Content Description: Horror, Existentialism and Violence
Originally written October 2020
Let the death race begin…
In the early days of the scare industry, the vast majority of mazes across the United Kingdom required guests to hold onto each other to remain as one, with actors entering personal space without physically touching the group. These rules would be thrown out the window in 2013 when Thorpe Park, who started their creepy career in 2002 with The Freezer, introduced The Cabin in the Woods. Just like the film it was based on, the maze played around with typical terror tropes by negating previous rules about sticking together and contact. Upon entering, guests were greeted with a selection of different routes to explore. It was possible to head in with a big group, yet end up totally alone if you chose a particular path. For the first time, actors were also allowed to lightly grab guests to taunt them further as they endured the cabin’s secrets.
Whilst revolutionary in concept, The Cabin in the Woods had a multitude of issues regarding pacing and guest flow. All too often the first guest in a group would head through one door and the rest would follow as, whilst the hosts made participants aware of the multi-route aspect, actors rarely encouraged it; one route looped back into the first room meaning guests could easily end up going round in circles; certain rooms were awkwardly hidden and too small for load; and, the combination of all routes directing guests out via the same exit and groups going different ways at varying speeds, meant that the finale became clogged with an endless stream of guests. It was an impressive feat with it introducing new concepts, but these issues certainly hindered the experience at times. Despite these flaws, the experimental maze was awarded a SCAR Award for Best Halloween Attraction during the 2014 ScareCON, and would make a huge impact across the scare industry, with many scream parks ditching conga-lines later on.
It wouldn’t be long before Alton Towers would refine this formula and redefine their own mazes with Sub Species: The End Games. Debuting in 2015, Sub Species rewrote their own rules with multiple routes, separation, and some very aggressive physical contact. An instant success, it enjoyed a five year run with it being cited as one of the most intense mazes within a corporate setting.
The success of Sub Species was largely due to its extreme uniqueness, but the design itself was a curious one, and a great study of how reputation, flow and proxemics can make or break an experience.
For many seasoned scare addicts, the thought alone of entering Sub Species was enough to instil fear. Even after several runs, there was always a unique tension and sense of foreboding when you made your way over to the entrance. Despite guests knowing they were about to be subjected to something truly terrifying, having entered many times before and always living to tell the tale, there was a wild unpredictability with the maze that made every run as fresh and exciting as the last. Repeat visitors entered, questioning where they would get split, what parts of the maze they would see, and ultimately, how touchy the creatures inside would get. Whilst receiving the pre-maze briefing, many guests felt overwhelmed with a distinct horror; a feeling like they’d made a huge mistake and physically could not enter. Like any good production – be it film or theatre – Sub Species fed of its reputation to excite everyone, whether it be first timers or hardcore fans. Essentially, this meant the maze marketed itself, reaching out to the masses purely through word of mouth.
Just like any other Scarefest maze, Sub Species began with a brief preshow that gave guests a flavour of the story and introduced the inhabitants that lurked within the sewers. The set up here was simple; several monitors displayed “underworlders” sneering and betting on guests survival rates, whilst the largest featured “The Controller”, a menacing, shadowy figure who set up the story. With this being the first true part of the attraction, the atmosphere was stepped up noticeably, alongside a number of subtle effects subconsciously unsettling everyone. All of the characters gave hardened stares towards the guests at all times, and a choppy frame rate on the monitors further decreased comfort. Both were small details that went unnoticed by most, but they increased anticipation and tension exponentially.