Being a Thorpe Park Resort Ambassador this year meant that we were invited to the Press Review of Fright Nights. With the fact that we live quite a distance – and with a very young baby – there was no way we were going to make it. But we couldn’t let the experience go to waste, especially with the fact that ‘The Walking Dead’ was involved. So, our good friend Jon and his son, Evan, went along in my place – and it sounds like they had quite a night!
Meet Jon and Evan
Hi there – my name is Jon and I’m a horror-coholic, if that could ever be a thing. Ever since I was a kid and my brothers or dad would treat me to viewings of movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or The Thing, I’ve had a fascination with being scared. I love watching movies that give me chills, make me jump out of my seat and occasionally shriek like a little girl.
My son Evan is essentially me, but 20 years younger. He has the same sense of humour, and the same appreciation for a good scare. So, imagine my joy when my good friend Vicky sent me a message asking if I’d like to take Evan to a special media event at Thorpe Park to celebrate the opening of two brand new horror mazes, themed on The Walking Dead – one of mine and Evan’s favourite shows to watch together! I was so excited, and as soon as I was able to tell Evan he was too.
Vicky has recently given birth to her beautiful second child Rex, with her wonderful fiancée and one of my closest friends Ross. Her daughter Grace has been amazing in helping everything settle, but simply put Vicky couldn’t leave Rex for long enough to travel to the event, and needed someone to step in as replacement. And I’m always happy to help!
Thoughts on The Walking Dead
I remember in 2009 when Fox here in the UK advertised the premier of a new show – The Walking Dead. It was full of post-apocalyptic zombie fun, and was seen primarily from the standpoint of the one central character, Rick Grimes. What made the premier all that more fascinating for me was that it was to be shown in its entirety without any commercial breaks – almost unheard of these days.
I’ve watched avidly ever since, and Evan picked up a few seasons back – he may have missed a few key seasons, but we’re catching him up retrospectively as time goes on. He loves the show regardless of back story though, and is fascinated by the idea that humanity wouldn’t pull together even in the face of the end of the world – and he loves Negan’s no BS approach to it all.
As the evening got closer, we got more and more excited. Evan has a few different Walking Dead t-shirts and settled on the white Lucille portrait shirt as his outfit of choice. I’d prepared to use Uber for the first time ever to make sure we could get from my office in Maidenhead to Thorpe Park with time to spare.
Arriving at the red carpet
We arrived at Thorpe Park just shy of 6pm, and prepared ourselves for a night of scares! We’re neither one of us a fan of rollercoasters or thrill-seeker rides, so it was strictly the total of 5 horror mazes, along with Derren Brown’s Ghost Train that we were excited for.
We could see some costumed extras hanging around just past the locked gates – members of Negan’s Saviours all threateningly taunting us and whistling in that creepy little way they do – a great start to the proceedings.
The doors opened around 6.45pm, and we got our wristbands and headed for the red carpet. There were some wonderfully realistic zombie actors prowling around, and scaring the media senseless when they weren’t looking.
We snapped some shots of a few celebs, and then spotted Jeffrey Dean Morgan dressed as Negan getting ready to invade the red carpet! We couldn’t believe he was really here, and started to film and photograph him manically. Until we realised – it wasn’t actually the real deal, but possibly the world’s greatest lookalike ever. It was far from disappointing – although the appearance of the “real” Negan would have been amazing; this guy was so good it made you forget he wasn’t him.
The mannerisms, twitches, the way he held and swung Lucille – it was all picture perfect and was a real treat to watch, especially when he started to “assault” celebrities and force them onto their knees!
After a while, we realised that time was starting to get away from us – we’d spent a good hour at the red carpet, but wanted to make sure we had enough time to get through what we wanted to see. So, we went and grabbed a quick bite to eat, and ventured into the park to begin the scares.
The Big Top Maze
The first maze we stumbled across was The Big Top – complete with scary clown mouth entrance, it looked like something out of an old Scooby Do episode. We got to the front of the queue and were greeted by a safety warning that would become quite familiar through the night – anyone with epilepsy, asthma, heart conditions or pregnancy should avoid the maze experience. Insert “Jon’s kind of chubby so must be pregnant haha” comment here.
We made our way through the entrance and got greeted right away with blasts of smoke and strobe lighting, all while trying to navigate around a maze of netted walls and posts – clowns jumping out at every opportunity and the creepy sounds of circus music playing in the background. As much as I tried to hold up the rear behind Evan, somewhere I lost sight of him and got turned around backwards – so much so that one of the scary clowns had to actually break character, tapping me on the shoulder and pointing, saying “it’s that way dude”.
I turned a corner and another clown, this time a mime, jumped out at me. I unfortunately raised my hands as a natural defence and poked him in the eye! Apologising profusely, I felt awful – but he never broke character, not once – instead, he covered his injured eye, mime-cried and guided me into a hall of mirrors, before disappearing, the sneaky little so-and-so!
I eventually caught back up with Evan in a room with decapitated clown heads – normal fair after the past 5 minutes I’d been through. We pressed forwards until we heard a familiar sound in the roar of a chainsaw…
We turned a corner to see a crazy Harley Quinn-style lady pointing a chainsaw right at us, just before she chased us with it out of the exit and into the fresh air outside the tent from hell! Both of us were ecstatic – it was our first ever experience inside of a horror maze and it really set the pace for the rest of the evening. Adrenaline pumping, we ran to find the next maze – one they called Platform 15.
The Platform 15 Maze
The premise was the mystery of a crashed train from long ago – and the haunted wreckage it left behind. The maze starts outside at the side of a train platform, with our guide being a sweet little lady telling us all about the tragedy of the crash. As we make our way towards the entrance to the inner portion of the maze, the atmosphere gets increasingly creepy, with smoke and noises, and ghosts appearing behind us from nowhere.
Once we’re left to our own devices, wandering through the corridors of an abandoned train station, various spirits from the crash jump out, warning us of what’s to come. The rooms got decidedly smaller, until we’re forced into a small opening leading to a dark tunnel. Once inside, more ghosts jump-scare the heck out of us, with one chasing us ever so close down the majority of the length of the tunnel!
Finally, we reach the end, after a really claustrophobic and dark final few metres, again finding ourselves outside in the real world, the terror now safely behind us. Until of course, we found the next maze – and possibly our favourite of the night, The Walking Dead: Living Nightmare.
The Walking Dead: Living Nightmare Maze
Waiting at the start of the maze, we got the usual warnings, and were then greeted by a Saviour. This guy, with greasy straggled hair and unkempt beard looked the part and played it to perfection, demanding to know if we “have got Negan’s shit”. One of the other maze-goers chimed in with “she has it” pointing to his friend, which caused a few little laughs, and some stern looks from our Saviour host.
After leading us through a doorway, we found ourselves outside, with headlights from a nearby truck silhouetting us against the backdrop – and then he appeared. Negan himself! Not the same Negan from the red carpet, but an equally good portrayal of the current bad guy.
We were all told to kneel – something I struggled with a little due to a knee injury requiring surgery, but I managed. I think my tardiness didn’t help though, as after Negan ran through his speech about the world and how it now worked, he then started his famous “eeny meeny miny mo” chant with Lucille pointed towards us all one by one. Guess who got mo? That’s right – yours truly!
Just as the bat was swung towards my head as I sat braced for impact, the lights went out and noises started up. I felt no thump of the bat, which to be honest was a little relieving as I did have a tiny feeling I was going to actually get hit!
When the lights came back up, we were in the middle of a walker invasion, with the Saviours guiding us through the rest of the maze to safety – walkers, biters, zombies et al were around every corner, all looking perfect and acting the part as if they really were dead.
On the last corridor, a zombie appeared at our feet, and unfortunately Evan tripped on him, kicking him in the ribs… But it made no difference, he didn’t break character at all, and within moments we were outside again, catching our breath and thinking towards the next frights in store!
I also opted to purchase the official maze photo for The Walking Dead: Living Nightmare, showing my impending demise at Lucille’s kiss – in it, you can see me enjoying my fate, but more disturbing is how happy Evan looks to see his father nearly bludgeoned to death. Ah, the love of a son for his father…
The Saw Alive Maze
We decided to save the next Walking Dead maze for a little later on, and wandered off to find the Saw Alive maze. With the new Jigsaw movie out this Halloween, we’d been binging on the previous movies to get Evan all caught up with the plot – well, as best as possible, it is a pretty complicated series to try and follow 100%.
A we approached, we were flanked again by some walkers, fully made up and trying to get to us through a chain link fence. The attention to detail and immersive feel really added to the whole evening’s experience, as you never truly felt safe from scares as you wandered around the dimly lit park.
Inside the maze, we were told by the guide at the start to keep your hands on the shoulders of the person in front at all times, as the amount of smoke and mirrors, and various possible doors to go through could mean getting lost very easily. I remember thinking that would’ve been a handy tip for the Big Top maze too, as it would’ve saved me getting lost and nearly poking a clown’s eye out!
We’re first greeted by a madman who seemed to be trapped within his own Jigsaw test – and told us all about our fate for the next few minutes. As we pushed through the maze, the focus was clearly less on jump scares, and more on gross-out effects, which worked a treat! Each room focused on a new victim in a new trap, being dismembered or tortured to gleeful effect.
During one encounter, a blood-dripping maniac followed alongside us as we took in the sights – and then proceeded to put his face on my hand that was resting on the guy’s shoulder in front of me. I was grossed out enough, but then the proceeded to lick my hand, spreading blood from his mouth all over me. Possibly the weirdest gross-out I’ve ever experienced – little does he know though that I was sweating buckets, so he probably got the worse end of the exchange!
Once we’d passed through several victims and survivors, we found ourselves outside again – after the other mazes we’d experienced, we found this one a little underwhelming, but probably more so because we were getting all horrored out – so we decided to head to the final horror maze of the evening – The Walking Dead: Sanctum.
The Walking Dead: Sanctum Maze
Here, the focus was a combination of jump scares and gross-outs. We were led into the Sanctum encampment by a few survivors, all keen to feast on the flesh of their next victims. Non-fans of the show may not know, but the residents of Sanctum had all converted to cannibalism as a means of survival, so they would entice people to come to their camp and proceed to kill and eat them!
Our hosts were particularly creepy, and played every part and line to perfection. One guy started to stroke my hair, pushing it behind my ear with a single finger whilst asking me to “open wide” during a demonstration of their cooking skills, while others seemed to be obsessed with how good Evan smelt! He told them it was just the Lynx Effect…
One of the other guests we were with suffered at the hands of a butcher more than the rest of us – he was pushed quite briskly up against a wall, sniffed and examined for a while before being released! The same butcher took an interest in my glasses, taking them off my face and staring at me before noting I looked too “fatty for human consumption” and putting them back on me.
Once through the feasting area, we were outside the camp and chased by the haunting noises and bangs of walkers from all sides, before we finally found our way out into the park again – and we both agreed that the best experiences of the evening so far had definitely been the Walking Dead themed mazes. They were both just so well done, so well performed and authentic, that even non-fans would get a huge kick out of the experiences.
Not to say that the other mazes hadn’t been great, but we understood why Thorpe Park had chosen these as their main events for the Halloween season. Last up, we had Derren Brown’s Ghost Train to experience, before we shuffled off scared and exhausted into the night…
Derren Brown’s Ghost Train
Now unfortunately, I won’t be explaining too much of what happened within the Ghost Train – part of the experience is not ruining it for future guests, as explained by the man himself vi hologram at the start of the show. Sufficed to say, it was very well put together, had a good couple of scares and twists, and was by no means a bad way to end the evening. Although I do still feel the Walking Dead mazes out-shone the Ghost Train for scares and experience, it was a relatively easier finale to see us out on.
So, after 4 and a half hours of wandering round a haunted theme park getting terrified at every opportunity, we finally called it an evening, requested my second ever Uber to take us home, and after a brief bit of souvenir shopping (who can resist theme park t-shirts, especially when they’re horror-themed?) we were falling asleep in the back of a car, dreaming about the terrors that we’d walked through that night.
To sum up the experience would be to not do it full justice – it’s a “you need to experience it yourself” kind of outing. I highly recommend the Fright Nights experience to anyone with a penchant for being scared – whether you’re a Walking Dead fan or not, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained, and the themed mazes are more than just cheap tie-ins to the show, they are their own experience to be enjoyed and scared of all at once.
I want to thank the entire team at Thorpe Park, from the ticket takers to the food servers, the poor bar staff having to deal with hundreds of drinks orders the entire time to the wandering zombies and other actors.
I also want to thank the actors from the mazes themselves for making the entire night a wonderful one filled with perfect performances, and memorable scenes that’ll stay with us both for year to come!
Lastly, I want to thank Vicky for giving us the opportunity to attend the event – it was a fantastic night, and we’re already talking about going back again this season to experience the thrills all over again! If only we could convince my wife to join us – I think Nikki would be priceless to watch as clowns jumped out of mirrored hallways and walkers nibbled at her toes!
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