For ten years, the Haunted House at Alton Towers terrified and intrigued visitors with its unique boisterous brand of horror. The ride was conceived for Alton Towers when Disneyland Paris was being planned. In an attempt to compete, The Haunted House would be a gigantic and hugely impressive feat of engineering and creativity that could measure up to the American theme park. John Wardley, along with the exceptional talents of the Sparks Group, set out to create a hammer horror style experience, akin to the much-loved classic 'laff in the dark' ghost trains but on a much more impressive scale. Mack rides of Germany were commissioned to create a completely new style of ride that could speed up and slow down to accentuate dramatic moments in the ride.
After passing the threshold of the menacing Vestibule, guests would walk through an increasingly weird Victorian Drawing Room. The entire room slanted to one side creating a bizarre impression from the very start. A dolls house played host to a little ghost girl and her cat, an impeccable illusion known as 'Pepper's Ghost' and a sinister ghost face that spoke from the hearth of the marble fireplace. (None other than veteran designer and half of The Sparks Group, Keith Sparks) A chilling child's music box played as a rocking horse rocked slowly by itself in the corner of the room.
Leaving this eerie scene, we were invited to take our seats aboard one of the bespoke gothic wooden carved pews and enter the festering gloom of the house. Passing heaving and bulging stone walls, the ride would travel through a grand baroque dining hall before a hugely terrifying monster appeared, apparently, out of thin air. We would then turn and face the same monster again but this time, he apologised for frightening us and offered us a cup of tea before disappearing.
Emerging from the darkness, we would then navigate a vivid fluorescent dungeon, apparently smashing straight through a piece of the wall before coming face to face with a gigantic swirling tunnel set in the mouth of a great stone skull. Bats would flutter overhead before gigantic hands would crash through the windows, as if to snatch us. We would come round the corner and see a gigantic eye peering through the glass as the Giant bellowed 'I'm coming to get you!'
Through the darkness a sinister, rasping voice would call out. 'Are you scared of SPIDERS?' it asked as as hideous spiders of increasing sizes came into view. The car would slow as it travelled underneath the largest spider of all, which would hiss aggressively.
We would then enter a Victorian style hallway with flickering skull shaped lightbulbs. A huge apparition would come up from behind the car, overtake and disappear around a corner where it would splat against a wall comically. More hideous flying banshees would then appear through thin air, each with a tortured groan- shockingly fast and loud with a vivid and hypnotic movement.
The cars would then slow as they travelled into the dishevelled garden. An undertaker figure beckoned carriages towards a wrecked hearse where whispy ghosts could be seen flying out of the destroyed coffin. Suddenly, the whole scene took on a new persona as the cars began to speed up again to evade a multitude of other hideous and grotesque monsters. We would leave the house far behind as we twisted and turned through a ruinous nightmare landscape, as dripping, slimy creatures would rise up from the boggy depths and gargle hideously at us. A giant stone face would crack open revealing the souls within and a gigantic fanged reptile would lurch through a gaping gargoyle's open mouth.
We returned, lucky to be alive, as a triumphant cartoon-style musical arrangement welcomed us back.
The ride received several cosmetic changes over the years. The giant's fingers and the corridor ghost only lasted a year before being replaced with other ideas. This continued gradually until the decision was taken to reopen the ride as Duel- The Haunted House Strikes Back! after the success of Tomb Blaster the preceding year. Much of the ride remains, with the exception of the original garden finale which now features a cellar filled with laser gun firing zombies. The ride has something of a cult following, with an entire book having been written about its construction.