I went to the press preview yesterday evening with my brother, @Rachel and her friend Zara. Once we got through the tired looking entrance plaza, over the bridge and out of the dome, Thorpe Park looks amazing. The sudden view of coasters and rides is great and it looks especially beautiful at night. I really like what they've done with the lighting. The park feels completely different than it does in daylight, probably because it's dark which masks any imperfections. There were a few scare actors wandering around the park but I didn't see as many as I thought I would. They were in good character and helped to create an atmosphere of fun and fear (in a good way). There are five scare mazes this year, plus an escape room attraction. We didn't bother the escape room, Containment, because there were new things to try and, quiet frankly, better attractions to do. From this point on there are SPOILERS AHEAD. Skip on to the 'spoilers end' section at the bottom of this post to avoid ruining the experience if you're planning to visit. Photos will probably give the game away, anyway. SPOILERS START The Big Top We did this one first. The story is told by a fortune teller...but she has changed from a live actor last year to a projection this year. It all seemed a little cheap, to be fair. For me, part of the experience of these scary things is setting the scene and only a real person can do that through acting, facial expressions, reacting to the crowd and so on. Anyway, after we went through the first of many hanging plastic flaps, we were greeted by the actors and the fun started! They were in superb character as they banged the walls, screamed in our faces (except for the mime, obviously), and hissed behind us. They jumped out of places, appeared out of nowhere...a proper scare attraction. The best part was the strobe lighting maze. It is so disorientating! The effect makes it virtually impossible to follow somebody without holding on to them because the person "flicks" around your vision. After that there are a few other scenes, including a large chained up teddy bear. And the finale is, for some seemingly-unrelated reason that I can't work out, a man with a chainsaw. The Big Top was good and was definitely propped up by the strobe maze and its soundtrack. They could probably get away with this maze again next year. Saw Alive! I didn't take any photos in here but I'm always impressed with this one. The rooms are well detailed, the actors and their make up is spot-on and it has a good pace with nicely timed jump scares. It's not yourself scary, but it's good theatre. Well worth doing. Some of the traps and scenes seemed a little odd to work out. Why was that woman pelvic thrusting on the bed? What does it matter if two people are having a tug of war with a chain attached to their wrists? Oh shut up, Ian, just embrace it. Platform 15 I really enjoyed this maze last year and was looking forward to seeing the improved version. Thankfully this one starts with a narrator who sets the scene about a missing train and its conductor as she walks the group along an stony path (the old train tracks). Good old fashioned torch-under-chin story telling, flickering lights and sound effects. It really was a tension builder, especially when she told the group to go on ahead alone through more hanging plastic flaps. After a while of stumbling through semi-darkness, a huge flame erupts and illuminates the ghostly train! Evil spirits come at you as you wander past deeper into the woods! A great visual delight without being scary. A little further on through the misty woods (it seems like Thorpe has invested in a lot of smoke machines this year, which is great with the lights), a mysterious (misterious?) house appears! You just know that something is inside and it's going to you up. Yes! Babies with rotating heads, guts all over the kitchen. Predicable but, wow, such unexpected quality! Actors jump out when you expect them too but, more importantly, when you don't expect them to. This lures you into a false sense of security. There was woman screaming at a wall, but she never screamed in my face. It's almost like the story line is second guessing your second guessing. Beyond the house is a tunnel. It's a loooooooooooooong, very dimly lit tunnel and it goes on for ages. What I particularly liked about the tunnel was the "nothingness". Like with the house, I expected somebody - or thing - to jump out and make me myself. But no. Nothing. Nothing but the sound of the stones crunching beneath my feet and the rest of the group pondering what's going on. This proves that parks don't need a big budget to create atmosphere. There were a few sound effects and one actor did walk past us, but for the loooooong walk, there was nothing but anticipation. The finale is the missing conductor who appears in a smoke filled room illuminated in a blood red colour. I really enjoyed Platform 15. Without a doubt, the best scare maze at Fright Nights 2017. The Walking Dead - The Living Nightmare I've never seen TWD, so the theme and story was slightly lost on me but I got to judge it as a non-branded attraction which didn't really quite work in my head. What was extra special about this attraction was it had several batching areas so we got to go through several sets of hanging plastic flaps. Eventually we ended up in a well themed jungle room where a menacing man with a baseball bat told us to kneel down. FFS, can't I just stand? The man started to tell a story. I couldn't quite hear it because I was sat next to the hanging plastic flaps that lead to the next room so all I heard was a mixture of sounds. Eventually the mumbling man picked his victim and pretended to strike her, Rachel, with a baseball bat. (That's me next to the hanging plastic flaps, brother beside me). So yeah, we walked through a series of well themed rooms that I didn't understand and zombies were lurching towards us. I don't like zombies in scare attractions because, by their nature (or lack of it), they move slowly so there are minimal jump scares. I just kind of step around them feeling a bit cheated. Also, I've watched Shaun of the Dead a million times and find zombies comedic, not frightening. Despite the boring zombies, the sets were fantastic with great attention to detail. From what I can gather from piecing the story together, there's a top secret area controlled by men with baseball bats where zombies roam free and have cause havoc? The highlight was the bus scene. It looked amazing and I gingerly stepped through it expecting one of the dead people to come alive. It's worth noting at this point that my brother had several pints of beer so he was feeling invincible and, after doing the other mazes, seemed to get the hang of how they work. "Somethings going to be around this corner, isn't it?" And yes, something was. I did feel this maze was quite predictable in terms of scares and the story confused me slightly, but the sets made up for it. Rachel told me afterwards that it has scenes from the show so it's no wonder it was lost on me. Fans of the show will probably love it. The Walking Dead - Sanctum The final maze we did and good god was it turd. I just sort of walked through a campsite and a street scene with zombies. Ok, so the sets were ok but what the is scary about it? I didn't jump once. It was like walking through a live actor filled Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's. A bit creepy, but ever so underwhelming. Don't get me wrong, the scenes were, like Living Nightmare, well constructed, but it really lacked atmosphere and tension. We must have walked through it in less than two minutes. END SPOILERS If you're going to Fright Nights this year, and I recommend you do because the park feels and looks great at night, do not miss Platform 15, Big Top and Saw Alive - they are brilliant! If you're a fan of The Walking Dead, give those two mazes a go if you can fit them in. If you're not, do them if there's a short queue. At the end of the day, I'm a coaster man and coasters are what defines Thorpe Park. Stealth, Swarm and Inferno are three of the best coasters that the UK has to offer, and if there's a chance you can ride them at night then do it! Three great coasters, three great scare mazes and a atmospheric park make Fright Nights worth a visit.