Warning: this review contains spoilers of the ride.
After months of anticipation for what was said to be an experience that is meant to ‘derail your mind’ and bring you into a whole different world, I finally decided to go to Surrey’s world famous amusement park, Thorpe Park, to test it out myself and see just how terrifying the Derren Brown Ghost Train actually is. On the 12th April I set off to Thorpe Park with my best friend Jarod (no way I was going to go on my own – rides always scare me a bit, but having to experience the Ghost Train, I did not want to be alone).
The Derren Brown Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon was opened on March 31st 2017 following the opening of the original version of the ride on July 8th 2016. The ride is a combination of virtual reality, motion stimulation and illusions. The ride includes VR headsets that are worn through most of the ride and are described as ‘gas masks’ to maintain the eerie atmosphere of the ride. When you begin queuing for the ride your view is of a Victorian-style train station covered in posters against fracking. About half way through the queue you are asked to come into a little booth where you and your friends get given a ‘train ticket’ and are allowed to take a picture where your face are up against what looks like a steamy train window. After which there was even more queuing (this was unexpected but predictable on such a busy day).
The wait seemed like a lifetime, as most queues in Thorpe Park do, but when we finally got to what looked like the entrance to the ride, we almost cheered in relief…but also started to feel ridiculously nervous as it suddenly hit us that we were about to enter something we knew barely anything about, we didn’t know what to expect.
The door opened and a man dressed in Victorian clothing stepped out and invited us through. The space inside was almost pitch black, almost so dark that it felt suffocating, with the fear I already felt I found myself almost gasping for air. We were told to gather up and all huddle together and keep quiet. Suddenly, a projection of Derren Brown, the master of deception and illusion himself, appeared in front of us. He explained to us what fear is and what effects it has on your body, for example, the fight-or-flight response. He also explained why people enjoy being scared and why the things that scare us actually scare us. This was all very difficult to concentrate on as the anticipation and sinister atmosphere of the place kept my mind occupied with imagining what could be beyond this point; I could feel my hands getting sweaty.
We were then led through a door where we finally got to see the train we would be boarding. The mirror illusion under the train carriage made it seem as though the train was being held up in mid-air by chains which is pretty impressive, you could already see the illusionistic nature of the ride and the little sprinkle of Derren’s charm in every aspect of the experience. We boarded the train and were instructed to sit down in the carriage that resembled the inside of a modern London tube carriage.
The VR video started on our headsets and everything at first seemed normal, although in the VR, no one else was on the train around you, I had to hold my friend’s hand throughout it just to know that there were actually still people there. Suddenly, the VR showed a man getting on the train with his dog and he starts speaking to you, telling you about a disease and the ‘infected ones’ that are out there, the train starts moving and the carriage actually moves like a real train would, making the experience even more realistic. Out of nowhere the train shudders and all the lights go out; this is when the fun starts. Not much happens in this part of the VR although there is enough to freak you out. You see several ‘infected’ people and as they reach out for you, something actually touches you, which definitely gave me Goosebumps!
After the first section of the ride, we are hurried off the train and made to almost run across to the other side of the ‘station’ where we are confronted by an ‘infected’ person who is covered in blood and acts like a rabid animal. I can’t deny that I screamed a tad when he crept up on me!
After the brief speed walk to the other side, we are told to get onto another train carriage and again told to put on our VR headsets. The next VR film began and honestly, as it went on, I was just very confused. I think it was a bit overdone and too much was going on which ruined the scare factor of the whole experience turning it into something that was rather comical. I got off the ride and found myself laughing at what I had just witnessed.
After speaking to my friend we both concluded that the experience was a mixture of both smart, sinister factors and then just a complete over-exaggeration that just made us laugh. We also both agreed on the fact that the quality of the VR wasn’t great either. It made most of the scary things look like a video game which kind of burst the bubble of it looking realistic to some extent.
Overall, the experience was 70% worth the almost 2 hour wait. It was something new and exciting and for a horror fanatic like me it was even more interesting. However, some elements of it just didn’t seem to fit and were overdone and the VR wasn’t the best. I think that with a few little touch ups and a slight change of plot, the ride would be able to spook even the bravest of people.