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Feb. 17, 2023

Two Iconic Dark Rides are getting Refurbished in the UK

Two Iconic Dark Rides are getting Refurbished in the UK

Today’s episode is from one of those partners – ScareTrack. is the UK's first podcast showcasing the Scare Attraction & Haunted House Industry. Today, the team is in the studio discussing Duel: The Haunted House...

Today’s episode is from one of those partners – ScareTrack. ScareTrack is the UK's first podcast showcasing the Scare Attraction & Haunted House Industry. Today, the team is in the studio discussing Duel: The Haunted House Strikes Back being rethemed to The Curse at Alton Manor and Derren Browns Ghost Train being rethemed to Ghost Train at Thorpe Park. Subscribe to HAN here.


Mikey: Hello and welcome to the ScareTrack Podcast. My name is Mikey and today I am joined in the studio with Hannah. Hannah, how's it going? Excited to actually be back on an episode.

Hannah: I feel like it's been a while.

Mikey: It's, I think, well, it would have been Christmas. So, we had a quiet January, ScareTrack-wise, not real life, it was madness. But we are back now, and we are doing an in-studio discussion episode all about 2023, what appears to be the year of the Ghost Train, and Dark Rides in the UK overall. So, we're going to get straight into that. Welcome to the ScareTrack Podcast.

We have Duel: the Haunted House Strikes Back is getting rethemed to the Curse of Alton Manor, and we have down at Thorpe Park. Derren Brown's Ghost Train is going to be rethemed to Ghost Train. So, two Merlin Parks, two huge, huge, big, basically, Haunted House is, getting big rethemes for the 2023 season. So, really, really excited about that, because we love ghost trains, don't we? 

Hannah: I'm excited. I'm a sucker for a dark ride as it is, and then an absolute sucker for anything horror. So, investing in ghost trains and Haunted House is right up my street, because I feel like he's just been dying.

Mikey: Yes, 100%, and like you say, we're huge dark ride fans as it is, and with the likes of Valhalla, that's been going on this year at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and we'll get onto that a little bit during this episode because it does seem like a revival of dark rides for this year in the UK. But yeah, huge fans of dark rides, and there are some absolute phenomenal ones in the UK. Don't get me wrong, we really like Hex at Alton Towers, there's some great dark rides around the UK, but we're just not up there when it comes to the likes of Europe and America, and just anywhere else. I feel like our dark ride game just isn't quite there, and I'm hoping that this year will just spin that back around. Like we say, we've got 2 rethemes. 

So, let's talk about the Haunted House first. So, the Haunted House first opened at Alton Towers 1992. John Wardley, Keith Sparks, like a big collaboration between those guys, and obviously Two Swords at the time as well, to create a whole new area of gloomy wood and a brand-new haunted house. It was a take on the haunted house, well the ghost train classic, wasn't it? You know the ghost train that we have at Blackpool Pleasure Beach that was made in 1930 something. We have traveling ghost trains, the Ghost Train has just been a staple of a theme park for decades, and in 1992, the Haunted House was born. Did you ever do the Haunted House, the original one? I don't think I ever did.

Hannah: I have photo evidence of me.

Mikey: Yes, terrified on it, yes.

Hannah: Very young, terrified on it, with the spider. I didn't like the spiders. 

Mikey: I think we need to find that photo and share it out on socials. You were really young. I remember seeing that, yeah.

Hannah: Then went when I went back, I was all grown up and it was Duel.

Mikey: So Haunted House was rethemed to Duel in 2003, and as we all know, closed last year in 2022. So, it was there for a long time as Duel, actually nearly 20 years, which is mad when you think about it. I've only ever done it as Duel, but I've seen really old grainy videos from the Haunted House. I've read Smoke and Mirrors, the book by the Haunted House as well where you see lots of images from when it was first created. So, it would be fair to say there probably wasn't a huge difference to the ride between Haunted House and Duel, apart from a few different scene changes, a few prop changes, and just a shed load of LED lights to shoot at. Which, for its time, was probably the right thing to do, wasn't it? To be fair, everyone loved a shooting game. Would you say? You're always beating me? 

Hannah: Yeah, but doesn't mean that I love a shooting game. I'd rather sit on a ghost train and ride around and be scared, than ride around and shoot.

Mikey: I can't remember the last time I did shoot on Duel.

Hannah: No, we just look at it now, apart from when I'm just feeling really competitive.

Mikey: Then we'll go, fine I'll play, and you always still beat me. So, this time round though, so this will technically be the second retheme and the third incarnation within this building, that's the size of a football [soccer] pitch, by the way. It all looks tiny out the front, but behind there's a massive, massive space and it is, as far as we're aware, a complete, full new retheme. It's not the Duel: the Haunted House Strikes Back. It's now The Curse at Alton Manor. So, what do you make of that? What do you make of the name? What do you make of the image as well? Everyone would have seen this big sort of doll-like woman.

Hannah: So, if I start with the name. No one's going to say all that.

Mikey: They're not on the curse at all.

Hannah: No, like no one says Legend of the Skin Snatchers Altonville Mine Tours, like they'd call it Skin Snatchers or Mine Tours. So, I think it's going to be The Curse or Altonville Manor. 

Mikey: Or the Manor. The Cursed Manor!

Hannah: No one's going to say it all.

Mikey: True, it's yeah, true.

Hannah: But apart from that, I love this imagery. I think it's really impactful.

Mikey: It's a stunning poster.

Hannah: The poster that’s been shared, it shows people on the ride, looking scared.

Mikey: There's lots of dolls about.

Hannah: Yeah, there's a creepy girl, everyone loves a scary, creepy girl. I see spiders.

Mikey: Yeah, spiders in there as well.

Hannah: So it makes me think the spiders are back. Some people say they see a face, and I do see it, but I don't think it's meant like on purpose.

Mikey: I don't see it.

Hannah: So, you see where this track is? So if you imagine, imagine that this bit of the track is the lips and this is the nose, a bit like a Cyberman, and then eyes. Like I see it, but I think it's reaching.

Mikey: You look at any child who's drawn a picture of a house, you could say it looks like a face, it's two eyes a nose, and a mouth.

Hannah: But people have been speculating about it.

Mikey: No, I'm not sure on that one.

Hannah: I think they're reaching. It's got creepy dolls. There's what they call alphabet bricks that spell bad.

Mikey: Oh, it does spell bad. I thought it's about ABC, but it's a B.A.D.

Hannah: I'm a bad, bad man. That for sale sign, I think is...

Mikey: That's a shout-out to Keith Sparks, who created a lot of the scenery, the animatronics, and that sort of thing. Of course, at the top, we've got who we believe to be Emily Alton, who was the girl in the Doll's house. The speculation is that the story is following her, basically. I'm excited. We know very, very, very little, if not anything, about what's actually happening inside the House or inside the Manor. As far as we're aware, it's sort of the same sort of track system as such. But it's 2023, I'm really hoping that we see the ghost train of the 21st century.

Hannah: Imagine if it was trackless. 

Mikey: It's not.

Hannah: No, but imagine.

Mikey: Well, there were rumors, there were rumors, so you never know. So, I'm hoping that it's really, really good. We're huge fans of ghost trains. It feels like other than Derren Brown, who we'll get on to in a moment, the ghost train down at Thorpe Park, which was basically sort of tag lined as the ghost train of the 21st century, but it just wasn't quite that, which was a shame. Whereas this, you know, I'm hoping it has all the elements of a traditional ghost train but with 2023 technology, that should be awesome. It should be ace.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah. I just hope they don't go too family-friendly with it.

Mikey: Well, looking from the photo, from the poster...

Hannah: This is what excites me is the poster, the poster looks scary. It looks like you're going to be dragging your niece and nephew with your like, "it's just a ghost train, come on." Scaring kids for life, like that's what I'm after.

Mikey: So yeah, the poster looks pretty intense. As far as Alton Towers' promo of spooky, scary things, this is up there with the stuff we'd see at a Scarefest sort of thing. So you know, and that's always a 12 and overs, maybe 15 and overs for most places. So yeah, I'm hoping it's more towards an adult market. They have put a lot of effort into CBeebies over the last few years, into David Walliams's Land. So, the kids have had a lot of new stuff.

Hannah: Give us something scary.

Mikey: Yeah, give us something scary. On the theme of Alton Towers, as well, like I said, we'll be dipping into overall dark ride discussion as well. Sub-Terra might be coming back. 

Hannah: Might it? 

Mikey: Yeah. So there's been work on it, there's been lots of rumors about it, I don't think it's been 100% confirmed.

Hannah: Like as a replacement for Nemesis. Whilst Nemesis is closed?

Mikey: Kind of, so, I don't know. So, whether or not whether or not they just switch it on it, I know there's a lot more effort and work going into it, but whether or not they just pop it back on again for the year, that Nemesis is getting rethemed or re-tracked, just switch it back on again?

Hannah: Just switch it on.

Mikey: Or, could it be that they've worked hard on it to make this the new sort of like next thing to go with the new Nemesis. I thought Sub-Terra was pretty cool. It could have done with a few more bits in it, it was a little bit like a one-and-done ride, but it had great potential. It was really cool. I thought for that one-and-done ride it got better after its opening season, and it was pretty cool to have something else dedicated to the phenomenon that is Nemesis. So, if this could be something like another Sub-Terra whereas they're explaining, we've done this, we've got this, not the re-track, but explain what the story is moving forwards, that would only create more hype for when Nemesis reopens in 2024. So, there we go, Alton Towers potentially getting two more dark rides opened this year. 

Hannah: But definitely one.

Mikey: But definitely one. But definitely the Curse at Alton Manor. So yeah, really excited about that. Really, the excitement isn't just here in the North and the Midlands, but it's down South as well at Thorpe Park with the retheme of Derren Brown's Ghost Train to purely just Ghost Train. Some, again, posters have been pulled up for this one. I'm sure everyone has seen it online. Similar and different to the Curse at Alton Manor in a way, it's a very same color palette, like it's very blue.

Hannah: Yeah, same color scheme, same like eerie figure looming over. However, the train is a train, and not a ride. Like, it's obvious that the Alton Towers one, that they're on a ride. This one obviously is a train because of Derren Brown's train. 

Mikey: Yeah, you're basically on the underground. So, the two, they're similar, but very different in the same way, if that makes sense. This retheme I think is just long, long, long overdue. Derren Brown's Ghost Train, when it opened in 2016 I think, I want to say, it was cool, but VR is putting a sell-by date on your ride, in my opinion. When they pull it on air and made it Galactica, we all said, "it's going to last two or three years tops," and then two or three years later and it been on drop towers in the states, it's been on roller coasters, and most places have got rid of it, and some places still have it. I'll be honest, the places that still have it, where it seems to work, and I know I'm a bit of a fanboy, but Europa Park, it works on the Alpine Express because they change it up every so often, it's just a family ride, so you can enjoy it as a family ride, then pay you just three Euro to try.

Hannah: And you can choose.

Mikey: Yeah, you can choose. So, there is a place for it, but I think the market for it is a family ride like the mine train, like at Europa Park. There they always got a queue, and it always seems to work, whereas everywhere else it feels like it's a one-and-done again. With Derren Brown's Ghost Train that was completely obvious when once you've done it once it's not much fun to do again, it's more of a faff to do again, would you say? They upgraded it to Rise of the Demon with that false ending at the end, which was kind of cool.

Hannah: Yeah, I found it very stop-starty, you never got sort of that adrenaline rush of being scared. Which, it had scary factors to it with the VR, but it was just so...

Mikey: Stop, start, do this, sit back down again, put this headset on, does this headset work? Do I need to change the battery?

Hannah: Yeah, it just felt like too much of a faff to be immersed...

Mikey: It's a chore. It is more of a chore.

Hannah: So I'm excited.

Mikey: Yes, I'm really, really hoping that something incredible can be made. The technology that's actually behind the ride is really epic. Like it was the first time it was ever done, people were coming from all over the world to check out this multi-million pound ride. I think it was Thorpe Park's most expensive investment, but you could argue is then also their biggest failure in the same way. It's a shame, because I'm a huge fan of Derren Brown as well. Like, I love his work, and I think he was shortchanged, to be fair.

Hannah: I still don't understand what it's got to do with Derren Brown, apart from the preshow.

Mikey: Nothing really in my opinion.

Hannah: Because like, wasn't it demons ripping the side off the train?

Mikey: Yeah, because of fracking down, I've never really quite understood it. Yeah, it was demons and. Yeah, if you didn't have Derren Brown at the beginning of it, and didn't call it Derren Brown's Ghost Train, the rest of it could have just been a Rise of the Demon Ghost Train. Which again, because it was to stop and start. I'm guessing it will still be the same ride system, so it will still be a bit stop and start, but then so is Hex at Alton Towers, so is many.

Hannah: But there's ways of doing it. It's filling the space.

Mikey: And not giving you the hassle of putting this... The VR going just opens a lot more opportunities.

Hannah: Yeah, 100%.

Mikey: I was watching a show, and they were discussing maybe what could happen to the train, and maybe the windows could have the same technology as the Hogwarts Express Train, which I think would be perfect for that sort of ride. I feel like something really epic could be done if that was the case. So yeah, I'm excited. I'm looking forward to checking it out. I hope the throughput on it will be faster because of the no VR. I hope it will be more consistently running because of no VR. So, yeah, two exciting rides that are basically getting rethemed into something we hope is awesome. Of course, we've got more dark rides open as well this year, with the likes of Valhalla reopening as well. So, I'm really excited about having that finally getting on the retheme of Valhalla. So, this could be a year of three.

Hannah: Is it confirmed?

Mikey: No. Well, it's confirmed for 2021-2022. Now it's 2023. It's got to be this year. Surely, guys, it's got to be. But don't ask Amanda. She doesn't know. Amanda Thompson doesn't know, and she's fuming about it. She is. She is absolutely pissed.

Hannah: If only there was someone she could ask.

Mikey: You know the boss, you know? Bless her. So yeah, ghost train wise, what are you looking most forward to?

Hannah: I'm probably more looking forward to Alton Towers than Thorpe Park, just with Thorpe Park's, I don't know, what's the best word? Continuity.

Mikey: OK.

Hannah: So it's going to be epic when it opens, but if you're not there that first, like 2 weeks, it probably won't be the same.

Mikey: Especially if it's actor-driven.

Hannah: Just because that's how it is at Thorpe.

Mikey: Yeah, and it's true. The longevity after the first couple of weeks, it feels like gone and done. Don't get me wrong, you get that with loads of theme parks to a point, but that is a recurring theme, I feel, at Thorpe. 

Hannah: And like you said, if it's actor-driven, you know with the likes of Saw Alive and I'm A Celebrity, we just know that you're going when it's not the weekend, and there won't be anyone in there.

Mikey: Yeah, true, off-peak times. Well, we've had this argument so many times. So yeah, Derren Brown, it does depend. I say Derren Brown, but Ghost Train, if it is actor heavy then let's see. I hope it's not too actor heavy. I know there's going to be a couple in there. I hope it is one that can run with just maybe one or two actors, and that's all they need, that way they can consistently keep their labor costs down. Whereas the Curse at Alton Manor, it's a ride, it's going to have to work every 10 seconds because of the type of ride it is. So, yeah, very exciting, two new ghost trains. Basically, two rethemed ghost trains for 2023. Let's have a look at what everyone else thought. So, we put this up on our socials and we thought we'd just see what everyone thought of the posters, of the graphics, that sort of thing.

Hannah: Have your say.

Mikey: So, on Instagram, Sai Cook, thanks for messaging in, said, "great to see investment into the classic ghost train. Adds a new dynamic to the park." So yeah, we totally agree with that. Ghost Trains, you don't see many new ones pop up, they're all old, they're all ancient.

Hannah: All old, and the new ones, they're all the same. Haunted Manor, or Phantom Manor, or whatever they are, Disney incarnations, or theme parks that have mimicked that.

Mikey: True, they're all very similar. 

Hannah: I feel like I constantly see the same ghost train.

Mikey: Yeah, that's a good shout-out, actually. So yeah, it'd be good to see something brand new out-of-the-box, a classic ghost train, but for the 2023 season, so that's exciting. We also have Frankie Yates, who said, "I loved Duel, so I'm mega excited for Alton Manor."

Hannah: See, it's not the Curse at Alton Manor, it's Alton Manor. 

Mikey: Yeah, true. Already cutting it short, Frankie. So, yeah, and again, I was always. I've had a Duel. I barely shot, but I still think it was a quality dark ride, needed some work, some TLC, but if they knew they were going to retheme it, what's the point? So, yeah, I'm a big fan. Seb on Instagram said, "why do the graphics look the same?" Which, we said very similar color palettes.

Hannah: Like black and blue.

Mikey: Black and blue, yeah. Harry on Instagram has left us a few notes here saying, "Thorpe has been very open on effects with VR, et cetera saying that there's not going to be any VR. But when I ask about screens on Ghost Train, they're very dismissive within the Insta comments saying that's very private. Strange response when they have openly dismissed effects." So, hmm, well maybe they don't want to tell you all the secrets. Maybe we just got to wait, Harry, we're just going to wait and see what they say. Horror Night Steve says, "I'm excited for both. Hope the rides live up to the artwork and they maintain both attractions." Yeah, there's nothing worse than an overhype, and don't get me wrong, you don't want to put out a half-assed poster, it needs to look awesome, but still, you got to make sure that there's quality in the ride and the maintenance like you say, is kept up as well. Hannah had that point with Thorpe, you know, it's not always their forte. So, great to check them both out, and thank you for that. Karina says, "I can't wait. Simple as, I can't wait." No, I totally agree with that. We can't wait either. So that's Instagram, let's head over to Twitter as well. So, thank you. If do follow us on social media, make sure you follow us on all the social media; on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. Over on Twitter, we had Lewis, so thank you for messaging, Lewis, "a bit nervous about Alton Manor refurb. The original haunted house was and still is a very unique take on a ghost train, and each scene offered something uniquely different from another." So, yeah, that's very true. 

Hannah: Lewis also called it Alton Manor.

Mikey: Lewis also called it Alton Manor, see we've lost the Curse. 

Hannah: There will be people that call it The Curse and it'll get really confusing.

Mikey: The Curse? The Manor? Where are we going? I don't understand. Yeah, it's one of them. Each scene was very different to each other, different types of scares and whatnot, and lots of different effects. So, I'm just hoping they do the same, basically. Remember the sort of flying head scene in Duel? And it was done properly, it looks so good, and the bats that would fly above you. Ever since they put in the new LED strobes, you basically see the strings, you can see the person fiddling.

Hannah: It used to look like the bats would just like appear above your head and be flying.

Mikey: And now you can see the bars that they're on. So, it's like the same effect from years ago that worked so well, because of updated lighting the effect actually works worse. Which is baffling, but it's a shame, and it's just the way it is, unfortunately. So, I'm hoping, fingers crossed that they just do a really blooming good job of it, and I'm sure they will.

Hannah: Yes, and look after it.

Mikey: And look after it.

Hannah: Look after your rides, people.

Mikey: We just got a few more comments as well from you guys listening in. So, I do really, really appreciate that, especially after such a quiet January. The end of 2022 was absolutely madness, so it was great. Mark Jardine says, "very similar design aesthetics across both posters. Very excited to try both of these." So yeah, again, very similar, similar but different is sort of the thing we've got here. Oli Cook has said, "excited to try both. Parks in the UK do seem to be lacking dark roads, so always exciting to have new or updated one to try. Just hoping with the apparent focus on live actors on Ghost Train it lasts more than a couple of seasons and won't change in quality or scares if less are used during quiet park days." So, Ollie's picked up on the exact same thing you said as well. Thorpe Park is advertising that there's live actors, how many are they going to be? What's the consistency going to be like there? Are we going to go through on a weekend and have an amazing time then so on go through on a random Wednesday afternoon and have a terrible time? That's just Thorpe through and through, unfortunately. Then last but not least, Jack Grace, thank you for messaging in. Jack says, "absolutely obsessed with the Duel retheme, I feel this is going to be very good dark ride. Bit optimistic but world class. Ghost train sounds like an amazing concept, and it would be a much improved to take on the previous. However, I really don't hold much hope for the actor side on it. I feel it's going to rely so heavily on actors and Thorpe won't staff it correctly, as previous attractions like that haven't worked out best for them. But I am intrigued to see what it's going to be like." So, again similar thing. Apologies Thorpe, we may be completely wrong, we may be totally wrong.

Hannah: Surprise us.

Mikey: Yes! Please do! So yeah, thank you to everyone for sending in your messages there. Really, we do appreciate you. We're going to do more of that in the 2023 season, putting out some listener feedback as well. It's nice to hear from you guys. Hannah, you got any last final thoughts about this season and the new rides we're getting?

Hannah: I'm excited. I'm excited to actually have some dark rides. I love roller coasters, but they exhaust me, so much so that I don't want to go on them. So, I'm really excited to have dark rides that aren't kiddy-themed that I can take myself off and do. While you guys could be in the queue for Nemesis and I can go off and go and do The Curse at Alton Manor.

Mikey: You said the full name.

Hannah: Everyone's abbreviating it, it's full name for me only. Yeah, I'm excited. Valhalla, I feel like we've been waiting for a century.

Mikey: Far too long. So yeah, I'm really excited to try. There are basically 3 new attractions, not new, but new to us, to try in the UK for 2023. Then we've got the likes of Exodus opening in 2024. So, we get to see the build of that. We've got the re-track of Nemesis in 2024 as well. So, we get to see the rebuild of that. Drayton Manor are getting a new roller coaster, I think it's either next year or the year after, so we get to see that. So, it's a great time to be a theme park fan in the UK, it's all happening, really exciting. And it includes dark rides, multiple, plural. So, I'm excited. I'm a sucker for a dark ride, I would say, yeah, I am more excited about the curse of Alton Manor. I'm just.

Hannah: Maybe it's because it looks scarier, like dolls, spiders, it's creepy.

Mikey: Maybe. Old school haunting shit. 

Hannah: You know, some of those dolls look similar to the twins from the boiler house. I get a more eerie vibe than a creepy hand over an underground train, because that's essentially what Ghost Train was anyway.

Mikey: Yeah, very true. So, I'm looking forward to both, but yeah, The Curse at Alton Manor, for me, that's the thing I'm most looking forward to this year.

Hannah: I hope I get scared.

Mikey: Me too. I hope this is really, really good. I hope we're not coming off deflated. Yeah, because I really did love Duel as well.

Hannah: I hope there's no guns.

Mikey: There's no guns.

Hannah: Is that confirmed? 

Mikey: That's confirmed. 

Hannah: OK, who confirmed it?

Mikey: No one, but definitely no guns.

Hannah: No one confirmed it? There's guns. 

Mikey: There's definitely no. No, I'm sure they have. Sean from Parksville has a gun. He has it in his room, so they're gone.

Hannah: Steal it.

Mikey: Yeah, let's steal it. We know where you live.

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Host of ScareTrack Podcast

Mikey has been reviewing scare attractions since 2012. With a BA Honours Degree in Theatre to his name, Mikey uses his specialist knowledge of Artauds Theatre of Cruelty along with other detailed research when reviewing attractions. Mikey has conducted numerous haunt seminars and hosted an extreme haunt panel debate at recent scare conventions. Along side ScareTrack, Mikey also admins the ‘Scare Actors Group’ on facebook. This group helps aspiring and seasoned scare actors find new and exciting acting opportunities. Mikey enjoys attractions that aren't scared to try new ambitious ideas.