Dark Rides of Old

E

electricBlll

Dark rides are a passion of mine since they inspired me to get into theme parks as a child. I am continually fascinated by their potential to offer theatrical and immersive experiences. However, when I see all the great, mind-blowing dark rides built overseas today, they never quite satisfy that strange sense of fun that I learnt years ago from British theme parks. There was something different about British dark rides (or, rather, the early Tussaudes dark rides) that made them much weirder, more original and wittier than what I have seen anywhere else.

Unfortunately, as a result of general laziness and lack of public demand, very few dark rides get built in here anymore, and those that were created have been categorically ruined over time. For nostalgia's sake, I have written about a few that have captured my interest - some of which I never got to ride but which still fascinate me...
____________

The Fifth Dimension [1987]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0FAvrBqFbA#
A very rare video from the early 90s, offering a glimpse of what it was like.

Chessington had been a famous zoo for many decades, but in 1987 they tried their best to shed that image. Perhaps the most obvious symbol of Chessington's move towards being Britain's first proper 'theme park' was the opening of the Fifth Dimension - a massive, expensive and spectacular dark ride unlike anything designed for the UK before. It was a big gamble whether the public would even be interested in such a ride, let alone go to visit the newly opened Chessington "World of Adventures" just to ride it.

With the Fifth Dimension, John Wardley wanted to emulate the famous dark rides of Disney but with a zany twist that would make it appeal to British audiences. Tussaudes worked on a script with Douglas Adams to create a totally original story that could engage audiences and give the ride a quirky persona. The result was a rather comical science-fiction story of a computer repair robot doing battle with an evil television tech 'bug' named The Gorg, which seems to be representative of 1980s popular culture in general.

When it opened in June 1987, public reception was pretty positive and the characters well liked. However, as the time went by problems starting arising with the dark ride format. People were mislead by the huge metal warehouse, assuming it was some kind of indoor spacey rollercoaster, leading to disappointment at the slow-moving, narrative ride they found inside. Even small things, like sending round trains half empty or forgetting to close fire exits, resulted in an undermined experience that left some guests unenthused. In 1988, Chessington attempted to improve guest satisfaction by making the effects more spectacular and sets more immersive, including replacing the Gorg prop with a more grisly, evil looking creature. However, it seems that this did not solve the fundamental problem that people were not engaging in the story.

Unfortunately by 1993, it was decided that the Fifth Dimension had simply lost its place in the now well-established "World of Adventures", resulting in its surprisingly abrupt decommission after only 6.5 years of service. It seems strange, because no way would Chessington ever get rid of a great ride like this now - they would love to have such a valuable asset today. Ultimately, it was worth getting Terror Tomb, but such a shame The Fifth Dimension had to be sacrificed in the process. You could argue it was the best ride they ever built at Chessington...
___________

Professor Burp's BubbleWorks [1990]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6Co62a3dns#
A great video from the mid 90s, before much of the effects broke and the lighting changed.

John Wardley quickly learnt from the Fifth Dimension that grandiosity and storytelling was not necessarily the public's idea of 'fun'. When it came to building Chessington's second dark ride, a totally different approach to was considered. Rather than a blockbuster sci fi adventure, Professor Burp's BubbleWorks was treated as a carefree comic book from conception to creation - quite literally as they hired a gag writer to create all the puns. This gave the ride a kind of spontaneous, rude humour that appealed much more to the British public and achieved something very special indeed.

In concept, the ride was nothing new: a Willy Wonka-style tour through a magical factory, with riders floating in boats through an obvious metal warehouse. But so much inspiration and creativity went into its design that Professor Burp's BubbleWorks soon gained a personality of its own. Everything from the instantly addictive synth score by Graham Smart, to the surreal colours of the sets, down to the sweet smells in the air was so perfect and incredibly unique. In fact, it was such a rare instance of imagination triumphing over the norm that I believe such a ride can never be built again.

The brilliance of BubbleWorks was mostly down to John Wardley's collaborations with Keith Sparks, who together formed a wonderfully experimental attitude towards entertainment, which shows in the ride's design. Sure, why not have a magical fizzy pop factory on top of a haunted castle? Why not lift the boats up and drop them down a ramp? Why not have tunnels of fruit juice shooting over your head? It's impossible to explain why it was so good to anybody who didn't go on it. Photographs, videos and music alone just doesn't do it. What's more, it appealed to everybody in the boat, not just children, because it shared its sense of humour with everybody.

Ultimately, BubbleWorks was just so innocent that its time on this big bad world was limited, and it fell into a bad state by the start of the 21st century. Chessington, now under new management, couldn't be bothered to maintain the plethora of animations. In order to save maintenance costs, they planned a desecration to coincide with a new sponsorship by a toiletries company, using the money to buy a few ducks and advertise it as new. Or that's my interpretation anyway.

And so, a ride that capitalised on naughty childish humour became a ride about soap. They may as well have shut the ride to save it from its embarrassing fate. Having said that, Chessington have restored some aspects of the ride recently, particularly by bringing back some of the old music. It's fantastic to have the finale music back where it belongs, that inconceivably euphoric tune.
___________

The Haunted House [1992]

http://youtu.be/amfbSaMm0mo?t=30s
This is the only available footage of the Haunted House on its opening day, I believe.

Very much John Wardley's dream ride, the Haunted House was a magical pastiche of the traditional ghost train format: riders travel at speed and spooky ghoulish characters jump out from the shadows, while all sorts of mad gags and illusions play out before you. But this wasn't just any haunted house - it was the Alton Towers Haunted House, and was therefore more inventive and unique than any other ghost train in Britain. John Wardley's original scarier plans were toned down by Tussaudes who wanted to appeal to families, creating an irresistibly fun balance between sinister atmosphere and lighthearted fun.

Unfortunately the ride hit problems even before it opened. Sparks Group were perhaps too ambitious with the Haunted House, which lead to several ideas being changed at the last minute. For example, they began constructing the Tunnel of Doom set (trommel illusion) as the 'Entrance to Hell', before changing the hellish flames to the brick pattern as seen today; I can only assume they didn't think it was convincing enough. Also, the necessity for effects to reset and reanimate every 10 seconds for hours on end put a lot of strain on the simple mechanisms, meaning numerous props had to be altered straight away.

In the ride's second year, two major scenes were scrapped - the giant and flying ghost sequences. They were both replaced with new effects at short notice. By this time the sets and props had also been repainted from their iridescent UV colours to more 'realistic' shades, after Alton Towers decided the ride wasn't scary enough. As a result of these modifications, the ghouls lost some of their colourful personality.

The Haunted House received further alterations towards the late 90s, including some incongruously gruesome effects such as the splitting skin face and some gory zombies. Many effects disappeared altogether because of mechanical failures. The worst hit scene was the madcap finale set in a haunted swamp, which relied on a multitude of quickfire effects to generate a frantic pace; of course, when the effects didn't work, there wasn't much of a finale anymore.

Soon it was the 21st century, by which time Alton Towers had acquired Nemesis, Oblivion and Air - all of which totally overshadowed the ailing and failing Haunted House. Solution? Laser guns apparently. Also the swamp finale was walled in and filled with zombie props brought from TheHorrorDome.com (pathetic). Alas, the much of the House managed to survive the awful retheme, and year-by-year a little bit of the old magic creeps back in...

Terror Tomb [1994]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28S-47I2PgQ#
This video was filmed during the end of the ride's lifetime, when it was known as Forbidden Tomb.

By 1993, Tussaudes had decided the Fifth Dimension's time was up and a new dark ride was commissioned. This was a particularly tricky case, since they had to work with the existing transit system which had been tailored to The Fifth Dimension, while making sure not to repeat the former ride's problems. It was decided that a 'haunted' dark ride was more marketable than a sci fi story, leading to the idea of a ghost train/show ride fusion, with an Ancient Egyptian persona to fit with Chessington's "World of Adventures" image. The exterior was also elaborately dressed with a temple pylon facade and adjacent courtyard, featuring rope bridges, water features and religious Egyptian frescoes, to make it clear this ride was not an indoor rollercoaster. The focus was then shifted away from the story and towards the 'scares' to make the ride more entertaining.

Terror Tomb was certainly an odd project. In 1994 it was advertised as Chessington's 'newest family ride', yet I'm pretty sure any child who rode it that year would have been seriously disturbed! Not only were there some genuinely frightening scenes, but they had totally betrayed the likeable kitsch persona of the Fifth Dimension. Gone was Zappomatic, the quirky protagonist - now replaced by a very off-putting, shouting, murdurous Arab man called AbDab. Also, whereas the Fifth Dimension ended with good defeating evil, Terror Tomb's finale consisted of an evil undead alt rock band killing AbDab to the sound of "JukeBox Jewel" (definitely one of Graham Smart's crazier compositions)!

In many ways it was the cleverest and funniest ride in the park. Unfortunately, very few people share that kind of dark humour when it comes to theme parks, so it's no surprise that after a few years Chessington were looking to change it. In 2000 they altered a few scenes and gave it a new name, before trashing it completely with lasers in 2002. The tomb terrifies no more, now with an ill-fitting upbeat 'adventure' persona and a significant lack of mummies. At the time, many people (including myself) thought this was a good solution to tame such a rebellious ride, but the novelty of the lasers quickly wore off and now the ride is one big, boring... nothing.

Initially all the animatronics that were removed from Terror Tomb were secretly stored in the ride, but in 2010 somebody thought it would be a great idea to put them outside in Vampire's queueline (for the sake "theming" obviously ::) ). AbDab is certainly looking pretty pathetic these days, but at least he is on display, offering a glimpse of Chessington's mad past. Also, look closely during Tomb Blaster and you may spot a few old Terror Tomb props that have been put back...

Toyland Tours [1994]

http://youtu.be/OEdoaX_FC9w?t=10s

Another big refurbishment project in 1994 was Toyland Tours. After Alton Towers' move towards being a true 'theme park' in the early 90s, the comparatively generic 80s rides such as Around The World in 80 Days had become somewhat obsolete. Soon the entire ride was gutted and ideas for a new dark ride drawn up, to match the newly opened childrens area "The Land of Make Believe".

The finished ride was excessively animated and vibrant, sharing similarities with BubbleWorks in terms of the visual gags and factory theme. However, unlike BubbleWorks, Toyland Tours was clearly aimed solely at young children with its teddy bear imagery and friendly musical score. The park chose to coincide the opening of Toyland Tours with Nemesis, so as not to alienate its family audience.

Perhaps it was this orientation towards the most youngest of audiences that was the ride's undoing. Children's tastes quickly changed during the 21st century away from all things nice and cuddly (I should know!) and I imagine that Toyland Tours was beginning to feel quite dated. I distinctly remember choosing not to ride it during my first visits to Alton Towers, as the once-bright pink exterior, complete with worn out toy soldiers and balloons, actually put me off - despite me being the target audience at the time. The ride itself had also suffered from lack of maintenance in recent years, like most of Alton Towers during that dark period.

A refurbishment of some kind was inevitable. At first, it seemed Tussaudes were going to give it a proper big-budgeted treatment by gutting out the whole ride and starting again. They even planned new a pre-show and post-show to flesh out the experience. Ooh it was all very exciting, wasn't it? Too bad that by 2006 all traces of creative flair had disappeared from the British theme park industry, resulting in the commercialised, irritating mess that is "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory:- The Ride (TM)". In retrospect, they really should have just stuck with Toyland Tours...
________

And that's about it. The last 'magical' dark ride to be built was Hex - another ride which had to be significantly altered after opening. Thankfully Hex is still operating today, and still offers a great theatrical experience.

The time of great dark rides in Britain certainly didn't last long. When SubTerra opened in 2012 it only confirmed the inability of today's creatives to create a coherent, original and enjoyable British dark ride, although I do really enjoy the experience for what it's worth. I'm still looking forward to the days when proper, large scale, track-based dark rides are built in Britain again.
______

So... Who remembers these rides? I'm sure there are other notable examples too...
 

RoyalFool

TS Member
Re: British Dark Rides of Old

Wow this is weird, I love old dark rides so clicked the thread and the first thing I see is my own 5th Dimension video I put on you tube the otherday, glad you liked it - I've got about 2 hours worth of 1980's (and 90's) videos to sort out, unfortunately the tapes were in a terrible condition but now I've got them ripped I'll be sure to salvage what else I can. I've got a complete 'Around the world in 80 day's' POV if you can put up with a 9 year old me shouting "LOOK AT THAT DADD!!!" every minute - was early 90's as it had the "coming soon" haunted house model at the end.

I think 5th Dimension was my favourite Darkride - the robot creeped me out a bit but I loved the story and atmosphere (as you can probably tell with me bashing those buttons at the end so hard!).

But I think I was more gutted when they got rid of 80 days. I know a lot of people loved Toyland Tours but personally I think it was a downgrade, then they really downgraded that with the terrible Charlie and the cardboard cut-outs ride. 80 days was one of those "You have to do it every trip" rides because of all the little details they snuck into it.

Edit: Yup, I've got 4 minute on-ride video from 3/4/1991 - Will upload tomorrow :)
 

Thomas

TS Member
Re: British Dark Rides of Old

I have never ridden any of these rides, all I've done is digest the videos that you've just shown and the short if very informative descriptions. First of all thank you for bringing to my attention, quite how bad the dark rides in the UK are.

All of these rides have a great deal of movement, there is barely any static scenes in any of the presented rides and everything is awash with colour and lighting. That's the main difference I could tell with the Bubbleworks I rode a couple of weeks ago, the video I've just seen is awash with colour, light and action.

Nemesis Sub Terra, and Charlie sum up what the problem is for me, in that with new technology does not come better rides. Hex uses a ride system which can be traced back to the 19c, the anamatronics shown in these old rides are of a much higher standard.

Honestly though, Terror Tomb looks creepy and scary, and that's coming from someone 10 years older than what the ride is aimed at. If the fifth dimension was released today instead of Zufari however, I do honestly think we'd be saying Chessington had the best new ride of 2013.
 
E

electricBlll

Re: British Dark Rides of Old

RoyalFool said:
Wow this is weird, I love old dark rides so clicked the thread and the first thing I see is my own 5th Dimension video I put on you tube the otherday, glad you liked it - I've got about 2 hours worth of 1980's (and 90's) videos to sort out, unfortunately the tapes were in a terrible condition but now I've got them ripped I'll be sure to salvage what else I can.
It was your video that caught my attention and lead me to start this thread. And it couldn't have come at a better time, since I am currently doing a lot of research about Chessington and its old rides! It's a great video, I'm sure a lot of people will love it.

What I'm struggling to work out is where those scenes would be in the ride now, it's so unrecognisable. The track layout is the same but the first stopping scene with Zappomatic seems to come earlier and look smaller than the where the first stopping scene is now (spike room). There's a possibility that they reprogrammed the points at which the trains stop.

Also The Fifth Dimension didn't have a revolving tunnel, unlike Terror Tomb, so it had an extra little scene just before the end. Here are the original plans, dated 1986:

1st Floor
lowerplan.gif

2nd Floor
upperplan.gif


Notice on the second floor plan there appears to be a wall divider through what is now the fire pit. Or just a random black line. These documents are from ReRide.net.
 

BigAl

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Forbidden Journey
Toyland Tours was my favourite ride as a kid and when it left, though I understood because of how bad it was looking from years of neglect, I was still really gutted. I'd ride it almost every visit in the 90's and early 00's and it may have been the first ride I ever went on.I have photos of me before my first birthday back in 1994 on it, though I only uploaded the images where I wasn't included! :p

When I was a lot younger, I was a little bit of a wimp and I didn't go on the Haunted House straight away. Once I'd managed a go I came round to love it nearly as much as Toyland Tours. I can't really remember the effects and scenes that left once Duel came along, though I do remember the Drawing Room being much better, constantly queuing outside (didn't mind either, that queue is great :p ) and the tombstone at the front which is now the zombie with a laser gun. :/

Hex was another ride I remember well when it opened. I remember none of us having any idea what it was so my mum sent my dad in just see it was okay! :p I don't recall riding the first incarnation of it with alternate story though.



Over the last couple of years I've managed to visit Chessington for the first time, which includes my first encounters of both Bubbleworks and Tomb Blaster.

Luckily I got a go on Tomb Blaster before the queue was ruined and it's a shame that it's no longer as good as it was when I first had a go. I do quite like Tomb Blaster, though its age is obvious and I still don't really like the guns. Having always been used to the Haunted House / Duel, the train method of taking people round was quite peculiar to me at first but I do like the way the train wraps everyone around individual scenes. Having never been on it in any of its other forms, it's difficult to say what I would have liked best, though the band in Terror Tomb did look hilariously goofy, and I don't mind that at all! :p

Bubbleworks is again a ride that's showing its age (or lack of upkeep). Though it reminds me of my beloved Toyland Tours ( :'( ), I do see from various old videos that Professor Burp's version of the ride was much, much better and I'd have probably loved it just as much as Toyland Tours, had I had the opportunity to experience it when I was younger. It's still a fun ride but there's still too much that isn't going on with the animatronics. What I loved about the older dark rides is how there's so much life and vibrancy. With Toyland Tours there was literally something moving, jiggling, dancing, bouncing or jumping whichever way you turned, and the older Bubbleworks looked the same (from what I gather from the various old videos, though I'm sure someone on here can confirm or deny this for me).



It is sad to see how our modern dark rides look today. Bar Hex, not a single one is really as good as it used to be. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gets worse with every visit for instance. Duel was ruined for absolutely no reason and even Hex is showing its age with it not being able to park, as well as the creaking and grinding that takes place throughout the duration of the vault scene.

But it is definitely C&tCF that annoys me the most. What it replaced, in its heyday, was a fantastic, energetic attraction that appealed to both young and old through use of various jokes and gags littered throughout the ride, much like what the original Bubbleworks (and to an extent, the current version) had. And when they rethemed Toyland Tours to C&tCF, you'd think that such an IP to base a ride on would have continued this. After all, the story is a classic and gave way to two completely different, weird but ultimately lovable movies. It was the perfect transition; toys to sweets. And the plans looked good. the idea sounded right, yet what we received is not even remotely as good as what it replaced. The animatronics, colour, effects and theming (or rather, the lack of them) are so sparse it's a joke. It's hard to believe that you're floating around inside a big warehouse....



I think this is why I'd like to experience Tinkaboo's Sweet Adventure at Pleasure Island. It looks like a really fun ride through a sweet factory that looks like one (or at least how a theme park would portray one :p ). There's so much going on with it, from jokes, puns, crazy animatronics and much more. It looks like a proper British dark ride! Here's the best video I could find:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPY5coiKa24#ws

As you can see, it's by no means the greatest ride in existence, but does it need to be? I do firmly believe that a dark ride, done properly, can rival even the best of coasters. My favourite ride is harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal's Islands of Adventure by far. But again, a ride doesn't need to be like that to be good (and I don't expect every park to spend so much on a single ride, though it would be nice ;) ), which is why both myself and many others can still enjoy and appreciate other dark rides like Hex or Tomb Blaster, etc...



It's not about big budgets and covering every inch of an attraction in 'stuff', it's just down to the level of detail required. Take Nemesis for instance. It doesn't have a lot of theming, but it has the right amount, positioned strategically throughout the area. Combine that with a good ride, interaction with those on the ground, the music and the landscaping, and it's the reason we can rate it higher than rides such as Montu, a ride which is longer, taller, faster and forceful. Nemesis gets the balance right.

Balance is key with any ride. C&TCF doesn't get it right, and neither does Sub Terra. They're both too sparse, simply relying on one or two key pieces of theming and not really anything else. The rooms on these two attractions don't need to be dripping with theming, effects and whatnot, but there's not enough to hold your attention and make you forget that you're sat inside some shipping containers, or floating through a warehouse.

And Sub Terra was just done poorly from the beginning with nothing really explained, yet there's a preshow spelling things out for people. From the moment you step foot in the queue, everything looks cheap and makeshift. Inside it's as bland as the outside and the main room is where you find the only theming that the ride has to offer. What there is is good, and the sequencing of effects is fine too. But because the experience isn't carried out properly, what good there is is overshadowed (or at least for me anyway).

Besides there being nothing in terms of theming in between the two 'lifts', what's with the ending? If they wanted to make the exit maze feel like there was an alien creature behind the walls trying to get through, why not create one or two instances where there's claws coming through the walls or an Alien-esque moment where the creature/s move quickly past an opening in the wall? And why are some of the Phalanx ops behaving like zombies? Why do we fall through the floor into the larger egg chamber and somehow get brought back up? If the floor just gave way, why not explain or at least make it look like some ops are winching you to safety? It's almost as if the whole thing was designed by some enthusiasts that just wanted to get in on the Nemesis legend without really giving any of it anywhere near as much thought as it required.

Sub Terra was a nice idea, and Merlin Studios do have a lot of them, but they never execute anything properly (bar Raptor at Gardaland which is the only Merlin attraction that appears to be as good as anything done by 90's Tussauds). A nice idea isn't enough though. It's not the plans, sketches or the way in which a ride is put together, it's the end result that matters. If the end result doesn't capture the imaginations of guests and less than a year later, queues are rarely reaching above 15 minutes, can you genuinely tell yourself that it has been a success? The same goes for Th13teen, but discussing that now would be drifting off-topic.



Maintaining them is also key to making a successful attraction, but with modern dark rides, there's not really much that can go wrong anymore. You'd think with a ride as sparse as C&tCF that everything would be working, yet just the other day we found ourselves sheltering from the rain on it and the coloured balls that whiz up the pieces of string (no idea what that bit is, sorry :p ) were stuck in the air, and for a ride with so little going on, every effect counts. Saying that though, Tomb Blaster is looked after quite well, considering that they have shoe-string budget for keeping things 'alive'. :/



Another thing that annoys me with many modern dark rides is the overuse of screens and stickers. Stickers don't count as theming and should serve no purpose other than to cover the very background of a ride (i.e. the walls of a warehouse, behind actual theming). And with screens, you don't get the same feeling that you do watching a teddy bear rolling around in candyfloss, or a couple of hippos dancing on giant cupcakes! It's lazy, boring and it's because we have the technology that we do it, not because we want it. Replacing real things with screens annoys seriously annoys me, especially when what's on-screen could have been done without them.

An attraction like Forbidden Journey only uses screens for moments that can't be done with real objects which is fine, because the real theming, animatronics and effects are stunning. It's quite a contrast between Spiderman and the modern Transformers dark rides where majority of the ride is done on a screen (and yet the most impressive element of Transformers is the giant lifeless Megatron after he's been defeated, hanging through the collapsing roof of the building you're in at the very end of the ride).

Look again at C&tCF. The lifts are, again, a good idea, but it seems that a large portion of the budget went on them (and when so much went to pay for the rights to use the IP in the first place, you'd think they'd be careful with things like spending too much on one section of a ride and not having enough left for the rest of the experience to feel convincing). The first part of the ride is a dark, motionless warehouse, not how I remember the factory in the book or movies, yet the lifts illustrate a much bigger, wackier version of Wonka's factory which, until that point, hadn't been evident in the previous sections of the ride. The lifts only highlight the awfulness of the previous part of the ride, and upon exiting you're left to walk down yet another dark, bare corridor. Instead of making two lifts, why not ditch one for the proposed shop? A sweet shop would have made perfect sense!

But the laziness carries on into other types of attractions like Ice Age 4D, where guests have to stand in front of a green screen for a photo of themselves pretending to have fun so that an 'experience' can be photoshopped into the background. Is that really what people want at a theme park?



So what should happen for new dark rides? Well who knows? People enjoyed the silliness and childish fun of old dark rides, yet it seems that we can't have a modern attraction without some gimmicky 4D effects, or enough screens to fit out a Currys! As much as I still want to see things like magical emporiums with bunnies the size of cars popping out of even bigger wizard's hats, or joke shops with popping eyes shooting over your heads, and colossal whoopee cushions farting at riders, I don't think those in charge can comprehend the fact that people can enjoy more basic ideas of 'fun' in these modern times.

Anyway, I make one plea to the current flock of ride designers and creatives; take inspiration from the 80's and 90's, not 21st century technology or fads. Look at how less technology didn't disrupt people's enjoyment from when rides where just about what was real and in front of you, not what was projected at you with pixelated images (Charlie, I'm looking at your lifts!). I do hope that future dark rides learn from the current selection, but I guess it won't be too hard to better some, if not most of them!



I think that was everything! :p
 
E

electricBlll

BigAl said:
With Toyland Tours there was literally something moving, jiggling, dancing, bouncing or jumping whichever way you turned, and the older Bubbleworks looked the same (from what I gather from the various old videos, though I'm sure someone on here can confirm or deny this for me).
Oh yes, it was very highly animated. Most of the effects were very simple, not quite as kinetic as Toyland Tours, but there was a lot of life in all the sets. The full figure Professor Burp animatronics were great as well, although by 2005 he looked more like a fat zombie than a loveable German professor (which gives you an idea of how good Chessington's upkeep was at the time).

One aspect that made rides like BubbleWorks so great was that it had passion in it - the creators clearly had fun making it and it shows. These days, rides are so processed and forced that it feels like they were designed by robots without any good ideas of there own.

Take a look at this concept art for the BubbleWorks refurbishment in 2005 that was kindly passed on to me recently:

537351_10201108823030919_1823040749_n.jpg

13927_10201108823590933_1464547627_n.jpg

164915_10201108822830914_963774273_n.jpg


The sterile, charmless CGI totally sums up the attitude towards dark rides in the last decade. It's like the creators were so uninterested in their jobs that they went for all the bleakest ideas possible. The worst thing about this concept art is its accuracy, right down to the stupid trompe l'oeil pipe decals; meaning they actually intended to turn the ride into a lifeless, blank husk.

Why was this allowed to happen? BubbleWorks may have been suffering from vandalism and poor maintenance, but it was still loved by everybody that rode it. This wasn't a case of poor ridership at all. Just plain ignorance on behalf of Chessington.

Recently 'ideas' in general have improved greatly. With projects such as The Smiler and Thirteen you can see that there are creative minds at work, even though they don't pay attention to the experience as a whole. For a dark ride, SubTerra was very amateur - yet fun. So at least that aspect of 'fun' has returned, despite not being as smart and inventive as before.
____

And thank you for sharing you thoughts about Toyland Tours, BigAl. I never got to ride it, so missed out on the experience. It hasn't inspired me the same way as the other dark rides I mentioned, but certainly looked like there were good times to be had.

I believe that John Wardley was not involved in Terror Tomb and Toyland Tours that much, whereas all those other rides were basically his ideas. This is probably because Nemesis was the main focus of 1994. He still influenced the decision on what should be done with Fifth Dimension and Around The World, however.
 

RoyalFool

TS Member
Re: British Dark Rides of Old

electricBlll said:
What I'm struggling to work out is where those scenes would be in the ride now, it's so unrecognisable. The track layout is the same but the first stopping scene with Zappomatic seems to come earlier and look smaller than the where the first stopping scene is now (spike room). There's a possibility that they reprogrammed the points at which the trains stop.

We must be kindred spirits or something - I've been wondering the same thing, and went on the ride a few times yesterday to try to suss it out.

Long corridor with boulder >> Heading into the TV screen, past the pencils and books.

Stop where you shoot zombie and reveal treasure >> The first time you see Zappomatic. This was always a tiny little room, it was just him on little podium chatting against a black 'grid' background.

Stop with the statue/snakes >> Zappomatics lab.

The giant cobra room >> The Gorg!

Oh, uploading the 80 days video now so it'll be online soon.
 
E

electricBlll

Great, assuming they didn't reprogram the stopping points, that does sound right. Although I'm not sure what you mean by the 'statue/snakes' scene.

By any chance can you remember the order of the scenes? Or what the plot was - like why was a swamp and evil pineapple creatures in the middle of the ride? :p

Also, I'm pretty sure they reprogrammed the stopping points during the Terror Tomb refurbishment. In Terror Tomb, the first stop is at the spike chamber (now with the laser mummy in it), which is about the third scene in the ride. Zappomatic's introduction couldn't have been in that room, otherwise he wouldn't show up until half way through! There is an earlier scene with U-shaped track just after the ramp (although the trains don't stop there anymore), I think that room is where Zappomatic's introduction used to be.

Here are some intriguing photos taken while the ride was being decommissioned in 1993, which I think are all in order.

I also highly recommend this account by a technician who supervised the ride in its difficult years, telling his inside story as to why the ride was removed...
 

DiogoJ42

TS Member
Favourite Ride
The Metropolitan Line
One thing leaps at me from that article,
It only takes a single LED to ruin the effect of a blackout.

... which is why they filled the whole bloody ride with them in the name of a "retheme" ::)
 

RoyalFool

TS Member
electricBlll said:
Great, assuming they didn't reprogram the stopping points, that does sound right. Although I'm not sure what you mean by the 'statue/snakes' scene.

By any chance can you remember the order of the scenes? Or what the plot was - like why was a swamp and evil pineapple creatures in the middle of the ride? :p

Also, I'm pretty sure they reprogrammed the stopping points during the Terror Tomb refurbishment. In Terror Tomb, the first stop is at the spike chamber (now with the laser mummy in it), which is about the third scene in the ride. Zappomatic's introduction couldn't have been in that room, otherwise he wouldn't show up until half way through! There is an earlier scene with U-shaped track just after the ramp (although the trains don't stop there anymore), I think that room is where Zappomatic's introduction used to be.

Here are some intriguing photos taken while the ride was being decommissioned in 1993, which I think are all in order.

I also highly recommend this account by a technician who supervised the ride in its difficult years, telling his inside story as to why the ride was removed...

Ah, I was told the stops are the same - maybe that's what's making it hard for me to pin-point what all the rooms are now, also I believe the script for the ride is online somewhere which tells you the story - from what I can remember, you first see him trapped in the swamp dangling from his parachute, then in the next room you get an introduction. Then you see the monsters for a bit, then you see his lab where he tells you that he's located the big gorg king/queen/thing, then after that you see him on his ship waving goodbye and thanking you. It was quite wordy, brilliant ride.

Notice in that photo you posted how the initial room is small, but they've used mirrors to make it look bigger - that's the room I was talking about with the "grid" background.

Did you ever go on it?
 
E

electricBlll

RoyalFool said:
Did you ever go on it?
No, I wasn't alive at the time! :p I did ride Forbidden Tomb, however.

Yes, these two scenes look similar shape, they are probably the same:
14.jpg

8-38_zpsac675f7f.jpg


Obviously the rotation of the individual cars couldn't be changed, since that was built into the track. I've noticed a few points in Tomb Blaster where the seats briefly turn to face nothing in particular!

By the way, here's the script you mentioned. It's a very early draft, however, and apparently the finished ride was very different.
 

BigAl

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Forbidden Journey
Just come across old plans for a Ghost Busters themed dark ride at a Six Flags park here and some elements remind me of the Haunted House and others look very Disney's Haunted Mansion, etc... There's a heck of a lot of concept work on here and more on a page that the article links to (first link). Here's the picture of the cars to give you all a taster:

interview_roger_hector_13.jpg



If Universal ever rethemed Men in Black Alien Attack I'd want them to go for a Ghost Busters theme (especially if they're supposedly making a third film over the next year or so)! :p
 

djtruefitt

TS Team
What an amazing topic! Its been a very interesting read and really good to see all the different videos of the rides. I really do have a love for dark rides and always have done since I was a child, I have so many memories of theme parks as a child, I don't often remember the rollercoasters but I always remember the dark rides!

I'm quite lucky in that I believe I have been on all the dark rides in this topic, I was born in 1987 (yes i'm old :() and we used to go to quite a few theme parks when I was younger (Thorpe, Chessie, Towers and American Adventure).

I was always unsure if I had been on 5th dimension, but I was pretty sure I had, because I remember returning when it had been re-themed into Terror Tomb, and thinking "I'm sure this is the same ride as before". And I have memories of having to press a button at the end to beat the bad guy, and now I have seen that video, my memory was indeed correct! The worse thing about the current version is the lack of story, the scenes look great and still impressive, but the ride just doesn't make any sense, the big stopping sections just feel like the ride has broken down rather than being on purpose, it really does feel like something else used to happen (which of course did). When it got re-themed, I don't know why they couldn't have kept some kind of story or talking over each scene, just so you knew what was going on.
Someone who did the ride might also be able to tell me if there was some kind of Aztec looking door or sliding door that would close before the rides station when it was Terror Tomb to let a certain number of people through. I have vague members of being a child and my brother running ahead of us, and the door closing, leaving him in the ride station and me and my mum and dad stuck behind this door, the ride staff then had to open it up to let him back in to join us.

I certainly went on Around the world in 80 days, but maybe only once as a young child, the only memory I have of it was there were some can-can woman above you in one of the rooms (if my memory is correct!), I also remember going on Toyland Tours when it opened and once again thinking "This used to be a different ride".

Toyland Tours and Bubbleworks were both pretty similar, they had a fun theme, loads and loads of moving parts and everytime you went on it you would spot something new to look at. They both had amazing music and just made me smile every time I went on them. What has replaced them now is well and truely complete crap, at least with bubble works now there is some aspects of the original ride there, such as the fountains over the boats. However Charlie has nothing what so ever left from the original ride. Its gone from being covered in over the top colourful 3D moving parts, to stickers on the walls and very little else to look at. The worse thing about it is there is now also a massive section of the ride that was just left empty to fit the lifts in.
 
E

electricBlll

Great post, you're very lucky to have experienced all those great rides when they were relatively new!

You are correct about the sliding door in Terror Tomb. I think it was there in the Fifth Dimension to hold guests back to watch the preshow video. However, Terror Tomb didn't have any preshow video, and the whole interior queue was remodelled with passageways and alcoves, so the door became a bit superfluous. Instead, they redecorated it as a stone wall that would slide away to reveal the 'secret' station chamber!

I think it was eventually removed to speed up throughput (and because of incidents like the one you described!). I looked once but couldn't see if there was anything left of it.
 

djtruefitt

TS Team
electricBlll said:
Great post, you're very lucky to have experienced all those great rides when they were relatively new!

You are correct about the sliding door in Terror Tomb. I think it was there in the Fifth Dimension to hold guests back to watch the preshow video. However, Terror Tomb didn't have any preshow video, and the whole interior queue was remodelled with passageways and alcoves, so the door became a bit superfluous. Instead, they redecorated it as a stone wall that would slide away to reveal the 'secret' station chamber!

I think it was eventually removed to speed up throughput (and because of incidents like the one you described!). I looked once but couldn't see if there was anything left of it.

I really do have great memories of rides as a child, it kind of shows when I reminder minor detail like that when I must have only been 6 or 7 years old.

I do agree that all the dark rides now really lack the magic they once did. In the past they would have built amazing scenes and themeing. Now it all pictures, 2D models or projector screens. Sub-Terra inside is fairly good, and you could be fooled into thinking you are underground. But the outside really lets it down, as you can clearly see this big building! Maybe if the ride had been built 20 years ago (if the same technology was available then), they would have either hidden the building (like the haunted house) or properly themed it. Its just minor details like that, that let these newer rides down.
 

nickhutson

TS Member
Great discussion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbtftJXs0Ww#

I just wanted to bring up PHANTOM FANTASIA - the wonderful dark ride at Thorpe Park (that became Wicked Witches' Haunt before the dreadful 2000 fire).

bc32.jpg


This was the first haunted house ride I remember going on. I remember my father taking me by the hand and you'd turn right into the first dark corridor, and I distinctly remember it being a very green hue! Very creepy! Of course, I loved the ride once I was on it! It kind of reminds me of a ride through what The London Dungeon used to be like! Anyway... there's my two cents. Spend them wisely.
 

Andrew

TS Contributor
There's a list of some notable dark rides here.

I can't say I've been on many of them, but they're interesting none the less. There are some modern dark rides in the list but many are from the 1900s. I'm sure some of you will be interested in the page.
 

DiogoJ42

TS Member
Favourite Ride
The Metropolitan Line
Fun fact for anyone who didn't know, Phantom Fantasia's track layout was a clone of Europa Park's Geisterschloss, except that the cars ran in the oposite direction.
 

Thomas

TS Member
One of the biggest things I've noticed as well is pacing. All of the earlier rides used the tracks pacing to their advantage, Phantom Fantasia appears to go at a slow pace, the Haunted House varies its pace throughout the ride with both the speed and music which sets the tone.

At the moment the current duel track doesn't create much of a pace other than SHOOT, SHOOT AS FAST AS YOU CAN, SHOOT. Which doesn't really give much to the theme.
 
E

electricBlll

Exactly, a paced structure is a great way to make riders really receptive to the effects thrown at them.

Unfortunately, most of the time in Duel those variations in speed go unnoticed. When you read the original Haunted House plans, you realise how much thought was put into timing each sequence so that the ride would develop progressively, ending on a high note. These days the whole ride becomes one long blur with the same music, disjointed effects and random lighting throughout. Also, the bespoke Mack system may have been advanced for the time, but it has become quite outdated in the days of robo-arm and trackless transit systems. I think the 'finale' scenes would be more effective if the cars were able to really fly around those corners, which I doubt they are physically capable of after 20 years of service.

Tomb Blaster really doesn't do well in terms of pace. The trains move so slowly that it would take a lot of visual gusto to actually impress the riders. When you put the laser down and just watch the ride, you realise how bland it has become. Fortunately, the structure of the ride still works well: beginning with an ominous climb up the ramp, moving through smaller crypts, before opening up into the larger cavernous scenes towards the middle.

In fact, I think that any ride can be engaging as long as it has a good pace. For example, SubTerra at Alton Towers is an obviously flawed dark ride, but most people enjoy it because it takes them by surprise and keeps the momentum going:

The experience starts off all wordy, explanatory and perplexing, but once on the ride everything accelerates. The show is timed well with the different towers dropping individually, and it doesn't dither in the lower level. Riders are back on their feet and out the main chamber within seconds, only to be instantly hit with another surprise. The frantic atmosphere is enhanced by all the sirens and mayhem going on. Finally, the end corridor acts as something of a denouement and helps to round off the experience. It's still a naff ending, but I can imagine how much worse the ride was before it was added.

Would be amazing if all that dark ride technology overseas could find its way to the likes of Alton Towers and Chessington one day...!
 
Top