OK, so I have tried all the horror mazes (just the mazes alone) from this weekend and seen what the first weekend of Fright Nights 2019 had to offer as a regular guest, not as a celeb VIP vlogger who gets offered social media trinkets alongside an upgraded/unrealistic experience of the mazes by the Merlin bobs.
As a whole, I gotta start saying there is no doubt that compared to last year, there is an overall improvement in the event in terms of how it was delivered, but be under no illusion that the improvements are very, very minimal. I still walked around the park at night getting very similar vibes to the disaster of 2018, from the over-use of too many bright white floodlights, to the inconsistent audio management, lack of proper park-wide theming and still some questionable mazes. It's better than last year, but still riddled with faults and here's what I observed and think of each area of the event.
I stress this is my experience of the night and acknowledge runs through each maze are different for every guest:
Park & Ride Theming:
I would say the level of theming is pretty much the same as 2018 park-wide, though there were some odd exceptions in place which I liked.
For example, Colossus's station looked fantastic, especially at night where the ceiling lights had all their bulbs changed to a glowing red and the spotlights underneath the train a vidid green, which meant not a single white light was present anywhere inside. To top that, there were plenty of hanging skulls, cobwebs, hand-painted signs everywhere too and there was a really effective smoke machine pumping smoke everywhere in the station underneath the centre of the train. I thought this set a really, really nice atmosphere at night and reminded me of when Colossus' station used to look during Fright Nights pre-2010 and I loved it.
But then, if you look at any other ride or coaster in the park? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a single other ride was decorated for the event which confused me, as it seemed as though the park went all-in with Colossus but then couldn't be bothered with the rest of their rides after that point and so gave up. It's a real shame because the difference that made to Colossus was substantial and really added to the atmosphere inside. Hopefully the park will do more changes like this as I thought it was really nice and effective.
As for park theming, it's almost non-existent. There's the usual Walking Dead props near the entrance bridge, Swarm's pathway and Old Town, but nothing which stood out. There were also white body bags splattered in blood hanging up in the trees and supports around Saw and Depth Charge, though the illusion was ruined when 20mph gusts of wind were blowing them around everywhere. Also, the Dome at night was filled with smoke and a spotlight moving around the ceiling too. Not quite sure what the purpose of this was, but hey, I liked it.
Overall, whilst there still wasn't that much, I do hope the park in the future will start theming their coasters and rides like Colossus because that was a great move.
It's pretty much identical to last year - inconsistent, inconsistent, inconsistent.
All the coasters were playing themed audio to Fright Nights in their stations such as Nick Hutson's audio on Colossus, Stealth and Inferno, to Charlie Clouser playing on Stealth's loading, or the FN WWTP playlist again after 3pm (ugh), but amongst all that, once again, the majority of rides were playing their usual themes with Detonator being by far the worst example with it's obnoxious "chirp" noise playing across the park every few minutes, depending on whether the staff member remembers to stop it before it plays as the carriage drops. That eliminated any potential dark or spooky atmosphere across the park, and this mix of FN audio mixed with regular audio sounded really sloppy.
It's a real shame because some of the audio playing in areas works well and when this is overshadowed by the regular stuff, it kills the atmosphere. Really hope the park can finally get to grips with this system because audio for Fright Nights has been a mess for years now. So overall, it's still a mess with inconsistencies present everywhere left, right and centre still. Still hoping Midnight Syndicate will make a return to the park eventually just like in the good ol' days of this event, but realise it's likely not gonna happen because of licensing costs, or something (apparently).
Lighting and Atmosphere: There have been some improvements to the lighting used across the park in places where gone are those disgusting rainbow-changing LED light rigs from 2018 and the randomly placed lights from X on the entrance bridge, so the lighting was overall less jarring, but again, there are so many areas of the park vividly lit in blinding white lights that it feels more like walking on a driving range than an actual theme park. Where are the colour filters? Really hope at one point someone at the park can eliminate all if not most of these white lights, especially the one at Platform 15's entrance where it's too friggin' bright to read the sign at night still, similar to Dead Creek Woods last year with the same lighting problem.
Walking Dead: Do or Die:
It still baffles me as to why this maze still actually exists given how poor it was last year in my view, because this was by far the weakest maze at the event. It's had a slight re-work on the route whereby you go through more of those shipping containers, and the route winds back and forth more, but it's still the same thing in almost every area.
Some differences noted are the outside walls are both black and white this time with some blood-spattered cloth for decoration, the audio in the maze was consistently louder with rock music playing throughout, and the ending had a new scene with shrines and names written on the flooring and walls (will refer to this scene again in a bit).
The actors themselves? 6 in total were what I encountered from start to end, not the 10+ all the vloggers were capturing in their YouTube videos, so be aware of this false presentation they are giving that there are loads inside. Apart from that, it was very similar to last year - dull, boring, plenty of black walls again and lacking any scares. Weakest maze of the night.
Walking Dead: Living Nightmare: Nothing much to say on this as it's the same as ever. The only real change has been in two areas. The first is when waiting in the tunnel, there is a pre-recorded voice of Negan telling the guests the safety announcements which was a nice touch and the other was the ending, where you walk through some foliage with a few actors hiding behind them jumping out at you. I've not watched the show to know who these characters are, but I've heard they are the 'Whisperers'. Either way, the ending was pretty decent, despite everything else being the same.
Platform 15: I gotta say, despite some reviewers saying this year was so much better than before because of the new ending, I thought this was the weakest run-through I have ever had on Platform 15. The first reason is because when confronted with the Canada Creek Railway train, the fire which shoots from the chimney usually fires up similar to a flame gun for a couple of seconds and looks really effective.
However, the effect only emitted a single, pathetic small puff of fire into the air and that was it, thus not startling guests as much as it used to. There was only one actor in this area too which irritated me, as there's usually at least 3 typically (again, do not think VIP press night videos are accurate to the real thing a guest will experience, as they showed loads in this bit online!)
Anyway, as we approached and walked through the house, one thing stood out to me - where's the audio? The house was dead silent with the speakers turned off, and the unsettling creepy audio used in there in previous years was now gone, along with the incredibly potent smell pods, which really took away the unsettling atmosphere inside. There was only one actor in here also.
Finally, the tunnel at the end. Pretty much identical right until the end, although there was a very serious problem with the light leakage this year, as there were more tears in the roof of the fabric than I have ever seen before, and this was a real tension-killer as the group could see ages ahead any actors hiding. But before long, we approached the exit and new ending, which appeared to look like an old station office I think? We were told a mini backstory and as we walked through, an actor jumped out from the wall with the timing of the sound effects and strobe light starting before walking outside and that was it.
I would say the ending is definitely an improvement on last year's embarrassing version, but the rest of the maze before it fell short in many areas sadly, so the overall package I would say is less compared to 2018, even if it has a new story and better ending.
I have never been the biggest fan of this maze every time it's been at the park, but holy heck, this year I really thought it was brilliant! The new route it takes through the woods was really effective and nicely routed and is far, far longer compared to 2018 with more confined spaces through the foliage. But the best part for me by far was the use of lighting or lack thereof, because there were only half a dozen of very dim lights in the whole attraction, all of which were coloured blue. In-between these areas, it was pitch black in so many areas when walking through that I had to shield my eyes many times in the fear something was going to grab me out of nowhere, whether it was an actor or more foliage. Seriously, it was very well done at making the guest feel unsettled and on edge whilst walking through.
As for the ending, the same tunnel you had to crawl through was there, followed by the shed at the end, which had been narrowed down with wall either side with hand prints all over them with writing, followed my a much dimmer strobe light hidden with actors in the smoke. This was so much better than last year's embarrassing excuse of a overly-bright techno-rave RGB LED light used.
Overall, it's the same kind of experience as last year, but a lot, lot longer with more confined spaces, a far improved route, much better use of lighting and SFX and an improved finale. Definitely the best outdoor maze experience I have had at any Fright Nights yet.
Creak Freak Masacre:
And now, the newest maze everyone is bound to be speaking about this year and after trying it, it is clear this is going to be the standout attraction of 2019 and I thought it was the strongest maze by far at the event, really liked it!
The maze itself is quite noisy inside with rock music playing again similar to Do or Die and once you step foot inside the first room where the pre-show, you know this is going to be such a level-up from all the other mazes at Fright Nights. There was smoke bellowing everywhere inside immediately, you are separated down different routes after being introduced by an actor. In my instance, I had the tunnel which was quite confined and had a slight elevation at the start before lowering back down again, similar to the tunnel Experiment 10 used to have.
Once you leave the tunnel, the route mostly consisted of going up and down where Loggers Leap's old cattlepen queueline used to go, all lit up in red with lots of themed walls and actors hiding behind corners and walls, all with pretty good makeup I thought. Before long, you encounter a few rooms, the first from memory being a scene where someone with a giant electric blade is slicing another person in half who is screaming for help. Quite a nice effect I thought, especially with the interaction of the actors and use of lighting effects. Soon after, you encounter a room with bodies hanging from the ceiling and there was a podium in the middle, presumably for the actors to stand. The yellow lighting in here was nicely with an actor with the first chainsaw and was the first moment where my heart really began to race as I couldn't see them through the hanging body bags.
After this point, there were a couple more corners before you approach a strobe maze section which had very loud rock music in there again, only this time, an actor pointed me a route through either 'Goodwood' or 'Badwood'. I got Badwood and what I was faced with was what I can only describe as a miniature version of The Asylum's chickenwire fencing strobe maze, rammed with shed loads of smoke. To add to this, there are in fact dead ends in places, just like what The Freezer used to have in it's first couple of years I believe, so this made it quite unnerving for me knowing I had to find my way out through some incredibly disorientating strobes with the familiar sound of a revving chainsaw teasing me in the corners of the room!
And as predicted, whilst still in the strobe maze lost, a guy with another chainsaw appeared out of nowhere and honestly made me leap from my skin because I was so disorientated by the strobe lights that I couldn't see him properly. This was undoubtedly the biggest scare in the entire maze for me and I haven't been on edge that much in a maze since first doing the Chop Shop at Tulleys Farm. Very, very well done!
After you finally make yourself out the strobe section, there is one final scene where another actor with a chainsaw jumps out and chases you from the exit through the flaps and the maze is over.
Overall, this is a really, really nice maze and I don't know if this is true or not, but I've heard the team who designed this were the same ones who work on ScareFest at Alton Towers. But regardless, commendments to the team who created this maze as it was really refreshing to see once again another original idea executed very well, similar to Big Top, Experiment 10 and The Asylum. In terms of ranking, I still prefer Big Top and Asylum to Creak Freak Masacre, but I would put it above Experiment 10, but it isn't their most extreme maze yet to me as the park claim.
So yeah, job well done!
As an event, I will give credit to the teams who pulled off a great new maze and I really hope this one actually lasts a few years and doesn't suffer the same fate as the Big Top. But overall, Fright Nights 2019 as a package still is not there at the moment as being a great event. It's an OK event still in my books. To me, to be a great year, the park needs far more than just a single great maze to save its skin. Besides the Terror at Amity High lot, there were no other roaming actors this night and things such as park-wide theming, atmosphere, lighting and audio matter hugely in my view as there's more to a Halloween event than just horror mazes. If the park can finally get to grips in these areas in addition to giving us more mazes like CFM (indoor ones), they are back in business.
For now though, 2019 is better than 2018, but still not great just yet. We are seeing small improvements in places to bring it back to the golden years of 2007-2009 once more, which fills me with some hope at last. Let's just hope the park can continue on this trajectory.
One last thing I want to add quickly to those thinking of going - if you have been watching videos on YouTube from all these vloggers lately with POVs through all the mazes and them saying how "sick" this year Is when they were at the VIP press night, I warn you now, as a regular guest, a lot of what they experienced that night you will not experience yourself as I had. Whether it's getting shoved into a cubicle on Do or Die or having 10+ actors in every maze. I can't stress enough to be very wary of what you see from that night online and not to be mislead thinking x, y and z will happen in the mazes. These people are clearly in Merlin's good graces (especially when the park put a picture of Sickstone inside Do or Die on one of the shrines in the final scene as a really poor version of an Easter egg...... yes, really) so please treat what you see with some caution. Fright Nights 2019 - 5/10