Behind the scenes at Alton Towers’ terrifying new Halloween attraction where guests are attacked by monsters and rooms reek of rotting flesh – The Sun

HUNDREDS of thousands of people visit Alton Towers every year just for their terrifying Scarefest.

This weekend, the theme park's Halloween event is back for the 12th year running with some brand new thrills.

Ahead of its opening, Sun Online Travel went behind the scenes for an exclusive look at their spooky new maze, The Attic.

The Attic – the fifth maze to join Scarefest – is a Victorian Gothic themed attraction designed up by Alton Towers' entertainment creative manager Kieran Kimberley.

As the first Gothic horror maze set in Alton Castle, it tells the tale of the widowed master of the house.

He hired a governess to look after his kids, and following rumours of their relationship, all of them mysteriously died on the same night.

The governess is now haunting the building in penance for her deceased charges – which is where the guests enter.

The Attic is set over two floors – unlike the park's other one-storey scare zones, such as the pirate ghost ship maze Darkest Depths, or the post-apocalyptic maze Sub Species The End Games.

Kieran explained: "We try to introduce something new every few years."

Inspiration for the new maze came from a range of horror stories, including The Turn of the Screw, Frankenstein and Russian folktale Baba Yaga.

The popularity of Scarefest is clear, with some horror enthusiasts travelling all around the world to do the scare attractions – visiting as often as six or seven times.

Kieran added: "Once we come up with an attraction, we keep it for a while if people like it so they can experience it again."

When it comes to scaring, there is a lot to consider.

We went behind the set to find out just what goes into making Scarefest terrifying every year.


One of the strongest senses of the human body is the sense of smell.

To invoke a particular memory or atmosphere, smells are created by specialist teams called "Smellologists", which are used throughout the mazes.

Kieran explained: "We use smells throughout our attractions, which is key in rooms such as a library, to call memories and put guests in the right frame of mind.

"Smells are an instant trigger to the brain and tell half of the story."

The smell pods, which are oil-based, are diffused like a high-tech air freshener – the smells are dispersed into the room and cling to the air particles.

He added: "We’ve had specially created smells for each room."

An example we tried was for the Toy Room section, which was a unique mix of varnish and "death" – making it an overpowering and cloying smell that sticks to the back of your throat.

Thankfully, there is nothing dangerous in the pods – although how they are made remains a top secret.

The creative manager explained: "They are all made from basic essential oils, like the things you get in your scented candles.

"While some can be nice, such as apple pie or lavender, the most unpleasant we have used is vomit.

"There is also urine, faeces, fish, rotting flesh and burning flesh."

With 19 new smells this year, be prepared for a stench overload as you walk through the rooms.


A large part of the fear comes from the performers, who are specially trained to prey on guests.

It isn't easy, with each actor trained specifically on how to scare.

Kieran explained: "We do an extensive audition process across the country as well as at Alton Towers to find a range of people.

"We look for a combination of experienced actors, Shakespeare actors, actors fresh out of college and just those who love to scare people.

"We've even had acting teachers and lecturers work for us – it takes all sort of people."

He added that actors need to have a strong physicality – to be able to play anything from aliens to zombies – as well as have the right voice and fear-factor.

Kieran explained: "Our scare training is very in-depth – it is a discipline like being in a pantomime.

"It takes a lot of training. We teach them how to scare and how to scare safely and effectively on repeat."

While some actors have scripted parts, many of the performers have to learn how to scare on the spot and improvise.

They even use secret tunnels throughout the attractions, meaning if you were terrified by one particular performer at the beginning, it is likely you will see them again at the end.

He explained: "Actors use secret tunnels for the element of surprise, called rat runs. They can then be both behind and ahead of guests so they can run ahead to surprise you."

One of them left us screaming in terror when they appeared from one of the rat runs in a dark and windy tunnel.

Not sure you'll find the mazes scary? Even the actors admit that they get terrified by some of the attractions, even though they know what to expect.

Kieran said: "You don't have to be brave to be scary."

Set design

While Halloween starts for guests in October, the execution of Scarefest takes an entire year.

Kieran explained: "The idea starts off with me creating the backstory, the rooms and the characters.

"From there we work with a set designer, costumer designer, tech designers and music teams.

"We start planning in October for the following October, so its a full year planning process."

The designing of the set starts as early as January, while tech and costume come in halfway through the year.

The set is then built from July.

Kieran added: "They do it all behind the scenes, so guests are left unaware."

Some of the props are a mixture of charity shop purchases and in-house creations – in The Attic, a number of haunting paintings and creepy dolls and toys are scattered throughout.

For example, a painted portrait resembling the governess was designed in-house and was loosely modelled on a family member.

The attention to detail is obvious, with squeaky floorboards even added in for creepy effect.

Kieran added: "The floorboards are set at random but our performers know where they are, so they can walk over them to give that feeling there is someone else in the house with you."

There are also trip sensors – we set one off and quickly received shocks from all angles thanks to a sudden lightning strike, drawers being opened, and clicking noises from behind us.

When it comes to the sets, they need to be built to help the actors – for example, the beds in the attic are actually constructed as stages so they are strong enough for performers to leap to surprise guests.

From bad incidents ("someone was sick once near the exit") to terrified reactions ("guests quickly learn if they are fight or flight in the maze") the Attic is a haunting new addition to the Scarefest attraction this year.

Make sure you have your wits about you – and be ready to run.

Scarefest opens to the public on October 5, with ticket prices starting from £34 per person.

The Attic starts from £8 per person, and is only suitable for guests over the age of 15.

Alton Towers also opened a year-round scare ride called Alton Towers Dungeon earlier this year.

Guests can learn about the history of the area while being terrified by performers.

We've also rounded up the best Halloween events across the UK including Thorpe Park and Dreamland.

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