This year marks the 20th birthday of Thorpe Park Fright Nights.
The Fright Nights event has changed a lot over the last 2 decades, when it opened as Fright Nites in 2002 with just 2 mazes, Freak Show 3D and The Freezer.
Back in 2002 the idea of scare mazes in a theme park (or scare mazes in general) was something quite unusual, not just in the UK but around the world really. Thorpe Park were one of the first attractions in the UK to throw a true scare event as we know them today. Since then, things have changed a lot.. Scare events have sprung up everywhere across the country, but in my eyes at least, Fright Nights will always be the daddy of them all, even if they may have been overtaken by other events in recent years.
This year looks to be a great year for Fright Nights, with the extreme maze Creek Freak Massacre returning after a covid break, and the new Trailers maze which is packed with nostalgic throwbacks to many of the best mazes from the past, this year should be a fantastic year for the event.
I decided to get in to the Halloween spirit this week by taking a look back at what I think have been the best Thorpe Park Fright Nights mazes from the past 20 years!
5. Studio 13
Studio 13 was opened in 2014 to celebrate the 13th year of Fright Nights. (where did that time go.. feels like only a couple of years ago)
The concept of the maze was actually very clever – the idea behind it was that Studio 13 was the studio responsible for producing the mazes from the previous years of Fright Nights, and we (the audience) were being invited in for a backstage tour.
Because of this theme, it was full of references to the old mazes. The first long corridor was lined with film posters which advertised some of the classics, including the Asylum, HellGate, and Se7en. From this point, there was a ‘Reception’ scene, before entering in to the chaos of the rest of the maze.
The idea of the maze was that you were trying to escape the madness of the studio, which was made impossible by the actors inside who led you from Reception, through ‘Makeup’ and ‘Costume’, and onwards through the rest of the route, which basically involved going on to each horror movie set via backstage corridors, all the while being terrorised by the actors who were being commanded by ‘The Director’.
4. Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods Maze opened in 2013, and as far as I know it was the first scare maze where you’re free to roam around the maze and choose your own path from start to finish, without having to stay as a group.
This was very different to the usual hands-on-shoulders mazes at the time (which weirdly we don’t see anymore).
From the moment you entered the cabin, you had a choice of 4 doors to choose from, each of which led to a different mini scene. Both of the doors in front of you led ‘outside the cabin’ to a single woodland themed room (where the only exit was to come back ‘inside’ the cabin to the start), and the other 2 doors on the right led towards the rest of the maze: And by that I really do mean maze.
The first half of the maze was basically made up of several small square rooms which each contained a type of monster of some sort. All of the rooms were linked by several one-way doors which could be locked/opened by the actors. Because of the unique way the maze was designed, there were many different routes that could be taken through the scenes, and thanks to the actors, groups were split up and sent in different directions through the maze.
After being lost in the chaos of the rooms for a while, you eventually found yourself at the ‘Lift’ (from the movie), which led ‘underground’ to the facility. All the rooms led to this point, so all of a sudden it was busy with everyone appearing out of the maze! From here onwards it was more of a traditional style scare attraction, where you went deeper in to the blood-covered facility, through mist, red strobe lights, sirens and countless monsters – it was chaos!
For me the best thing about this maze was the buzz around it – each time you went through, everyone in your group had a completely different experience because of the different routes available, which meant you’d have to go through many times to see it all. Everyone wanted to talk about Cabin, and compare what they’d experienced with others.
As well as the unique multi-route layout, there was the illusive “control room” hidden in the maze, which could be found by pushing on a certain ‘wall’ inside the maze. There was a lock on the door which only allowed entry every so often, so even if you found the hidden room it was another challenge to actually get inside. Once inside though, you could see what was happening elsewhere in the maze on monitors, and also press buttons to activate smoke machines and strobes elsewhere.
They even moved the control room to a different place the following year to keep the challenge there!
Unfortunately in the following few years Cabin lost its edge, but in its opening year it was really, really good, and totally unlike anything we had seen before.
3. Experiment 10
Experiment 10 was opened to celebrate 10 years of Fright Nights, and was built to push boundaries and be something different.
Based on a secretive government testing facility, Experiment 10 was a lab which was using human test subjects to develop new experimental treatments, however it seemed that things had started to go very wrong with the test subjects inside… Nevertheless, you had come for a tour, and the doctors promised they had things under control!
You’d start off in the clean, clinical looking Reception area of the lab, where you’d be told you’re beginning your tour of the facility. From there you were led in to the next room, the “Waiting room”, which when the door closed, it became apparent that it was a decontamination chamber – the room was very brightly lit with white hospital lights, and would rapidly fill with smoke. The lights went off, then when they came back on again there were actors dressed in hazmat suits and gas masks inspecting us, their new test subjects. This was a very intimidating effect – the smoke was so thick that you couldn’t see the actors until they were very close to you, and they cleverly moved while the lights were off to create some brilliant scares.
This is where things became very different to any maze they had made before.
When the door at the end of the decontamination chamber opened, each person was taken by one of the mask-wearing scientists and individually dragged away from the group and put in their own tiny chamber – the door was locked, and you were then stood completely alone in a tiny confined space.
As time passed you could hear the chaos unfolding outside as you stood in the dark inside your box, before a door opened behind you and you were grabbed by another scientist who manhandled you down the next corridor towards the next part of the lab, which split in to a choice of 2 routes.
From this point, the maze continued through various “evil lab gone wrong” style scenes, past blood-drenched surgical tables, deranged doctors, zombie patients, etc, before finally being chased out of the last scene by a patient who breaks free from their shackles and picks up a chainsaw.
Experiment 10 wasn’t a particularly long maze, but the concept of being separated from the group several times, including the isolation chambers, was something very different. This, on top of the clinical hospital style theme and general chaos throughout, just made it a great maze.
2. The Asylum
The Asylum was one of the Fright Nights classics.
Based on an out of control asylum, the place had been over-run and the inmates were now in charge, swinging from the walls and terrorising the guests who were trying to escape with their lives,
The maze was very simple; it began at the big blue door which was there for the entire queue to watch as it was opened and you went inside, hands-on-shoulders, before the door was shut behind you.
In your group you nervously shuffled down a long hospital-style, blood stained corridor, listening to the warped nursery rhymes playing.
From this point onwards it was almost entirely just a strobe maze in chain link fences, with the occasional few hospital style curtains for actors to hide in.
Its simplicity didn’t take away from the experience though – The Asylum was very intense, with extremely loud sirens, ridiculously strong strobe lights and a lot of jump scares, it was very difficult to work out where to even walk to get through the maze, and you certainly couldn’t see the actors until they were right in your face!
The strobe lights were so strong, you could barely see where you were going at all throughout the maze, and would often find yourself lost in a corner trying to work out where the route went next.
At the end of the maze, you were chased out of the final corridor by an inmate with a chainsaw – something that’s since been over-done in other mazes, but at the time this was terrifying!
1. The Big Top
The Big Top arrived at Thorpe Park in 2015, set-up on the beach at the park entrance, the Maze was made up of 3 big top carnival tents, loads of carnie theming, a massive clown head, great lighting, props everywhere, and even an incredible outdoor area of the maze right underneath the busy bridge so onlookers could watch the scares in the maze from above!
It looked incredible, and the atmosphere around the maze was amazing.
However… As a maze, It was a bit crap tbh.
Luckily, it came back in 2016 in a single more plain looking tent, in a different location, with no outdoor section and far fewer props, but it was SO much better.
And to make things better, when the Big Top returned for its third season in 2017, it was even better still.
It wasn’t the scariest of mazes, but it was really fun, and very cleverly put together.
You could tell that some money had been spent on the maze to improve it from 2015’s disastrous version.
As a guest at the circus, you’d enter the tent to be met my a fortune teller who would warn you that the clowns had over-run the circus and of all the horrors inside. You’d enter the maze down a long corridor in to a strobe section, then would continue through a mirror maze, animal cages, a clown dressing room, the prop store, funhouse sections and eventually the ”main stage” where you would become the “star of the show”, just as you were warned by the fortune teller at the start.
Throughout the maze there was an overarching, extremely loud and base heavy theme tune playing, which was sinister and playful at the same time (similar to the Smiler). The music was very cleverly composed so that each room was playing the same song, but it had a slightly different ’feel’ to it in each room.. The flashing lights throughout the maze were also in perfect time with the beat of the music, adding to the sensory overload.
The Big Top, like Studio 13, contained a lot of hidden references to the park’s other attractions past and present, including a ‘choice of doors’ section representing Cabin in the Woods, giving you the choice to enter one of three different rooms, a large strobe/cage section & chainsaw finale to represent The Asylum, a “Do not open, clowns inside” door as an Easter egg for the upcoming Walking Dead attractions, various props from ’I’m a Celebrity’, and some props from Blair Witch and Dead End.
That’s my top 5 Thorpe Park Fright Nights mazes from the past!
Do you agree / disagree? Let me know in the comments!