Scarefest 2014

The last of the Halloween events I visited this year was Scarefest at Alton Towers. I adore the Towers as a park in general but at this time of year when the leaves are browning and the sun sets early there truly is a magic about the place. It's fabulous. So this year the scare attractions up for grabs were the usual pay-for attractions set in the Towers themselves: The Sanctuary and Terror of the Towers. Alongside these were two scare zones, the Zombie area near the Dark Forest area of the park and the new for 2014 scare zone Scary Tales situated on the old lot of the Carnival of Screams. All of these plus a few Halloween shows and areas aimed at children combined with the majority of guests in fancy dress meant that Scarefest 2014 was easily the most impressive of those I visited this year. Alton are definitely the masters at finding the balance of terror appropriate for their family audience and know where the hold back and where to go all out - and when they do they really go for it! 

So we arrived at around 2pm and had to park in the dreaded field, knowing the park wouldn't be closing until 9pm meaning that we had around seven hours of time on park. Until sundown we meandered around the park just generally taking in the lush Autumn atmosphere and taking photos of the Scarefest decor. At around 4.45pm we took the smart decision to join the queue for the imminently opening Scary Tales.

New for 2014 and with a theme of fairy tales gone wrong I was really keen to try out this new area. Having replaced the Carnival of Screams I was under the impression that this attraction would be intended for a slightly older more hardened audience. Realistically the warning signs of the maze not being suitable for under 12s could easily have been ignored, Scary Tales is no more harrowing than a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror with slapstick scares and some slightly weird creatures within, but nothing horrendous. The actors all played their parts really well and the scenes flowed smoothly enough. It's a great 'My First Scare Attraction' for sure and I feel like Alton are really aware of Scary Tales' as a right of passage for those wanting to brave something slightly more extreme. Great work on Alton's part, but I can't help but feel a bit of a hole where Carnival used to be.

More faffing around the park and riding the Alton must-dos until it got dark enough for my end of the season ritual of riding Nemesis in the dark. Fantastic as always. The thing has been on top form this year and running like an absolute beast - as it should!

We had booked our maze times for the last few groups of the day. The Towers do things a little differently in recent years: Terror of the Towers and The Sanctuary are upcharge attractions and to avoid the vile hour+ queues one experiences at Thorpe Park Fright Nights they require you to book a time to enter the attractions. You must do one directly after the other. Whereas at Scare Kingdom where this approach worked flawlessly with little to no queueing, we still ended up waiting about 45 minutes for our turn, which was slightly annoying but still preferable to 100 minutes of whatever people were waiting at Thorpe Park. 

There is a danger that I am well aware of with doing this year in year out that things will get stale, and especially with something like a scare attraction I know I am really at risk of making these things predictable and tiresome. Entering The Sanctuary and seeing the same old TVs playing the same old recorded soundtrack with slightly less posters on the wall that fans of the attraction have no doubt taken as a souvenir, I was worried I would be bored. Happily, I needn't have worried. The first half of the attraction was as up to scratch as ever - loads of actors, scares all in the right places, amazing soundtrack that grows louder and louder until we enter the belly of the beast. The finale of The Sanctuary, as we enter the holding area of the experiments-gone-wrong, is seriously impressive and terrifying, and coming from someone who doesn't scare easily is a huge triumph. Creatures were popping up from all directions in the strobe lit fog and I could not get my bearings for a second. Our group was split for further terrorisation and I stumbled out of the attraction feeling dazed and exhilarated. For an attraction in its third year The Sanctuary still managed to bring the scares hard and fast and the pacing is unrivalled. Excellent.
Because of the terrible throughput and the 45 minute queue, we actually found ourselves in the very last group of the day for TotT, and it was a much smaller group (4) than would usually venture through. This meant that there was nowhere to hide and the creatures went all out of us. What I love about TotT is the atmospheric setting of the Towers themselves. One could literally wander through the Towers alone with that eerie soundtrack and still get spooked. The addition of ghosts and monks and all sorts throughout provide the occasional jump and giggle but the real star definitely lies in the mise-en-scene. I've never really understood the relevance of the 'dancing Voldemorts' finale (I assume they're meant to be some sort of demons that inhabit the Towers?) but that doesn't stop them being freaky as all hell, especially when one of them just lingers slowly behind you until you finally escape. Not as up front disturbing as The Sanctuary but definitely spooky and creepy and a great Halloween tribute to the Towers' own actual history. It's definitely become a classic and I hope it makes an appearance at Scarefest for years to come.

We were some of the last people left in the park and enjoyed an atmospheric walk through the Towers at night before heading out of the park and hitting the road. I'm hoping to get back to Alton Towers for their infamous fireworks this weekend, but if I don't this trip was definitely a great end to my visits for 2014.