Held on May 10 within the winding corridors of the Norbreck Castle, an ageing North Shore hotel, the venue was perfect for the day’s proceedings and provided added frisson to the entertainment scheduled after dark. This, Europe’s only conference for the scare attractions industry, has been held in the UK since its inception, due to the critical mass of attractions within the country. Organiser and “scare consultant” Michael Bolton chose Blackpool for this year’s event due to the presence in the town of Pasaje del Terror at the Pleasure Beach and the Blackpool Tower Dungeon.
During and immediately after the conference, delegates could benefit from discounted entry to both attractions, as well as the Gravedigger Ghost Bus over for the event from Dublin. Add to this the ScareBall and – for the really brave/stupid/insomniac – a chance to stay the night in a “ScareRoom” and there were plenty of opportunities to “live the scream.”
But first there were the day’s education sessions to enjoy, and Paul Davis of Tollbooth Music got things off to a lively start with a presentation on how he creates soundtracks for attractions including Scarytales Live and Bunker 13. Citing BBC sound effects albums and computer games as early influences, the professional musician and sound engineer revealed he never goes anywhere without a portable recorder. Want to simulate the sound of sawing someone’s limbs off? Try passing a meat cleaver through a cabbage.
Darrell Xavier of Fearmasters Entertainment then provided an enlightening discussion on how he and his team created last Halloween’s Yorkshire Scare Grounds. Darrel must not have been able to believe his luck when he found a site in the town of Wakefield – on Hell Lane. Four “icon characters“ were created as part of the nine-night event, including the clown Jack Rellik. After attracting around 7,000 visitors in 2011, Fearmasters will be back with a longer running production this October.
Saturn Imagineering has been building and theming attractions for many years, but made its debut as an operator this April when it relaunched the Silver Mountain Experience in Aberystwyth, Mid Wales. Simon Pickard and Simon Fish revealed how they had transformed an underperforming mine tour into a family visitor attraction by adding features such as The Black Chasm, where guests can discover what terrors lie beneath their feet.
What started 15 years ago as a way for Tulleys Farm near Gatwick Airport to shift more pumpkins has turned into one of the UK’s leading Halloween events, Shocktober Fest. Though significantly less scary and profitable than its evening programme, the complementary Spooktacular is important, revealed Stuart Beare, because it breeds the visitors of tomorrow. Stuart also suggested that “nuts to buts” conga lines through attractions were desirable for those keen to operate on a commercial basis rather than – as is still the case for some – a part time enterprise to brighten up October.
By pre-booking in advance online, guests feel as though they are having a “free day out” when they arrive at your attraction, and so spend more inside, noted Richard Booker of Digitickets. He also revealed that within a year 40% of all internet activity is likely to be by mobile devices.
Irish speaker Ben Dillon gave an entertaining presentation on Haunted Spooktacular in County Meath. Originally a two-day event aimed at children, it is now marketed as “the most terrifying experience in Ireland” and beginning to attract visitors from Dublin, 70km away. Ben gave a very frank insight into his operation, revealing that one of his biggest problems is guests leaving their knickers in the toilets!
While not everyone makes big money from scare attractions, for some it’s even a philanthropic venture. Dating back to 1984, speaker Peter Perez described the various Halloween fundraisers at Fort Ameherst in Kent as, “Britain’s oldest scare attraction.”
Adele Overton and Steve Uden of Zombie Boot Camp, meanwhile, are throwing the old “don’t touch them and they won’t touch you,” maxim out of the window. Players taking part in this twisted take on paintball are actively encouraged to attack their living dead opponents, Adele wrestling Steve to the ground before the presentation to give delegates a taste of the experience. Apparently the couple are, “Insured up to the eyeballs.” Just as well.
The final presentation came from Brad Rowbotham of the Blackpool Tower Dungeon, which Merlin Entertainments opened on the site of the tower’s former aquarium back in September. “There’s a perception outside the scare industry that it is just about jumping out at people and going boo,” noted the aspiring actor, “but what’s very important to us is a strong performance team.”
There was one last chance to step on board the Gravedigger Ghost Bus before the ScareBall, where guests in fancy dress enjoyed dinner and entertainment courtesy of Sick Promotions. Some of those staying at the hotel then retried for the night to a “ScareRoom.” With 17 actors and just 10 participating rooms to disturb, a sleepless night seemed a certainty for all those mad enough to sign up.
Details of ScareCon 2013 will be released in due course – keep an eye on scarecon.co.uk.
Pictured below: ScareCon organiser Michael Bolton. All images courtesy Stephen Candy.