements are.

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Oh yes, when I think of an attraction that sits well in the So Bad It's Good category one thing that's key for me is the WTF Factor. Any ride where you get to the end and, in the famous style of Krusty the Clown just turn to each other and go 'what the heck was that?' There's something kitschy about awkwardly moving animatronics that are crumbling before your very eyes, and usually and underlying sense of creepiness that is weirdly entertaining.

Look at something like Bermuda Triangle Alien Encounter at Movie Park Germany. It's a terrifying journey into an alien infested volcano where the ancient aliens are capturing humans and doing experiments on them or something? Yet - it's bloody amazing. After the first drop into the first glimpse of what lies within there's always an audible 'what the fuck is happening?' and the fact that each room just grows more and more bizarre just adds to that. Smiles all round!

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Here's a trickier one - when something is painful it tends not to be a fun ride. I'm talking the more brutal of the Vekoma SLCs in the world and Volares. The one's that make you question your love for this hobby altogether. But there's a layer of brutality beyond that which transcends discomfort and all you can do is laugh at how ridiculously painful and uncomfortable the ride is.

I'm thinking the likes of Coaster Express, where you relentlessly shake, rattle and roll your way into a concussion by the end of the ride of even something like Eejanaika and the other S&S 4D coasters. How can you do anything but laugh when you pull into the station with a black eye from having inadvertently punched yourself in the face and having your foot end up comfortably in the crotch of the stranger next to you. Beautifully brutal, enjoyably unenjoyable.

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The Simpsons and Universal know only too well this trope of many a budget theme park around the world as they hint with their 'Pirate Rip-Off Ride' poster in the queue for The Simpsons ride. Disneyland pretty much invented the theme park as we know it today, and along with it created a staple set of attractions that many a theme park have taken 'inspiration' from over the years. And there's nothing wrong with a little inspiration, but all it'll do is have those who've experienced the original make the comparison and ultimately realise that the Disney version is obviously better.

But then there are some rides that genuinely do not give a fuck. Complete, unashamed rip-offs of classic Disney attractions whose joy stems from the disbelief of the rider at the audacity of the park for going there. Funnily enough Europa Park is full of stuff like this - a lot of their older attractions like Piraten In Batavia with its section through the restaurant and Geisterschloss with its stretching portrait room.

And then you've got the likes of Alice Ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach which is clearly a homage to the Alice Dark Ride at Disneyland (only a lot trippier with an extra layer of kitsch from just existing in Blackpool). I love audacious rides like this that just give no fucks - it's one of the reasons why I'm so excited to visit China next season!

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I LOVE when I can see that a park haven't had Disney or Universal levels of budget to work with, but fuck that, who needs budget to make a large scale dark ride extravaganza? When rides are created on a shoestring budget the end result usually ends up on the wrong end of the spectrum of strangeness in uncanny valley territory.

Probably the best example of this I can think of is the Hollywood Boat Tour at Phantasialand. I guess as this is a blatant rip off of the Great Movie Ride too it's always got the Disney Rip Off factor, but anybody who's ridden this one knows that the sheer joy of this attraction comes from the frankly grotesque low-budget animatronic characters. Good-witch Glinda who looks like she's doing an Ed Gein and wearing somebody else's skin as a mask, a definitely-not-JAWS shark that looks like it was created out of plasticine by a toddler and various other cross eyed, loose skinned monstrosities. The set and length of the ride are so huge that clearly budget was scrimped on the figures themselves, the end result being a boat ride into a Hollywood that wouldn't look out of place in the Upside Down.

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Lastly, the complete absence of any sense of irony. If a ride is trying to be purposely bad then chances are it'll just be crap (although I don't think such a thing exists? Comment below if you can think of any!) What truly makes something So Bad It's Good is when it takes itself entirely seriously. When not one person working on the project took a step back and went, 'this is a bit shit, isn't it?' When the madness is so all encompassing that nobody was able to look at the bigger picture and go 'guys this has all gotten a bit weird'.

For example, Apiland at Parc du Bocasse. I'm sure whatever madman create this fuckery thought they were creating a beautiful ride of joy, for the children. What they've actually created is a train to nightmare town where one can only laugh to keep from crying. It's pretty much impossible to describe in words so watch a POV to get the picture - essentially you're on a journey through a beehive complete with LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF NOISY BEE ANIMATRONICS. It's impressive, sure, but the collective pneumatics of hundreds of bee animatronic wings drowning out the muffled playlist that struggles to emit from the on board audio system is just one of the many reasons why Apiland is so bloody amazing.

And it's the intent to create something good that does it. It tries so hard to be amazing and what results is a kind of Cronenbergian contortion of terrifying animtronics, narrative and sound - an assault on the senses if you will.

The best rides like this are kind of oblivious to their terribleness, so there's a balance of sympathy that goes along with the mockery that adds to the enjoyment without making it cruel.

With a move towards more high quality attractions in parks recently there's definitely a decline in these kinds of rides, especially in Europe anyway. Hopefully the ones that still exist will hold on to operate for a few more years to come!

Talk later xoxo,

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1 comments:

  1. I don't think the Hollywood Tour is a ripoff of the Great Movie Ride. They opened just one year apart, and I guess the whole building with two rides and the restaurant was longer in the making.

    The Wizard of Oz scene was a "The Birds" scene, so this puppet was reused from there.

    And about the Animatronics: When this was built you couldn't get anything better in Europe. I'm pretty sure they bought top of the line back then, but nowadays this looks pretty old as this ride was never plussed in any way. Keeping old attractions fresh is somehow nothing Phantasialand does.

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